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Trip Report Mara trip report - Emakoko, Rekero and Mara Plains

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We have just returned from another fantastic trip to the Mara. On this trip we spent a night at a new Nairobi hotel (Emakoko) followed by three nights at Rekero and three nights at Mara Plains camp.

Photo link below- apologies in advance for those of you who don’t like big cat photos !!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/53028667@N05/sets/72157629343495239/


Emakoko

When we have travelled to Kenya in the past, as the BA flight arrives very late at night, we have generally spent the night at one the hotels in the city centre. On this occasion we decided to give the Emakoko a try. It has just opened (we were the third guests !) and is a luxury lodge right on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. In fact, access to the lodge is through the park so we started with 30 minute night drive from the and, the following morning, we had a morning drive en route to Wilson airport. One of the reasons we chose the Emakoko is that we needed a day room on our final day and wanted to stay somewhere a little different as we have already visited the Giraffe centre, Daphne Sheldrick etc …

The lodge had just opened with five rooms complete and the rest due for completion in the next few weeks. The rooms are all individually constructed to a very high standard and the site very big. The food was excellent and there will be a swimming pool ready for use in the next few days. I suspect that their target market is the Ngong House / Giraffe Manor clientele. We have stayed at Giraffe Manor before and Emakoko was much better in terms of accommodation, food and location but does not have the Giraffe Manor history (instead it has the Nairobi NP). I would choose Emakoko for return visits although could understand ‘first timers’ wanting to visit Giraffe Manor. Emma Childs and Anton Walker are excellent hosts and have invested a lot of time and money in what is quite a brave venture – it deserves to succeed and I really hope it does.

It has been thirty years since I have been to Nairobi National Park and had low expectations. I was however very pleasantly surprised. On our morning drive to Wilson airport we saw three white rhinos and a male lion and on our afternoon drive, two black rhino and another lion. There was also a lot of plains game – mainly zebra, buffalo and hartebeest.

Rekero camp

Our first three nights in the Mara were spent at Rekero camp. The camp itself was excellent – well hosted by Clea and Conway, very good food, nice tents and an excellent location on the Talek river with lots of night time noise from the hippos, lions and elephants ! There was also an excellent group of people staying at the camp when we were there, hosted by Andy Rouse, the professional wildlife photographer. We had an exclusive vehicle and the game drives were totally flexible (except that we had to be back in camp by around 7.15pm as the camp is within the reserve). We chose to have a picnic breakfast in the bush each morning – the settings were fantastic but the picnic breakfasts a bit basic. Martin was an excellent guide and great fun.

We knew in advance that the grass in the Mara was long, which made for more difficult game viewing than is normally the case. Plains game was concentrated in areas where the grass was shorter – in particular, the area around Topi Plains was teeming with zebra, topi, wildebeest, eland and gazelles. We had good lion sightings but were unlucky with leopard which you normally expect to see in the Rekero area. Cheetah numbers are sadly reducing in the Mara and we only saw one whilst at Rekero. We also saw a rare black rhino and a wonderful hyena den with pups of varying ages. Whilst the reserve itself was only about 50% full (at a guess), the main sightings did attract a number of vehicles. We only saw a maximum of seven at any one sighting but heard a case of 20 vehicles around a cheetah further east in the reserve. This is somewhat worrying given it is only mid season and was a consequence of low cheetah numbers and hard game spotting generally because of the grass.


Mara Plains

After three excellent nights at Rekero we moved on to Mara Plains which, although only a 45 minute drive away, is situated in the Olare Orok conservancy just to the north of the reserve. The main advantage of this conservancy is the reduced vehicle numbers (only three small camps), the ability to drive “off road” and to undertake night drives. These advantages proved to be critical as we had fantastic cheetah and leopard sightings – initially on our own and only eventually joined by a couple of other vehicles. I think the conservancy is trying to follow the South African private reserve rules and only allow up to four cars (the original spotter plus three others) at a sighing at any one time. On previous visits, the downside to conservancies has been cattle grazing – at Olare Orok it was well managed, non invasive and actually improved game viewing because of the resultant lower grass levels.

Our main guide (other than for the first evening drive) was Ping, one of the most senior guides in the Mara. His knowledge of the area, fauna and flora, was exceptional – certainly the best guide we have ever had. We found most of our own animals and you could sense his disappointment when we were searching for something specific only to find that another vehicle had found the animal before us ! On our first evening we had an astonishing leopard sighting – we were on our own with a female leopard for around 4 hours when she started to hunt at around 9pm, caught a dik-dik, carried it for one km and then deposited it in a tree. She then walked for another 500m when we heard a squeak from the bushes and her six week old cub appeared ! The following morning we returned before sunrise and had mother and cub (and dead dik-dik) to ourselves for another two hours. None of this would have been possible inside the reserve as we would have had to return to the camp by 7.15pm and there would have been many more vehicles. We also had a very good cheetah sighting – again spotted by us and on our own with them for an hour. I think that the conservancies, if well managed, will be the future of the Mara - certainly at the higher end of the market.

The camp itself was fantastic. Richard and Lorna were superb hosts with Richard’s stories particularly enthralling. The food was fantastic, as was the service generally.


Overall, another fantastic trip. These camps were the seventh and eighth we have visited in the Mara and are the two best we have visited (and some of the others we have visited have been more expensive). It was tougher to spot the cats because of the grass but that made it all the better when we found them !

Phil

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