Meru National Park is set in the dry wilderness of northern Kenya, far off the beaten track of the regular safari. When on a Meru safari – one of Kenya’s best safari experiences – you’ll discover arid country, punctuated by iconic baobab and doum palm trees and frequented by large prides of lion, herds of elephant and a good-sized population of rhino.
We wanted our Kenyan safari trip to be as far off the beaten track as possible, in a remote locale where we’d have the wilderness to ourselves. So we chose a Meru safari.
Made famous by George and Joy Adamson in the book and movie, Born Free, this park lies in Kenya’s wild northern wastes. Meru has all the essential ingredients for a classic safari, with excellent prospects of seeing elephant, lion and rhino, and a landscape that incorporates arid hill country and fast-flowing streams bordered by riverine forests. It’s also northeast of Mount Kenya, and you frequently see it in the background.
We arrived at our lodge in time for lunch, enjoyed a short siesta, and gathered for a sumptuous tea. Then it was time to head out on a game drive. Our vehicle was a specially-fitted Toyota Land Cruiser. These 4x4s are unrivalled, with features specifically designed for comfort and photography – open sided with photographic-equipment stands and charging sockets. And we didn’t see another vehicle on our drive!
Meru is a birder’s paradise, boasting well over 400 recorded species. We were rewarded with fabulous sightings at every turn. I kept jotting them down until my list was bulging with ‘lifers’. The park also offered up botanical treasures, including the giant baobab, rare paperbark albizia and exotic doum palms which, at times, gave the landscape a Saharan feel.
Apart from a spectacular sighting of a pride of Meru’s famous lion, our game drive produced a couple of firsts for me, including Grévy’s zebra, bohor reedbuck and the graceful lesser kudu.
We drove along the banks of a clear, spring-fed stream lined with palms and spotted the sinister shapes of crocodile and happily wallowing hippo. Animals were streaming to the water to drink and we stopped for a while to watch the passing parade.
Meru incorporates a thriving, 8,400ha rhinoceros sanctuary, home to dozens of black and white rhino. We made a detour to see them. The size of the sanctuary ensures that finding the rhino is still a challenge, but we were eventually rewarded with a mother and calf, bathed in the last rays of the sun, like unicorns dipped in honey. It’s a sight I’ll not be forgetting in a hurry.
We drew to a halt and climbed down for a sundowner drink at a dramatic spot beside a rocky outcrop. G&Ts in hand, our guide showed us the hole of the tiny, naked mole rat … which wasn’t in residence at the time.
Then it was back to our luxury Kenyan lodge in the gathering gloom. Our guide hauled out his red-filter spotlight (to prevent dazzling the animals). This offered us the chance to see some of the park’s nocturnal creatures. Game driving in the early evening opens up a whole new world: bush babies, predators on the hunt and owls. Best of all was the shaggy shape of an aardwolf, cantering beside our vehicle. What a sighting to round off a remarkable Meru safari!