Safari and Saltlick - By Samantha Owen-Stoddart
During my time in Kenya I went on a two day safari to the Tsavo East National Park, enjoying the sights and sounds of the park’ animals. They included the elephant, leopard, lion, Impala and giraffe to name but a few. Tsavo East National Park is one of the oldest and largest parks in Kenya, opened in April 1948 and is 13,747 square kilometres in size. The location of the park is an area formally called the Taru Desert, next to the town of Voi, in Taita-Taveta County. The Tsavo National Park is split into two sections Tsavo East and West, separated by the A109 road and a railway. Its name came from the river Tsavo, which flows west to east through the national park.
We left as a small group in the early hours of the morning to catch the ferry and drive to Tsavo National Park. From Mombasa it took 4/5 hours by minibus, the reason it takes that long is the road you travel on is the main route used for freight from the port of Mombasa. Stopping along the way at Kilimanjaro Curio Shop on Macknon Road, to break up the journey, use the facilities and browse in the craft shop. Bartering is the preferred way to buy.
By lunchtime we had arrived in Tsavo National Park, by the town of Voi. Lunch was served at the Ngutuni Lodge, with a stunning open air decked terrace overlooking a watering hole, that many elephants were already inhabiting. The food was a three course meal, of soup, salad and a coconut chicken with rice and vegetables. Which was all included in the price of the safari, with only drinks to pay for. After a relaxing lunch, time was spent observing the elephants and taking photos.
Afternoon was spent on a drive of the park, where we exited and made our way to Taita Hills Game Lodge. We checked in at Sarova Taita Hills, as this is the sister hotel to Salt Lick Game Lodge and it would save time later and let us enjoy longer in the national park before dinner. We drove and observed many types of animals, a sleepy troop lions shading themselves from the hot african sun, wandering tower of giraffe watching the minibus every movement with curiosity and a dazzle of zebras walking across our path, making me giggle at the term ‘zebra crossing’. Sunset in Africa is always a spectacular, as we headed to Salt Lick as hungry as a hippo…
Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge is one of Kenya’ flagship game lodges, due to its warmth and good hospitality. It is a luxurious safari escape, one I have been lucky enough to visit several times. The setting is in the heart of Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary overlooking a waterhole and the vast Tsavo plains. The hotel is set on stilts with 96 unique rooms, all of which are elevated and built across two levels. Facilities include a bar, restaurant, with the option of experimental dining outside in the wild and a spa. This hotel is a definite must stay if you are thinking of where or which lodge to stay at!
After dinner, which is a hot buffet with good variety, we opted for the additional night drive which you can pay extra for at a cost of £25 per person. Leaving just after 9pm with our driver and the park warden we ventured back into the park, pitch black with only the wardens search light to guide us, it added an extra special touch to our trip. Your eyes adjust to the darkness, searching for the reflection of the animals eyes. Whilst driving we saw another tower of giraffe settling down for the night in the long grass. The night drive enables you to see smaller cats, like the Civet Cat which dispatched of a wandering baby rabbit in front of our very eyes. As our driver bluntly put it “that is nature”. At points the driver switched off the engine and the search light was turned off, to reveal a sky laden with stars, one of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed. You are consumed by the silence and the vast space around, making you feel as a human very insignificant. Throughly recommend a night drive if you get the opportunity.
When we returned to Salt Lick the log fire was roaring and everything was locked up for the night, after nightcap in the bar recalling the days events with others, my bed beckoned.
The next morning wake up call was at 5.30 am and out on a early morning drive by 6.30, fresh coffee was served before we left, to witness the beautiful african sun rise for the day. Catching site of the animals stirring and off to find their own breakfast. We returned to a breakfast buffet, set in the main restaurant overlooking the waterhole. As it was my birthday whilst I was in Kenya, the lodge had made me a cake and presented it to me over breakfast, with an african rendition of ‘happy birthday’ followed by Jambo Bwana. Certainly making me feel very special and grateful. We then had an hour or so to relax on the terrace or go into the lodge’ underground tunnel and watch the animals at the watering hole, then it was time to pack up and leave. Off for our last drive into the park.
During this last drive we were driven up onto higher ground to the watch point, to be able to take in the views of Tsavo National Park and Salt Lick Game Lodge below us. Whilst we were there taking photos and drinking in the scenery, a professional film crew were taking stills and drone footage for an upcoming documentary on Tsavo on the bid to make it an UNESCO World Heritage site. From here we took in some more animal observation and onto Taita Hills for lunch. At Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge we had some free time to relax by the pool before we ate and take in their own views of the national park. The food was a sumptuous buffet with great service and welcoming, that comes hand in hand when staying in Kenya. After lunch we made our long journey back to Mombasa, which at this busy time of day was going to take a bit longer than our journey here.
We stopped on the way back in Kwale, at a Masai Camp. We were greeted with song and dance, traditional Masai welcome.The head Masai showed us around the village, houses, school and we met the children. I had brought some small gifts, sweets, paper pads, pencils and pens for the children, the Masai shared out the sweets making sure all got something. Pens and pads were given to the Masai school. The happiness on their little faces and the utter excitement made me realise how lucky we are, they were so thankful for so little, that we would take for granted. Kenya is the place I believe you arrive as one person, leaving changed as another, everyone should experience it if only once in their life. The Masai told us that they were being moved, due to a new road being built through the middle of their village. One thing that is apparent is that the Masai people are resilient and keeping with tradition will find a new settlement. After an enjoyable couple of hours we headed back to our driver with heavy hearts.
Many hours later we reached the Baobab Beach Resort, tired and elated after a thoroughly enjoyable two days on safari. You can’t come to Africa and not experience a safari, as it adds that special touch of magic to an already amazing stay in Kenya. It remains a beautiful country, with lovely people and amazing surroundings to explore. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself!
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If you want to see more great pictures, or read further blogs by Sam, visit her website www.sostravel.co.uk
Samantha Owen-Stoddart: The girl who loves to travel, sharing her experiences and inspiring others along the way