Kenya – ORYX Private – Great Migration Photo Safari
Day 1: Our adventure started off with a night at one of Kenya’s most enjoyed and well loved destinations, Giraffe Manor. This beautiful property lies on the outskirts of Nairobi and is a safe haven for the very sought after Rothschild Giraffe.
We were treated to numerous close-up encounters with these incredible animals, which in turn made for some really great photography.
For Sue-Ann it was love at first kiss, a really slobbery kiss!
Day 2: Following an early breakfast and a short hop from Wilson Airport, we were in Kenya’s world renowned Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Little introduction is necessary for this world famous wildlife destination in East Africa. Made famous by the annual Great Wildebeest Migration, the BBC Big Cat Diary series that warmed our hearts to the numerous predators who’s lives we got to know so intimately and then off course the spectacular wildlife images which grace the covers of countless magazines worldwide.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is one of Kenya’s biggest draw cards to international tourism and offers a mind-blowing number and diversity of both mammal and avian life. An area of breathtaking vastness, soul soothing sunsets and a deafening silence only interrupted by the sounds of its wildlife.
Majority of the camps in the Maasai Mara have been there for many years and the animals have become very accustomed to their presence and often the best game viewing happens from the comfort of your camp itself. At night, Hippopotamus brush against your tent as they graze on the taller grass at the base of your canvas accommodation. With cushioned soles of thick skin and muscle, a herd of Elephant move through camp making their presence noticeable by a few breaking branches only. The eerie whooping sounds of the nearby Hyena clan, taunting the king of beasts in an age-old feud and an ever-present rivalry. Together with the almighty roar of the African Lion, these are the sounds that will put you to sleep at night during a Masai Mara photo safari.
We landed at the Ol Kiombo Airstrip and took a short drive to our beautifully situated accommodation for the next three nights of our Masai Mara photo safari, the Rekero Camp. Following lunch, we were off on our first, long awaited afternoon game drive.
It is early August and the vast plains of Kenya’s acclaimed Maasai Mara National Reserve are teeming with wildebeest and zebra. The annual Great Wildebeest Migration is in full swing and we are looking forward to what promises to be an unforgettable photographic safari.
Before we returned to camp, we decided to make a turn by the river and we were treated to an incredible show. The hippos were splashing water in the air and had us entertained for almost an hour.
Day 3: We decided to take a drive to one of the further corners of the reserve, to an area where the wildebeest crossed in their thousands the day before. Along the way, we encountered several hyenas, still feeding on the remains of wildebeest kills made the night before.
When we arrived at the crossing point on the Mara River, we found large numbers of wildebeest gathered on the opposite bank, but unfortunately, a few hours later the herd turned and moved back onto the open grass plains. Instead of a very large herd, we were treated to only a handful of individuals who dared to cross the dangerous Mara River. All who entered the water managed to exit on the opposite bank with very little notice from the resident crocodiles.
From here we moved into the Musiara Marsh where we met up with a lioness, dragging a wildebeest kill towards a shadier spot where her and her two sisters would enjoy their meal.
The annual Great Wildebeest Migration is also known as the time of plenty for the predators, who welcomes the return of the large herds. The Hardship endured and the injuries sustained while hunting aggressive Cape Buffalo and spending hours digging warthogs from their burrows is now a thing of the past.
Following a very long but exhilarating morning drive, we decided to stay closer to camp with the afternoon drive. Still we were treated to truly superb sightings.
These included a face-off between a very large Nile Crocodile and an old Hippo bull who in the ended decided to part ways in a peaceful manor. We ended this amazing day with a resting lioness who provided us with ample time to capture her beauty.
Day 4: Every day thus far trumped that of the previous and today was going to be no different! Our morning started off with a phenomenal sighting of a female Cheetah and her two small cubs.
The cubs entertained us for more than half an hour before they collapsed from exhaustion. This is a very stressful time for a mother cheetah, having to rear these vulnerable little guys in an environment that is teeming with hungry mouths, both on the ground and in the sky!
No more than two kilometers down the track we were met by a very large male lion. We followed the big guy to the edge of the Mara River where he laid down and gave us a few really awesome poses.
It was a morning dedicated to the big cats. We hardly said good bye to this male lion when we bumped into this female and her cubs on a fresh kill.
The Maasai Mara offers almost uninterrupted photographic and viewing pleasure of its abundant wildlife. If you are not focused on one specific species, you will seldom travel more than a few hundred meters between sightings and these include the colourful birdlife.
In between all these high value sightings we enjoyed playing around with our cameras and practicing different photographic techniques. Using a very slow shutter speed and zooming in while keeping the camera steady, produced a few eye-pleasing images.
This technique comes in very handy when you are sitting at the river, awaiting the wildebeest to take the plunge.
One of the most bizarre encounters we had was with one of Africa’s least welcome species. This massive spitting cobra who despite our best efforts to avoid, ended up travelling with us in the chassis of our vehicle. Needless to say it was a very quiet drive with everyone staring down at their feet.
