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OL DONYO LODGE – CHYULU HILLS
Where the Chyulu Hills stretch out and touch the plains of Kenya’s Amboseli lays a private wilderness for which time has no meaning…
It began with a conversation between friends and has evolved into one of East Africa’s premier wildlife destinations. When Richard and Tara Bonham got together with Great Plains Conservation’s co-founders Dereck and Beverly Joubert to discuss a partnership proposal for ol Donyo Lodge, talk revolved around the conservation of this incredible, forgotten paradise. Wedged between Kenyas Tsavo East and Amboseli National Parks in the heart of the Chyulu Hills, this is a place of timeless wild beauty presided over by the magnificent summit of Africa’s greatest icon – Mount Kilimanjaro. Set on the Mbirikani Group Ranch – 275,000 acres of immaculate, private wild Africa bordering the foothills of the Chyulu Hills National Park – ol Donyo Lodge blends contemporary design with the rich culture and history of the people of this area – the indomitable Maasai.
The group ranch is owned by 4,000 Maasai and is leased from them by Great Plains Conservation. The full lease fee as well as a per person conservancy fee goes directly to this community on the understanding that they will ensure the conservation of the ranch and the wild animals which call it home. The result is an area rich in wildlife, where some of Africa’s last giant elephant bulls roam freely, where the haunting calls of leopards interrupt the night and where lion are being pulled back from the brink of annihilation.
The lodge itself was rebuilt in 2008 and sits in thick woodland on a gently sloping hillside with views out over the plains to a distant Kilimanjaro. Designed to merge your outdoor and indoor living, a series of unique suites and villas (no two are the same) appears to emerge from the arid landscape on either side of a palatial lounge and dining area. Six pool suites plus 1 two-bedroom family unit offers a harmonious blend of contemporary and rustic accommodation, merging the landscape into each suite. All of the rooms have their own plunge pool and enjoy roof terraces where intimate “star beds” can be set up, allowing guests the thrill of sleeping in style under a canopy of endless stars while connecting with their sense of place and self.
SO YOU HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO EXPLORE THE BEST OF KENYA, THIS CIRCUIT DOES IT IN STYLE!!
DAYS 1- 2 THE EMAKOKO, NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK
Nairobi is Africa’s 4th largest city and is a vibrant and exciting place. Although it has developed a reputation which keeps tourist visits brief, there are some fascinating attractions, namely its café culture, unbridled nightlife, the National Museum, Karen Blixen Museum and most notably, just 20 minutes from the city centre, wild lions and buffalo roam in the Nairobi National Park.
Overnight: The Emakoko
The Emakoko is a luxury lodge artfully built into the side of a valley on the Mbagathi River, bordering the Nairobi National Park. Great care has been taken to incorporate the beautiful fig trees which grow on the cliff where the lodge is situated. All rooms look straight over the river and into the Park.
The Emakoko allows people to start and finish their safari in the wildlife environment they have travelled so far to enjoy. Within 20 minutes of clearing customs they can now be viewing game in the amazing Nairobi National Park. The only “transfer” delays likely to be encountered en route to or from The Emakoko are the natural pauses to watch a pride of lions or waiting for a rhino or journey of giraffe to cross the road.
Whether you are enjoying an Emakoko cocktail in the viewing area or simply a coffee by the pool overlooking the river, relaxation is assured. There is also the chance to see the resident hippo, who also likes to keep an eye on you. He can be seen grazing on the lawn outside the rooms in the early evening or the morning.
DAYS 2 - 5 OL DONYO LODGE, CHYULU HILLS NATIONAL PARK
The Chyulu Hills National Park was formed between the Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks to protect this unique habitat and because of its significance as a water catchment area. A magical land of open grass plains and tree covered rolling green with Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. The Park is surrounded by miles of Maasai land, dusty, dry and stalked by scarlet cloaked herders and dust plumed cattle.
