Laikipia Wilnderness in Kenya, has five spacious tents...
Laikipia Wilderness: Our full report
Laikipia Wilderness opened in 2012 on the Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch about 2 hours drive north of Nanyuki. The camp has five spacious tents, and is supported by a small team of excellent staff. It specialises in game walks as much as game drives and has two easily observed wild dog packs in the area.
Built, owned and managed by a highly experienced Zimbabwean safari camp couple, Steve and Annabelle Carey, Laikipia Wilderness has been an instant hit with repeat visitors to this rewarding and beautiful part of Kenya. The camp’s central areas consist of a large lounge/dining tent (the “mess") with cane furniture and a small library of reading material, leading out to a raised, deck area where breakfast and lunch are usually eaten, with the guests and owner-managers eating together. Next to the mess, there’s a set of shelves with a small selection of crafts and curios for sale.
The tents are a good size, simply furnished with comfortable beds, bedside tables and lamps, storage shelves, and verandahs with cane chairs looking out across the bush. The large bathrooms are open air, with plumbed-in, super-hot, high pressure showers heated by kuni boilers (wood fire boilers) behind each tent.
Behind the very simple kitchen and back-of-house area, a nearby rocky bluff looks north across the Ewaso Narok river (which flows north to join the Ewaso Nyiro a few miles downstream), and on this beautiful vantage point you'll often have sundowners or dinners around the fire.
There’s a deliberately basic infrastructure at Laikipia Wilderness that keeps it all very real, and very “bush". There’s been virtually no landscaping of the camp area, so the narrow footpaths between the mess and the guest tents lead through natural scrub.
If you’re staying for more than a couple of nights (as nearly every guest does), fly-camping is usually offered, a simple bivouac, a few miles from camp, with small tents and bedrolls around the campfire. You will always be accompanied by a trained firearms holder with a .375 rifle.
Animal “hosts" at camp include two dogs, Boris (a ridgeback cross) and Buster (partly collie), the house cat Mr Stripes and a tame Greyish Eagle Owl, who goes by the name of Owl Shabaab. The dogs sometimes accompany game drives and walks and seem to have a calming effect on wild dog packs. The whole camp has a very relaxed feel, as if you were staying with friends at their makeshift rural homestead.
In some camps, the comforts and atmosphere of the camp itself vie for attention with the out-of-camp activities on offer. That’s not the case at Laikipia Wilderness. While the tents, lounge, mess and deck are perfectly fine (and the kitchen’s output delicious), the most memorable aspects of a stay here are the game drives (in two, fully open Toyota Land Cruisers with padded bench seats), game walks and really great guiding from a true bushman, owner Steve Carey accompanied by scout and spotter Joseph.
Steve’s driving style means you make rapid progress through the bush – the typically ultra-cautious driver/guide’s manner behind the wheel might be a bit slow in the fast moving world of wild dog packs. With no other camps or visitors across miles of rocky bush, you can go wherever Steve thinks he can drive – and then, when the vehicle can go no further, you get out and walk on, behind Steve’s tall, gun-toting figure. This makes for an unusually robust approach to game viewing: you need to be prepared with suitable footwear for getting out of the vehicle at a moment’s notice when Steve or Joseph spot something interesting (and possibly getting back in again just as quickly). It’s an approach to safaris that is a far cry from the slow and gentle style that is particularly common in small camps in the Mara. You need to be prepared to hang on while driving, and to acquire the odd bruise and knock along the way.
The rewards of this rather rough and ready style include the very good chances of seeing the area’s wild dogs. While the packs that den at Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch can range far and wide over hundreds of square kilometres, both packs include collared individuals and Steve always carries his tracking equipment, so there’s a strong likelihood of frequent, if sometimes fleeting, encounters. During the denning season, usually September or October, the den areas are deliberately not approached too closely, but once the pups leave the den, sometimes to a new den location, usually from the end of the year, approaching the pups becomes easier. Throughout the year, the packs hunt daily and are fluidly mobile, so you can come across the adults almost anywhere.
Our experiences, during our two-day stay in December 2013, included:
- Finding a hippo's tracks deep in the thorn bush and speculating on where it was going;
- Filming a dog pack surging across the track not twenty metres in front of our vehicle to infiltrate an unaware herd of impalas just behind us, then witnessing the scattering of the antelope, as they sailed in giant leaps away from danger;
- Spotting a leopard slinking through the scrub by day;
- Finding tiny bits of shiny obsidian chipped from old stone tools, indicating a former village site;
- Scanning the rocky ridges ahead in search of an elusive black leopard seen a fortnight earlier;
- Watching frolicking dog pups through our binoculars on the hillside across from our beautiful evening viewpoint;
- Following a honey guide to a bees’ nest and digging out a piece of lightly flavoured honeycomb;
- Scanning the Mutara valley to see martial eagles, long-crested eagles, African hawk eagles and giant eagle owls all nesting;
- And returning to an eland kill while the cats were away so that Steve could deftly carve out two fine fillets for our dinner that evening (a little under-hung but still delicious).