We received word of a crossing about to happen but was a fair distance from our current location but we decided to make a run for it. We arrived just in time to photograph a few stragglers leap of the bank into the river.
Day 5: As we were moving camp today, we decided to do another extended morning drive. Every day in the African bush should start with a beautiful sunrise. Our subject was not quite an Acacia Tortilis, but held its own personal charm in the glow of the rising sun.
Our drive would end at our new accommodation, Governors’ IL Moran camp, located on the banks of the Mara River. This camp is perfectly situated and lies in the heart of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and right next to the Musiara Marsh. Our first afternoon drive brought us a very special sighting, that of one of Africa’s most loved and also most elusive of the big cats, the leopard.
This beautiful leopard made an impala kill and stashed it in one of the nearby trees. From there she retreated to this big old tree where the rest of her day was spent lazing across its thick branches.
This in turn provided us with ample opportunities to photograph and enjoy her presence.
It was a very successful first afternoon in this new area.
Day 6: We left camp early to inspect one of the crossing points on the Mara River, not too far from camp. A large herd gathered at the crossing point and about half an hour later a mother wildebeest and her calf entered the water and started swimming across. They made a narrow escape when a crocodile made an unsuccessful attempt, first at the mother and then her calf.
We decided to stay around this area and search for the brother of the male lion we spent time with the afternoon before. We did not have to search too hard. This beautiful male appeared from below the edge of the river bank and settled on the ridgeline to the west of the Marsh, on the opposite end to where we found his brother the day before. This male appeared larger than his brother and was sporting a larger and darker mane. We left him as he moved off into a very rocky area where the vehicles were unable to pass.
We drove to another area on the Mara River where I used to spend many hours photographing a large pod of hippo when I still lived in the Maasai Mara. We parked the vehicle and approached the area on foot. We positioned ourselves on an elevated bank on the opposite side of the river to where the hippos were basking in the sun. Hippo’s senses are surprisingly acute and they are very aware of changes in their immediate environment. I was very surprised at their reaction to our presence, given that we were positioned a great distance from where they were basking. One youngster saw us and moved to the water, which in turn started a chain reaction, with the other Hippos following. It was a short-lived sighting but nevertheless, made for a great photographic opportunity.
As we were close to camp, we decided to call the morning and returned to camp for lunch and a short rest.
Our afternoon drive took us to the Musiara airstrip where we found a clan of hyena, three adult females and six youngsters of various ages. They seemed quite nervous at first, but after about fifteen minutes into the sighting, one of the younger members moved towards our vehicle for a closer look and did not mind the sound of the shutters too much!
This was the perfect end to yet another unforgettable day spent on the plains of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Day 7: A very early start to the day took us across the Mara River to Little Governors Camp. From here we took to the sky in one of three hot-air balloons.
From the balloon basket we were treated to a bird’s eye view of the vast Mara plains and the lush green forest that hug the contours of the Mara River.
Herds of wildebeest dot the grasslands below us and several of the herds are moving towards the river, which was a good sign. Our landing promised to be a bumpy one as the wind picked up ever so slightly from the time we left camp. Everyone buckled down with heads pushed back in preparation for the landing. A few nervous chirps and giggles were heard as the basket made contact with the ground.
In no time at all, the basket came to a complete stop as it gently toppled onto its side. These balloon flights are one of the best ways to view and experience the Mara, and offers its occupants the opportunity to view what lies forgotten in the thick forested areas and the hidden corners of the Mara River.
The end of our balloon flight was met with a wholesome breakfast spread, laid out at the base of the escarpment, with uninterrupted views of the Mara plains.
The focus for the rest of our day was to photograph the large wildebeest herds we saw moving down to the water. Luck was on our side, when we received news of a big buildup of wildebeest at one of the major crossing points on the Mara River. We made our way to the edge of the river and placed ourselves in the best possible position from where to photograph the crossing. We waited patiently for about an hour before we could hear the first sounds of the wildebeest coming closer. Our patience finally paid off when the frontrunners erupted from the thicket, making their way to the water’s edge.
The number of wildebeest storming down to the river kept increasing and was estimated to be between 5,500 and 6,000 animals. The cloud of dust made for some really dramatic images!
Hereafter we followed the herd as they made their way onto the grass plains in their thousands. The migration is not only what takes place at the river crossings, but also seeing the vast numbers of wildebeest and zebra spread out as far as the eye can see.
What a truly eventful day! We returned to camp for a very late lunch, all very happy with the day’s photography.
Day 8: Sadly, all good things must end and much too soon arrived the day of departure. We spent our last morning enjoying the views of the Mara and had a great time practicing some fun photography.
With not a single Topi on a mound anywhere in sight, I had to replace them with a different species!
Most of all, I enjoyed the company of three phenomenal people whom I am privileged to call friends. YY, Wymin and Sue-Ann, I can not thank you enough for the great humor you tackled each day with, the many laughs and jokes and off course YY’s singing! Daisy… Daisy… will never be the same again, thank you YY! I thank you for a most enjoyable and memorable safari and I can not wait for our next adventure!