“I sat on the logs that surround the hide at ol DonyoLodge, listening to the elephants rumbling nearby. It was almost a meditation, and I thought, wait, maybe we should create a meditation and soundtrack like this, rather than that canned music you hear when you have a Great Plains Lifestyle massage! That is when the elephant touched my leg with his trunk!” says Dereck Joubert as he reflects on the origins of some of the Great Plains moments.
Wedged between Kenya’s Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks in the heart of the Chyulu Hills, the lodge, honed from the ancient lava rock that spewed out of Kilimanjaro 360,000 years ago, creates a timelessness that touches everyone who visits us.
On the Mbirikani Group Ranch – 275,000 acres of private wild Africa bordering Chyulu Hills National Park and owned by 4,000 Maasai – ol Donyo Lodge blends contemporary design with the rich Maasai culture.
“We consider the community our partners, and there are financial benefits beyond the lease fees we pay, that go to them, for teachers, for scholars and for other community projects that are designed to lift our people based on wildlife conservation and tourism strategically.”
Dereck adds: “When you come to ol Donyo, your tourism dollars are helping us make this into a model of collaborative conservation, and as a result, we are having great success with lions and cheetahs and the icon bull elephants that are some of the last remaining large tuskers in Africa.
The lodge is designed so that each suite has its own window ‘to the soul of East Africa: looking out over their private plunge pool and across the rolling plains and to Mount Kilimanjaro.
All six suites plus a two-bedroom family suite offer stunning star beds, where you can sleep out under the canopy of stars and listen to the hyenas and lions moving around. ol Donyo Lodge is a property that most embraces community, and our guides can even take you to a nearby village – an authentic experience that can change your life.
We walk, cycle, horse ride, drive around the conservancy, and return to Relais and Châteaux quality meals served by our Executive Chef and his team.
Relais and Châteaux stand for that excellence in exemplary dining and wine (in this case, from our hand-picked wine selection and cellar) and service excellence. We are proud to be one of only three Relais properties in Kenya, the others being our camps – Mara Plains and Mara Nyika.
“I believe that a safari today must be a full and rich experience where there are no apologies for service. That must be excellent. Where life-changing wildlife viewing and well-designed accommodation, which we like to think of as being in a Great Plains style, is also vitally important.
The final magic is then that guests must be part of a family… our family.” Dereck continues: “Many of our first-time guests feel that ol Donyo is the best “first stop,” on their safari, and we have often had to prize children off the necks of guides because the kids fall in love with them, with the activities in our Young Explorers programs and… just because it feels like
Fully inclusive of a wide range of wildlife viewing and outdoor activities, meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, including imported spirits and champagne. Park fees and flights from Nairobi and other areas are at an additional cost.
Number of Guests
A maximum of 16 guests, sharing, can be accommodated, plus an additional guide’s room as required. Children from 5 years are welcome. Families with children between the ages of 5 & 15 can be accommodated in our Pool Suites or our 2-bedroomed Family Suite.
Early morning and late afternoon/early evening game drives in a 4×4 open vehicle, guided bushwalks, bush breakfast and dinners, night drives, hiking, horse riding (for all guests, novice to professional), mountain biking, tracking, conservation and community outreach programmes, wildlife viewing in a sunken and an open-air hide in addition to sleep outs on private “star beds”. In-room massages can be arranged for a nominal extra.
On the private 275,000-acre Mbirikani Group Ranch in south-eastern Kenya, between Tsavo East and Amboseli National Parks and next to Chyulu Hills National Park.
The ‘perfect safari’ means something different to everyone.
For some it means stunning accommodation in a remote, private concession with as many wildlife-drives as you can fit into a day. For others it is being out on foot or in a canoe, active all day and totally disconnected from the world back home.
For some it is capturing the perfect photograph of one of Africa’s iconic species, for others it means spotting every bird on our 111 Club or introducing their children to the bush for the first time with our Young Explorers Programme.
