Elephant Watch Camp, Samburu

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Feb 25th, 2004, 11:51 AM
  #1
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Elephant Watch Camp, Samburu

Has anyone been here? If so, please tell about the accommodations (especially the bathroom areas built around a tree!), game viewing and anything else to help me decide whether to stay here. Thanks in advance.
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Feb 25th, 2004, 01:29 PM
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I can give you some info on Samburu, but not Elephant Watch Camp. I visited Samburu last August 2003 and stayed at the Serena Lodge, which although a fairly large lodge was less than 1/3 full. The game drives were very interesting and we didn't see many other vehicles except at a magnificent leopard sighting that was announced over the radio (I can't complain because that's how we found the leopard). Samburu is a very nice park, much drier than the Mara, but with a wide variety of game, again much less than the Mara. But during our three game drives we did see the Samburu specials, which were the reason for our trip (Reticulated Giraffe, Grevy's Zebra, Beisa Oryx, Gerenuk, Somali Ostrich and Vulturin Guinea fowl), plus lions, leopard, elephant, buffalo, cheetah, baboons and crocodile (in fact, our lodge fed the crocs at night and although they baited leopard, leopards did not take the bait). The highlight of the trip was a magnificent large male leopard resting in a tree, and we must have taken at least 20 photos during the hour we were there -- we only left when it began to get too dark for photography.

Also, the drive from Nairobi is not bad, and we broke it up on the return by stopping for lunch at Mt. Kenya Safari Club -- in my opinion, the least value for money that I've enountered (around US$70 per person for a very average buffet lunch). But its a nice place to wander around with an interesting zoo, including zebroids (hybrids between horses and zebras).
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Feb 25th, 2004, 02:03 PM
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thit_cho -

Re your comment that the road from NBO to Samburu wasn't bad - I gather you mean up till you got to Isiolo? As I recall, the road from Isiolo into Samburu is almost as bad as the road to Amboseli?

Also, how long (time)was trip from NBO to Samburu since you did it in a single haul? We stopped on both the trip up and down, so I'm curious? Thanks.



 
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Feb 25th, 2004, 02:16 PM
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Your correct -- the road from Isiolo into Samburu was terrible (bumpy, dirt road -- not really a road at all), but by then I considered us to be almost into Samburu and viewed our journey from Nairobi as being over. Although we made a few pitstops on the way to Samburu, I think total travel time to the Buffalo Spring gate where we entered the park was around 5 hours. We then did a game drive so we took around 3 hours to get to Serena, but I'm sure its less if you drive directly to Serena without the game drive.
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Feb 25th, 2004, 02:58 PM
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Well since Susan's thread is already way off topic I thought I'd add my 2 cents - we were at the Serena Lodge in Samburu in Oct '02 and was a great introduction to Kenya and much like 'thit cho' described (albeit we had a 6.5 hr drive from Nairobi including 3 stops along the way, with the last 40km/90 min on the dirt road from Isiolo (but it & the road to the Mara were no worse/no shorter than some of the 'logging roads' I've taken here in Canada for equally amazing fishing trips).

We stayed at the Mountain Lodge at Mt Kenya on the way back found it very relaxing (and while only a few kilometers from the equator, due to the elevation it was somewhat cold even for us Canadians - I never imaged I would have wished I'd packed a pair of mittens for Kenya).

But from my perspective, the roads were not as bad as I was lead to believe and I was gald that -
- we drove rather than flew as it gave us a chance to see the villages along the way & meet a few people
- many of the roads arn't paved, as the dirt roads impact the wildlife enough, paved roads would further impact the delicate environment and bring in more people than the areas can sustain

Later,

Z
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Feb 25th, 2004, 06:34 PM
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I'm familiar with the road conditions and the Samburu area itself, thanks. Was just looking for info about this new camp. Anyone?
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Feb 25th, 2004, 06:39 PM
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I didn't mean for my posting to sound at curt as it did. My apologies to Sandi, thit_cho and TravelMaster. But was really just looking for feedback about Elephant Watch Camp. I am intrigued by the place, but because it is relatively new I am a bit leary about going there, not sure if all the kinks of opening a new place have been worked out. Oh well ... how bad can it be, right?
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Feb 26th, 2004, 04:26 AM
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SusanLynne - sorry to have moved off subject. I checked the sites for this new camp and unfortunately there aren't any substantial pics of the actual tents and especially the bathroom!

