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Title:  Kenya 1998 Trip Report

Trip Type:  ‘Tourist’ safari booked through a non-specialist safari or photographic company (Kuoni).  The vehicle (2wd minibus) was shared with other tourists who were not focused on photography.  Internal travel between reserves was by road.

Outline Itinerary:  Nairobi, Tsavo West NP(inc. Mzima Springs), Amboseli NP, Aberdare NP (Outspan & Treetops), Samburu NR, Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria (visited, did not stay), Thomson Falls (visit only), Lake Nakuru NP, Lake Naivasha, Masai Mara NP, Nairobi, Mombasa coast (inc. Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary).  Approx 2 weeks on safari and 2 weeks at the beach.

When: December

Equipment:  Nikon F4s, Nikon FA + MD15, Nikkors 28/2.8, 35/2.8, 50/1.8, 70-180 micro, 300.4.5 IFED, 400/3.5 IFED, TC-14B, Manfrotto 055 / 168, Fuji Sensia II 100 & Velvia 50, Nikon A2 filters

Photographic Highs and Lows: 

The shear variety of locations (and species) was amazing, I especially liked Samburu and Lake Nakuru.  The Yellow Fever Trees at Lake Nakuru were beautiful and after rain in particular produced a wonderful backdrop.  Samburu, along with Etosha NP (see Nambia), is probably my favorite photographic location in Africa (so far……..).

I would also love to return to Amboseli, Tsavo and Lake Bogoria, all had amazing promise but with just one day (Tsavo and Bogoria weren’t actually even a full day) at each meant leaving with too much unfinished business. My first ever safari pictures, taken in Tsavo on the first day of this trip, includes one of my all time favorites (see “elephant afircan loxodonta africana tsavo west np dec 1998 001”).

What a start! It may not be the best picture I have ever taken but the sentimental attachment is huge and I was hooked! Tsavo had potential but needed much more time, it is a vast area and I’m sure that you could easily spend several months in the park (I wish!).

At Bogoria there were thousands of flamingo on the lake and you could drive or walk to the lake shore, amazing. I believe that it is also the only rift lake with hot water geysers, again giving lots of potential if you are fortunate or have lots of time there.


Elephant, Tsava West NP

 At Lake Baringo I only stayed in a lodge on the lake shore as a staging post for visiting lake Bogoria, but the hotel grounds had great potential and were quite productive. It was a similar story at Lake Naivasha too where the hotel grounds were productive, if a little too manicured.


Evening cloud cover hiding Mt. Kili

Amboseli has a rich variety of animals and birds but is quite rightly best known for its elephants. The park is small but has huge potential as well as the promise of maybe getting snow capped Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. I almost managed it with the shot of the elephants walking off under a purple sky (yes, it really was that colour, no filtration or digi-tinkering) but Kili was covered in cloud in the evening (apparently quite usual) and only the lower parts of the right hand flank can be made out. The flamingos on Amboseli Lake were early morning and show a little more of the mountain.     


Mt. Kili visible through the morning mist     

Outspan was no more than a colonial hotel, nice but not photographically productive.  Treetops had some hides built into the main structure at ground level, the only issues I found were than the viewing slots were restrictive with a big lens (400mm f/3.5, similar in size to a 300mm f/2.8, was a tight squeeze but useable) and the area around the waterhole was so well used by the animals (I believe saltlick is put down to attract them) there was zero vegetation giving an almost ‘zoo like’ appearance to many of my slides.  It has potential though and some less common species (bongo were apparent occasionally seen, sadly not whilst I was there) can be seen if you are lucky.

In the Mara I amazingly (for December) saw the last of the migration as it headed back to the Serengeti.  Excellent for big cats as well as general big game.  Later trips (see below) would reveal some of the awesome potential of the Masai Mara and the surrounding area.  That said, and it is an amazing place, but personally I prefer the parks with more scrub habitat and less grass plain.  Giraffe in particular can be very challenging to photograph well in the Mara.  The often flat, featureless terrain inevitably means that the horizon cuts across the animal’s neck which I find tends to ruin an otherwise good shot.  You have been warned.  The ‘trans-mara’ region is an exception to this as it is much closer to the escarpment wall that forms the boundary of the rift.  This makes a fantastic backdrop for giraffe and elephant in particular.  The down side is that it can be a long drive to get there from the main accommodation areas and typical tourist safaris are unlikely to venture so far.  It is certainly well worth a day trip (sadly I didn’t find out about this area for another few years).

A final thought.  The rigid schedule and the need to have ‘creature comforts’ close by as much as possible means that on this type of trip quite a bit of time is spent at the various lodges in the day time.  This is obviously a shame when you could be out in the parks looking for wildlife, however do not dismiss this time as being totally dead photographically.  On this trip in particular I got many of my best photographic opportunities in and around the grounds of the lodges.  Wildlife in such places is generally accustomed to seeing people on foot and can be quite tolerant.  That said they are still wild so do exercise caution and common sense, but do look for opportunities and you will be rewarded.

Other Comments: 

My first ever safari and also my longest trip (2 weeks safari plus 2 very boring weeks on the coast) to date.  What I term “tourist safaris” are certainly far from ideal compared to a trip specifically organised around photography, but don’t let that put you off.  If it is all that your budget will stretch to, or you are combining a traditional holiday with your photography, go for it.  Use a reputable company (I was very pleased with the offerings from Kuoni) and you should have a spectacular time.  However, if you can stretch to a more tailored trip, and they are not always more expensive, then I would recommend that you do so.  And a tailored trip is not a poor choice for any non-photographers in your party, quite the opposite, you just get more time and flexibility with the animals and less travel time, all coupled with fewer people in the vehicle.  Everyone wins.

Not so good is sharing a cramped vehicle with lots of fidgety non-photographers but generally most people are incredibly tolerant and cooperative.  Also, the beach leg of the trip was effectively wasted time, you live and learn.

The hotels were very quiet this time of year but there was a lull in tourists at the time due to some unrest in the country some time earlier which had impacted bookings.  The wildlife in the Mara was also a little out of kilter due to the trip having been in the middle of a particularly pronounced La Niña (opposite to an El Ninio) season, I actually saw the tail end of the wildebeest migration still on the Kenyan side of the boarder which is very unusual for December.

 There was far too much time on the road between reserves, 1 mile on a “good” Kenyan road was like 50 miles on the worst farm track you can imagine in the UK. I jest not! The time table was also too rigid, having to head back to the (rather nice) lodges at specific times irrespective of what was seen. Very frustrating at times.


Whilst at Mombasa beach I got a few shots of Syke’s blue monkey’s and black & white colobus, again around the hotel. I also had an overnight stay at Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary to break the boredom where, contrary to the (local) pre-booking promises, there was little else to see other than elephant and the set-up at the time was very amateurish. There were some impressive tuskers however, but our ‘guide’ always seemed to insist on heading in the opposite direction! I did wonder if he had an elephant phobia! Hopefully it is now much improved but with hindsight I should have stuck with my original plan and gone to Shimba Hills (still on my to-do list).


Syke's blue monkey, Mombasa Beach

 Overall, a fabulous experience but too much time on the road and time in the parks was not always ideal for photography due to rigid timetable etc..  If you are going to do this type of trip I would recommend you due fewer reserves and spend much longer in each.  If you can fly between them or select parks relatively close together (but that may limit the species diversity that you see) all the better.

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