Kenya Great Rift Valley Helicopter Safari


Designed to offer an authentic 'out of Africa' experience as you venture far off the beaten track to a very special corner of Africa.

A Signature Experience

Fly into uncharted territory, to a place that’s ancient and wild, a place where man and beast still coexist and where the scenery, sights, sounds and smells transport you back in time. It is here that I found a waterhole close to the wall of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley and where I spent 16 months photographing the wildlife of the south rift valley. The project lead to a sell out National Geographic exhibit as well as an Africa Geographic cover story titled ‘Living on the Edge‘. This is a corner of Africa that is yet to be photographed by the masses, a place so wild and free that time has stood still. It is a true wilderness, guarded and kept by the traditional Maasai tribes-people. This safari offers you truly unique imagery, making this a safari unlike any other.

The south rift valley of Kenya is home to the most traditional Maasai left in East Africa. You will get to see and photograph their customs and traditions and you will learn the true meaning of the word ‘conservation’ from Africa’s own original conservationists. You will also track down free-ranging lion with lion researchers and you will photograph the wild frontier that is Lake Natron from a helicopter. This is the largest breeding ground in the world for Lesser Flamingo. You will gaze upon the beasts and plains of Africa’s Great Rift Valley as you explore some of Africa’s wildest country. Your exclusively booked camp is situated in splendid isolation on the banks of a hidden river and from this base, you will explore the floor of the Great Rift Valley without seeing other tourists. I invite you to come and experience ‘real Africa’, the way it once was.

This safari really offers it all from East Africa savannah to the dusty floor of the rift valley. The experience includes lakes; rivers; lions; research; cultural photography; bird and landscape photography from the air; plains game; big game; mountains; kayaking; predators; wilderness; rare animals and much much more. Only space for a maximum of 3 participants and only one departure per year on this highly exclusive safari. Travel is by private chartered planes and helicopters.

There are no fewer than 6 exciting tour extensions offered on this tour including the remote north of Kenya, rhinos and wild dogs of Laikipia, elephants of Amboseli and Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda.

Safari dates

This is a 5 night (6 day) photo safari with night 1 spent on the edge of Nairobi National Park. The next 4 nights are spent in Africa’s Great Rift Valley and more specifically in a portion of the valley known affectionately as ‘The South Rift’, which is also Kenya’s best kept secret.

2019

14-19 July – FULLY BOOKED!

2020

11-16 July – ONLY 3 spaces available

 

2020 tour price

US$14 180 per person.

This tour also makes for a wonderful private safari in which case the cost will be revised accordingly and will include exciting extensions to other special parts of Kenya. You can read more about these here.

There is no single supplement charge. The above rates include all accommodation in an exclusively booked camp; meals; drinks (excluding premium brands); all transfers, all internal flights by private charter including meet/greet and airport drop off; extra luggage; private safari drives and all excursions; conservation fees; community fees; speaking fees of resident scientists; photographic tuition and the guiding services of professional wildlife photographer Greg du Toit and two chartered helicopter flights for photography totalling 3 hours of helicopter flying per person.

Not included in the cost are visas; purchases of a personal nature; staff gratuities; personal travel insurance; your international flights. 30% deposit confirms your booking. Only spaces available for a total of 3 people on this exclusive safari and only one departure per year. The above cost only applies if the tour is booked with 3 participants.

This tour can be booked on a private basis in which case it will be re-costed based on the number of participants.

Your Itinerary

After being met at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi you will enjoy your first safari drive as we do not head into or near town, but rather, we take a scenic drive to your out-of-town lodge on the edge of Nairobi National Park. This is the only national park in the world that borders a capital city and what better way to start a safari than by taking your first photographs before even getting to your hotel? It’s a big five park so anything is possible. Your first night is spent at the delightful Emakoko (click here to see the hotel) where there is WiFi to let your loved ones know you have arrived safe and sound. For those of you wanting to recover from jet-lag you can book in a couple days early and enjoy a full safari experience at you own pace before the tour starts.