Whatever your interests or travel style there is a Great Plains Conservation experience perfect for you. Use the pages below to help guide and inspire you as you plan the trip of a life time.
Toward that end, we own and operate some of the most luxurious, sustainable and lauded properties anywhere in Africa. Zarafa was awarded the first ever accreditation by Relais & Chateaux in Botswana and has since been joined by Duba Plains.
Ol Donyo Lodge and Mara Plains hold the same distinction as the only Relais & Chateaux properties in Kenya. These properties are also National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, handpicked for their exceptional guest experience and commitment to sustainable practices.
At our luxury camps guests can expect 1000 square foot tents, plunge pools, wine cellars, in-room massages and spa treatments and even a Canon camera and lenses and Swarovski binoculars in each tent.
Also available are two-bedroom villas complete with their own private vehicle, guide, chef and staff; perfect for families or groups of friends wanting privacy and exclusivity.
Alongside these luxury touches Great Plains’ sustainable ethos includes camps constructed from natural and recycled materials and run almost entirely off solar power.
We make use of UV reverse osmosis for drinking water and eco-friendly greywater recycling systems. Zarafa has a cutting edge biogas system which converts vegetable scraps into methane-based cooking gas and we are committed to reducing waste and eliminating single-use plastic in all of our camps.
At Great Plains guests are able to experience a blend of 100% conservation with 100% luxury, compromising neither while maximizing both.
WILD STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHIC SAFARI
Our camps are perfect for any level of photographer from professional to committed hobbyist to novice. From the Selinda Reserve’s herds of elephants, to sunrises over the Zambezi River at Sapi Explorers Camp to ol Donyo’s Lodge two photographic hides, perfectly placed in front of a water hole that draws some of the regions last “big tusker” elephants, our camps are a photographers dream!
Our vehicles are open 4x4s with a maximum of 6 guests (private vehicles available), many of which come with stabilizing bean bags and camera mounts. Duba Plains is even home to a specialist photographic boat for exploring the Okavango Delta.
At Duba Plains, Zarafa, Mara Plains and ol Donyo Lodge each tent has a Canon camera and lenses for guests to use with their images downloaded on departure. At Mpala Jena in Victoria Falls and at our camps in Botswana guests can book a scenic helicopter flight to capture stunning aerial shots.
For those looking to improve their photography skills at any level we have developed our Wild Studio Photography program which offers photographic tuition for all abilities taught by a professional photographer in both small groups and on a private basis.
ANYONE CAN LEARN
Great Plains Wild Studio is an opportunity for all levels of photographic abilities to become published wildlife photographers.
We have designed the courses to accommodate non-photographers also, ideal for couples and families looking for different experiences.
PRIVATE TUITION OR IN GROUPS
We provide both workshop and tailored private tuition in all our camps. The workshops can be as short as three days making them extremely accessible to all travellers visiting different areas of the country.
Professional photographers, who live in either Botswana or Kenya, will guide our photography guests through the technical aspects of photography, and then take them even further by developing meaningful portfolios that we will assist in publishing for them.
UNIQUE WAY TO LEARN
Quite simply we work backwards! On day one we will design the contents page of the portfolio for a book, social media album, printed photos for your dining room wall or for a published calendar to give to your friends.
All we have is a one-page contents page as your destination, which will be the flexible guide for the rest of the workshop. The chapters could be birds in flight, soul of the elephant, zebras in action, the predators of the savannah. We let our creativity go wild.
OBJECTIVE FOCUSED PHOTOGRAPHY
The concept draws on the strategy used by professional and National Geographic photographers. Having a brief allows us to really hone our skills in a focused way rather than scouting the reserves randomly. It will help us produce better images.
THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS
Once we know what we would like to create we learn the skills needed to create the vision. We don’t let the camera drive us but learn how it can be used to create our vision.
