If you’re looking for a more active, varied adventure, choose a Chyulu Hills safari in southern Kenya. Apart from the usual game-drive activities, this area offers excellent hiking, mountain biking and horse riding in a pristine wilderness environment, with Mount Kilimanjaro as iconic backdrop.
Wedged between Kenya’s Tsavo East and Amboseli national parks, in the heart of the Chyulu Hills, lies a place of timeless beauty presided over by Africa’s towering icon, Mount Kilimanjaro. We’d come on a Chyulu Hills safari to enjoy the area’s wide-open spaces, wildlife and array of safari activities.
Ol Donyo Lodge lies within Mbirikani Group Ranch – almost 112,000ha of pristine wilderness bordering Chyulu Hills National Park. This ranch is owned by 4,000 Maasai and is leased from them by Great Plains Conservation.
We dedicated our first day to getting to know the area on morning and evening game drives. We set off early in an open 4×4. ‘While the Big Five are present here, they’re often quite elusive,’ said our guide. ‘But there are plenty of other animals to keep us entertained, as you’ll see.’
He was dead right. Our game drives produced great sightings of cheetah, fringe-eared oryx, gerenuk and giraffe. Oh, and a large herd of elephant that walked straight up to our vehicle!
We also had the thrill of experiencing a night drive, which gave us the chance to see a range of nocturnal creatures. The drive commenced after dinner. We bundled up in warm clothing, but there was also a Maasai shukha blanket and lined poncho for each of us on the vehicle. Apart from bush babies, owls, jackals and genets, the majesty of the African night sky certainly held us enthralled.
Next morning, we wanted to try an alternative game activity and decided on horse riding. Game viewing in this manner is unique in that horse and rider are perceived by animals to be ‘one of them’, often resulting in a very intimate experience. I’m a novice rider, but still had an incredible time. Trotting beside a herd of wildebeest has got to be one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done.
After lunch, we opted for a guided walk. The Chyulu Hills were designed to be experienced on foot. The lodge’s resident spotter accompanied us, as well as our guide, carrying a rifle. We ambled into the hills, learning about the secrets of the bush, wildlife migrations, medicinal plants and the uniquely adapted flora and fauna.
Next morning, mountain biking was on the agenda. This was a good opportunity to get some exercise, as well as a unique way of viewing the landscape and wildlife. We set off early, when the day was still cool, and headed out across the plains for the most magical of rides.
On our last afternoon, I wanted to simply relax and take things easy. So we settled on a session in the log-pile hide. This structure was set just below the lodge. It was an elaborate, interwoven design of branches and tree trunks, offering complete protection from wildlife and perfectly blending into the environment. We whiled away the afternoon in this secret, shaded spot, watching a parade of creatures coming to drink. It was the ideal way to end an incredible Chyulu Hills safari packed with myriad game-viewing activities.