Arrive South Rift Valley
A short half an hour charter flight with unlimited luggage allowance, will see you landing on the floor of Africa’s greatest geographical feature; the Great Rift Valley. Kenya’s southern portion of the valley, known affectionately as ‘The South Rift’, is where this safari plays out. It boasts spectacular scenery, with the western wall in this part of the valley being particularly high and clearly defined. Meandering its way along the dusty floor is the Ewaso Ngiro river which gives rise to the largest Sycamore Fig forest in East Africa. Our exclusive tented safari camp is situated on the banks of this river where cool shade and the gurgling river, offers a refreshing oasis in the wilderness. With only four tents, our mobile camp is intimate and booked exclusively for this tour and is also positioned perfectly for our list of bespoke and exciting activities. See the camp here.

Once you are settled into your new home, a tent under the fig trees on the banks of the river, you will receive a master class on light from Greg before heading out for an introductory exploration of one of Kenya’s last true wildernesses. On this safari drive you will, possibly for the very first time in your life, see an abundance of wildlife existing in Africa as it once did. In other words, this is not an official park or reserve but rather, it is community land, where wild animals live alongside the Maasai tribesman. This is the ‘real Africa’, the way it once was with no fences, restrictions or park rules. You will practice working with back-lighting and with the wall of the Great Rift Valley as a backdrop, the herds of plains game are dwarfed by the spectacular ‘Out of Africa’ rift valley scenery. A scrumptious dinner and campfire is accompanied by an introductory talk by Greg on the area, its people and its wildlife. Both Greg and his wife, Claire, lived in this part of Africa many moons back and you will hear more about how their lives alongside the Maasai and lions played out. Turning in for the night, you might hear lions roar while sleeping in your tent and if you do, it will be the first time that you have heard ‘Livingstone Lions’ roar. This last sentence will make more sense once you have heard Greg’s talk.


“Morning “Maasai boma visit”
We head out to meet a traditional Maasai boma (village). We will spend the morning with the Maasai and you will be introduced to a real Maasai family or boma. In other words, this is not a village for tourists but a real living and working traditional Maasai family homestead. The most exciting and important time of day for the Maasai is early morning when the calves are fed and the cows are milked, before the warriors take the cattle to pasture. This will be an authentic cultural experience and the Maasai we visit will not put on a show or a ‘sing and dance’ for us or sell any curios. What they will do, is allow us into their world, to experience their everyday life. Samantha du Toit from SORALO has been working with this community for the last 11 years and she will be at hand to help interpret and explain the culture. It is through the trust that she has earned from the local Maasai, and her caring work, that we have been extended this special invite. We have limited the number of participants on this tour to only 4 and only 1 tour per year allows us this discrete and special access to an ancient and authentic cultural experience. These bomas are some of the most traditional left in Kenya and in this part of Africa the Maasai are still semi-nomadic. You will not only glimpse this ancient and wonderful culture but you will gain in-depth knowledge, firsthand experience and incredible mood-filled cultural portraits. Yes, photography is allowed, with special permission having been granted just for this tour.

Tea “Rebuilding the Pride”
Guy Western is currently busy with his PHD through Oxford University and he heads a fascinating and exciting project called ‘Rebuilding the Pride’. This unique project is studying both the Maasai and the free-ranging lion population of the south rift valley. As mentioned, the south rift of Kenya is one of the only places in Africa where the lion population is on the increase. This is especially remarkable when considering that Kenya only has 2000 lion left and even inside its national parks, lions are decreasing in number. The ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ project is trying to identify all the factors that come in to play in the south rift, which are making it such a conservation success story. Once these factors have been identified, ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ want to design a model that can hopefully be replicated elsewhere to help conserve both wildlife and people. This exciting lecture will open your eyes to the incredible conservation ethics of the Maasai. It will enlighten you regarding lion behaviour and you will gain unique insight into the dynamics of one of Africa’s most diverse, dynamic and unique ecosystems. The discussions will broaden your horizons and challenge your thinking on the concepts of both wilderness and conservation. ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ is a one-of-a-kind project that will give you in-depth insight into world leading community-based conservation.

