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Zim Girl

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Last month we had a very enjoyable 10 night safari to Kenya.  We were last there in 2016 visiting Laikipia and the Mara but this time we wanted to try some new areas so decided on Meru and Amboseli. In order to break the vehicle based time up with some walking, we put a visit to Kitich Forest Camp in the Mathews Range in the middle.

We booked through Expert Africa as usual and the itinerary looked like this.


17/9  -  Day flight from Manchester to Nairobi via London Heathow with British Airways

17/9  -  Overnight at Four Points by Sheraton hotel at Nairobi Airport

18/9  -  Air Kenya flight from Wilson to Meru National Park, 4 nts at Elsa’s Kopje

22/9  -  Tropic Air charter from Meru to Ngelai airstrip, Mathews Range, 3 nts Kitich Forest Camp

25/9  -  Road tfr to Kalama airstrip, Samburu. Safarilink flight to Amboseli via Wilson, 3 nts at Tortilis Camp

28/9  -  Safarilink flight to Wilson to catch overnight BA flight back to Manchester


Having read about some people’s experiences with flights here recently we definitely came off quite lightly.  After the flight had boarded and we were still waiting, the Captain spoke over the tannoy to say, “you will notice we haven’t moved yet”.  Cue collective nodding of heads and holding of breath for what was going to come next.  A couple of passengers were apparently unable to fly and now their luggage had to be unloaded.  Sighs all round.  The Captain being a bit of a comedian went on to say, “we could be lucky, it might take a few minutes, or umm, it might not!  Will catch you again when it’s all over.”

As it was, we were delayed about an hour, so could have been worse.  We landed at 10.30pm at Nairobi.

On our final paperwork from Expert Africa, we noted that a Meet and Greet service had been arranged at the airport.  This worked really well.  We were met as soon as we stepped foot into Arrivals and quickly taken to the VIP lane at immigration.  The passport/visa/biometric processing was quite slow so even with only a couple of people ahead of us it still took around 20 mins to get through.  However, the e-visa queue was getting longer and longer so I hate to think how long it would have taken to get through there.

We always travel hand baggage only so the M&G lady took us straight out to the waiting driver from Four Points and we were whizzed over to the hotel in 5 minutes – all very efficient!


I will stop waffling now and leave you with a tiny taste of things to come.


Rhino encounter in Meru




Scenery near Kitich Camp



Sunrise in Amboseli




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I am pleased you have started this!

Excellent photos as a taster. A very interesting itinerary

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As part of the inspiration for this trip, I await with baited breath!

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8 hours ago, Zim Girl said:

We always travel hand baggage only


Color me jealous!


Thanks for this trip report @Zim Girl - I need to get cracking on finishing mine, but look forward to another excellent TR from you.


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@offshorebirder.  We had our luggage delayed for 3 days in Jo'burg on a trip to Zim in 2011, so since then we have never checked in bags.


Meru was top of our list of places still to go to in Kenya and Elsa’s seemed to be the obvious choice, well located as it is inside the Park.  The camp is part of the Elewana group and as we had then decided on Amboseli, for something completely different, it made sense to partner it with Tortilis.  Both camps are much bigger than we would usually choose but we were inspired by how much @Tdgraves enjoyed them on her Kenya trip last year and after contacting her for more details we decided to take the plunge.  We booked a PV in both camps to make sure we had maximum flexibility.


The Air Kenya flight left Wilson bang on time at 9am and arrived at 10am at the Kinna airstrip.

We were met by our guide Solomon with drinks and snacks for us under the shade of a tree.  Also there, was the camp’s general manager Grace.  She had come out specially to meet us.  When we booked the trip we had asked Expert Africa to make a couple of vehicle requests for us.  One, we had read that in 2022 Elewana were changing their fleet to new vehicles that had much more open front cab spaces with drop down windscreens giving much better forward visibility, so we requested one at both camps.  Also, we asked if the canvas roof could be taken off for even better visibility.

Grace had come out to make sure she had understood the request correctly as she was concerned we would get too hot.  We assured her we would be absolutely fine.  She had brought a small team of staff with her so they set about removing the roof. 


