Dawn breaks as the hot air balloon drifts above the straw-coloured plains. The vast savannah of the Maasai Mara is spread out beneath us. Slender-necked giraffes nibble on tree branches and herds of elephants forage in the grass.
The whoosh of gas burners startles a hippo and the hulking animal runs nimbly into the coffee-coloured river.
We drift slowly downwards, cruising above thousands of wildebeests that scatter and run in every direction. It’s the stage in the nature cycle that the Maasai Mara National Reserve is famous for, the annual migration. Each year more than two million wildebeest cross the border on an annual journey from Tanzania’s Serengeti to graze in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
It’s this variety and density of wildlife in Kenya’s Maasai Mara – home to the big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros) – that makes it one of Africa’s top safari destinations.
Being on a safari is undeniably romantic and lots of little things contribute to make Kenya a wonderful destination for couples. From hot air ballooning to rugging up around a camp fire with a glass of Amarula in hand, from spotting your first lion together to breaking out a bottle of champagne at sundown. It’s no surprise Prince William chose to propose to Kate while on safari in Kenya.
Kenya was home to Karen Blixen, the author whose life was romanticised in “Out of Africa”. Karen Blixen’s old home in Nairobi is now a museum and has been restored almost to the way it was in 1931, when Blixen left Kenya. Most of her furniture is on display along with a few props used in the movie.
We’re staying in the Olare Orok Conservancy, which borders the Maasai Mara National Reserve to the north. The conservancy is one of several conservancies adjoining the Maasai Mara National Reserve and where wildlife safari camp operators rent land from Masai landowners. The conservancy we’re visiting receives much less human traffic but there’s plenty of wildlife around.
We spot zebras, gazelles, giraffes, elephants and buffaloes. And it quickly becomes obvious the Olare Orok Conservancy has a high concentration of lions. According to our guide, David, there are around 80 lions that roam the area. Our camp, Kempinski
Olare Mara, is minutes away from a pride of lionesses and cubs.
On our first game drive, we watch lionesses and their adorable cubs. The young cubs, only a few months old, wrestle one another playfully in the grass.
Another time, we come across a lioness with a baby Thomson gazelle dangling from its jaws. The lioness drops the dead gazelle on the grass and the cubs sprint up to it, pouncing hungrily on the food she has brought them.
One of our most memorable experiences is a sighting of a leopard and her cub. Leopards are the hardest of the big cats to spot in the Masai Mara. We’re elated to learn from one of the other guides at camp, over the two-way radio, that there’s a leopard hiding in a tree nearby.
Even better, we discover the leopard has dragged an Impala, a medium-sized antelope, up the tree. All that’s visible of the leopard is a spotted tail.
We’re entertained by the antics of the leopard’s cub, which is too small and weak to climb the tall tree. The cub keeps trying and eventually gives up.
It’s obvious from the crunching sounds that the leopard it’s feasting on a tasty kill. Our patience is eventually rewarded when the leopard appears from between the branches to join her cub.
It’s a touching sight to watch mother and cub in the wild.
Fact file – Wild Kenya
While visiting the Masai Mara, stay at Kempinski Olare Mara (tel: +254 703 049 000). While travelling in Kenya, a stopover in Nairobi is unavoidable. Stay at Hemingways Nairobi (tel: +254 711 032 000)
Meals are included in the tariff at safari camps in the Masai Mara. While in Nairobi, dine at Carnivore (tel: +254 020 6005933), a classic restaurant for local delicacies like ostrich, crocodile and camel.
The annual migration in the Masai Mara between July and September.
Couples Will Love
The silence and tranquillity of a hot air balloon safari and bush breakfast. See Governors’ Camp’s (tel: +254 733 268888).
SAA (tel: 1300 435 972, ) has daily non-stop flights between Sydney and Perth to Johannesburg, with connections to Nairobi. SAA is the most awarded airline in Africa with recognition and achievements from major airline and travel industry bodies and from recognised passenger and industry surveys. While in Johannesburg, stay at InterContinental O.R. Tambo Airport, Johannesburg.Safarilink has flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara. The closest airstrip is Mara Olekiombo.
Images: Christina Pfeiffer