Afternoon “River Exploration”
After Guy’s talk there will be plenty of time for questions and thereafter we will head out with our Maasai guide, Nixon, and explore the river upstream of camp. This can take the form of a drive upstream or a river walk. A great way to explore the river is on a kayak whereby you float silently beneath the giant fig trees, whose large buttress roots sip water from the gently flowing river. We will keep a look out for wildlife, who all use the river as a waterhole and if you are really lucky, you will glide beneath a troop of Colobus Monkey. The river is home to the largest Sycamore Fig Forest in Kenya and taking an afternoon to explore the river and its surrounding environment is a refreshing break from the safari truck and one which will allow you to connect with the environment. The birdlife is exceptional along the river with kingfishers and fish eagles using the river plus many other delightful species. Nixon is not only a local Maasai but also a bird specialist! A campfire next to the river and a scrumptious dinner with our hosts, Sam and Johann, who own and run the camp and raise their two children (Seyia and Taru) in the bush, will bring to an end another perfect African day of adventure.


Morning “Dancing with Lions”
This is an exciting day because we will join the ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ researchers in the field. Researchers get up even earlier than photographers so our day will begin long before sunrise. Leaving in the dark we will search the floor of the rift valley for the elusive free-ranging lion and in the process we will, using a spotlight, also seek out its nocturnal denizens. The south rift has an incredible array of nocturnal creatures including aardwolf; civets; genets; hyena; whitetailed mongoose; owls; African wild cats, zorillas and servals, amongst others. Peering out the roof of the safari truck with nothing but wild Africa all around you and the starry heavens above, you will once again be touched by the awesomeness of true wilderness. Of the approximated 50 lion in the area, only 4 have been collared with a GPS satellite tracking collar. In an area that is over 100 000ha (1000 sq-km or 386 sq-miles), we will track down the lions of the south rift valley. These are no ordinary lions though, they are free-ranging lion, carrying out a free existence on Maasai community land. This is a part of Africa where man and beast still coexist, and on this morning, you will get to experience this firsthand. I am sure many of you have seen lots of lions before but if you think about it, everywhere you have seen a lion, it is because man has been excluded out of the area, as is the case in national parks and game reserves. This experience is very different in that the Maasai and the lions live side-by-side! Once we have located the lion, we will pass by Maasai villages and/or herders and share our findings with them. You will not only see and photograph free-ranging lion but you will get to experience what it is like to be a field researcher in wild Africa. You will assist the ‘Rebuilding the Pride’ project and you will play a part in conserving this splendid and unique corner of Africa.

This safari affords you the special opportunity of getting to terms with one of the most fluid and dynamic ecosystems left in Africa. The rainfall, river and swamps all affect grazing for the cows and wildlife of the area. Why do the lions not eat the cattle and in turn why do the Maasai not kill the lions? What makes this ecosystem tick and what challenges lie ahead? What better way to answer these questions than by getting out and into the ecosystem, by spending time with both the Maasai and the lion. On this morning, you are not on a normal safari drive; you are on an exploration back in time to study an ancient relationship between two apex predators, both of which are at the top of the food chain and sharing the same resources. How do the Maasai, with their cattle and goats, coexist in the same area as Africa’s top big cat? These questions and many more will be answered.

Afternoon Day 3 and morning day 4 – Helicopter Shoot “Lake Magadi and Natron”
After years of trying, we have finally found the best way to unlock the photographic potential of the spectacular south rift valley scenery. The place is so vast and wild, that the only way to do it justice with a camera, is to photograph it is from a helicopter. That is why for this safari we have chartered a helicopter to take two photographers at a time for a photo shoot over Lake Magadi and Lake Natron respectively. In the afternoon, you will fly for an hour over Lake Magadi which often has zebra and other wildlife on its fringes. The following morning you will fly over Lake Natron, which has been heralded by NASA as one of the most dynamic land-forms on the planet. It is the most alkaline lake in the world and also the largest breeding ground for Lesser Flamingo in the world. From the air, Lake Natron’s many shapes and forms take on an otherworldly dimension and your images will be truly inspiring. These helicopter sessions are included in the cost of this safari and you will receive a lesson from Greg on composition as well as on aerial photography, before flying, to help you maximize the experience. To entice you, see google’s collection of Natron Images here.


Tea “SORALO talk”
SORALO is the “South Rift Association of Land Owners”. This trust was formed to take care of all the land between the Masai Mara (to the west) and Amboseli (to the east). It is an incredibly diverse area and SORALO is a community driven initiative that aims at directly improving the livelihoods of the communities, creating linkages and assisting in resource mobilization for the development of the south rift valley region, all the while taking into consideration the key threats and challenges in the area. On our last afternoon we will be hosted by the founding member of SORALO, Samantha du Toit. Sam, a Kenyan by birth, moved into the area in 2007 and her gentle, patient and caring relationship with the Maasai is what makes this such an incredibly successful conservation initiative. We will hear a bit more from Sam about the SORALO projects being initiated over an informal cup of tea where questions and discussions are welcomed. Sam has played a pivotal role in empowering the Masai woman and you can hear all about it from her!