To be honest we were more worried about whether it might rain. We are used to the more predictable weather and heat in the likes of Zambia/Zimbabwe and I tend to think of Kenya as being a bit more iffy.  As it was it was very, very hot in Meru so we loved it.


In no time at all we were ready to go and thanked Grace and the guys for taking the time to come out and sort this for us.


We had also asked EA to request experienced guides for us and Solomon was certainly that.  An excellent guide who we got on really well with over the next few days.  He was really keen to make the most of our time and we stayed out every day until between 12.30 and 1pm.  Afternoon drives started at 4pm and we tended to come back around 7 to 7.30pm.


We took a long and leisurely drive to camp and first impressions of the Park were very good indeed.  There was the constant backdrop of the Nyambene hills and the riverine areas were lovely.











Elsa's Kopje is built into the lower slopes of Mughwango Hill.

The camp buildings can just be seen on the right hand side.





Camp itself was lovely.  The rooms are well spaced out and set into the rock face.  Our room came with its own Dassie family who were very cute. 

Our room.







The Dassies lounged around on the rocks just outside the room.  You had to keep the front tent flap closed when you weren't in otherwise they would make themselves at home inside as well.







The main dining area is located further up the hill.  The setting is lovely with far ranging views of the Park.  The pool is also here, built into the rock.  In the evening at dinner a table is placed to the right of the pool and guests invited to sit there on a rotation basis. 










Views from the dining area.



Dassies can be found hanging around everywhere.  This is in the reception area, where there are also numerous photographs of George and Joy Adamson with Elsa the lion.






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We were out at 4pm sharp after some very delicious cake.

Our top sighting on this drive was a pair of Somali Ostrich not too far from camp.  Solomon said Somali Ostrich hadn't been seen in this part of the Park for a long time so he was very pleased.  They were a first for us so we were quite happy to spend some time with them.  They were some distance away but very calm so we didn't want to risk spooking them by trying to get closer.  Even though we had been sat there for a while and I had been taking pictures, it wasn't until Adrian spotted them that we noticed they actually had 7 chicks with them.  Even better!


This buffalo was keeping an eye on us while we were watching the ostrich family.











As the sun was going down now we set off for a suitable sundowner spot.  Late each afternoon, clouds would slowly gather to the point where it looked like we would get rain but it never did. 


Waiting for the sun to drop below the clouds.





Overnight it stayed very warm, definitely no sheets needed on the bed.

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Beautiful! we loved Meru when we went. Your camp looks very nice.

The Ostrich babies are easy to miss - I suppose that is the idea

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also jealous of your hand luggage rule-and the idea of one's own personal dassies is a splendid one @Zim Girl

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20 hours ago, Towlersonsafari said:

also jealous of your hand luggage rule-and the idea of one's own personal dassies is a splendid one @Zim Girl

The rest of the family clan of around a dozen members would sun themselves on a large flat rock immediately the other side of the mesh in front of the shower in the bathroom.  Slightly weird being watched when you were in it.



Our main targets for Meru were Gerenuk, which we have never seen, Lesser Kudu, which we have only seen fleetingly once, and Rhino, which we have seen a number of times, but you can never see enough Rhino!


I can’t say enough about how good a guide Solomon was.  Full of enthusiasm but also very calm at the right times, knowledgeable and a good birder.  There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t answer.  We had some very enjoyable conversations during breaks. 


He was pleased to be guiding us because we wanted to stay out and cover plenty of ground.  We were the only ones leaving at 6am in the morning and again at 4pm later on.  Apparently a lot of guests don’t bother leaving until after 7am and then are happy to go back to camp at 9.30 for a sit down breakfast and then spend all day by the pool or in the spa or just relaxing.   The mind boggles!


Sunrise just starting to glow, taken from our room at around 5.50am



Then a bit later as the sun was rising.



So this morning we were having a general pootle in the direction of the Rhino sanctuary.  This has been quite a success story for Meru.  Increased in size in 2018 to over 80km² in partnership between KWS and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the rhinos are doing very well and increasing in number.  They are monitored by the rangers who go out on foot every day counting them.  They also have access to 2 planes to help with security, a fixed wing and an Autogyro which we saw a couple of times during our visit.


