Day 1: Arrive Kigali, Rwanda
After arrival at Kigali International Airport, clearing passport control and collecting baggage, you will be met by ORYX Leader Marius Coetzee. You will be transferred to Serena Kigali for your overnight stay.
On an enchanting boulevard in the heart of Kigali, Rwanda, in a secure location just a five-minute walk from the CBD, lies Kigali Serena Hotel. A distinctively rich blend of Rwandan heritage, art and culture with contemporary 5-star comfort in 148 sophisticated rooms and suites, Serena Kigali provides a private and peaceful retreat like no other for discerning international diplomats and executives.
Day 2: Road transfer from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park
Following breakfast and at a time to be advised we will do a tour of the Genocide memorial (approximately one and a half hours). This educational tour will answer all questions you may have on the tragedy that had befallen Rwanda in 1994 and make you more so appreciate where this amazing little country finds itself today. Hereafter you will depart Kigali by road transfer (approximately two and a half hour journey) on a very scenic tour through this clean green country to Volcanoes National Park, your base for the duration of your stay in Rwanda.
On arrival at Bisate Lodge we will be met with friendly smiles, and a refreshing welcome drink before we are shown to our accommodations. Tonight, before dinner and at a time agreed upon, we will meet in the lounge for a talk on Mountain Gorilla photography, techniques and camera settings in preparation for the following day.
Day 3: Volcanoes National Park – Gorilla Trek I
After a delicious 6am breakfast, we will set off for a short drive to the National Park Headquarters where we will receive a quick briefing on the upcoming Gorilla trek.
Thereafter, we will likely have a short drive to the closest point to the specific Gorilla family we have been allocated to. It is customary for us to hire a local porter who will carry participant’s backpacks and assist on the trek itself. This is a great initiative to support the local community and the porters prove themselves invaluable when your trek turns out longer than expected. Upon reaching the park boundary, our park guide will give us a short briefing on walking etiquette inside the National Park.
The scenic and refreshing hike is set at our own comfortable pace with plenty of stops and photo opportunities. During these stops, our park guide will share some of their knowledge and answer any questions we may have. Once we reach the armed trekkers, who guard each Gorilla family, we will leave behind our porter, backpack and walking stick. No food or water from this point on!
Shooting off 600 to 1000 images in the allocated one hour visit with the Gorillas is not uncommon! The sheer size of these gentle Giants is enough to make ones heart skip a beat and at first they appear to be very intimidating, but once the youngsters start with their antics, nerves will give way to laughter. Years of habituation means that these animals show very little interest in their human spectators, especially the big Silverbacks.
These are highly intelligent creatures and this is evident in the way in which they communicate and go about their daily routine. An initial perceived look of intimidation from the dominant Silverback soon turns into an incredible emotional connection.
In the afternoon, if time and weather permits, we will take a short one hour drive to a beautiful viewpoint, beneath which lies two scenically spectacular lakes (known locally as Two Lakes”) and here we will have opportunities to photograph the landscapes of Rwanda, including spectacular vistas across the Volcanoes National Park.
Day 4: Volcanoes NP – Gorilla Trek II, Helicopter to Kigali, and Charter Flight to Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Masai Mara via. Kisumu (Mara Plains)
Following the same routine as yesterday, we will once again hike into the National Park and spend a magical hour with another group of assigned gorillas. The 2nd experience is usually more magical than the first, as now you will be more comfortable around these incredible animals.
After our Gorilla trek we will head to back to the lodge to freshen up, before a 30 min drive to Musanze airstrip for helicopter flight (approximately 30 minutes) back to Kigali airport. Upon arrival at Kigali Airport we will board a charter PC12 and fly (approximately 2 and a half hours) to Kenya’s Masai Mara via Kisumu.
Upon arrival in the Masai Mara, we have a 30-minute game drive to Mara Plains (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.
If a camp’s success lies in its details, then Mara Plains Camp is truly blessed, located as it is on a bend in the Ntiakitiak River in the heart of the 35,000-acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy which abuts Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve to its south.
