I’m an island girl at heart but my other favourite kind of holiday has to be a safari vacay. Having previously experienced a couple of safaris in South Africa and Kenya I really do feel extremely grateful to have just come back from the most incredible 8 days on safari in Kenya staying at three luxury camps – Mara Plains and Mara Nyika in two conservancies in the Masai Mara and then Ol Donyo in the Chyulu Hills.
All three being the only Relais & Chateaux camps in Kenya – a real stamp of approval for the amazing experience which you will receive..
An hour flight from Wilson Airport to the landing strip in the Naboisho conservancy or a leisurely game drive between two of Great Plains luxury lodges in the Masai Mara - Mara Plains and Mara Niyaka.
Mara Nyika tented camp is the newest property by Great Plains and personally designed by the owners Dereck and Beverly. It’s nestled under an umbrella of ancient Acacia trees which create natural shade from the hot African sun.
While the camp is in a valley straddling a narrow stream, the beige colored canvas tents are set up high enough with wooden walkways so you can always enjoy the awe inspiring views out over the bush.
This is a small, cozy camp with only 5 large luxury tents consisting of 3 x one bedroom and 2 x two bedroom family tents.
We were staying in a one bedroom suite which was incredibly spacious - 3 tents were divided into three rooms – a living room with desk, central to the tent is a large bedroom and on the far end is the spacious bathroom. The entire suite has a wooden terrace spreading the width of the tent with a relaxing seating area.
Each room is separated by a curtain, providing privacy. The bathroom has the stunning signature Arabic door shower as a back drop and deep copper free standing bath next to the window offering great views of the bush which is regularly visited by many animals from elephants to Zebras.
The two bedroom family suites are exactly the same with the living room in the centre and both bedrooms and bathroom either side. Again a large terrace provides a great outdoor space.
The beating heart of the property is located in the middle of the 5 tents reachable by the wooden walk ways and opens up into a large central living/dining area which opens to a large terrace for dining and evening bonfires. Also on the terrace is a separate private dining area equipped with a wine cellar that is stacked with a large selection of wine.
What I loved about each of the three Great Plains properties which I stayed at, are the little touches – for example the communal washrooms in the communal/living area are well designed with the door as a curtain (again there is in no concrete used in the camps structure) when occupied you have to place the spear outside. Its sounds basic but its so effective and creative.
Being a Relais and Chateaux member the title speaks volumes for the food served. Lunches are always a selection of sharing dishes which include multiple salads and a protein, for example:
Turkey & Zucchini kebabs with sweet chill sauce
Harricot verts with caramelized onions
Wild rice with garden peas
Roasted aubergine with saffron coconut yoghurt
Balsamic roasted veggies
Nyika organic garden salad with roasted seeds
Cheese board and desert.
During the day the team will let you know what is on the menu for dinner in order for you to choose your three course meal. If you go on an afternoon game drive, dinner will be served anytime from 7.30pm and for late night game drives dinner will be served earlier.
There are many options for kids too. In fact anything your heart desires will be cooked especially for you.
I can honestly say the level of cuisine was incredible, always an explosion of flavors with an incredible variety of vast ingredients being used.
With many private areas around the property you can dine in the main living/dining area, wine cellar, on the terrace or out in the bush. You can also enjoy sitting around the open bonfire for early drinks and nibbles watching the animals in the distance as the sun sets.
Champagne bush breakfast and lunches can be arranged. One morning post our game drive we enjoyed an incredible bush breakfast, were the staff had set up a kitchen and dining table under the trees and served a full English cooked breakfast, a selection of pastries and acai bowls with coffee, juices and champagne.
Another little touch is a portable sink to wash your hands with hot water poured from a jug and a soft towel to dry your hands.
The conservancy is just simply incredible as you you can watch this untouched wilderness where Maasai herdsmen live in total harmony with nature which is awe-inspiring. This truly unique entity boasts a relationship between conservation and livelihood, as you see cows grazing on one side and on the other lions, hyenas and wildebeest.
Sam our guide was a true gem – as a masai himself he provided us with so much insight in to the masai lifestyle and how their families live. He could literally smell an animal even in the dark he knew exactly where the animals were.