On the drive towards the sanctuary.



Coming out of camp in this direction you cross over the Rojewero river.





There were plenty of Grant's gazelle around.



Probably some of our best views of Black-backed jackal or silver-backed as they call them here.





Never too far away from a view towards camp on its distinctive hill.





The sanctuary is surrounded by a very unobtrusive electric fence with plenty of wildlife corridors incorporated within it to allow other wildlife to come and go.  All the wildlife that can be seen inside the NP can also be seen here, plus added Rhino 😊




Reticulated giraffe are seen all over the Park in good numbers.  In the background on the left is a white rhino and youngster.







We spent a good while looking for rhino.  No black rhino were seen but we did have a few distant sightings of white.  Just as we were heading out of the sanctuary we found this small group of 3 white rhino.







The Autogyro being used to monitor the Park.



We headed on to a lovely spot by some marsh for breakfast.  We had a packed breakfast every morning, normally stopping between 9 and 9.30am.  The Elewana camps do a sit down bush breakfast every few days but we opted out of having to join it.  We couldn't bear the thought of having to waste game viewing time by waiting for a breakfast to be cooked.  Much preferred the informal standing by the vehicle, eating in our own time and packing up exactly when we wanted to.  Also, Elsa's did a very good packed affair.


Wrapped up are, sausages next to the eggs, and cheese and ham sandwiches made with focaccia bread.  The samosas were a request by us and there was also granola, yogurt, croissants, muffins and sweet biscuits.





We had breakfast watching herds of Grant's gazelle and zebras coming down to the water to drink.





Also a small group of Beisa oryx walked past in the distance.





Seen later on the morning drive.  Male Impala.







Common Waterbuck. Also plenty of these seen in the Park.






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I tried birding around camp at lunchtime but the heat meant there was very little to be seen.

So had to make do with the non-feathered creatures.



Couldn't resist another Dassie.



These Dik-diks were often seen skulking around in the bushes on the edge of camp.



The hunt for gerenuk and lesser kudu was a work in progress.  Nothing for gerenuk and so far only distant kudu hiding in the scrub.  Now we found 3 males, also playing hide and seek, but we waited and eventually one made a bit of an effort to be photographed.  More chances to come later.



Just love the river sections.



Grey-headed Kingfisher



Another heavily cloud laden sunset.




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Beautiful photos @Zim Girl

I am glad to see you making good use of your time in getting out, and that your guide appreciated this

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Thank you @TonyQ.


Finally, the animal we had been hoping for and was beginning to think we might not see. 

The sun had risen and the light was just warming up when Solomon says quietly, "I see gerenuk, we have some gerenuk for you".

There were 3 of them, 2 females and a juvenile, but hidden away in the bushes.  Solomon slowly positioned the vehicle to get a better view.  Fantastic.  We were way more excited than we probably should have been for an antelope, but there you go :D.












We stayed with them for about a half hour.


Gerenuk in front of Elsa's Kopje.



Then only a few minutes drive down the road and we could see an elephant walking towards us in the distance.



It was joined by another 2 adults and a couple of youngsters.







Another camp vehicle had turned up which veered the elephants away from coming directly to us, so once they had crossed the road and the vehicle had left, Solomon took another track that came out further along and we waited for them to walk up.














Then he got a call from the vehicle that had left to say they had come across lions.  So we carried on up the road to join them.  We came out near the river bank and apparently the other guests had been watching them drinking.  We could just see one lion on the river edge.  Then all of a sudden lions appeared from nowhere and were crossing the road between our vehicles.  It all happened just a bit too quick to get very good photos.












They all dashed into the bush on the other side.  Solomon said this was part of Elsa's pride.  There were 3 adults and 5 youngsters.  Then while he was telling us this we spotted another lion coming up from the river.  This was the male sub adult of the pride.  He had a rather nasty wound around his middle and generally was looking a bit worse for wear.






Well, that was a nice run of sightings in a short space of time.

Very happy, we carried on our search for lesser kudu.  We actually had separate sightings of both male and females, but all heavily obscured in the bush.


Scenic palm trees are dotted all over the Park.