Upon arriving at the camp, you walk across a bridge over the river, through a thick, riverine forest, up a small slope to some giant steps, only to be greeted by an endless horizon with one, single, flat-topped tree – the quintessential shape of East Africa – right in your line of sight.
It’s a small detail, perhaps, but one which Great Plains co-founder Dereck Joubert spent days considering as he paced the approach to ensure the impact of arrival in camp was maximized. On deciding the best route, his only hope remained that an elephant didn’t flatten that all-important tree!
Such are the apparently unimportant decisions which, when added up, go towards making Mara Plains Camp the marvellous combination of romance, adventure, discovery and exploration that it is.
Days 5 to 6: Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Masai Mara
We have four full days to explore our private concession in the rolling Acacia-dotted plains of the northern Mara. The Maasai Mara and the adjoining Loita plains form the northern-most (8,000 km²) portion of the Serengeti - Mara ecosystem, a 25,000 km² area usually encompassing the annual movements of the migratory wildebeest. The Mara is higher in altitude, cooler, has more hills, is more fertile and receives more rainfall (approximately 760mm per year), and is therefore lusher and greener than the expansive plains of the Serengeti.
The eco-system is home to the world's greatest wildlife spectacle, the annual great Wildebeest migration. These grazers, together with Plains Zebra and Thompson's gazelle traverse the eco-system through the year, and whilst there are resident animals in the Mara throughout, numbers swell to gigantic proportions during the drier season stretching from July/August to October/November.
Day 7: Road transfer Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Masai Mara to Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara
After a morning safari and breakfast we will road transfer to Mara Plain’s brand new sister camp Nyika Plains situated in the Naboisho conservancy.
Mara Nyika is unique in that it allows guests to explore the private and exclusive 50 000-acre Naboisho Conservancy in which it is located and further afield with safari drives into the Maasai Mara Reserve. Guest’s stay enables us supporting over 500 Maasai families with a sustainable livelihood through the payment of conservation fees and which ultimately ensures the conservation of the wildlife in this vital corridor of the Maasai Mara eco-system.
Day 8: Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara
The Mara's abundant herbivores make it a paradise for predators. The large carnivores include the big cats - Lion, Leopard and Cheetah are seen regularly and will provide us with truly magnificent photographic opportunities.
More than a million Wildebeest and two hundred thousand Plains Zebra migrate annually following the rains in search of better grazing.
Crossing the Mara River is the greatest obstacle they must face, and includes steep banks and strong currents, but the biggest menace is, without a doubt, the enormous Nile crocodile that has been living in this river for hundreds of years.
Although the enormous herds and large populations of charismatic predators are the undoubted stars of the Mara show, other wildlife including African Elephant, Giraffe, Topi, Thompson's Gazelle, Defassa Waterbuck and Cape Buffalo, as well as various primates are all here too, providing one of the most holistic photographic experiences in Africa.
Also regularly seen are smaller carnivores such as Black-backed Jackal, Bat-eared Fox and the elegant Serval. Black Rhino are a little shy and hard to spot but are regularly seen at a distance.
One of the highlights of this expedition is without a doubt photographing the phenomenal Cheetah, and the Mara offers arguably the finest viewing of these felines in Africa. The undulating landscape, savanna woodlands and rich riparian habitats provide a theatrical setting for our photography, not to mention the soul-soothing sunsets.
As with the rest of Kenya, the birdlife is abundant, offering remarkable opportunities for bird photography. Common species include colourful starlings and rollers, and a rich assemblage of raptors, including large numbers of Rüppell’s Vulture and the hulking Lappet-faced Vulture. As the day heats up, vultures can be seen riding the hot air thermals that rise off the plains, utilizing their acute vision to search for a carcass on which to feast.
Day 9: Charter Flight Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara to Nairobi and Depart for Final Destination of Choice
Sadly, today, and at a time to be advised, we depart the Masai Mara and charter fly back to Wilson Airport Nairobi. Upon arrival in Nairobi we will road transfer to the nearby House of Waine Hotel. ORYX has pre-booked day rooms at this luxurious hotel on your behalf to relax and freshen up before transferring to Jomo Kenyatta Airport where this incredible East African safari sadly comes to an end.