Searching African Skies


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The Masai people are adorned in brightly coloured blankets of red, orange and pink — their rich hues a stark contrast to the barren grasslands of the plains. We arrive in the Masai in early April, in the midst of a prolonged drought.

Under African Skies

The journey in our eight-seater pop-top Toyota land cruiser is not for the faint-hearted. The roads — and I use this word generously — are a mix, from sealed but badly potholed highways to barely passable goat tracks. But the scenery is mesmerising and it's a joy to watch Africa roll by outside the window in all its glorious humanity and commerce. We check in to the Fig Tree Camp, which borders the park - a slow-moving river is all that separates thousands of hungry animals from our "tents". But these are not tents in the sense of any Kiwi camping trip.

They are luxury abodes boasting four-poster beds and an ensuite bathroom. In the river immediately outside, a group of enormous hippos bathe in the water, just their noses poking above the surface. The serene afternoon is occasionally punctuated by their booming trumpets.

A five-metre crocodile lazes in the waters nearby, a stone's throw from our tents. TIA as the locals say. This is Africa. We ditch our gear then head out on our first safari. Within minutes we are surrounded by teeming and spectacular wildlife. I've watched countless David Attenborough documentaries but nothing can prepare you for the sight of fully grown giraffes chewing leaves from an acacia tree, their long intricately-patterned necks arching to reach the highest thorny branches.

A dazzle of zebra yes, that is the collective noun survey our vehicle then scatter as we approach, their perfect black and white stripes a curious defence mechanism to trick predators. A family of warthogs trot by on their tiny legs - ever-vigilant for the park's big cats who consider the hogs a tasty meal. Troops of baboons crisscross the road, eyeing us suspiciously before returning to the serious job of preening their peers to remove unwanted ticks. Buffalo chew lazily on huge mouthfuls of grass as white birds perch on the giant beasts' heads, watching for stray insects.

A sleek leopard appears near a river bank, casually passes our vehicle then disappears on the hunt for its next kill. Everywhere exotic African species appear from the Masai expanse. Within three hours I am speechless at this natural wonderland. It's spellbinding to behold these creatures in their natural habitat — a treasure that is strictly protected by Kenyan authorities in a bid to safeguard it for future generations.

Poachers can expect life in prison. We retire to our camp to enjoy a beautiful meal washed down with the tasty local brew, Tuskers Lager. A band of local Masai dressed in traditional garb perform a rhythmic song before we hit the sack, exhausted from the long drive but exhilarated.

We rise before dawn the next day to the sound of hippos thrashing in the river below. After gulping down a rich brew of Kenyan coffee, we take a short walk in the darkness to a nearby field where a hot air balloon is being prepared to take us on a sunrise flight over the Masai. We drift high above the plains, watching the animal life rise in search of food and water at first light.

An hour later we land and are whisked to a champagne breakfast on the grasslands before setting off for our next safari adventure. After a series of incredible close encounters — including a pride of lions, Thompson's gazelles and five beautiful cheetahs - we pack our things and head for Lake Nakuru National Park.

Searching African Skies

A six-hour drive away, the park is set around the lake's gentle shores. Ghost trees drowned by rising waters stand eerily above the mirrored silver expanse. Lush green forest provides a rich contrast to the Masai's dusty plains. Zebra, buffalo, topi, warthogs and baboons descend from the hills to drink from low-lying waterways. Monkeys scamper across dirt tracks and a huge rhinoceros feeds in a meadow next to its calf.

Nakuru is famed for its rhino breeding sanctuary and breathtaking flamingo population. The graceful birds, many perched on a single spindly leg, gather in the mudflat shallows, poking for morsels with their large beaks. Their delightful pink colours indicate they are adult birds; the adolescents are plain white.

The park's flamingo numbers are down on previous years as the drought has caused salt levels in the lake to spike, killing the blue and green algae which the birds devour. We check into the upmarket Lake Nakuru Lodge. Block, who used to do a regular slot with Jenny Crwys-Williams on Radio some years back, asked Wild to elucidate on the content of the book, asking her what the Square Kilometre Array SKA actually entails. Then there are the technological spin offs, you think your cell phone is fast now, just wait until we develop this data processing capacity that will find its way into you cell phone, into your computer and into your life [ Wild revealed how, though South Africa is splitting the telescope with Australia, we have the majority share.

