The Masai Mara provides perfect safari country. The wide-open grasslands teem with creatures of every shape and size, often in vast herds. Climb aboard an open-top 4×4 and begin your Masai Mara safari, in a wonderland where predator and prey still roam the African savannah as they’ve done for millennia.
We arrived in Kenya for our luxury Masai Mara safari in late January, out of the migration season. I thought we’d be disappointed by the lack of good game viewing. How wrong I was!
The new year heralds a time of new life in the African savannah, and adorable offspring were everywhere to be seen. Southern Serengeti hosts the wildebeest birthing season, while the Masai Mara abounds with playful young predators. A great attraction in this pre-migration season is that the plains are empty of people, and we had the wilderness practically to ourselves.
The first game drive was our most memorable. We set off in the afternoon after a sumptuous tea. We had our own open-top safari vehicle, with a dedicated guide and spotter. The freedom this granted was crucial to getting the most out of our stay. We were able to go where our whims took us, without the limitations of fixed schedules or fitting in with other people’s plans. Nothing but personal desire dictated what we did.
Our guide and spotter knew the ‘special places’ in the reserve. They also knew the creatures intimately: the ways animals interacted with the Masai Mara environment, the stages of the creatures’ lifecycles and the flora that sustained it all. These two men were the key that unlocked the experience for us.
Our vehicle was specially customised to be a climbing frame and a photographer’s extra tool. These 4x4s are really comfortable and able to handle the toughest terrain. And they’re designed for sun, rain, wind and, above all, the feeling of having as little as possible separating you from the wilderness beyond the vehicle.
We traversed a magnificent landscape. The Oloololo Escarpment lay to the west; all around us were vast, open grasslands that allowed us to see forever. The sense of space was overwhelming. Our Maasai spotter didn’t need tracking skills in such open country, but he could spot a cheetah’s ear at a thousand metres!
The game viewing was remarkable: the best I’d ever experienced. In many African parks, you can drive around for hours and not see any animals. Not here! There wasn’t a single moment when we couldn’t spot at least two species of mammal somewhere between us and the horizon: a sea of Thomson’s gazelle, small groups of resident wildebeest (quite a few stay on in the Masai Mara after the migration has passed), an eland bull protecting his harem. ‘Don’t touch my babes,’ he warned. Maternal elephant had recently given birth to clumsy babies still not steady on their feet. It was an adorable sight.
The climax of the drive came just as we were turning for home. ‘Lion,’ called out our spotter. We slowly drove towards the two cats. The magnificent pair tolerated us spying on the rough machinations of their mating. The black-maned fellow had eyes only for his lass, watching and waiting to make his next move. When the rutting began, both cats let out an unearthly sound, somewhere between purring and roaring, which silenced everyone in the vehicle. What a way to end a magical Masai Mara safari…