Small tented camp - I like
Elephants up close - I like
The Owners, the Douglas' - long-time residents
The Price Range - more than reasonable

Being that new, I doubt there are many who can comment, so why not contact one of the sites, and ask your questions to them directly and request pictures, but you know that. As to "whether the kinks of a new camps have been worked out" - checking with the land operator is all I can think to do.

I find that reputable operators will be honest with you, regarding food, vehicles, guides, accommodations, security around the camp (guards or fences) water, if there is electricity or only lamps - you know, "the questions!"

But it sure looks interesting!
 
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Feb 26th, 2004, 02:02 PM
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Yeah, the lack of photos is one of the little things nagging me, since I don't like to "buy" without "seeing" the product. But it does sound good, doesn't it? I am torn between Elephant Watch and Lewa Downs for this area. Will do further investigating, as you suggested. Sandi, as always, thanks for your thoughtful response!
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Feb 27th, 2004, 02:33 AM
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A few years back I visited Olerai House (lake Naivasha)which is also owned by the Douglas Hamilton's and it is a charming place, beautifully decorated in typical Italian flair by Oria Douglas Hamilton, who is originally from Italy. I was lucky to meet her and she is a very domineering person but has a wealth of knowledge and interesting information. The staff were always happy and the food was exquisite.

At that time she was talking about her idea of building the Elephant Watch Camp. I think her project got delayed but now she has the camp up and running. The primary function of the camp is to introduce you to the elephants of Samburu that the Hamilton's have researched over many years. They have strong links with the Elephant Research station and are privy to detailed up-to-date research information that most cannot obtain. Thus you should be able to learn a lot about the elephants of Samburu. However, is this your primary interest? The reason I ask is that the camp is expensive and if you are not that interested in in-depth elephant interaction then you might be better off staying at Samburu Intrepids Camp which is cheaper.

What Elephant Watch camp offers is a small exclusive camp (designed in the typical chic Oria style I am sure) with a unique offering and surely good food and good location at a high price. Is the price worth paying? Perhaps it is if you really want to learn more about the elephants. It could turn out to be a very unique experience and perhaps a lifechanging one too.

I think you should email the camp to find out exactly what the routine would be, what the interaction with the elephants would involve, the menu, etc., especially as the price is high. Perhaps even plan the day to day programme in detail. I suppose you would want to stay there at least 3 nights in order to really get to know the elephants.

Lewa - I have been to Lewa and stayed at Lewa Safari Camp (tented camp) and Wilderness Trails( luxury cottages)both in Lewa Wildlife Coservancy. I highly recommend both. Lewa has been very successful with rhino conservation and you will see plenty of black and white rhino, sometimes with Mount Kenya in the background. Lewa also has large elephant and buffalo population and some unique wildlife that is also found at nearby Samburu (gerenuk, reticulated giraffe,grevy's zebra). The game is not as prolific as Samburu, which has the Ewaso Nyiro river to thank, but here you will find several different habitats, including savannah plains, woodland, swamps (with bird watching hides), which will make the game drives different everyday. There are cats here too but not very easy to see.

There is another advantage - small number of tourists. Also both places offer nature walks with armed guides, picnics in the bush, and sundowners taken on hills overlooking the spectacular Northern Frontier District of Kenya - one of the must see sights.

The manager at Lewa Camp at the time I was there was Sean who ran the camp with his wife and both were affable, welcoming and accommodating. Wildeness Trails is owned by the Craig family who have been in Kenya for many generations, having originally come from England. They usually host the guests, their house being in the same compound as the one where they have built the beautiful guest cottages, some old and some new. The Craigs too are very friendly and your stay here will be more like staying with friends -it is a very homely place. They also keep horses so you can indulge in some riding in the conservancy and they also have a tennis court. Both places have swimming pools. Apart from that they offer the same type of activities as Lewa Camp.