Afternoon “Herding Cattle”
The south rift valley is a truly wild piece of Africa. It is hot, dry and dusty, dotted with Acacias and the wall of the rift valley is an ever-present backdrop. The Maasai not only live in this wild rugged countryside but they subsist here without growing crops and living among Africa’s wild beasts. The Maasai herdsman are therefore shepherds of biblical proportions. Each day they have the huge responsibility of taking their family’s cattle out grazing and to be watered. Armed physically with only spears, they are responsible for their family’s wealth. Lions are on the prowl and the herdsman are on the watch. This afternoon, we join the Maasai herdsman and we help them ferry their cattle back to their bomas at dusk. Walking behind a herd of Maasai cows, listening to their bells and watching the dust that they kick up, you will experience Africa the way the Maasai do. Our herdsman will have their spears close at hand but this afternoon, you will come to realize that their true weapon is the knowledge of not only their land but the wisdom that has been passed down to them by their forefathers. You will gain firsthand experience as to just what incredible pastoralists the Maasai really are. Walking on the dusty floor of this ancient land, you will feel truly alive and photographing back-lit scenes of Maasai herdsman and their cattle in clouds of dust will invigorate you photographically.


A safari drive on your last morning will see you ending at the airstrip, where a 30 minute charter flight will take you back to Nairobi for your onward travels home, with transfers already prearranged. Arriving back home and processing your photographs, you will relive the incredible experience. You will cherish having experienced ‘real Africa’, which very few people get to do.

For FAQs before booking a safari, click here

For FAQs before leaving on safari, click here

Your photographic possibilities on this workshop

Why this is the safari for you…

– Most safaris start in heavy traffic in Nairobi but this one starts in Nairobi National Park. Not only do we totally avoid going into Nairobi but you will take your first photograph before we even get to our overnight location on the outskirts of town. For those of you wanting to recover from jet-lag and fly in a day or two early, you can enjoy being on safari and photographing instead of staying in a hotel in town.

– There is no doubt that Africa is a great, wild and enchanting continent but as with the rest of the planet, human population growth and explosion have seen the continent change drastically over the last few decades. As a professional wildlife photographer I dedicate my life to searching for pockets of Africa which remain unchanged. These secluded places offer a wild freedom and a rugged beauty that transport one back in time. If you want to experience the so called ‘lost Africa‘ or as I prefer to put it, the ‘real Africa‘, then this is the safari for you.

– This safari plays out in the south rift valley of Kenya. If you look on a map it is between the Masai Mara and Amboseli (right on the border of Kenya and Tanzania), but this is not a destination on the regular safari circuit. Therefore, if you are looking for something different, special and unique, and if you wanting to get off the beaten track – then this is definitely the safari for you.

– Most safaris offer you a mix of safari drives only, but this safari is very different in that there are a number of very special activities that have been specially prearranged. These include presentations from leading conservationists, flying over rift valley lakes by helicopter, authentic cultural activities, differing genres of photography, tracking free ranging lion, and much more.

– One of Africa’s major attractions lies in its diverse array of traditional cultures. The Maasai are one such famous culture and this safari plays out on their land. If you want to have a genuine cultural experience then this is the safari for you as you will be introduced to a traditional Maasai boma and family. You can even join in with the daily boma activities such as herding cattle and milking goats. There are very few authentic cultural experiences left in Africa and this is one of them. You will get to experience and photograph the daily life and culture of one of the most traditional clans of the Maasai tribe left in East Africa.

– Africa has lost 40% of its lions over the last few decades and the south rift valley of Kenya is one of the last strongholds for free-ranging lion. It is also one of the only areas in Africa where lion numbers are on the increase, which is even more incredible considering that they are found on community land. Guy Western, currently having submitted his PHD at Oxford University, heads the ‘Rebuilding The Pride‘ project. Not only will you go out and do field research with his team but you will be given a fascinating talk explaining the incredible dynamics that have resulted in this being one of the last thriving free-range lion populations on the continent.

