Eastern Expedition: a Client’s Perspective

We love hearing from our clients once they’ve returned home. If Africa is on your bucket list (and it should be!) read below for an in-depth review from two of our clients on the fantastic Eastern Expedition!

 

Eastern Expedition: the perfect adventure to experience two of the best wildlife destinations in the world – Kenya & Tanzania.

 

19 May Nairobi

On our first day in East Africa, we were met by friendly staff at Nairobi airport and transferred to the Safari Park Hotel to relax. The lively hotel is an African-themed resort providing excellent accommodation in a beautifully landscaped garden and indigenous forest. This hotel with a colonial touch turned out to be the perfect start to our adventure.

20 May Masai Mara National Reserve

We were met by our Customer Service Representative who briefed us on our itinerary and all we had to know about Kenya. She answered all or queries very effectively. There after we were in the very capable hands of Benjamin – our effervescent chauffeur/guide for rest of the stay in Kenya.  Leaving Nairobi, we travelled towards Kenya’s fertile highlands and headed down the Rift Escarpment on a road built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II. We stopped in a charming chapel built by the Italians at the foot of the escarpment. A little past Narok we had our first experience of an African massage before we reached Masai Mara in time for lunch. There was plenty of wildlife around us even before we reached the luxurious Mara Sopa Lodge which was home for the next two days. Set in the Oloolaimutia Valley built into the hillside landscape the lodge blended well with the surroundings and the Masai village close by. During the afternoon safari we saw thousands of animals in the vast Mara plains – the highlight was two prides of lions of which we were able to observe one pride very close up for a long time enjoying seeing the cubs playing freely.

21 May Masai Mara National Reserve

The next day we did a full day game drive with a picnic lunch. This turned out to be an excellent recommendation from Benjamin which let us experience the far corners of the magnificent Mara without having to back track to the lodge. As we set out we were greeted by a family of over 30 Masai Giraffes at very close quarters. Again, we saw many elephants, buffaloes and virtually all the different types of antelopes in their hundreds. The highlight of the day was a Cheetah and her cub which we got to observe for a long time close up. The beauty of Masai Mara plains is indeed mesmerizing. As the park permits to do off road we were able to get close to animals. Benjamin was careful not to take advantage of this and make the animals uncomfortable. We returned to the, lodge visiting the Masai Village next to the lodge just in time to enjoy the sun set with a drink at the bar as well as enjoy the wonderful facilities of the Mara Sopa Lodge.

22 May Lake Nakuru

Leaving Masai Mara after breakfast we travelled across the breadbasket of Kenya, seeing acres on acres of wheat and barley as well as the vast plains on the floor of the Rift Valley.  As always you are in the midst of herds of giraffe and gazelle even before we arrived at the spectacular Lake Nakuru Sopa lodge around midday.  Located on a range of hills on the Great Rift Valley, this lodge is a real tranquil gem with outstanding views over the picturesque Lake and park below. The highlight was seeing a large family of the elegant, endangered Rothschild Giraffe as well as two herds of white rhinos – a real joy to watch. The park is also a paradise for bird watchers although the flamingos were at a distance.  After just 2 parks we have already seen 4 of the Big 5 – hence the inviting bar at the wonderful lodge was the perfect place to celebrate!

23 May Lake Naivasha

After a spectacular sun rise at breakfast, we continued to Lake Naivasha to see hippos at quite close quarters which was most exiting. The birdlife was fascinating. We were able to circle Crescent Island with an abundance of wildlife where part of the film ‘out of Africa’ was filmed. The boatman was able to tempt a white bellied fish eagle perched high up on a tree with a fish he threw into the water. The eagle whisked down and snatched the fish out of the water right in front of us. Unfortunately, we were not as fast as the eagle with our camera work to capture the moment! Leaving the Rift Valley behind we proceed via Nairobi to Amboseli. This time we were lucky to have a commanding view of the rift valley below from the look out -a privilege denied on the out outward journey due to mist. We were also fortunate to get a clear view of the towering Mt Kilimanjaro as we drove in to Amboseli Sopa Lodge set on the foothills of Africa’s highest mountain and probably afforded the best view of the iconic mountain.