Your ‘image-capturing device’ can be a smartphone, GoPro, compact right up to the professional cameras. It does not matter as they can all capture an exposure of your subject to tell a story. The most recent Wildlife Photographer of the Year image was taken on a GoPro.
Not only are the majority of our properties from Zimbabwe to Kenya to Botswana accessed by air, via “hopper” flights between the camps, booking an additional aerial experience is always a thrilling addition to a stay with us.
At Mpala Jena Camp in Zambezi National Park or at any of our camps in Botswana guests can book a scenic helicopter flight to capture stunning aerial shots of Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta or the wildlife-rich banks of the Selinda Spillway.
In Botswana you can even combine your scenic helicopter flight with our Life with Elephants tour, a cultural tour of the village of Eresha developed in partnership with the local community.
In the Maasai Mara enjoy a hot air balloon ride as the sunrises over the iconic East African plains or book a helicopter from ol Donyo Lodge to fully appreciate the size and scale of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Those who want an even more extensive flying experience might consider our Cape to Nairobi itinerary, taking advantage of the fully pressurized and air-conditioned Great Plains Pilatus PC-12 available for private charter or our Ultimate Flying Safari, a two-week private, fully-guided flying adventure, exploring Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe by private plane.
For those wanting a walking safari experience, Great Plains Conservation’s Sapi Springs and Sapi Explorers Camps in Zimbabwe are perfect.
The 120,000 hectare Sapi Reserve, home Sapi Springs and Sapi Explorers Camps, forms part of a 1.6 million acre Unesco World Heritage site and is Africa’s dream walking safari destination. Selinda Explorers Camp and ol Donyo Lodge are great options as well.
From Selinda Explorers Camp you can bushwalk and canoe daily (water levels permitting) while from ol Donyo Lodge you can hike through Hemingway’s ‘green hills of Africa’ or explore the plains at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro on a walk, by bike or from the back of a horse.
For those wanting to get out on foot for a morning or an afternoon, shorter bushwalks are available from most of our properties (walking activities may have a higher age limit).
We invite you to confirm your love for each other in some of Africa’s most idyllic and romantic hideaways. Africa is the birthplace of humankind and let this be the birth of where your romance begins.
Swear your love in front of an imposing gathering of Maasai men women and warriors all dressed in their finest beadwork and carrying spears or celebrate your nuptials with a simple ceremony set out in the middle of an African plain or set against our finest Relais and Chateaux camps.
Instead of having your guests pile up gold wrapped gift boxes with toasters and wine decanters, tell your friends you want to buy a rhino’s freedom or solar lanterns for a local community.
Imagine making your marriage a symbol of the way you live your lives together, unselfishly, about experiences rather than things, about giving rather than taking and about making the world better…
We arrange weddings in all of our Kenya and Botswana camps and many a celebrity couple have elected to sneak off with a dozen or so close friends for a private and authentic African wedding.
While many couples opt to do a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony with us while obtaining a marriage license in their home country, those wanting to ensure a legal marriage while on safari should review the Marriage Requirements at the links below.
Safaris with kids are much the same – a time to stimulate all the senses. Safaris open up a whole new world to us all, but for kids it is magical.
While new animals are a huge part of the excitement of safari, stepping away from everyday life in favor of spotting animal tracks and practicing your newly learnt traditional bush survival skills is an experience that kids and parents alike will cherish.
The Great Plains Young Explorers Program blends fun with conservation learning. On arrival each child receives a Young Explorers pack full of all that is needed for them to become a Conservation Ambassador.
The pack includes an activity book full of interesting information including animal tracks, seTswana or Kiswahili vocabulary, facts on flora, fauna and stars, word games and a safari journal. Great Plains guides and staff seamlessly modify the level of activities according to age.
Like any vacation, a family safari is a time to connect with one another, but there is something extra special about sharing the first sighting of a favorite animal together and reliving it around the fire together each night.
The freedom and purity of Africa is the ideal way to escape the everyday and bond with the land and with each other.