How much do I love Kenya’s bit of the Great North Road? I can count the ways for days. Out of the entire 7000+ kms all the way from Cape Town (South Africa) – Cairo (Egypt) Kenya’s infamous 500km section of lunar surface from Isiolo – Moyale put us in the unenviable position of ‘number last’ but that is now all behind us. Who do we give props for this? Was it ex-president Kibaki? Wherever you are mzee please pokea a fist bump. The soon to be completed stretch of the Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale road has created massive potential in the previously marginalized Northern Kenya counties and has already created better tourism opportunities and brought enhanced security to this previously ‘unknown’ region.
As we’ve seen before Kenya is full of surprises so of course there’s a little conservancy just off this highway that’s just begging to be visited.
Kalama Wildlife Conservancy is located in Samburu County and was formed out of the Gir Gir Group Ranch in 2002 and is part of the Northern Rangelands Trust (these guys are everywhere) community. The image below shows its location in the big scheme of things, it borders by two conservation areas I’ve covered before with Samburu National Reserve to the south and neighbours Westgate Conservancy to the east so if you checked out those two previous articles you’re no stranger to the area.
Contrary to form I’m going to dive in to why Kalama is such an attractive place to visit, it’s just-so-damn-easy to get to. Note how ridiculously close the conservancy is from Isiolo town.
One thing that really stands is the reception I get by Michael the conservancy manager and his management team, Kalama seems quite professional in their operations. I’m also introduced to the rangers who I’ll be spending 2 my time here with and in turn I want to introduce them to you.
First is Tony (24 and single), self confessed former ‘hustler’ and all around city boy. He’s found himself working here because his parents heard they was a job opening and urged him to apply…ha! I’m sure many of us can relate. Having grown up in towns he finds the working in the bush difficult but he’s getting used to it.
The second ranger is Apiyai (23). He’s born and bred in the area and his main responsibility at the moment is stopping Tony from getting lost. The most difficult part of his job is having to sometimes be on ‘the other side’ when it comes to conservation conflicts with the community but he says this also the most rewarding part of his job, he loves working in the area he grew up in.
Allow me to go off topic here but I rarely have enough time and space to really tell you about the people I meet on my travel in detail and thats my fault. All these landscapes you love want to visit? They are all under constant pressure and all around this great country there are people who work tirelessly for no fame or fortune to make sure they remain that way. As a local I cannot help but appreciate how this bring me to the realization, as a citizen of this county, what solo I need to sing in this never ending opera.
Writer Potentash puts it very well in her article on why we as Kenya should embrace domestic travel:
The conservancy has quite a number of campsites, (I visited all of them because thats just how far I’ll go for you) but I’ll talk about two that stood out. The Lgoita campsite is the first; set at the base of a large rocky like ‘amphitheatre’ it’s really stunning location with nice views to the east so mornings here must be something else. I also notice quite a bit of elephant dung so you might have a few unexpected visitors if you’re lucky.The hill in the background is definitely climbable so if you like to get your hike on this might be the site for you.
For more technical climbers you can find more challenging crags such as ‘The Thumb’.
Video used with permission from EWP
I was really torn between this and the previous campsite, both have their major pluses. This is the site if your in a large group or even a small group that likes it’s privacy. A large site along the river bank, well cleared because of it’s use by safari operators and very well shaded with amazing bird and insect life around.
The next morning the guys ask me if I heard the leopard coughing around camp, I’m too ashamed to say I slept like a baby totally unaware of my surroundings so I’m like ‘Yeeeeah….I heard….something…’. Nothing. I heard nothing.
I spend 2 days with these fine fellows talking girls, politics, karate (don’t ask), conservation, goats (delicious), photography, work, love and life. Sorry for going off tangent but I needed to talk about them, even as our time together comes to to an end. These young Kenyans leave me with a sense of security, knowing that they are passionate and up to the task in the battle for equilibrium between man and his environment. Salute!
- None of the campsites have facilities so you need to be entirely self-sufficient.
- There is Safaricom 3G network in most of the conservancy, great if you want to share your adventure on social media.
- For non-campers there is luxury accommodation on the conservancy at Saruni Samburu soon to be expanding their portfolio into Sera Conservancy.
- Camping/conservancy fees are Ksh 2000-citizens, Ksh3000-residents and Ksh5000-non residents (wow). Ranger/guides are Ksh 1000 a day. For more info and booking holla at NRT Tourism on 0701 295 357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wrap – Up
While Kalama may have the traditional draws like Elephant, Grevy’s Zebra, wild dog, gerenuk, and leopard I think it’s honest to say that not everyone is bowled over by game drives and it’s a good point to note that the conservancy has some great opportunities for walking and climbing.
Due to it’s location Kalama is so perfectly placed to tap into the traffic plying the Great North Road as it’s an easy day drive from Nairobi. The siting of the campsites make a great stop-over for the whole Cape – to – Cairo crowd, over-landers and adventurers headed further afield to Lake Turkana or Ethiopia but the marginally higher price point might dissuade non-resident visitors. It’s a weird staple assumption in our tourism that foreigners will pay whatever we ask isn’t it?
All in all a great trip and a massive thank you to the management team, Tony and Apiyai asante for the laughs and the company, and to you the reader for your constant support and curiosity. Let’s explore the hell out of this road.
***This article is dedicated to Morag and Hugh, thanks for adding a bit more fuel to a sputtering flame and to The Northern Rangelands Trust for making this trip come together.***