From the highlands of Timau, we drive across to the low, arid plains of the Meru National Park. Kenya’s craggy peaks show for a few minutes until the clouds close in.
Driving along the rhino sanctuary after entering the main gate, Murera, we scan the sanctuary for the mammoth.
At the peak of the infamous poaching era that wiped all wildlife from the park save for a few traumatised ones, Meru is now the park of choice with lions, cheetahs, rhinos and elephants seen on almost every game drive.
“Meru is the most diverse park in East Africa with its riverine and mist forests, equatorial grasslands, rocky outcrops and bush. There are 13 rivers that flow through the park,” explains Andrea Maggi of Rhino River Camp.
“If the Nyambene hills were not there, Meru would be dry like Samburu. A biologist by profession and with a passion for wildlife - having studied the gerbils in the Mongolian desert in China, Maggi has been a visitor to Meru since the 80s.
“And because there is not much traffic in the park, you almost have the animals to yourself. I estimate that there are now 60 to 70 lions in the park including the African wild dog. Now studies show that wild dogs are extremely efficient hunters and live in close-knit families.
Meru and the neighbouring Kora, was the haunt of the Adamson’s where they brought Elsa the lioness and Pippa the cheetah. Both cats lie in marked graves inside the national park.
We come face-to-face with our rhino – it’s a metal one to greet guests at Rhino River Camp, on the outer fence of the park bordering the rhino sanctuary.
The metal mega-herbivore is an indication of the successful re-emergence of the animal saved from being labelled extinct in the wild. Black rhinos in Kenya numbered almost 100,000 in the early 1900s.
In 1970, the number was down to 20,000 and by the end of the poaching era in 1990, there were a paltry 300 left. In Meru, there are now 48 white rhinos and 28 black and in the country close to 650.
The camping grounds are unpretentious – ancient indigenous trees stand tall with gigantic mango trees devoid of the fruit because the monkeys get to them first – something that the owner doesn’t mind.
It’s a small camp with four enormous tents raised on wooden decks on the banks of River Kindani which flows from the springs three kilometres away, each with a private ‘zen’ area to relax as you read the huge repository of books on the shelves.
Tall raffias and palms keep the tents cool during the day. The décor is minimalist and Afro contemporary. The family returns from an early morning game drive excited at having spotted the two cheetahs and a pride of lions and several rhinos besides the countless waterbuck, giraffes, gazelles, impalas and so on.
Meanwhile, we take to the crater Kilima Kieru with Isaya Memusi, a self-taught naturalist. It’s a beautiful walk up the hill through tall, golden grasses and specks of wild flowers peeping through. We circle the crater, looking into it with its acacia forest.
The endless horizon reveals the 2,500-metre high Nyambene hills, Elsa’s Kopje, the flow of the Ura, Rojewero (site of Joy Adamson’s last camp in Meru), Kiolu and Kindani rivers marked with tall green trees .
After the walk, we settle for a swim in the pool by the river, straight-lined to purposely contrast with the natural contours and then settle for a foot-massage in the lounge before a sumptuous Italian meal. Safaris are no hard work if you know where to camp.