Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy Trip Report
Ol Jogi is an uber-exclusive 58,000 acre reserve in Northern Laikipia that we feel would be perfect for your high-end clientele looking for luxurious privacy. With spectacular scenery, a great conservation platform (100% of income from guest stays goes directly to conservation), amazing wildlife (Big Five, and also 15% of the world's remaining Grevy’s zebra, more than 10% of the remaining reticulated giraffe, and more than 50 of the 700 remaining eastern black rhinos), varied activities, and gorgeous accommodations for private parties of 4 to 22 guests, it’s one of the most exclusive experiences in Africa ...
Here is Brooke's in-depth trip report from our time there in December.
Johann & Brooke
Arriving in Kenya:
While Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has now been rebuilt from the accidental fire a few years ago, the only airline operating out of the new terminal is Kenya Airways, and so our Swiss Air flight disembarked and the standard shuttle bus drove us to passport control. Between our pre-arrival e-visa and requested VIP Meet & Greet, it was no more than 20 minutes between de-boarding the airplane and stepping into our transfer vehicle. And at that time in the evening, ten minutes later we were passing the entrance to The Emakoko (great safari lodge option for a Nairobi overnight) and arrived at our hotel soon after.
If guests arrive early morning on any of the overnight flights, they can even skip Nairobi and charter directly to Ol Jogi, arriving in time for breakfast!
Our private charter took off from Wilson in the morning. The 45-minute flight took us low over the rolling green hills and patchwork farmland of Kenya before landing among the beautiful rock kopjies that so define the landscape of Ol Jogi. We had driven in our open-sided LandCruiser no more than ten minutes before coming across a setting so unique we stopped for photos and video – a family of elephants congregating on a rock formation, slurping up the water that had pooled together. When they moved, their unimaginably soft steps barely gave away the magnitude of their size.
Moments later we arrived at Ol Jogi’s Main House, which would be our central social space for the next week.
A Week of Wonder at Ol Jogi:
While captivated by the beautiful home, decorated with decades worth of family collectables, we were instantly drawn onto the expansive verandah that offered sweeping views to the foothills of Mt. Kenya. The water hole directly in front of us was more active than expected considering the hot noon day sun, but with that much activity, Jamie, the head wildlife conservation manager at Ol Jogi since 2007, couldn’t resist leading us through the underground tunnel from the Main House to the subterranean hide at the water hole. Soon we were eye-level to the hooves of Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, oryx, and impala while they bent their necks to the ground to lick up salt or sip away.
Our afternoon game drive continued to deliver on many of the reasons why one visits Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy. We drove by a few jackals, numerous dik dik couples, a leopard tortoise, and other interesting creatures until we arrived at “Shauri Yako” or “Plane Where You’re on Your Own”, which was where we encountered our first of many black rhinos. The family of three we saw here stole our hearts instantly and we spent a good amount of time just watching them, honoring them as they moved about in their natural environment, content in the knowledge that someone from Jamie’s team of close to 200 anti-poaching rangers were also out there somewhere, watching out for them. A by-product from our extensive security team is that guests with security concerns can feel perfectly safe!
That evening, a little lazy with jet lag, we sat down for our first of many delicious gourmet meals. If we wanted a formal setting Frederick (Fred), the House Manager who has been with the family for decades, would have arranged it in the main dining room; however we were content with our more casual yet lavish setting near the verandah so we could watch myriad animals having their evening drink while we dined on course after course. While we didn’t realize it at this moment, we would eventually acknowledge that over the course of a week, with three meals each day, we never sat down to the same table setting twice. The family has collected or commissioned every imaginable African-inspired accessory from silk Hermes placemats and napkins to silver Cartier table decorations to hand-painted Christian Dior and Limoges china, among countless other glassware and more.
After a digestive of pear-infused French liquor by the grand fireplace in the living room, we made our way to Simba, the closest cottage and master suite that we chose as our home-away-from-home. Fred arranged for the wood-burning fireplace to be at a perfect blaze when we entered. While lying in bed, I slipped off to slumber watching a tower of giraffe at the watering hole illuminated by soft spotlights; truly one of the more magical moments I’ve had in Africa.
Little did I know this day was a blueprint for the entire week. While every day brought a new activity, a new sighting, every day and every night was always encapsulated by seamlessly superlative service, deliciously decadent food, attention to detail, and most importantly, expertly executed guiding paired with the most heart felt land management and wildlife conservation. I guess it is exactly what you would expect with a full-time staff of 300 people operating behind the scenes, most of whom have been at Ol Jogi for over a decade; many of whom are nearing two decades or more.
Spotting, Saving, Surviving:
Since jet lag woke me before sunrise, I made my way into the adjoining sitting room where I was able to read and watch the sun rise over Mt. Kenya. Animals congregated at the water hole again. A herd of at least 50 buffalo lined up before me. I stepped outside into the cool, crisp morning air to listen to the bird song being conducted around me and knew it was going to be a good day.
Powered by a breakfast of fresh squeezed juice, locally produced honey on warm gluten-free bread, perfectly poached eggs from the resident chickens, and more, we set out for a hike through the Lolldaiga Mountain Range’s “Grand Canyon” of naturally eroded formations. En route, we passed by more pairs of dik dik, a herd of ellies, a some buff by the road, an ostrich in heat chasing after two females, an extraordinary eland, a flock of guinea fowl, and a dazzle of both Gravy’s and common zebra. And then we scrambled … over, under and through the unique red landscape known as Ol Jogi’s “Grand Canyon”.
