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Two Million Reasons To Visit East Africa

Every year, one of nature’s greatest spectacles takes place where over 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and a host of other antelope travel approximately 800km or more in the search of food as the seasonal rains scatter across the vast grasslands between the Serengeti and Masai Mara. Although this is a highlight for visiting this part of continent, it is just one of a myriad of reasons one can enjoy an East African safari.

For a wildlife migration to exist on this scale, it would be naïve to assume that there wasn’t an enormous amount of conservation work going on behind the scenes to protect the land and wildlife that faces great and increasing pressure during this time. It was thus fitting to begin our safari visiting two destinations that are right at the heart of conservation in Nairobi, Kenya.

After a short drive, navigating our way through the suburbs of Nairobi, we arrived at the wooden gates of Giraffe Manor. The gates opened up to reveal a magnificent ivy-covered, stone-faced homestead with it’s rich history dating back as far as 1932. Though the homestead in itself is quite breath-taking, it was the charm of the endangered Rothschild giraffe that stole our hearts as we sat on the front lawn enjoying afternoon high tea! There was even the opportunity for a first date kiss as we spent the afternoon getting to know the personalities of these local giants. As the sun set over the Ngong Hills, we enjoyed an early rest as we knew we had a big following day ahead of us, starting with an early morning breakfast with Daisy the giraffe.

Days spent with the Rothschild giraffe!

Meeting the gentle giants of the manor.

Giraffe Manor is one of Africa’s most sought-after destinations.

Based in Nairobi, the manor grounds are a sanctuary for these Rothschild’s giraffe.

Getting up close and personal.

After finishing up a surreal breakfast with the world’s tallest land mammal, we had a private meeting scheduled with the world’s heaviest land mammal at the David Sheldrick Wildife Trust. It is difficult not to be caught up in the joy of seeing these young elephants come stampeding in for their morning feeding session. The bond that the elephants share with the people who have devoted their lives to caring for them is so apparent. Soon, it also felt like we had been accepted into the inner circle as we found ourselves right in the middle of the playfulness. An unforgettable experience as we got nudged around by the charming, young orphan elephants.

With a busy couple of safari days ahead of us, we enjoyed our last evening at The Emakoko where we were able to explore the unique and diverse Nairobi National Park. A gem of a  destination as it clearly portrays the reality of wildlife living alongside people in built-up areas.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

A keeper feeding the baby elephants who have been orphaned through poaching in Kenya.

A special family moment.

Bonding between orphaned elephants.

After adopting an elephant at the Trust.

A quick visit to Nairobi National Park.

Windows to the soul.

The next morning, we climbed on board our private plane headed towards our next destination, Sala’s Camp, in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. We desperately hoped that we would be in the right place at the right time to see the large herds of the migration, and a low flight circling over our destination made the answer very clear: we could not have got our timing better!

Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest scattered across the scene below us, even landing was made a challenge as a large herd surrounded the airstrip. This was a recurring theme over the next few days but we weren’t complaining! We were now on a mission to see if we could find a leopard, after hearing of a wildebeest carcass in the area. After much patience we were treated to an unbelievable late afternoon with the leopard, feeding on its kill as thousands of luckier wildebeest walked in a single file line in the nearby distance.

The great migration in all its beautiful chaos at Sala’s camp.

The migration at its finest is a true spectacle in itself, however when you include cheetahs hunting through the grasslands, a mother leading her tiny lion cubs to a new destination, mating lions and a tiny elephant calf imitating it’s mother to the list, you know you experienced true wildlife wonders. Whilst being treated to world-class wildlife encounters, we were also immersing ourselves with a completely new culture and meeting the local people of the area. We were challenged to a game of river volleyball and were even fortunate enough to experience a Masai village where we learned about the traditions and daily life of the local tribe.

Our friendly guide showing us the migration!

All predators benefit from this huge influx of animals.

Honeymooning lions.

The endless plains of the Masai Mara are home to animals big and small.

Meeting and engaging with the Masai tribe.

Becoming a part of the family.

Well-known stripes of the migration.

One of the great predators of the plains, the cheetah.

A new generation of lions.

A quick breakfast whilst out of safari.

Volleyball match in the Sand river at Sala’s Camp.

It was with satisfied souls that we went to bed on our last night at Sala’s Camp, reflecting on an incredible last few days while listening to the familiar sounds of the resident lion pride, roaring just a few hundred metres away from our tents. Content, but yet with so much more to look forward to, we now on our way to the Serengeti in Tanzania.

Stunning sunset drinks.

Typical scenes in the Grumeti.

We were immediately met with warm welcomes at Singita’s Faru Faru Camp and made to feel right at home. With our rooms fitted with a large glass window overlooking part of the Grumeti River, we were treated to viewings of amazing amounts of wildlife as they visited the river to drink during the day. It was in these two days that we had an experience hard to put into words: a tour of the Serengeti from the sky! Drifting silently in a hot air balloon, with the golden glow of the sun rising from the East and teeming wildlife beneath you, is something unlike anything you could imagine, especially when you see elephants, giraffe, buffalo and lions all from high up in the quiet African sky.

The perfect way to end a day on safari.

Hot air balloon ride over the Grumeti.

The vast open plains.

Traditional bead work in the Mara.

The view from Singita Faru Faru Camp.

Elephants drinking in the river below us.

It was fitting that after starting our safari with a leopard encounter, we would finish with one too, and this time with a leopard in a tree with a kill – quintessential Africa! As the sun began to set, we decided to take our drinks to a nearby hillside where we continued to toast to our trip and celebrate George’s 17th birthday in style! What an unforgettable week on safari!

Our final evening with celebratory drinks in the Grumeti.

Although East Africa is well-known as a prime bush wildlife destination, it is also argued that it boasts some of Africa’s most beautiful coastlines. For this reason, andBeyond’s Mnemba Island was the final stop on this unforgettable journey for our guests. A few days to reminisce and relax on bright, white beaches over looking the Indian ocean. A perfect end to a life-changing journey through mother Africa.

Thank you to the Thompson family for allowing us to guide you through this magical continent and to make ever-lasting memories with you!

Written and photographed by: Matt Murray