Overnight: Ol Donyo Lodge
ol Donyo Lodge is located on the Maasai-owned Mbirikani Group Ranch, this stunningly beautiful area is incredibly diverse, and often has spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro.
ol Donyo Lodge is a harmonious blend of contemporary and rustic, merging the landscape into each suite. Designed for a wide appeal, the lodge is a perfect getaway for families, honeymooners or multi-generational groups. What makes it a standout is its notable variety of activities – from cultural visits, good quality wildlife viewing, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Add to this the lodge’s creature comforts of fine dining, massage, infinity pool, star beds and multiple lounges, and it is a place to relax and unwind for days. Each suite has a private plunge pool, and two are connected for a ‘villa’ concept, perfect for families or couples traveling together. Constructed of local thatch and gunnite, the suites blend with the environment despite their commanding design.
The lodge’s main lounge, complete with grand stone fireplace, a small library, inviting open bar and expansive veranda are the place to rendezvous with new friends, and the local staff. The attached dining area as well as the nearby pool lounge/dining is where sumptuous meals are served, and good times abound. The main infinity pool, curio shop and office provide other diversions should exploring the area not be enough.
DAYS 5 - 8 MARA PLAINS CAMP OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY, MAASAI MARA
The Maasai Mara is one of Africa’s most famous wildlife parks. The image of acacia trees on endless wildlife filled grass plains epitomises Africa for many. Add Maasai warriors and the conversation need go no further. The greater Maasai Mara Reserve offers unparalleled game viewing opportunities; large rides of lions, elephants and giraffes in grasslands, gazelles and eland to mention but a few. Aside from traditional open game drive vehicle safaris and guided walking safaris, hot-air ballooning over the Mara plains has become almost essential and you can even do a horseback safari.
Overnight: Mara Plains Camp
Mara Plains Camp is a one-of-a-kind, seven tent camps located in the private 35,000-acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy, just on the northern boundary of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. This intimate camp blends the finest wildlife viewing with outstanding hospitality and guiding.
No other camp offers the extensive traversing area of Mara Plains Camp, with access to a total of 100,000 acres of private conservancy land as well as the world-renowned Maasai Mara, home to the Great Migration.
Each of the seven tents has deep canvas canopied ceilings, rough-hewn wood floors and accents of East Africa’s rich safari history. The well-appointed en-suite facilities (including a deep copper bath) plus the extensive private verandah complete what is genuinely a stunning concept. Each guest tent has a set of professional Canon camera and a lens available for guest’s to use on a complimentary basis. Add in a pair of Swarovski binoculars, and it is impossible not to see and capture the region’s incredible wildlife scenes.
Olare Motorogi Conservancy is reputed to have the lowest vehicle density in the Maasai Mara region, while also having the highest concentration of big cats anywhere in Africa. There is only one guest bed per 350 acres, leaving the land unadulterated for the wildlife to roam and thrive, as nature intended. By day and night, the camp is a sanctuary for resident animals, including many of the Maasai Mara’s 300 bird species.
After dark, larger mammals frequent the camp and Maasai warriors escort guests to and from their rooms. Hippos snorting and leopards barking often provide the night’s chorus.
Mara Plains offers walking safaris and day & night game drives. Hot air ballooning is available, but should be booked in advance and is subject to availability and additional cost. Departures are very early in the morning to allow time to transfer to the nearest launching point. Night drives are particularly prolific in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, and while they take patience, sightings commonly include lesser known nocturnal mammals and even lion and hyena hunts.
DAY 8 SAFARI ENDS
Fully inclusive of: accommodation (including Deluxe Pool Room at ol Donyo), conservation levy, scheduled wildlife activities (horseback riding is included in the rate at ol Donyo but excluded at Mara Plains Camp and Mara Expedition where is available at $250 per ride), meals, laundry, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (excluding champagne), return airstrip road transfers, flights between the camps and based on the itinerary starting and ending in Nairobi.