Kenya – Private Amboseli & Samburu Photo Tour with Penny Robartes
The 9th of May heralded the commencement of my private photo tour to Kenya, but also a month-long stint away from home where I would in total, lead 4 ORYX photo tours.
My guest and I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya together from South Africa where we had a pleasant afternoon relaxing at the hotel and settling in. We had a treat planned for the next day that we wanted to be ready for: a helicopter flight to Lake Magadi for Flamingo photography.
Flying over Nairobi National Park, we headed toward the southernmost lake in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Lake Magadi is a saline, alkaline lake lying in a catchment of faulted volcanic rocks. During the dry season, most of the lake is covered by soda which draws wading birds to its waters, including Flamingo.
Although we weren’t visiting the lake in the dry season, there were still pockets of Flamingo that we trained our cameras on. Dreamy and at times, other-worldly images were captured and this excursion proved to be a wonderful, impromptu start to our Kenya – Amboseli & Samburu private photo tour.
The official start of our private Amboseli Photo Tour began with a short flight from Wilson Airport to Amboseli National Park. The objective for our time at this beautiful park was to train our cameras on the massive herds of free-roaming Elephant. Mount Kilimanjaro is a snow-capped mountain that is located in Tanzania, but provides a dramatic backdrop to Amboseli. We were very lucky that most of our mornings and evenings here had Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped head on display! This mountain is famed for hiding behind clouds so our timing and visuals were just perfect.
Our accommodation is located in a private conservancy bordering the National Park. No fences separate the two areas, allowing the wildlife to roam free and unrestricted. Unlike the National Park, the private conservancy is limited only to game drive vehicles & their guests from our camp, and we are allowed off-road driving which provided freedom to explore and set up images we sought to create.
A fun and impromptu activity we did one morning was to take a hot air balloon ride. We soared above the cloud cover that still lay low over the land, offering us an intimate view of the sun rise and Kilimanjaro that would not have been visible from the ground. A very special experience indeed!
One of the aspects I enjoyed most about my time here with my guest is her openness and happiness of being in nature. There were times where she was just happy to see where the drive would take us, allowing her to breath in the environment around, drink in deeply the sights we came across with excitement and pleasure. While our local guide and I still had a game plan, it was refreshing to know that just being back in nature was already a highlight for my guest.
After a lovely few days in Amboseli, we flew to Samburu National Park in northern Kenya for our Samburu Photo Tour. Our goal here was more cultural orientated with a phenomenal full-day photographic exploration via helicopter.
Upon arrival at Samburu we were taken on a game drive en route to our camp. We came across the very dazzling but endangered Grevy’s Zebra, the beautifully patterned but also endangered Reticulated Giraffe, ORYX Photo Tours’ namesake; the Oryx, and some other wildlife species.
With temperatures unseasonably hot, we were excited to reach our gorgeous accommodations, have some fresh, delicious lunch, and relax in our rooms that each had its own private plunge pool. This pool, was for me, a wonderful life-saver after photographic activities!
My guest decided to take the afternoon activity session easy and acquaint ourselves with the environment and atmosphere we would be spending the next 4 nights at. We were taken to a huge rocky outcrop where we walked to the top and had a beautiful sundowners and a very vast and gorgeous view of Samburu. This was a time where we got to know our local guides better, relax from the last few days of busy wildlife photography activities, and talk about our upcoming excursions along with other topics. This guest has joined me on a photo tour before, so it was wonderful to have this moment to reflect & catch up properly.
The next morning we woke up early and headed into Samburu National Park. The highlights of our game drive were definitely some lovely moments spent with some Elephant herds and Grevy’s zebra – which really are a dazzle when you see them all together! We had a delicious breakfast under some palm trees with a visit of a very relaxed Elephant cow with her young calf and its older sibling. True to the nature of adolescent Elephant, there was a lot of trumpeting, ear flapping, head held high, and running around. We sat in silence, awareness & respect, until the adolescent calmed down once it saw that its mother was calm too, and had started to slowly move away.
Our camp is perched on the edge of a river valley with breath-taking views across the Laikipia Plateau toward Mount Kenya’s jagged peaks. As today was a particularly hot day with the heat lingering in the air, our evening saw us down on the riverbed for sundowners as we soaked up the visuals around us as the sun made its decline.
This morning brought the anticipation and excitement to a higher level at what the day held for us! Today we were going to explore a vast area of Samburu’s landscapes and a remote culture that truly still upholds its traditions and authenticity. But let me hold back back and rather break each section down for you.
Departing from the helicopter hangar at our camp, we past over gorgeous scenery and wildlife sightings as we flew straight to Lake Bogoria. I sat in the front seat with the pilot so that my guest could sit directly behind me with open doors, allowing me to read pending visuals, point out shapes and patterns ahead of time, as well as redirect our pilot over areas.
Lake Bogoria is a saline, alkaline lake and as previously noted with Lake Magadi, Flamingoes love these type of lakes! Lake Bogoria, however, is home to one of the world’s largest populations of lesser Flamingoes that congregate here to feed on the blue green algae grows so well here. We flew over a geyser spouting on the lake’s edge before flying higher to a boulder where we landed to stretch our legs and have a cup of tea. The view over the lake with it’s flamingoes was mesmerising!
From here we flew into the West Pokot district to interact with, learn from, watch and photograph the Pokot people. This tribe is probably one of the few, last remaining traditionally authentic tribes in Africa. No clothing, beadwork, and other adornments are tailored to be more eye-catching and spectacular for tourist eyes. No ceremony is undergone for solely our pleasure. It is still all theirs, and we are invited to partake and view as much as we want. Blue is a local Pokot who is speaks English fluently, but left the tribe a few years prior to explore Kenya and learn more. Coming back to his tribe, he is the mediator between travellers and his tribes people, and was so happy to be able to share their traditions with us. As we had pre-booked this visit, the Pokot people used this gathering to their need, and we were witness to a ceremony where the men choose their wives. The singing was hypnotic, earthy and transformative. I sat behind the women after the ceremony was done, where the Pokot sat together in a large circle; the women on one side and the men on the other. The elders sat in the centre and told stories. One elder then dipped a branch with leave into water and walked around the circle and shook the branch upon everyone and he blessed with with water and words. He leant over some of his people and blessed me too. It was a deeply humbling feeling and such a privilege. I will not forget this moment above all else.
On our last day, my guest decided to not go on a morning activity and instead, sleep in and enjoy the beautiful views and comfort of our camp. The day before had been a very full-on day, so this morning of relaxation was needed in order to absorb the incredible experiences we had had on this day, as well as the tour in general.
To end off our final evening in Samburu, as well as our private photo tour together, my guest and I met up with a group of Samburu warriors on the riverbed during the soft evening light, and photographed them as they showed us their Warrior Dance and told stories which furthered their camaraderie and bonds with one another.
It was a phenomenal 10-days photographic exploration of 2 of Kenya’s top wildlife & culture destinations.It left my guest and I will a bevy of truly memorable moments, photographic and video treasures that are testament to Kenya’s magic.
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Until next time,