Exploring Kenya’s Matthews Mountain Range
Throughout my time in Kenya, I can safely say that every destination I travelled to blew me away in one way or another. Each lodge offered something special and unique, and as we approached our last few days, it really did feel like the end of a journey – with no more fitting place to culminate this expedition than Sarara.
Tucked away in the Matthews Mountain Range, approximately 150km due north of Mount Kenya, this camp is reserved for those who are willing to go that one step further off the beaten track in order to have an experience of a lifetime. A massive contrast to the Masai Mara, the blend of forest and thickets with rocky hills is enchanting, and from the minute one steps foot onto the main deck at the lodge, there is a sense that magic is present in this place.
Warmly welcomed by the team at Sarara – headed up by the fantastic Jeremy Bastard and Katie Rowe – I was tempted to spend the rest of the day just relaxing in this luxurious setting. Expertly designed to blend into its surroundings, the main lodge faces out over dramatic mountain peaks, which provide the most unbelievable backdrop to the herds of elephants that come to drink at the watering hole below. A camouflaged hide allows you to get up close as these gentle giants amble past, splashing themselves to cool down in the midday heat. For guests staying in the family villa, Sarara House, you may be visited by a herd who like to dip their trunks in the swimming pool, their low rumbling reverberating through the ground while you watch from the comfort of your sunlounger. However, the real focus here is to get out and experience all that makes this area so unique, and so that afternoon, I found myself on a guided bush walk – the perfect way to absorb all the sights, smells and sounds, and tune into the surrounding wilderness.
Located on the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy – a community-owned area of more than 850,000 acres, which employs wildlife tourism as a means of both providing income to the local people and protecting these animals – Sarara has a long-established relationship with the Samburu tribe who call this land home. In fact, this partnership goes back even further than the conservancy, with the word ‘Sarara’ itself meaning ‘meeting place’, as it is in this location that hundreds of the Samburu people have converged for many years for one unique reason – the presence of underground water.
A trip to this part of the world would not be complete without going to what have become known as the Singing Wells, led by a Samburu guide. This experience was described to me as being “biblical”, which I later found out to be a rather apt description. Much of the life of traditional tribespeople across Kenya is determined by the rains, as this will decide where they will herd their cattle for the best grazing, where water and grass are plentiful. In this area, during dryer times, the Samburu men will go down to a network of dried riverbeds and dig deep holes in the ground – or wells – from which they will be able to draw water for their cattle, goats and donkeys, thereby ensuring their survival. Throughout the process, they will sing and chant age-old family songs and rhythms, which their livestock learn to recognise and follow, navigating their way through to their owner’s well. It is a sight to behold, and something very few people are privileged enough to experience in their lifetimes.
The following morning, we took a short drive out to the latest addition to the camp – the spectacular Sarara Treehouses. Built on raised wooden walkways among the canopy, these tents have been designed to fulfil every childhood fantasy of sleeping out in a treehouse, complete with the option to lie out in a star-bed and admire the vastness of the universe above. The game-viewing in this area was also absolutely superb, and I saw more giraffe in one sighting than I had ever seen before – more than thirty! These beautiful, if slightly ungainly, creatures are of the reticulated variety, and you will only find them in the northern parts of Kenya. Together with the Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, Somali ostrich and beisa oryx, these are known as ‘the Northern Five’ and should all be high on your ‘must-see’ list.
Our last stop on the trip was a visit to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, which has been created to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned elephants and is the first community-owned project of its kind in Africa. Pioneered by Katie, the team here is charting the way forward in working towards successfully managing human-wildlife conflict. Spending an hour or two with these youngsters, learning about everything from their nutritional needs to witnessing their close relationships with their carers, was an informative and inspiring experience that I would recommend to all our clients.
On the way back that evening, we were also lucky enough to see an exquisite, young female leopard moving freely through a clearing, and it struck me just how important it is to support the preservation of the natural habitat of these creatures in as many ways as we can. Ending the day with a surprise drinks stop, set up in the dry riverbed (or lugga), this provided the perfect time to sit around the campfire and reflect on a truly extraordinary adventure.