Mara North Conservancy, Kenya
We stayed at the eco-friendly Karen Blixen Camp offering excellent facilities and very skilled drivers.
In close partnership between the camp and the Maasai landowners the area is protected from poaching and becomes a great place to enjoy the amazing wildlife.
One further advantage by staying in the Mara North Conservancy is the ability to drive off road in the quest to get close to the animals. And that, our drivers certainly managed to exploit!
We arrived at the camp in the early afternoon following a strenuous six hours drive from Nairobi despite only 240 kilometres.
The worse part was the last 2-3 hours on gravel road. However, we just as well had to get used to these road conditions being standard on the game drives.
After lunch and some unpacking it was time to get out on the savannah to take advantage of the soft light before sunset.
We drove out in open Toyota Land Cruisers with a maximum of six photographers per vehicle allowing plenty of room for manoeuvring. You could have the photo equipment conveniently stored in the middle between the two of you, and having to share a seat row with my non-photographing wife was perfect ... ; - )
On most game drives I used the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM on my 1DX Mark II camera body along with the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM on the 7D Mark II (800 mm reach due to the crop factor). This combo worked great for me during the whole trip.
It turned out to be an extraordinary first afternoon with an abundance of great photo opportunities. In just about two hours we managed to see and photograph lions, elephants, cheetahs and hyenas at close range.
Just as the sun set we found some cheetahs and our driver Nicholas predicted their direction towards a small elevation. He drove into position and we waited. After a while the cheetahs went in our direction and one of them even entered the elevation allowing for silhouette images. It was a perfect ending to a fantastic first safari.
The following days we left the camp at 5:30 in the morning to be out on the savannah before sunrise and returned about 9:30 for breakfast when the light became too hard for photography.
We searched for a variety of wildlife including birds. Our assigned driver Nicholas was fantastic spotting the animals and he did whatever needed to get into position with the sun coming in at the right angle - his upbringing as a Maasai combined with the experience from many dedicated photo safaris came in handy.
Every afternoon, we left the camp at 4:00 o'clock and photographed for about 2-3 hours until sunset. Most often we returned at 7:30 to enjoy the evening with a great dinner and lot of storytelling.
The photo opportunities in Mara North Conservancy are second to none. And being a private reserve ensure a limited number of vehicles in the stunning natural wilderness. Most of the time we had the large variety of African wild animals almost to ourselves.
Furthermore, the area is run on sound ecotourism practices and all the camps are very supportive to the local community.
Being on a dedicated photo safari with likeminded guests is very important to me. Sometime it takes a lot of patience waiting for hours hoping that a sleeping leopard will wake. Fortunately, we all shared the same passion and patience.
Although we had several hours at the camp between the morning and afternoon game drives there was not much time to relax. Image files were uploaded to the laptop including a backup.
Furthermore, the photo equipment had to be cleaned frequently due to the very dusty conditions. Also, Uri Golman offered photo workshops in the early afternoon before the game drive.
One day we went to a nearby Maasai village between the game drives. It was interesting to learn about their traditional life and be able to take some colourful pictures of these very proud and friendly people.
Karen Blixen Camp has a close relationship with the Maasai families being the landowners and the camp is paying them a fixed fee based on guests staying at the farm. Also, the farm use the local suppliers of foods and various contractual work.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
One day we went on a game drive to the Maasai Mara National Reserve with the main purpose to find and photograph the black rhino.
There are no rhinos in the Mara North Conservancy so this was our only chance to complete the "Big Five".
The population is less than 30 black rhinos in the reserve covering about 1,500 sq km so chances to find a rhino was low.
Fortunately, we had the extreme luck to locate no less than five rhinos gathered in one spot which is very unusual as they are solitary animals. Maybe it was their annual congress ... ; - )
Besides the rhinos in the Maasai Mara National Reserve we also had the fortune to get close to the African buffalo being one of the "Big Five".
To me, the climax of the trip to Kenya was one afternoon when we found a male leopard in the Mara North Conservancy. It was asleep in front of some bushes and the sun was going to set in about half an hour.
Therefore, we were very excited as it suddenly rose and passed our Land Cruiser at a distance of just about four metres. It was a very impressive cat!
It turned out to be a fantastic trip to Kenya. It was a long journey - especially the drive from Nairobi to Karen Blixen Camp in Mara North Conservancy. However, it was very rewarding to visit one of the most beautiful wildlife areas in the world.
The end for now - I will be back!