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This is the way to listen to them. Print this article. Email this article. We check in to the Fig Tree Camp, which borders the park - a slow-moving river is all that separates thousands of hungry animals from our "tents". But these are not tents in the sense of any Kiwi camping trip. They are luxury abodes boasting four-poster beds and an ensuite bathroom. In the river immediately outside, a group of enormous hippos bathe in the water, just their noses poking above the surface. The serene afternoon is occasionally punctuated by their booming trumpets. A five-metre crocodile lazes in the waters nearby, a stone's throw from our tents.

TIA as the locals say. This is Africa. We ditch our gear then head out on our first safari. Within minutes we are surrounded by teeming and spectacular wildlife. I've watched countless David Attenborough documentaries but nothing can prepare you for the sight of fully grown giraffes chewing leaves from an acacia tree, their long intricately-patterned necks arching to reach the highest thorny branches. A dazzle of zebra yes, that is the collective noun survey our vehicle then scatter as we approach, their perfect black and white stripes a curious defence mechanism to trick predators. A family of warthogs trot by on their tiny legs - ever-vigilant for the park's big cats who consider the hogs a tasty meal.

Troops of baboons crisscross the road, eyeing us suspiciously before returning to the serious job of preening their peers to remove unwanted ticks.

Paul Simon - Under African Skies (Live from The African Concert, 1987)

Buffalo chew lazily on huge mouthfuls of grass as white birds perch on the giant beasts' heads, watching for stray insects. A sleek leopard appears near a river bank, casually passes our vehicle then disappears on the hunt for its next kill. Everywhere exotic African species appear from the Masai expanse. Within three hours I am speechless at this natural wonderland.

It's spellbinding to behold these creatures in their natural habitat — a treasure that is strictly protected by Kenyan authorities in a bid to safeguard it for future generations.

Under African Skies

Poachers can expect life in prison. We retire to our camp to enjoy a beautiful meal washed down with the tasty local brew, Tuskers Lager.


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A band of local Masai dressed in traditional garb perform a rhythmic song before we hit the sack, exhausted from the long drive but exhilarated. We rise before dawn the next day to the sound of hippos thrashing in the river below. After gulping down a rich brew of Kenyan coffee, we take a short walk in the darkness to a nearby field where a hot air balloon is being prepared to take us on a sunrise flight over the Masai.

We drift high above the plains, watching the animal life rise in search of food and water at first light. An hour later we land and are whisked to a champagne breakfast on the grasslands before setting off for our next safari adventure. After a series of incredible close encounters — including a pride of lions, Thompson's gazelles and five beautiful cheetahs - we pack our things and head for Lake Nakuru National Park.

A six-hour drive away, the park is set around the lake's gentle shores. Ghost trees drowned by rising waters stand eerily above the mirrored silver expanse. Lush green forest provides a rich contrast to the Masai's dusty plains. Zebra, buffalo, topi, warthogs and baboons descend from the hills to drink from low-lying waterways. Monkeys scamper across dirt tracks and a huge rhinoceros feeds in a meadow next to its calf.

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Nakuru is famed for its rhino breeding sanctuary and breathtaking flamingo population. The graceful birds, many perched on a single spindly leg, gather in the mudflat shallows, poking for morsels with their large beaks. Their delightful pink colours indicate they are adult birds; the adolescents are plain white. The park's flamingo numbers are down on previous years as the drought has caused salt levels in the lake to spike, killing the blue and green algae which the birds devour.

We check into the upmarket Lake Nakuru Lodge. Zebra and hyena wander outside my window, the latter's chilling cackle audible during the night. We pack early the next morning, enjoy breakfast then head out to explore the park. It's a glorious setting with exotic animals and birds appearing at every turn. Parking up next to a sheltered bay we spot an African fish eagle, heron, stilt, egret and kingfisher, all perched a few feet from a family of hippo just visible beneath the silvery water.

As we leave the park we spot a Rothschild giraffe chewing on leaves and a pack of vultures feeding on the carcass of a dead buffalo.

Searching African Skies Searching African Skies
Searching African Skies Searching African Skies
Searching African Skies Searching African Skies
Searching African Skies Searching African Skies
Searching African Skies Searching African Skies
Searching African Skies Searching African Skies
Searching African Skies Searching African Skies
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