One of the most outstanding game drive experiences I’ve ever had was when we were out on a night drive looking for a pride of 20 lions. It was pitch black and Sam turned on his red light, looked in his super bionic binoculars and plains away he said he could see the lions – I have no idea how as we drove for about 15 minutes and then we could hear the roaring as the dominate male was calling out. We parked the vehicle right next to him as he let out another loud roar – the other lions roared too in reply– the sound was electrifying as it vibrated through the ground. It was a little scary but Sam reassured us that the lions could only see the shape of the vehicle as a large box – and not that people are sitting in it an open invitation to dinner!
After a while the lions started to walk away looking for dinner. We slowly drove side by side with the lions. As we parked we noticed a poor little Topi that literally walked into the lions den – the lions surrounded it, the poor Topi had no chance and ran for its life straight towards us and unfortunately ran directly into the side of the vehicle – knocking itself out (I know crazy, we felt so bad). The lions walked up to the vehicle as saw the Topi was lying on the floor. The large male saw it and grabbed it and it was still alive walking away on his own with the Topi in his mouth while the rest of the pride watched with envy.
Another moment was watching a large full mane domineering male lion mark out his territory – walking miles and then coming across a cheetah who was eating her kill. He knew he could never catch her – shes simply to fast, but he did warn her off with a chase– she really wasn't bothered, however if the other lions were to surround her she would be in serious trouble.
Another wonderful sighting was a leopard sitting under a tree with her 4 adorable cubs, we watched them play together chasing each other and snuggling into their mother as she sat keeping guard. One of the cubs was limping and slightly behind the other three, it must have been injured. After watching her for so long, I named her “Hope” as I was so worried she wouldn't be able to keep up with her mother and siblings and be attacked. As we were watching, in the distance the mother saw a topi (like a deer) we watched her analyze the situation, checking out if any other predators were around. As we explored the area further – literally about 500 meters away a male lion was hiding in the bush with a wilder beast he had just caught.
As the lone baby topi lay on the grass, the mother leopard struck, running like the wind to catch her pray – quick and easy she pounced on the topi and carried it still alive back to her babies.
As her 4 cubs tore into the animal the mother kept watch staying alert and not letting her guard down.
It’s sometimes sad to watch these kills but its nature and we can not interfere with nature.
The same night I was informed that the weak limping baby leopard was caught by the lion – he wont eat it – he just kills off his competition.
Another favorite moment was when the red African sun was going down, Sam parked the vehicle in a way were we managed to capture the elephants directly in front of the sun – such a beautiful moment.
The beauty of where Mara Nyika is located in a private conservancy means that the wildlife is abundant, there are minimal safari vehicles as only lodges in the conservancy are permitted in this area and you can get extremely close to the animals.
The terrain is so incredible that you see everything be it high on mountain tops, low in the rocky valleys or out in the open plains.
I felt so lucky to see what we did then when driving back to the lodge early evening I asked Sam if there where any porcupines in Kenya to which 2 large ones ran out of the bush directly in front of our car!!
You cant take moments like this for granted its just luck and the beauty of nature.
As with all three Great Plains Camps guests have the use of a Canon camera with multiple lenses and a pair of binoculars. At the end of your stay all your images will be downloaded on a memory stick.
Like it’s neighbor, Mara Plains, Mara Nyika does an absolutely brilliant job of combining thoughtful conservation with sustainable luxury. It really is the perfect combination for a mindful traveler who wants to take in the beauty of African wildlife but with a minimal footprint as possible. A safari holiday should show respect to the animals that we are visiting and be cognizant of our role as temporary guests and I really believe Mara Nyika delivers on that.
The founders and visionaries
In collaboration with National Geographic, award winning filmmakers, photographers and conservationists Dereck and Beverly Jouberts have been helping to save wildlife and their habitats for over 30 years.
Mara Nyika is owned and run by their company Great Plains Conservation.
To find out more visit about the camps which are located in Kenya, Botswana and Kenya and are members of Relais & Chateaux: www.greatplainsconservation.com
To understand more about the foundation : https://greatplainsfoundation.com
Who are Dereck & Beverly Joubert?: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/explorers/joubert/
See more Great Plains Safari posts:
For a bespoke itinerary and exclusive rates contact Unique Family Travels.