Camping by the Ewaso in Ol Pejeta

In many ways, Ol Pejeta is the ideal destination for a weekend safari out of Nairobi. The drive is manageable – short enough for a one-night stay, and with plenty of good breakfast spots along the way. The views of Mount Kenya are stunning, the density of wildlife is high, and there are accommodation options to suit most budgets. So it was an obvious choice for my fiancée and I last weekend, when we hosted a friend of ours from New York.

In contrast to my previous visit in April, the conservancy was green and brimming with life. From the winding, dense stretch of road after the Rongai Gate, we emerged to an idyllic scene at the marsh by the chimpanzee sanctuary. With a flock of egrets picking off insects at their feet, a large herd of elephants grazed peacefully in the tall grass. One of the many young calves in the group, not familiar yet with the hierarchy of the herd, flared its little ears out and squared up to an unbothered old bull. In the heart of the marsh, a harem of waterbucks cooled their thick bronze coats from the midday heat, and a herd of buffaloes wallowed nearby.

We then crossed the ‘Elephant Bridge’ over the chocolate-brown Ewaso Nyiro River, and headed for lunch at our campsite. Another reason why we opted to take our guest to Ol Pejeta was for the experience of camping in an area completely open to wildlife. So I was a bit disappointed to find that the campsite I had booked had been fenced within a large ‘exclusion zone’.

A small sign on the electric fence explained what this was all about: the exclusion zone had been established as part of a habitat recovery programme, to allow for the recovery of riverine vegetation damaged mainly by elephants. Each year, the 400-or-so elephants in the conservancy damage 5-10% of the trees and other vegetation in this zone, so the fence will keep them out to allow for the replanting of 180 acres of indigenous trees. I was impressed that the management had put up these informative signs, and once I knew what the fence was for, I didn’t mind so much that it encircled the campsite.

It’s called the Ewaso Campsite, and it’s at a very tranquil spot on a bend of the river. An acacia tree stands tall by the riverbank, its trunk gnarled by years of elephant rubbing and stripping. We pitched our tents beneath a cluster of euclea shrubs, and relaxed before our evening gamedrive.

Ewaso is one of five campsites in the conservancy, and most of the others are also on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River. The Ol Lerai and Hippo Hide campsites are close by, and Murera Donga is by a marsh further north. The Wilderness Campsite is in a remote location in the larger western section of the conservancy. All of the campsites have toilet facilities, and are supplied with firewood and a water bowser.

After a very chilly and windy night, we stumbled out of our tents and headed out for a drive. Before the sun came up, Mount Kenya stood silhouetted against a lilac-pink pre-dawn sky. We drove east towards the Ol Pejeta Dam, where there were reports of a lion sighting. Along the way we spotted a group of five white rhinos, huddled together on an exposed plain. And soon afterwards, a couple of skittish black rhinos trotted up to a water trough for a drink. Looking back, we’ve no doubt that Ol Pejeta was the right choice for our short weekend safari.

The campsites can be booked on an exclusive basis online at www.olpejetaconservancy.org, or by emailing reservations@olpejetaconservancy.org, for a booking fee of Ksh 7,000 (valid for seven nights) and a camping fee of Ksh 1,000 per person per night.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation