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“You remember Pumbaa, the warthog from [the film]
The Lion King?” whispered Mathenge. “Pumbaa
means “stupid” in Swahili.” At that exact moment
the leopard leapt from his perch, bolting toward one
of the piglets. The mother warthog ran after him at a
surprising speed, grunting and repelling him
backward.
“That didn’t look dumb to me,” I said.
“No”, Mathenge said, “but now watch this”.
Within seconds the mother warthog had turned her
back on the leopard, grazing obliviously as though
the entire scene had never taken place.
It is hard to beat Kenya for its unfettered access to
wildlife, but visitors often forget that getting up close
does not have to mean being confined in a vehicle.
For example, while much of your day at the Ark may
be spent roaming Aberdare National Park in 4×4
jeeps seeking out playful monkeys, elusive lions and
the occasional waterfall, at the lodge you are still
sleeping within the animals’ hunting grounds. Step
into the Ark’s ground-level, wildlife-viewing room and
you may find yourself within steps of a black rhino,
easily photographable through the thick window. Or
curl up with a hot water bottle as the temperature
drops and listen to the whoop calls of hyena as you
drift off to sleep. One evening I stood on the deck and
watched more than two dozen elephants – including
a mother and baby – grazing on the lick below.
And the Ark is just one of many alternative
opportunities within a few hours of Nairobi, Kenya’s
capital city.
Boat safari on Lake Naivasha
There is no shortage of hippos in Lake Naivasha, a
freshwater body lying 1,890m up in the highlands of
Kenya’s Rift valley, 120km northwest of Nairobi. And
most nearby lodges offer boat tours, including Lake
Naivasha Sawela Lodge.
As your guide navigates the motorised boat past
papyrus stands and fisherman standing waist-deep
in the water, it is easy to envision the hippos rising
up like sharks at any minute. But once you spot them
– their disproportionate ears and widespread eyes
hovering just above the water’s surface – you almost
forget your fears. Huddled together in pods, they
seem surprisingly (and wrongly) nonthreatening,
their massive bodies gliding around the bottom of
the lake.
But hippos are not Lake Naivasha’s only wildlife; it is
also a bird-lovers paradise. The lake is home to
hundreds of bird species, from mohawked pied
kingfishers to brightly-coloured brimstone canaries
to majestic fish eagles that glide easily through the
air. Meanwhile, buffalo meander along nearby
swampy banks and beyond them, black and white
colobus monkeys dangle lazily on the crooked
branches of flat-topped acacia trees.
Bicycling through Hells Gate National Park
Its name is intimidating enough (though Hell’s Gate
actually refers to a narrow break in the cliffs at the
park’s entrance), but the – albeit slim – prospect of
coming upon a voracious lion while riding nothing
but rubber tires and a metal frame is downright
formidable. Hell’s Gate is one of only two national
parks in the entire country that you can walk and
bicycle through. Imagine, cruising along on two
wheels while a group of zebra graze curiously from a
few metres away. You are likely to encounter herds of
hartebeest, Thompson’s gazelle and buffalo. And
while the occasional carnivorous feline does make an
appearance, they are extremely rare. The park itself
is exquisite, with hot springs and nesting raptors. In
fact, its jagged Fischer’s Tower –a tower of basalt
rock ideal for climbing, in the park’s northeast corner
– is the main inspiration for Pride Rock in Disney’s
1994 film, The Lion King.
Hell’s Gate is about 90km northwest from Nairobi,
and the city’s Goshawk Tours offers day-long
bicycling and walking tours with round-trip
transportation.
Walking among giants in Aberdare Country
Club
A course where a baboon absconds with your golf ball
is not your typical putt-putt, but rather daily life on
the grounds of Aberdare Country Club, a sprawling
1,300 acre wildlife sanctuary with a nine-hole golf
course and lodge surrounded by primates, warthogs
and more. Peacocks wander the trails and lounge on
the rooftops, while giraffes graze on the trees a few
hundred meters away. Aberdare’s nature walks and
horseback riding tours also get you up close to the
animals, literally wandering among zebra, elands and
impalas.
Despite a recent renovation, the property has the
relaxing feel of an old-world country retreat like
something you would see in the movie Out of Africa.
In fact, cast members from the early-20th century
period piece stayed here during filming. The lodge,
located 190km northeast of Nairobi, offers
spectacular views of the surrounding countryside,
and is the perfect spot for simply enjoying Kenya’s
vast natural beauty – preferably with a Tusker lager
in hand.

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