Itâ€™s Thursday afternoon when we land at Ol Kiombo Airstrip inside the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, on the Narok County Council side. The airstrip, which is mainly served by Air Kenya and Safarilink, offers easy access to camps and lodges within the reserve and neighbouring conservancies. We take a game drive as we head into Olare Orok conservancy, our host for the night.
The national reserve has come under major criticism for allowing overcrowding of hotels, allowing drivers to criss-cross the reserve in a haphazard manner and poor maintenance of the roads.
But once you enter any of the surrounding conservancies you immediately see the difference. In the reserve any number of vehicles can surround an animal compared to the conservancies that have rules stipulating no more than four vehicles at a time.
Conservancies stipulate the kind of properties to be put up, how much land is allocated to each bed, and they also pay the local community an agreed fee for leasing the land. In the reserve, the area is overseen by the local county council.
On this particular trip, we were headed for the Olare Orok conservancy.
Maasai Mara is home to one of the largest populations of lions in the world and on this trip, we get an opportunity to find a pride lazing around after a kill. Lying under different shrubs, but not too far from the wildebeest they had started feasting on, are 10 lionesses and two lions. They roll around in the grass, stretch and peep at the visitors. Itâ€™s like theyâ€™re putting on a show for us.
Though the biggest spectacle and lure of the Mara is the great migration, from July to October, you will always find plenty of wildebeest and zebras in the reserve and conservancies.
We drive straight into the conservancy, which has no gate or clear demarcation but you can tell the difference once you are inside. The vegetation, the lack of tyre marks everywhere are some of the indicators. After the game drive, and a lovely sundowner, we head to the tented camp, Olare Mara.
Owned by Simba Corporation, it will be be branded to a Kempinski property in January 2013 â€“ Olare Mara Kempinski â€“ a luxury tented camp. Located near Ntiakitiak river, the one-year-old camp blends modern and African dÃ©cor from the public spaces to the 12 luxury tents – five twin, seven double and a luxury suite with its own plunge pool.
Nothing beats taking a shower outside, surrounded by nature. Though open, the design is such that no one can see you, well other than the monkey that might pay you a visit. At night, you might hear a hyena crying or other animals around. Each room has a raised platform from where you can watch the animals come to the Ntiakitiak River to lick salt.
If there is one thing the hotel is proud of, it is their organic garden. Almost all vegetables and herbs used in the kitchen are from this garden, which is well-tended and produces gigantic sized vegetables â€“ from spinach to leeks, chillies to lettuce and eggplants.
Guests can either enjoy their meals at the main dining area, the main bar area or swimming pool under the stars. For Sh70,000, including flights and two game drives, one can enjoy the luxury camp.
Guests can also drive themselves into the camp, however unlike the reserve where one can use their personal car for game drives, in the conservancies, this is not allowed.