In October last year I spent my 30th birthday at the spectacular Ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya with Tim. I wrote about our experience of staying at the lodge and the superb food and drink in an earlier blog post here. But now is the time to talk about the most exciting part of the holiday – the safari!
We’d never been on safari before and we did a bit of research, helped very much by the brilliant Turquoise Holidays who we booked with. For us, we wanted an all round experience of a beautiful hotel, excellent food and wildlife. We certainly hit the bullseye with Ol Donyo. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Ol Donyo is on a reserve so you have the best of both worlds – plenty of wildlife around the greener grounds of the reserve, as well as out on the open plains. In this part of Kenya you don’t get hippos and rhinos, but pretty much everything else! And at Ol Donyo there are a number of different ways to see them.
Safari on horseback
The first time we went out into the reserve, we decided to go on horseback! Ol Donyo has a well equipped stable a short drive away (which we were chaperoned to by our guide) and we were soon kitted out with our riding gear, before meeting our well looked after and very tame horses.
We slowly rode the horses out through the reserve and I thought we’d be sticking fairly close to the stables, but that wasn’t the case whatsoever – we were straight out to the middle of the plains, surrounded by giraffes, zebras and warthogs! I thought the horses might get scared but they’re obviously so used to their surroundings and the natural environment – everyone was just in harmony. It was an incredible experience trotting amongst such amazing beasts! (there aren’t too many photos unfortunately, not the easiest thing to take photos while riding a horse when you’re not exactly an experienced rider!)
I think this was the point that we realised this wasn’t any old safari. This was a once in a lifetime safari that we were very privileged to be enjoying. As the sun started to set and our ride was coming to an end, we were led over to the valley edge where a bar area had been set up for us – it was like a wonderful mirage in the middle of the plains! We dismounted our horses and got comfortable with gin and tonics as the sun set! It’s a moment I will remember forever.
This level of VIP treatment continued throughout our safari. We did another horseback ride later in the week but in the morning – this was a longer ride and took us far out into the plains. When this ride came to an end, a table had been set up for us with a champagne breakfast, with our guide waiting to escort us back to the lodge in the jeep.
Safari in the jeep
We spent most of our time on the safari in the jeep with our amazing guide. The jeep was amazing – incredibly powerful and our guide could get it across any terrain. He was also brilliant at spotting animals – we didn’t see any lions because they’re quite rare for the area, but he did manage to spot an even more rare cheetah, which was wonderful to see! We also went on a night safari one evening which was brilliant fun – our guide was tearing around the dusty roads with one hand on the steering wheel, and another hand on a big spotlight to try and track down night-time critters! We saw lots of animals including a hyena which I was particularly excited to spot. We also interrupted a few animals sleeping or bathing in the watering hole (sorry, guys!). One of my most vivid memories is approaching one of the watering holes in the middle of the vast plains, with a clear sky full of twinkling stars, seeing an elephant taking a dip in the water before trundling off into the darkness.
And as with the horse riding safari, the experience was still very much VIP in the jeep, with breakfast and fresh coffee brought by our guide who set up a seating area for us to enjoy the views.
Safari on foot!
The last type of safari we did was on foot. Yes you read that right. On foot. I didn’t think it would be possible, but it’s one of the excellent offerings from Ol Donyo Lodge. And much like with the horse-riding, I expected us to stay fairly close to the lodge but it was a proper hike around the reserve, in the exact same area where we’d seen the elephants and zebras and cheetah! We were accompanied by a gun bearer who led the way, with our guide keeping close by. It was a really unusual and adrenaline-fulled experience, knowing that you’re walking on the same ground as these incredible animals, in such close proximity.
It really was unreal and I can’t get over the incredible service from our hotel and all of the staff. We were made to feel like royalty and made my 30th birthday more special than I could ever have imagined.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Ol Donyo lodge, you can visit their website here.