My suggestion would be to spend 2 nights at Lewa safari camp and 2 nights at Wilderness Trails.
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Feb 27th, 2004, 03:20 AM
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Am I right in guessing that Saba Douglas-Hamilton, who has joined Simon King and Jonathan Scott as a presenter of later series of Big Cat Diary, is the daughter of the Douglas-Hamiltons mentioned here?
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Feb 27th, 2004, 05:19 AM
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Quite right!
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Feb 27th, 2004, 06:46 AM
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Feb 27th, 2004, 10:43 AM
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King: I was hoping you would chime in on this posting!!! This is my dilemma: I will be in Tanzania Oct. 15 through the 27th, then fly over to Kenya for only nine days. The first day will be spent attending to business in Nairobi, then time to head out in the bush. My husband, who is less than enthusiastic about this whole trip to begin with, said the one thing that will make it "tolerable" is seeing rhinos. (We saw some on our 2002 trip in the Crater, but only from great distances). For rhino, few places compare to Lewa Downs. So, for his sake, I am more than happy to go there for three nights. MY goal is to be with elephants. Subsequently, Tsavo or Samburu came to mind. Tsavo may prove to be a bit out of the way on this trip due to time constraints - so Samburu it is. I must admit that the allure of Elephant Watch Camp is who operates it. I have the utmost respect for the Hamilton's. (And Kavey, I admit to being extremely jealous of Saba's excursions with the Big Cat Diary team!) Unfortunately, we can't spend more than two nights in this area, as we are going to move on to Meru. Decisions, decisions, decisions ... we will have to see what the savings account says! #39;(
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Feb 27th, 2004, 10:59 AM
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Based solely on my single trip to Samburu, it didn't seem to be that great a park for elephant viewing, at least not in August when I was there. We saw several lone bulls, and a few medium size herds (20 or so elephants), but I didn't see elephants in numbers like I have seen elsewhere in Africa (Amboseli, Chobe, Etosha, even Kruger). Maybe they migrate out of Samburu in August. I understand Tsavo is more difficult to reach based on your travel plans, but isn't it meant to be better for elephant viewing.

That being said, Samburu is beautiful and has an abundance of unusual animals. Its a great park, just not, I thought, one of the best for elephants.
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Feb 27th, 2004, 11:53 AM
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thit_cho: Point well taken, but the gameviewing for Oct/November in Tsavo is fair at best, while Samburu/Lewa Downs/Shaba areas are supposed to be "good." Believe me, I am torn between Tsavo and Samburu, I really am. It's just that with such little time, it seems to make the most sense to do the Lewa Downs/Samburu/Meru circuit, as they are all relatively close to one another. I may have to save Tsavo for 2006 trip. Oh dear ...
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Feb 27th, 2004, 01:35 PM
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Susan, me too, me too.
I must admit, I prefer the other two presenters, though it's nice to have a woman on the team, she just doesn't appeal to me as much in the way she describes and reacts to the cats...
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Feb 27th, 2004, 07:31 PM
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I wholeheartedly agree, Kavey. I think the only time I enjoyed her narration was the episode where two male adolescent lions (perhaps one was Solo?) were trying to make heads or tails of a rhino in the Mara. She genuinely seemed interested in the interaction between lions and the annoyed rhino. Perhaps because she was raised in Kenya and has been around wildlife all her life that she is a bit more accustomed to it, so she does not exude the enthusiasm that I expected from her? Whatever ... I am still jealous!
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Feb 28th, 2004, 02:44 AM
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SusanLynne

Are you flying from Arusha to Nairobi? If you are driving, then you can pop into Amboseli for 2nights, Ol Tukai Lodge is excellent for elepahnt watching, then take the morning flight to Nairobi and finish your business there. If you could leave the business bit to the end, then from Amboseli, you can fly onto Lewa via Nairobi on Air Kenya and from Lewa to Samburu and then fly back to Nairobi. I feel Meru may be the one that is out of the way. Nice park as it is and the accommodation at Elsa's Kopje outstanding (I presume you will be staying there), it does not have the game concentration of the other parks mentioned. After years of poaching in the park, the game has been affected but the wildlife service is making a good effort to rejuvenate the park. I suppose your visit to Meru will help towards that rejuvenation.

Also a friend of mine who has just arrived from Kenya says Samburu is teeming with elephants.

The other thing you could do is do Lewa, then Il Ngwesi (incredible community lodge 60 mins drive from Lewa)and then Samburu. I stayed at Il Ngwesi last year and loved it. It is owned and run by the local Masai and was a fantastic experience. One of the nights the bed was rolled out in the open and I slept under the stars! There is a waterhole right in front of Room 1 (the last room on the right handside of the main building)and I spent the afternoon watching an elephant bathing in the pool and also chasing baboons. Il Ngwesi is reintroducing rhino in the area and we saw 2 white and 1 black rhino called Omni. Omni is used to humans and we got to pat him, feel his horns... There wasn't much game around at the time but in the drier season it has apparently lots of elephant. At night I did hear the lions roaring. Il Ngwesi would be a unique experience. You will find good descriptions and slides on www.vintageafrica.com
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Feb 28th, 2004, 04:22 AM
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also look up www.lewa.org
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