Kori Bustard



Another northern species that we hadn't seen up until now was the Grevy's zebra.  We found this single individual grazing with the common zebras and some waterbuck on the way back to camp.








So that was all 5 northern species ticked off.  






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A very productive drive indeed.

We were very excited when we saw Gerenuk - wonderful animals. We can be excited by antelope!

Lovely photos again

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In the afternoon we headed back down to the river, where we found this elephant having a paddle while munching on some foliage.  We waited with him for a good while in the hope he would turn around and come back up the bank towards us, but he was quite happy where he was so we left him to it and carried on.








The area was looking lovely in the late afternoon light.





Rufous-crowned (purple) roller.



Nubian Woodpecker.



Away from the river now and we were slowly heading towards a sundowner spot.

Solomon stopped the vehicle and told us to look into the bush on both sides.  There were buffalo everywhere, absolutely loads of them.  In front of us they were crossing the road, stopping occasionally to look at us.  This seemed to go on for ages.  Solomon didn't want to move forward until they had all passed over.








That made us a bit late for the sunset. Not that we were complaining as it was quite an amazing sight.  The buffaloes, not the sunset, which was as moody as usual.




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This is a grand trip report @Zim Girl.   I agree completely with field time instead of fancy breakfasts or lazing about camp.  


I have wanted to visit Meru NP ever since I saw @Game Warden's trip report from there, back when I first joined Safaritalk.  


This TR reinforces that desire.

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Lovely report and thanks for writing this up @Zim Girl-  You've got places that are on my (long) list .....

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14 hours ago, Zim Girl said:

  We were way more excited than we probably should have been for an antelope, but there you go :D.




ahhh but gerenuk is special! and you had good looks at them. ours were not as good. 

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This is great.  Meru is my absolute, all-time favourite national park in Kenya. It's just such a special place. The light, the doum palms, the soil, the rivers, the birding..... I'm SO glad you found a Grevy's Zebra.  There are only around 7 or 8 of them there. I don't know why there are so few, but it's always a real struggle to find them. Most are in the Rhino Sanctuary. 
Also FYI, your Grant's Gazelles are now generally considered a separate species by a few authorities, though I think the IUCN Red List, still considers them a subspecies - Bright's Gazelle (Nanger notata) - just in case you feel like ticking off an extra species.  There used to be a leucistic hyrax/dassie in front of room 1 and 2 at Elsa's.  Did you see it @Zim Girl?

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13 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

This is a grand trip report @Zim Girl.   I agree completely with field time instead of fancy breakfasts or lazing about camp.  


I have wanted to visit Meru NP ever since I saw @Game Warden's trip report from there, back when I first joined Safaritalk.  


This TR reinforces that desire.

Thank you.  Also what we found quite amusing was while we having dinner on our last night, the asst mgr came over to ask us that seeing as it was our last morning the next day, would we like to have a nice lie-in and a leisurely cooked breakfast in the morning before catching our flight.  We laughed and said no we most definitely wouldn't.  


6 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

Lovely report and thanks for writing this up @Zim Girl-  You've got places that are on my (long) list .....

Thank you and plenty more to come.


5 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

ahhh but gerenuk is special! and you had good looks at them. ours were not as good. 

More to come of them as well.


4 hours ago, Zarek Cockar said:

This is great.  Meru is my absolute, all-time favourite national park in Kenya. It's just such a special place. The light, the doum palms, the soil, the rivers, the birding..... I'm SO glad you found a Grevy's Zebra.  There are only around 7 or 8 of them there. I don't know why there are so few, but it's always a real struggle to find them. Most are in the Rhino Sanctuary. 
Also FYI, your Grant's Gazelles are now generally considered a separate species by a few authorities, though I think the IUCN Red List, still considers them a subspecies - Bright's Gazelle (Nanger notata) - just in case you feel like ticking off an extra species.  There used to be a leucistic hyrax/dassie in front of room 1 and 2 at Elsa's.  Did you see it @Zim Girl?

Thank you Zarek.  

We absolutely loved Meru.  Could easily have spent another couple of nights there.  That Grevy's was the only one we found and it was not that far away from Elsa's if I remember correctly. Our guide was quite pleased to see it.

