I descended from the ‘green capital of the sun’ as Nairobi is fondly called to the lush greens of the Lewa wildlife conservancy, Kenya’s largest private wildlife conservancy, and the canvass of this place was enough to transport me to a different world. The safari started before I could unpack. As the land rower bumped among the half an hour drive from the conservancy gate to the Lewa safari camp, the animal spotting began. And even before reaching ‘the other paradise’ in this paradise land, I had clocked a family of elephants, herds of bachelors’ impala, Masaai ostriches and many reticulated giraffes.
I breathed in the moment as I reached the Lewa Safari Camp. Both stories of conservation and royal romance followed by a fairytale engagement of Prince Richard brought me to this place. Situated against the dramatic backdrop of the imposing, snow-covered Mt Kenya, in the midst of the rolling grasslands interrupted by occasional acacias and thorny bushes, Lewa embraces you in its wramth as you enter.
Lewa Safari Camp is a busy place. A main lounge constructed of cedarwood, houses the dining area, and the hidden shacks and wooden columns double up as playgrounds for its avian visitors. I say your mini game drive starts here, with weaver birds, spotted doves, skinks, large mongoose and even dik-diks, coming out from some corner to say ‘hi’ to you.
The recipient of several awards, Camp has on offer twelve en-suite safari tents, accommodating up to 27 guests at a time. Each thatch-covered tent is well equipped with modern amenities, embellished with impeccable décor, roll-up canvas walls to maximize game viewing and has ensuite bathrooms with power showers. The designing adds to the natural charm of these luxury tents. My tent faced east to make an album of moments of memorable sunrises and sunsets for me. And add the fervour of seeing the green and flat tableland.
Such a view and the serenity that wraps you, turns you a dreamer. I pictured myself on a hot air balloon that could take me over these lands, looking at families of reticulated giraffes making a move, their graceful limbs moving in slow motion or herds of grant’s gazelle chased by the ultimate chase machine of Africa, families of elephants and rhinos and the big cats – keeping an eye on their activities from above. Every little detail, amplified. Oh! The thought.
Blending rustic elements with contemporary design, Lewa safari camp is a piece of art in itself. A guard accompanies you from room to the dining area and it seems that every team member is a naturalist, led by Tamlin who is more a birder and a conservationist than a resort manager. Sit with him for a cup of coffee or tea and you will literally be transported to a raw battle ground with elephants, lions and his favourite painted hunting dogs as subjects on the field. He has his stories, and he can go on for hours, taking you from one part of Africa to the other and he has incorporated this ‘story sharing’ idea in the design of the resort. Lewa Safari Camp arranges a ‘jungle get together’ for the guests or rather holidayers. A table is set linearly for drinks and barbecue for quick munches, in an open area, which overlooks the rolling savanna grassland (you might be offered a lucky sighting from here). Gin and beer in the middle of wilderness, a clear sky bathed in evening hue, and a over inflated moon almost touching the massif of Mt. Kenya with an orchestra of stars and calls of hyenas for the background music. And then the floor opens for the religiously practised story sharing sessions, ardent safarians take the centre stage to transfix people with their wildlife commentary experiences drawn from years of travelling and falling in love with wilderness.
And when in Lewa Safari Camp, take time out to leave your safari vehicles behind to enjoy the little elements and the micro eco-systems through walking safaris and riding moments. Such trails often bring in close encounters with the protected two tonne tank sized royalty of the park or with herds of oryx and zebras and ostriches. The walking safaris are led by trained guides, who never fall short of sharing the rich moments they have had. Riding safaris are done in the evenings and are good to capture some raw creature moments, all while getting close and personal with the wildlife. In one such moment, I found myself in the middle of an elephant herd and a juvenile had come close enough to make my horse shudder.
To add more cultural flavor to the trip, take a cultural tour. Lewa Conservancy borders the Samburu community conservancy of Tassia and Il Ngwesi in the arid lowlands of the north. A local visit can be arranged to the villages. The Samburu tribe lives in semi-permanent huts known as Manyattas constructed using cattle dung and grass. The families will show you round their home for a fee and you can even buy some of their traditional handicrafts – bargain hard! Separate visits can be arranged to schools run with the help of a camp (a part of rent and conservancy fee goes to running of these villages).
Lewa Safari Camp’s review is half done, if its unparallel dining options are not mentioned. Going beyond the normal routine, Camp eagerly arranges the bush breakfasts and sundowners after a day of safari. So just set off, and lull your heart with the inescapable melody of the landscape, a carpet of wild flowers and the optimism in the lofty mountains overlooking all the activities as God’s messenger. Even a regular lunch or dinner in Lewa Safari Camp is unmissable. The continental and oriental delights are mouth-watering and the pleasure of having supper by a fireplace adds to the charm. Do ask for the specially brewed coffee; they rank it as their speciality.
To reach: One can either take an air route (45 minutes from Nairobi, cost around 100-150 USD) and arrive at Lewa strip or opt for road travel. Taxi from Nairobi can charge you around 10,000 kenyan shillings (one way). There is another way which I took, take a shuttle from Nairobi to Isiolo (just 600 shillings). The conservancy is four kilometres from the Meru-Isiolo junction. You can actually get down right at the gates of the conservancy. On way back, you will have to take a matatu (mini van) from the Meru – Isiolo junction to Nanyuki town (300 shillings) and a shuttle from Nanyuki to Nairobi (300 shillings). Pick and drop from/to the gate is arranged by the camp.