Kenya year two: a shot in the arm

At Dandora Health Centre, where we filmed teachers getting their COVID-19 vaccine shots
© UNICEF Kenya/2021/Lameck Orina

In September 2021, after a delay of almost two years caused by COVID-19, I finally made it to the peak of Mount Longonot. This is a 2,780 metre dormant volcano one and a half hour’s drive north of Nairobi, in Kenya. I was hiking with my friends Matthias and Sheila, who I first met in Malawi five years before. It was an overcast day, which kept the temperatures mercifully mild as we followed the steep path up the mountainside. Our first goal was to reach the rim. From here, we could see across the crater, which – unusually for a volcano – was filled with a dense forest, cut off from the outside world by steep cliffs. Its was unclear what wildlife was living down there, although we did see the occasional giraffe on our way up. Great gashes down the mountainsides traced the routes where lava had previously flowed and we found pieces of brittle pumice stone scattered amongst the ash around the crater.

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Photos: Amboseli National Park

Pink flamingos wade through a reflection of Mount Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park.
© Andrew Brown/2022/Kenya

Every safari in Kenya has its own distinctive feature. Amboseli National Park is characterized by the dramatic views of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, which lies just over the border in Tanzania. It’s a photographer’s dream – you can capture a wide array of wildlife with the mountain rising out of the clouds in the background. Near the airstrip is the seasonal Amboseli Lake, which in rainy season also provides reflections. The park is just a 40 minute flight from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. Flying towards the mountain just after sunrise in a 12-seater plane is an experience in itself.

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Photos: Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park is one of the few places in the world that you can see wild giraffes and office blocks in the same frame.
© Andrew Brown/2021/Kenya

Nairobi National park is a unique safari experience just across the road from Nairobi’s Central Business District, and 40 minutes drive from our house. We stayed at Ololo Lodge, a beautiful farmhouse and safari lodge on the opposite side of the park. It was also directly under the flight path for JKIA international airport, so jumbo jets would frequently thunder past overhead. At 120 square kilometres, the park is not very big compared to others in Kenya, and even at Ololo, you can see the tops of the tallest office buildings in Nairobi. There is also a raised railway line that bisects the park, although animals move freely beneath it.

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Born to run: chasing the great wildebeest migration

A herd of wildebeest contemplating making the river crossing to the Serengeti
© Andrew Brown/2021/Kenya

In August each year, 2.2 million wildebeest, along with hundreds of thousands of zebra and antelope, migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, in search of greener pastures. Along the way, they cross the Sand River and then the wide, crocodile infested Mara River. As the rains change, they do the same journey in reverse. These crossings are one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth, as desperate animals fight for survival. After each crossing, there are a few less wildebeest.

This was something my whole family wanted to see while we were living in Kenya. But finding 2.2 million wildebeest in the Maasai Mara was harder than I thought. At 1,500 square kilometres, the Mara is vast, and the Serengeti is even larger. Finding the wildebeest at the exact moment that they decide to cross a river is almost impossible. But not quite.

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Photos: Wildlife of Maasai Mara

Naserian the cheetah, looking for prey from the vantage point of a termite mound
© Andrew Brown/2021/Kenya

I’ve visited the Maasai Mara three times so far during my time in Kenya, and been blown away by the experience each time. It’s the only place where I’ve seen a cheetah kill, watched the great wildebeest migration or had a sunset beer a few metres away from a sleeping crocodile. On two trips, we benefitted from a genuine Maasai guide, Moses, who grew up in the area and knows the landscape and wildlife intimately. And one of the very few up sides of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the animals were thriving and there were very few visitors, aside from a few Nairobi residents like us, so it often felt like we had the whole national park to ourselves.

Here is a selection of my favourite photos from the three visits:

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Green day: visiting South Luangwa in the rainy season

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A herd of elephants move in a line across a green landscape in South Luangwa, in January
© Andy Brown/Zambia/2018

After a year in Malawi, I’ve settled into three favourite places to go for my occasional bachelor weekends: west to the backpacker beach town of Cape Maclear on the shores of Lake Malawi, south to the cool mountain town of Dedza, where you can hike up to the peak for stunning 360 degree views, or east to the wildlife-rich national park of South Luangwa in Zambia. Continue reading “Green day: visiting South Luangwa in the rainy season”

Zambia: exploring South Luangwa national park

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Elephants cross the Luangwa river bed, seen with the benefit of a 200mm zoom lens
© Andrew Brown/2017/Zambia

As the sun set behind the trees of the bank of the Luangwa River in Zambia, a line of elephants began crossing the mostly parched riverbed, their distinctive trunked shapes visible in the far distance beneath blue outlined hills. In the foreground, twisted branches cast twisted reflections in the remaining water – barely a trickle compared to its rainy season extent. A hippo lifted his head out of the water and bellowed at the setting sun. I stood on a high bank above this scene, with an old-fashioned Land Rover parked behind me and a cold local Zambian beer in my hand. It was a classic African scene and an adventure I’d dreamed of since reading tales of the continent as a teenager. Continue reading “Zambia: exploring South Luangwa national park”