Day 1, 03rd February: Arrival in Nairobi
After arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and clearing passport control and baggage, you will be collected by an ORYX representative and driven to your luxury accommodation on the outskirts of Nairobi for an overnight stay. Depending on your arrival time, you may be driven through Nairobi National Park, affording you the opportunity to encounter Cape Buffalo, Plains Zebra, Wildebeest, Masai Giraffe and even the Endangered Black Rhinoceros!
Once at Ngong House (your accommodation for the night), you will be met by professional photographic leader and Masai Mara expert Greg du Toit, who will be your safari leader for this exciting adventure. Greg has extensive experience in the “Mara”, having guided safaris to this wildlife hotspot for the last 13 years in succession, and tonight we as a group will be able to discuss the intricacies our upcoming adventure together.
Overnight Ngong House
Day 2, 04th February: Fly Wilson Airport to Masai Mara
Today we leave the wonderful and well-located Ngong House and head for Wilson Airport (15 minutes’ drive), where after we fly to the world famous Masai Mara. Post arrival in the “Mara”, we have a 40 minute game drive to our camp (our drive time may be influenced by what we encounter en route!), which are located in the private Olare Motorogi Conservancy bordering the Masai Mara National Reserve. Our accommodations for the next 3 nights are luxurious walk-in tents sporting 24 electricity via solar power and en suite bathroooms with hot showers. This a small camp (6 tents only), and we are thus guaranteed an exclusive experience in the African bush!
After settling into camp, we will embark on our first game drive this afternoon in our exclusive-use vehicle which caters specifically for photographers, and sports beanbag platforms to photograph from. An added bonus of our location in a private concession is that we don’t have gate times to deal with, giving us the freedom to photograph the predator-rich habitat in the concession at our leisure.
Overnight Kicheche Bush Camp
Days 3 and 4, 05th to 06th February: Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Masai Mara
We have two full days to explore our private concession in the rolling Acacia-dotted plains of the northern Mara. Our safari is designed to fall outside the main Migration season in the Mara, with the consequence that the number of visitors, and thus vehicles in the park is greatly reduced when compared to the traffic volumes experienced during the peak of the migration. Not only does this improve our overall experience dramatically, but the absence of the large herds means that the predators are typically much hungrier, giving us far better chances of witnessing hunts. The Mara as a whole sports healthy numbers of resident herbivores, and thus game viewing in general remains excellent even when the main herds of Wildebeest and Plains Zebra are not around.
Our primary targets are of course the resident Lion, Leopard and Cheetah, and we will be able to access 35,000 acres in search of these incredible big cats. Another bonus of staying in a private concession such as this one, is that we will be able to drive off-road if necessary to obtain the perfect image. Further to this, we will be able to alight from our vehicle (if it is safe to do so!) so as to be able to get low-angle photographs from close to ground level.
The hospitable staff cook delicious meals (something further to look forward to during our stay!), and at night we will have the sounds of the wild African bush to lull us to sleep.
Nights Kicheche Bush Camp
Day 5, 07th February: Olare Motorogi Conservancy to Masai Mara National Reserve
After our morning game drive, we will head back to Kicheche for breakfast before departing for our next camp which is located within Masai Mara National Reserve. Reaching camp by lunchtime, we will have time to settle in and enjoy a scrumptious meal prior to our afternoon game drive. Naibor Wilderness Camp will be our base for the next three nights, and we have it completely to ourselves as it has a total of three tents only! The camp is hidden in a grove in the riverine woodland on the banks of the Talek River, and is in contrast to the Kicheche which lies in more open, Acacia-studded grassland. The luxurious Bedouin-style tents are built far apart thus maximising privacy, and come complete with a shady verandah, his and hers wash basins, en-suite bathroom with flushing toilet and a shower (filled with hot water on request). The tents are furnished with solid, comfortable furniture so that you have the ultimate in camping-luxury to come back to after exciting game drives, while the mess tent boasts stunning views over the river.
Naibor lies in a prime area in the heart of the Masai Mara National Reserve, which is 375,000 acres in extent. This lends itself well to our photographic pursuits, which are of course centred on capturing the areas big cats on camera, and we have an exciting afternoon ahead of us in a new part of the Mara!
Days 6 and 7, 08th to 09th February: Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara receives the highest rainfall in the Serengeti – Mara ecosystem, providing plentiful food for the regions herbivores, which in turn make it a paradise for big cats. These cats, notably Lion, Leopard and Cheetah, were featured annually on the BBC’s highly popular Big Cat Diary between 1996 and 2008. This series showed just what an amazing area the Mara is for the big cats! One of the highlights of our expedition is without a doubt photographing the phenomenal Cheetah. Cheetah typically do really well here (the Mara offers arguably the finest viewing of these felines in Africa!), preying mostly on the slightly built Thomson’s Gazelle and Impala. We will spend a good amount of time following this diurnal hunter, and may well encounter one hunting, which is sure make our shutters go into overdrive!
Leopard, that ever-popular but often hard-to-locate mammal, is regularly encountered, especially in the more wooded habitats alongside rivers. Here, animals have become well habituated to the presence of game drive vehicles, and we stand an excellent chance of photographing this most beautiful of cats.
Quite possibly the stars of the Mara show are its legendary black-maned Lions. Individuals such as Sikio, Hunter, Morani and Scar from the Marsh Pride and of course the late Notch and his sons have enchanted hordes of wildlife lovers and photographers on the Mara. The Masai Mara is synonymous with the Lion, and there can be few places on earth where Lion can be so easily seen! As these cats are plentiful on the Masai Mara, we will certainly have a number of encounters with these heavily-built brutes.
Spotted Hyaena and Black-backed Jackal are common, and while Serval is less frequently encountered, the Mara is a good site for these lanky cats. The Masai Mara is also home to a huge selection of herbivores, including Eland, Topi, Grant’s Gazelle, Bohor Reedbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Elephant and Cape Buffalo. Although not common, we may with some dedicated searching encounter Black Rhino, a species that used to thrive in this area, but whose numbers are sadly much reduced. The Mara’s rivers are home to gargantuan Nile Crocodiles and healthy numbers of Hippos, while riverine woodlands are home to Olive Baboon, Vervet and the vocal Blue Monkey.
The rich plains and woodlands of the Mara are home an astounding variety of birds, and we will encountered colourful starlings, weavers and waxbills to singing longclaws. Truly impressive numbers of eagles and vultures inhabit the Mara, and we will likely encounter hordes of Rüppell’s, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures as they squabble over the remains of a carcass.
All in all, the Mara must lay claim to having one of the most holistic all-round game viewing experiences available in the whole of Africa, and is nothing short of a Mecca for predator photography!
Nights Naibor Wilderness Camp
Day 8, 10th February: Flight Masai Mara to Nairobi and Depart for Final Destination of Choice
Sadly, today we depart the Masai Mara and fly back to Wilson Airport. Upon arrival at the airport you will be transferred back to Jomo Kenyatta Airport in time for your international departures homeward.
All images © Greg du Toit