Keen birders will be delighted with the area, which has hundreds of northern species as well as those ranging across Kenya, and Palearctic migrants. Local specialities include rosy-patched bush-shrikes, vulturine guinea-fowls and impressive range of raptors, including black eagles, attracted by the area's rocky outcrops. Steve knows all the birds, and their calls (and does a fair few passable imitations himself).
Our viewKnowing the highly experienced Zimbabwean owner-managers Steve and Annabelle Carey already, we guessed this camp would be a great experience, and we were right. Our stay in December 2013 confirmed its appeal as coming down very much to Annabelle's great back-of-house skills and Steve's uncanny and very hands-on bush instincts. If you want to experience the Laikipia wind in your hair as you bounce along a rutted track in the wake of a pack of wild dogs, this is the place for you.
Ideal length of stay: 4 nights
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Steve and Annabelle Carey
Staff: Joseph Lekeyai, Simon Lorro, Mugambi (Joseph) aka JM
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: We thought the quality of meals at Laikipa Wilderness was very good, and particularly so considering the very basic infrastructure at the camp. The day starts with coffee, tea or hot chocolate in your room
Our first dinner was eaten around the campfire and started with samosas (lamb as well as vegetarian) and chilli tree tomato jam. We then moved on to a very tasty satay chicken with rice noodles, followed by exquisitely more-ish macadamia brittle ice cream.
Our hugely enjoyable bush brunch the next morning was a help-yourself spread featuring avocado salad (with the most superb, creamy avocados the colour of egg yolk), a potato and cheese quiche, poppy seed rolls, excellent scotch eggs all washed down with beer, wine, coffee, tea or juice.
Our second and equally convivial dinner that evening kicked off with bitings of spring rolls, and went on to a buffet that included lion kill stroganoff (featuring the fillet from an eland killed that morning), sticky pork chops in a tasty glaze, herby mashed potatoes, sautéed crunchy veg from the garden and lots of good wine. We finished with crème caramels.
The day usually starts with tea or coffee at the mess (a very short walk from all five tents) and a snack breakfast before the morning activity, with a bigger breakfast on return, or out in the bush. A good range of fruit, cereals, eggs, bacon, sausage and beans is always available, together with homemade bread and toast and preserves.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: All available drinks are included in the rates, which means the usual soft drinks, beer and house wines. Guests wanting particular spirits or Champagne could order ahead (at extra cost) or bring their own.
Further dining info: Meals can be had anywhere you want, including at your tent. Guests can also request a private rock dinner (on the rocky viewpoint), or bush dinner (in the bush somewhere).
Walking safaris: Here you can explore the Laikipia bush, within the Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch. Short walking safaris operate throughout the year, using small tents, and an escort armed with a .375 rifle.See more ideas for Walking safaris in Kenya
Wildlife safaris: Laikipia Wilderness and its owner-manager Steve Carey are closely associated with wild dog tracking, using radio-tracking equipment. At least two, and sometimes three dog packs den in this area and sightings of cubs and hunts are not uncommon.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Kenya
Attitude towards children: Children are always welcome and the owner-managers’ young children are on site at weekends and during school holidays. However, this is a very relaxed, unfenced camp and children’s safety is definitely the responsibilty of their parents.
Property’s age restrictions: None, but the camp may be selective, so it may not be possible to host a very young family in high season, especially if there are no other children at camp at the same time.
Special activities & services: River rope swing, river rafting in the fairly shallow river (for older children, no life jackets provided), kayaking, cave-exploring and rock-scrambling. Guide Joseph does tracking walks for fives and up, with bow and arrow skills-training.
Equipment: No special equipment is available, but the owners are resourceful and can always make a plan.
Generally recommended for children: Keen outdoors- and animal-loving children will adore this camp and its robust style, but tiny ones will need careful supervision at all times.
Notes: Experience, but not qualified, ayahs and child minders are available from housekeeping staff.
Power supply: Solar Power
Power supply notes: There is a backup generator but it is rarely needed. Charging is done in the mess tent. No hair driers can be used. Hot water is provided by wood-fired boilers behind each tent.
Communications: Safaricom cellphone netowrk is available, but only in the kitchen where there is an aerial. Guests are welcome to visit the kitchen to pick up messages, use their devices to get online or make urgent phone calls.
TV & radio: None available. Only if guests want to watch a major Rugby game would Steve Carey take them to Sosian Lodge (where he and his wife used to be managers) to watch on his old TV there.
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: River water is pumped up for the main guests’ bathroom supplies and good hot water is available more or less 24/7, heated by wood-fired kuni boilers at the back of each tent. Drinking water is brought in from Nanyuki’s mains supply and then treated in camp and supplied to guests in flasks. Bottled water is used on walks and drives.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Steve and Annabelle have both had first aid training from Medex (a UK, ex-military trainging course).
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There’s one askari on duty at night. There is also a 15-person ranch security team who stay aware of who is on the ranch and who is driving along the road that bisects it.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the kitchen. The staff have not yet had any fire training, but this is planned.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included. It's hand-washed and line-dried. Ladies underwear can be included.
Money: There are no tent safes, but valuables can be given to the managers for safekeeping in their safe. No foreign exchange can be done.
Accepted payment on location: Payments for extras can only be made in cash – Kenya Shillings, US dollars, Euros and Pounds are all accepted.