Thank you for the info about the Grant's gazelle.

We were in room 5 and didn't see a leucistic dassie.  Plenty of the ordinary ones and boy, do they make a lot of noise at night :)

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Lovely report and pictures of Meru @Zim Girl. When we visited Meru in 2018 I also loved it. Reading your report and seeing your pictures I would like to go back again. We only stayed 2 nights as part of the Elewana Sky Safari and that was by far not enough. I fully agree to what  @Zarek Cockar  says about the park and Elsa's is a beautiful lodge built in the rocks of the hill.

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Thankyou @Athene, it is definitely a Park we would go back to.


Today was our last full day in the Park and we told Solomon we would like to go to the sanctuary again to see if we could get any better sightings of the rhinos.  

This time we went straight there, 'do not pass go, do not collect £200'. We did have to explain that instruction to Solomon :D  but 25 minutes later and we were in.  There were plenty of buffalo milling around and then just as we reached the marshy area, Solomon spotted 2 black rhino running in the distance.  I just saw their backsides as they disappeared into the bush.



Then we saw 2 white rhino, but directly in the rising sun so tricky for a picture.



And then another one, but still on the 'wrong' side of the road.



Continuing on we passed Eland and Waterbuck and Hartebeest and Grant's gazelle and zebra.







Now, something a little bit better.  A female and her calf were walking roughly in our direction, but right in the sun again.  So Solomon drove out on a really wide circle so not to disturb them but then brought us back on the other side of the road and waited for them to cross.  Unfortunately they went behind the vehicle and because I didn't want to make any noise by moving around in the seat too much, my photos were a bit limited.  However, a lovely sighting all the same.








Ok, if you have already had your fill of rhinos you may want to look away now.


Coming up is the highlight of our Meru visit.

20 minutes after leaving the mother and calf, we are slowly trundling up the road and we see this in the distance.

We are a long way back, but can see a calf next to a rhino lying on the ground.  The dark shadow behind them is another rhino.  Solomon stops the vehicle and we watch to see what is happening.



The calf is playing with the one on the ground, who is probably just trying to have a kip, but in the end gets up and gives in to the youngster.  Meanwhile the other one comes out of hiding and joins in.







You can see here another rhino appearing from the right hand side.



Probably my favourite rhino picture :wub: 





They walk up the track towards us.









"Stop and pose for a minute - of course I will, my pleasure"



Playtime seems to be over for now and all the rhinos move off into the bush.



Literally one minute later, we can see another 2 rhino walking up the track in the distance.



We watch them get closer.



And closer





Then these two are joined by the original rhinos.









Although you can't see all of them in this photo, there are six rhinos milling around in front of us.



Then the youngster gets very close to the front of the vehicle.  At which point he looks up and maybe realises just how close he now is to us and spooks himself, which causes all the rhinos to run, and they disappear in a cloud of red dust.



We know they are all still very close in the bushes, Solomon gives us the 'stay quiet' sign and slowly reverses back up the road until he is happy we are far enough away then we can start the celebrations.  The pictures probably don't do it justice but it was a fabulous experience, it lasted around 25 minutes and until that youngster spooked, they were all really relaxed.

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Some very short film clips that were taken by Solomon.




This one shows them all running off.


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We carried on driving around the sanctuary in the scrubbier areas, just in case we could find the black rhino, but we had probably used up all our safari luck for this drive.



However, we did have another lesser kudu sighting just as we were leaving.  Makes a change for them not to be running.





We stop for breakfast here.  You can see (or not) the sanctuary boundary fence in this picture.



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We still had a little bit of luck left for the afternoon, as we came across 3 male gerenuk.  They were quite calm and allowed us to circle around them slowly for some good views.











So sundowners beckoned, and I think we can manage one more cloudy sunset.





As a little extra to finish the day, at dinner our waiter came over and whispered "would we like to see the genet".  He led us round to the back of the kitchen area, and there on top of a rock was a lovely genet.  There was actually two of them but the other one was hiding in between the rocks. Luckily Adrian had his phone with him so we could get a picture.  


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Wonderful rhino sighting, great to see them interacting.

Beautiful Gerenuk as well

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