24 May Amboseli National Park

The mountain was hiding from us the whole day except for a slight glimpse of the peak momentarily. However, the full day game drive was most interesting with hundreds of elephants being the highlight. The hippos and bird life in the marshes kept us interested all day whist the saddled billed stalk was clearly the cynosure. It was nice to enjoy a hot picnic lunch at the picnic site of Sopa Lodge and return a bit early to relax at the lodge.

25 May Lake Manyara

At breakfast the majestic Mt Kilimanjaro miraculously rose out of the clouds in all its glory. Suddenly all the guests scrambled for their cameras and rushed out to capture the awesome sight- fortunately she was generous and afforded all of us a good view for an hour or so before covering herself with clouds again. We then proceeded through the park to the Tanzania border post in Namanga. It was time to say goodbye to Benjamin whose knowledge on Kenya and the wildlife was outstanding. He knew the names of every animal and bird we saw – which is no easy task considering the sheer numbers. He knew all about these amazing creatures and educated us to love these animals even more. We were then met by efficient staff at the border and helped us through immigration procedures and took us to Arusha for lunch where we met Naomi who briefed us on the itinerary in Tanzania.  After lunch, we were in the capable hands of our chauffer guide Sumawe who drove across the Masai Steppe to the Great Rift Valley to our hotel Lake Manyara Serena Lodge perched high on the rim overlooking the park below. As in Nakuru it was again a dramatic setting at the edge of an escarpment overlooking both the Great Rift Valley, which formed millions of years ago, and the beautiful soda lake of Manyara.

26 May Serengeti National Park                                                                        

After breakfast we spent the morning exploring and driving through the lush Lake Manyara National Park with abundant birdlife and a large number of other animals. After lunch we departed for Serengeti National Park with ample game viewing and very pleasant landscapes en route. On entering the Ngorongoro conservation area Sumawe warned us to brace ourselves for another African massage but it turned out to be a very fascinating drive climbing up on a well graded road through the clouds, driving along the crater rim and then the plains. Even before we reached the lodge we were treated to a plethora of wildlife along the way. Just before we got to the lodge we ran in to a pride of lions and a large lioness perched up on a tree close by adjacent to our 4WD. It was indeed a fitting welcome to the greatest national park in the world.  The delightful Serengeti Sopa Lodge was home for the next two days.  Located in the Nyarboro Hills in the south west of the Serengeti National Park among acacia woodland, the lodge was ideal to view wildlife in the immediate vicinity of the lodge as well as over the seemingly endless Serengeti plains. The balcony and veranda offered stunning views over the plains and brilliant sun sets.

27 May Serengeti National Park                                                                        

As we woke up we had a large water buck and her baby to greet us right opposite our room. We found it hard to find words to describe the beauty and the wildlife spectacle at Serengeti. It is without doubt the greatest wildlife show on earth. The sheer number of animals and birds is hard to get your head around. We were fortunate to witness the migration which is mind boggling. We had seen many thousands of wildebeests, Zebras and gazelles in all of the previous parks but to see so many lined up was a sight never to be erased from your mind.  It did not take us long to see about 4 prides of lions and a few individual lions. On all our safaris so far the leopard had eluded us. Alas in Serengeti we saw 3 leopards which was much more than what we had bargained for – a good reason to celebrate as we had now triumphantly completed the big 5! What better place to achieve this than in the magnificent Serengeti.

28 May Ngorongoro Crater

As we left for Ngorongoro we had a sighting of a Cheetah quite close to our lodge which was an apt farewell to this park we did not want to leave. We made a visit to a Masai Village en route and enjoyed interacting with the Masai and appreciating their lifestyle, culture and customs. The drive across the Serengeti plains and the crater rim was once again breath taking. Our abode for the next two days was the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge. This was another real beauty located on Lemala Hill at an altitude of 2,375 metres on the uppermost eastern rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.  The view into the crater floor from here was spectacular as were the sunsets.