– The south rift valley of Kenya is possibly the most diverse geographic location on the African continent. From soda lakes, to freshwater wetlands, to rivers, to mountains, to grasslands, to savannahs, to forests – this area has it all and you will see it all.

– Africa is famous for its rift valley lakes but very few people get to visit Lake Natron, due to its remote and isolated location. It is the largest breeding ground in the world for Lesser Flamingos and they breed there because no one else goes there. On this safari you take in the incredible sight of Lake Natron and its associated spectacular rift valley scenery. The lake is the most dynamic land-form on the planet and you will photograph it from a helicopter!

– This safari is so diverse that is caters for everyone, not just photographers, so non photographers you are very welcome.

– This safari caters for every kind of photographer. Those interested in cultural photography will be given an authentic opportunity to photograph Maasai living their daily lives while landscape photographers will enjoy photographing incredibly expansive vistas, that have not yet been done justice with a camera. Wildlife photographers will enjoy photographing a range of incredible subjects as well as ‘animals in their environment’ type shots with expansive rift valley scenery as a backdrop.

– For those of you who enjoy being out on foot, this safari offers a wild freedom that is absent in more established parks and reserves. You will take in true rift valley sights, sounds and smells whilst outside the vehicle.

– This safari gives you the opportunity to help conserve Africa’s wildlife and people. A portion of the fee for this safari is paid directly to the community in the form of conservancy fees. By signing up and joining this safari, you are helping strengthen the community and supporting them in their belief that tourism is the only long term sustainable solution.

– With a maximum of just 3 participants this tour offers an intimate and authentic safari experience with our very own tented safari camp for a base.

– All levels of photographers are welcome.

– We charter our own plane and helicopters for this safari, there are therefore no luggage restrictions or airport lines.

– There are no fewer than 5 different ways of extending your safari to make this the ultimate African safari of a lifetime. Read all about the extensions below. Any one or combination of these extensions can be booked.

Masai Mara & Kenya Rift Valley extensions


Maximise your time in Africa by extending your adventure with these exciting extensions, each designed to offer you the best of the region...

Guest Testimonials

'This safari; my first; was simply put, both amazing and breathtaking and overwhelming! I was going for only one word so going to stop before I use all the emphatic English words I know 😉 Doing such a voyage with Greg insured that I got the most of the journey, more than once he rescued me from a camera that did not want to cooperate, or was it my clumsiness in an exciting moment 😉 But, more importantly, I believe I have a better grasp of the photographic process as a whole, a better understanding of what is entailed in taking a photograph. Coming home, I feel a renewed excitement for the still's medium!'

Nancy and Pierre Nadeau (Canada)
'Thanks so much for the amazing trip to Shompole and the Masai Mara. The photographic opportunities are just too many to capture. Add the big five in 24 hours, with the accompanying wonderful birdlife and beautiful landscapes, all filled with light and sounds. We appreciate you sharing these very special places and your knowledge with us, particularly your photography advise as it has allowed us to start to capture the wildlife in a way that begins to do their wild beauty, life and land some justice.'

Gavin and Jayne Erasmus (Hong Kong)
'Dear Greg, We wanted to thank you once again for guiding us in Kenya and sharing that special part of Africa with us. We loved our time at Shompole, I think our favourite pictures will be of the local people. Being in the midst of the migration was also very special. Hope to meet up again before too long. Kind regards, Maggie and Peter.' (See a portfolio of 'Life in Kenya's Southern Rift Valley' by Peter here & Maggie here)

Maggie Manson and Peter Farmer (UK)
'I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, we set out to do something off the track and you delivered in spades. Amboseli was magical, especially the time we spent with Tim the tusker! The South Rift was special on so many fronts, as a geologist, as a photographer and as a human being - seeing the work that Samantha, Guy and others are doing to help protect a working model of human-wildlife coexistence, to help preserve a way of life while helping to guide it into the future and to educate the residents of the valley and those around the world interested in this magical corner of Africa was something I will never forget, and of course finishing up with a photographic feast in the Mara was the cherry on the cake. I think this some of my best work to date and I attribute this to your tutelage, your inspiration and your willingness to share your view of Africa with me, thanks my friend.'

Randall Bacon (USA)