On our way back, we came across the Wildlife Rescue Center’s family of three elephants that the family saved from a culling project in Zimbabwe 27 years ago. At the time the male was seven and the female was six. Today they also now have a five-year-old babe. The three caretakers who watch out for them, feed them, and basically live next door to them, have been looking after them for 20 years. We are invited to get out of the vehicle and interact with them on foot, feeding them carrots and rubbing their trunks.
We then made our way to the rhino rehabilitation and release enclosure. Ol Jogi is currently home to over 70 black and white rhino, most of which live wild on the land. However, there are two young orphaned rhinos that need human care because of illness (one is blind) that are looked after and can be visited by guests.
At its core, Ol Jogi’s mission is to rescue and reintroduce; the few animals that can’t be reintroduced are cared for and used as educational tools to support conservation, especially among the local people (for instance a leopard that was born in captivity and so wouldn’t survive in the wild). One of the success stories of the Wildlife Rescue Center were a number of cheetah that were successfully re-introduced and that one can now spot while out on safari.
There is a full time staff of 13 people at the center to care for the animals, train the bloodhounds used for anti-poaching, and host the up to 9,000 students a year who visit the Wildlife Rescue Center – free of charge – for different educational programs. It really is an expertly managed puzzle (conservation land, wildlife rescue center, veterinary clinic) that creates the picture of Ol Jogi: 70 rhino, 600 reticulated giraffe (only 5000 remain in the world), 400 Grevy’s zebra (only around 2000 remain in the world), etc.
One morning we left early for a walk along the Nanyuki River with Kimani, who directs the Wildlife Rescue Center and also guides most of the nature walks. Kimani, who is a passionate botanist, has been with Ol Jogi for over 20 years and so has vast, deep knowledge of the land and wildlife. With William, our tracker, in lock step, we set out to see the “Small 5000”. The Nanyuki River flows from Mt. Kenya, through Ol Jogi, to Samburu and beyond. Lining the banks were a few Cape Chestnut trees that had just started to flower. The foliage in general was just lovely! Over 300 bird species been recorded at Ol Jogi. We meandered along the river path, spotting many of these birds, when an ellie emerged from the river, crossed the path before us, and walked off into the bush. It was a beautiful, relaxing, interesting morning that culminated with a “first breakfast” at a quaint picnic spot on the rocks overlooking the river. Chairs and cushions were set up under shade umbrellas and we enjoyed fresh croissant, fruit and coffee before heading back to the Main House for a “second breakfast”.
We spent lots of time walking around the main property, familiarizing ourselves with every one of Ol Jogi’s cottage suites, visiting the unique amenities such as the tennis court and pool house, and spending lots of time with Sylvain, the private French Chef who started working with the family in 1985 and over the years has made Ol Jogi home. He cultivated an extensive organic garden where the majority of our fruit and veg came from; tends to beehives that have been producing honey for the past three years; oversees the various foul that produce the fresh chicken and quail eggs we ate along with many others. We also wanted to see the kitchen that had been creating our delicious gourmet meals and saw the extent of each detail, like homemade vinegars and infused olive oils, the bakery, the ice cream makers, the roasting nuts, and more.
We all love those magical moments in Africa where a meal is prepared and served in the most outrageous fashion, unable to be replicated elsewhere let alone at home: under an Acacia heavy with lanterns, at a table in the middle of a river. At Ol Jogi, there are endless spaces for creating these unique experiences.
One day, we drove to the top of a kopje (you can also ride horses to the top) and set up was aBedouin-style tent with cushions for easy relaxation. Drinks and a gorgeous lunch were served and we explored the peak that offered endless 360-degree views of the Laikipia Plateau. It felt like standing on top of the world, looking out on all of Kenya and the continent beyond. The food was seasoned to perfection, grilled to order, and accompanied by an array of delicious extras.
More to Explore:
While we were there, Jamie pointed toward the different day trips we could do by helicopters. Within less than an hour’s flight from Ol Jogi we could have viewed the glaciers of Mt. Kenya up close or land at the mountain’s base for some fly-fishing. To the west, we'd get a bird’s eye view of Lake Bogoria and probably the world’s largest population of pink flamingos, along with the sand dunes and volcanoes of the Great Rift Valley. If we went east we'd follow the Samburu River to Ololokwe, the sacred mountain. Or if we ventured north we could meet Samburu desert nomads or explore Lake Turkana. Next time!
One evening, after a casual encounter with a coalition of six lions, we were treated to a stunning “boma-style” island dinner. There is a little island that sits in the middle of one of the rivers running through Ol Jogi. We walked across a wooden bridge to get to the island, which was shimmering with lanterns and fire pits. First we came to the bar, fully stocked and ready to make our favorite libation. Appetizers were served around the fire, which is circled by couches, chairs and other fun furniture. And dinner, yet another extraordinary artistic endeavor, was prepared andserved on a covered bridge leading to the other side of the island. We dined listening to the water running below as night owls hooted above and the stars came out in full force.
While we flew back to Jomo Kenyatta for an onward flight to South Africa, people looking to do a Kenyan circuit can easily combine Ol Jogi with, say, Ol Donyo Lodge and Mara Plains orAngama Mara. I recommend Ol Jogi as the last stop on a circuit like that. Another option would be to pair Ol Jogi with the Singita properties in Tanzania and Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Chem Chem, etc.