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Take a walk on wild side to see life at a far slower pace.

Byline: By Miles Starforth

Torn bewteen a beach holiday and something different? Then Kenya could be the perfect destination.

Holidaymakers can split their time between the sun-kissed beaches of Mombasa, which are gently lapped by an invitingly warm Indian Ocean, and the country's huge game reserves, where Africa's Big Five roam wild.

The most famous of all, the majestic Masai Mara, sees two million wildebeest migrate from bordering Tanzania every year.

But year round, the big cats of the Masai Mara can be seen along with plain game like zebras and gazelles. There is never a dull moment on safari, whether it be dawn or dusk.

But before the Masai Mara there is Nairobi, Kenya's capital, and after a very comfortable overnight flight with flagship carrier Kenya Airways, there was a journey through the congested and teeming city by way of contrast.

Africa teases the senses like no other continent and the journey through Nairobi and onwards, towards the equator, offered a vivid snapshot of the city.

Then it was a drive north, across the equator and the country's rich farmlands, to the first reserve.

Located in the heart of a privately-owned ranch, Sweetwaters Tented Camp is literally, as it says on the tin, a tented camp. You sleep in well-equipped tents, complete with flushing toilet and verandas looking on to the reserve. On the other side of a small fence are giraffe and zebra, floodlit by night. It is a remarkable sight. A short walk from the tents is the Sweetwaters restaurant and bar, which also offer views on the reserve's many different game.

The reserve, which enjoys a stunning view of the snow-capped Mount Kenya, is also famous for its chimpan- zee sanctuary and Morani, the only tame black rhino in the country.

A drive across the eastern scarp of the famous Rift Valley, via the beautiful Thompson Falls, named after one of the earliest mission- aries, and we arrive at the larger Lake Nakuru National Park, famed for the flamingoes that line the lakeshore.

There are also black and white rhino and the elusive leopard. Invariably your driver will know exactly where to find them, and will make sure you get the best pictures.

And after a long day on the road, the Lake Nakuru Lodge, with its superb views over the park, offers the traveller a welcome respite. You can relax by the pool, or shoot some pool in the bar. There's also Kenyan cuisine on offer in the restaurant.

A journey along the floor of the Rift Valley brought us to the Mara Simba Lodge, located on the banks of the Talek River, where there was another warm Kenyan welcome before a game drive. But this time it had a difference.

We were first taken to a village to see the Masai, whose lifestyle has gone unchanged for centuries. There we were offered a fascinating insight into their lives.

The Masai are one of Kenya's most traditional tribes. Wearing distinctive red clothing, the Masai warriors dot the landscape, herding cattle by day before returning to their villages, where their simple houses are made from wood and dung. Villagers welcomed us and a Masai warrior explained their simple, and increasingly threatened, way of life.

Outside the village, ringed by a wooden fence, roam the Big Five - elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard - and we found a pride of lions resting in the late afternoon sun.

You really need several days to explore the Masai Mara, and the Mara Simba Lodge again offers a comfortable retreat. By night the river is illuminated and you can see hippopotami noisily glide past under the artificial light as you enjoy your meal.

But while hugely rewarding, game drives can be tiring and that is where Kenya comes into its own.

After a few days on safari, its time to head to the east coast and the white sand beaches of baking hot Mombasa, which has an all together different feel.

Our base was the Serena Beach Hotel, a short drive down the coast from Mombasa. The hotel has its own private beach, Shanzu, on the Indian Ocean and it is difficult to think of a more beautiful setting to unwind for a few days.

The hotel takes your breath away while the temperatures are much, much higher on the coast. The food is also superb.

A must is Mombasa itself, an fascinating island off the coast. It is home to the Tamarind Restaurant, one of the finest seafood eateries in Africa with a stunning view of the waterways around the city to match.

Back in Nairobi, must-sees are the Karen Blixen museum, set in the house the Out of Africa author lived in, and the AFEW Giraffe Centre, where Rothschild's giraffes have been bred by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife.

And having sampled the best seafood Kenya has to offer, why not try the world-famous Carnivore Restaurant, considered `Africa's greatest eating experience.'

Kenyans love their meat, and here you can find gazelle, crocodile, ostrich, giraffe and warthog amongst others are on the menu. The cheery waiters ply you with food until you can take no more, and the game is surprisingly tasty.

But even before dining at the Carnivore you will have a taste of Kenya, and one that you will want to experience again and again.

NFor more information on the country, visit www.magicalkenya.com or contact Kenya Tourist Board on 020 7202 6373 for an information pack.

NSomak Holidays - one of the UK's leading Kenya specialists and a family-run organisation providing customers a personalised service - offer tailor made holidays and packages to Kenya, such as 12 nights split between the Thorn Tree Safari and the Travellers Beach in Mombasa from pounds 909.

This includes international and internal flights with Kenya Airways, full board while on safari and half board at Mombasa. Contact 020 8423 3000 or visit www.somak.co.uk for further details.

NThe Bradt Travel Guide offers a great insight into Kenya and is available from all good book shops for pounds 14.95.

NMiles Starforth travelled to London with GNER. For bookings and enquiries, call 08457 225225. Their website is www.gner.co.uk.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:1031
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