• It is an intimate and exclusive use luxury tented camp on the banks of Ewaso Ngiro
It is not often I go back to one place time and time again. There are so many interesting locations to visit and so many things to see in this wonderful country we call home.
But sometimes, when venturing to different parts of Kenya, a stiff drink is required upon arrival to calm the shattered nerves. This after avoiding marauding trucks and buses careering down the wrong side of the road with an apparent desire to end the lives of both themselves and you.
Luckily the drive to Shompole Wilderness is one of those which bucks the trend. It is actually genuinely enjoyable. Once you reach Corner Baridi and begin the scenic descent into the Rift Valley, it becomes one of the most pleasant and serene journeys that it is possible to enjoy in Kenya, with almost no traffic, a relatively good road and the ever-increasing warmth in the air.
Of course, the option also exists to come in via helicopter and savour the unique pink sheen of the famous Magadi flamingoes, if the bank balance is looking healthy.
Shompole Wilderness is an intimate and exclusive use luxury tented camp nestling unseen on the banks of the Ewaso Ngiro river. It is set within Shompole community land, abutting the conservancy, which provides a critically important buffer zone for the migration of many species. And it is one of those special places where the Maasai go about their business in much the same way as they did hundreds of years ago, though maybe with a few more motorbikes now.
It is remarkably easy to go past the camp without even realising it is there. I know this as I have done so several times while trying to find it, as Johann and Sam du Toit cleverly found the perfect spot to make the camp blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment.
I’ve actually been visiting Shompole for many years, initially to attend the annual Shompole marathon (that’s another story). And I have been lucky enough to witness the evolution of the camp over the years, going from a rustic tented camp in its infancy to a sleek outfit fully equipped with a super swimming pool and the latest addition of two hides, one within the camp, designed specifically for birding enthusiasts and another out on the plains, where guests can sleep overnight for a completely immersive nature experience.
Shompole wilderness is owned and managed by the larger-than-life Johann du Toit. An individual as Kenyan as they come, Johann is the epitome of a bushman. He has built the camp by hand, bit by bit and trained his Maasai staff, all of whom come from the local community and with whom he and his family enjoy the strongest of relationships, which allows them to operate this little bit of luxury in such pristine bush.
The camp is constructed on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro river, whose water levels fluctuate depending on rainfall upriver. The camp has both inflatable tubes and kayaks for the river, which is a rather fun way to pass time, particularly when the colobus monkeys with their impressive striking colours leap from one side of the river to the other in the trees overhead.
If something more relaxing is in order, then it is equally pleasant to pass the time with a fishing rod dangling into the water or with a book in the mess accompanied by the tranquil sounds of the adjacent flowing waterway and a clink of ice in a gin and tonic.
Away from the water, Shompole offers an impressive range of alternative activities, spending time with the Maasai community, their beloved cattle and learning about their ways and customs. Or, for something different, a walk with a habituated troop of baboons courtesy of the Kenyan conservation organisation Soralo, who do remarkably critical work safeguarding this critical ecosystem, which provides a link between the Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Northern Tanzania.
Dinner is an important part of the day. The team is always looking to innovate and it is rare that it will be in the same place two evenings in a row, it might be a barbecue by the pool or a sit-down meal in the dining area, with the sounds of the wildlife making a nocturnal visit to the river.
Over many occasions sat by the evening fire with Johann and his wife Sam, we became friends and got to know each other, with our children also becoming good friends. Sam and Johann are modest about their many achievements but have stories that should be made into Hollywood movies, with tales of remarkable heroism. Maybe, just maybe, you might be lucky enough to hear it for yourself one day.