29 May Ngorongoro Crater

Early morning we were greeted by an elephant and a baby opposite our room. The safari began in five minutes from leaving the lodge as the park gate was very close. Soon we were greeted by a pride of loins which had quite a few male lions with large manes – something we did not see very much up to then. It is easy to understand why this park is commonly referred to as the World’s largest natural wildlife zoo. As you descend through the early morning mist and 2,000 feet into the crater you are greeted with an abundance of animals and birds in the Crater which is the World’s largest intact volcanic caldera comprising of several distinct areas, ranging from forest, swamps, lakes and springs, to open grassland and some sandy dunes. It’s an awesome wildlife experience to see so much of wildlife in a compact place. It was quite a challenge to have our lunch at the picnic site as a pride of lions had made a kill of a wildebeest and was feasting on it quite close to the picnic site and toilets. On the other side were hippos in the water! – Our toilet break was quick and we ended up having lunch in the 4WD! We were fortunate to sight two black rhinos – the only big animal not seen previously so far. It was significant to see very large tusks on the elephants in the crater.

30 May Tarangire National Park

Departing Ngorongoro Crater we headed south east via Manyara, Mto wa Mbu village to Tarangire. As we passed through the highlands and the Karatu district we encountered scenic wheat and coffee plantations before journeying down the spectacular escarpment again where we turned south on to the main Arusha – Dodoma road and into the park. Sumawe was kind enough to buy us different types of bananas which tasted delicious. Our last night was at Sopa Tarangire – again a fabulous lodge within the park with dik dik, hyraxes and other wildlife frequenting the lodge premises.

In Tarangire we were able to observe large herds of elephants. By this time we had seen most of the animals in other parks. Yet there was more – a honey badger and an owl surprised us before our safari experience ended.

31 May Arusha

We departed to Arusha doing some shopping on the way. Here we had to reluctantly bid goodbye to Sumawe. As in the case of Benjamin he knew every animal and bird we saw. He even knew how old the animals were and related wonderful stories about most and customs and life in general in Tanzania. We probably will remember names of most of the big animals but not sure how many names of birds we will remember with time but for sure will remember most of the interesting anecdotes and stories!

 

As they say Africa does have an enchanting effect on you. It leaves you with a yearning to return and discover more. These massive countries are so vast and diverse a lifetime is certainly not enough to discover them sufficiently. Without doubt East Africa puts up the greatest wildlife spectacle the world has to offer. It is a great joy to watch these animals in such great numbers move freely in their natural habitats. No other country comes even close to offering such an experience as sadly most have destroyed their fauna and flora in the name of development. The massive and varied landscapes and sheer number of fauna and flora in East Africa will bewilder anyone. We visited several national parks and all of them were distinctively different from each and interesting in their own way. Between the eight parks we would have seen over a million wildebeest, another million zebras & gazelles, over thousand elephants, hundreds of giraffe and hippos plus many more animals and birds.   Although seeing the Big 5 is a realistic opportunity, the smaller animals and bird life is even more fascinating as are awe inspiring landscapes.

 

The guides and customer experience we enjoyed leveraged their professionalism and in-depth knowledge of Kenya and Tanzania to put together the perfect itinerary to show case the two best countries in the world offering wildlife experiences. The luxurious Sopa Lodges were all located within or very close to the parks blending perfectly with the natural surroundings bringing wildlife close to you and making the whole wildlife experience very enriching. The service was outstanding with well stocked bars and excellent dining options at reasonable prices. There aren’t many bars and restaurants in the world in the middle of fascinating national parks to share exciting wildlife sightings and sunsets/sun rises over a bottle of Champaign or wine! Well trained and knowledgeable guides -Benjamin and Sumawe made a quantum difference bringing the whole experience to life with their knowledge, intriguing stories, flexibility and suggestions to make the most of our holiday. In Benjamin and Sumawe it was great to have a trusted friend by your side all the time attending to our comfort constantly throughout the safari. The custom made 4WD safari vehicles have been perfectly adapted to African conditions to afford the best possible viewing of wildlife and on board comfort including refrigerated water, power sockets, retractable roofs and very comfortable window seats for all. We were indeed sad to say goodbye to East Africa after possibly our best ever holiday, however we now have a permanent bond to East Africa as we adopted a baby elephant – Dupotto orphaned in the Masai Mara. We will be monitoring her progress through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and hopefully be back some day to see Dupotto get back to the wild and for us to discover more of East Africa

 

 

Noeline & Gehan

 

 

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