VOGUE Living Australia
Into the wild
Warming sunlit hues at dawn. Regular run-ins with elephants and giraffes during the day. Calming herb-scented baths by night. This is safari in Kenya, the BATELEUR CAMP way.
At six in the morning, our windows are open and the sun is rising in vivid reds and rushes of yellow over the savannah. Cool air flows in. A hot-air balloon drifts by in fiery bursts as our butler, Benson, drops off hot cups of delicious Kenyan tea and crumbly discs of buttery shortbread on a silver tray. We’re at &Beyond’s Bateleur Camp in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, a lodge so remote you have to fly into it by tiny plane. Bateleur Camp is situated on the cusp of the jungle at the base of the Oloololo Escarpment that appeared in the 1985 film Out of Africa, overlooking 1510 square kilometres of wild-animal-peppered plains. Each day, we go out on safari at dawn and dusk, hosted by our guide, Sammy Ocheng Akatch. At night, we are roused to the sound of lions roaring and the deep chuckle of grazing hippos. Herds of elephants plod by the camp. Bateleur has been open since 1999 but recently underwent a revamp. Interior designers Debra Fox and Chris Browne of South Africa’s Fox Browne Creative oversaw the redesign. “We always create a legend, or personality, around our designs,” says Browne. “And this is really an explorer who came with all his little European trinkets and set up in this encampment. It’s about that classic safari feel.” There are two camps at Bateleur, each featuring nine rooms, pools and an elegantly designed communal dining area and bar. The camps sing with age and history, adorned with old, crooked chests and peculiar objects of miscellany.
The rooms — which are, in fact, ginormous tents — feature marble bathrooms and shiny brass baths set within their own private glasshouses. Another corner sees two plush armchairs with sherry housed in a crystal decanter and an ornate, private bar. Everywhere you look, extravagance is balanced with nature. “You don’t ever want the design of a place or a building to distract from the wilderness out there, because that’s really why you’re here,” says Fox. “It needs to give you that sense of reconnecting. We want people to fall in love with the world again.” In the centre of the bathroom is an aged leather ottoman. “The leather over the ottoman is actually a beaded Maasai wedding skirt made from goat skin,” says Fox. “We wanted to incorporate that sense of Maasai in the design, so there are clay-toned mud walls and Maasai artefacts thrown between English antiques and old-world treasures. There’s that feeling that you are in Maasai land but with all the comforts of home.” At night, we drink Negronis by the fireside to the chorus of the animals, before sitting down ››
‹‹ to four-course feasts of dishes such as Kenyan crushed vegetables (called irio) with smoky grilled steak, or crème caramel dusted with coconut and served with passionfruit (the Bateleur team grow much of the produce in their kitchen garden). Drinks, laundry, meals… everything is included here. “Welcome home,” we are told each time we return from safari.
There’s no need to worry about those animals, either. They are one of the reasons you come to Bateleur. Around 70 per cent of the staff here are Maasai — “the most courageous tribe in Africa,” our (nonMaasai) driver tells us. From a young age, the Maasai are trained to protect themselves against the wild animals they encounter day-to-day in this dangerous part of Africa, and so they travel with you from the restaurant down a starlit path, across a stream, to your room at night. They are armed with spears, in case any hippos (extremely dangerous beasts, it turns out) have decided to wander in. You couldn’t feel more protected. At the onsite spa, we are scrubbed with herbs, our bodies tenderly massaged for hours — as if we weren’t already relaxed enough. An optional hot-air balloon ride over the savannah at dawn is the stuff of fantasy. The sun rises and we land on top of a mountain to laid tables set in the long grass, where we are served Champagne and hot waffles with honey and butter. On game drives, a pride of lions circles our jeep. Staring up at us, the two dazzlingly
Around 70 per cent of the staff here are Maasai — “The MOST courageous tribe in AFRICA”
maned males laze as the lionesses saunter past, their babies trotting along by their mothers’ heels. There are elephants, zebras, buffalos and cheery warthogs at every turn, and cumbersome rhinos trudge up to our jeep. A journey of some 18 giraffes surrounds us right after we’ve stopped for our sundowner cocktails, overlooking a river full of hippos, bobbing up and down, in and out of the murky water.
Unlike many camps, &Beyond has its own range, the Kichwa Tembo private concession, so there are fewer rules here — we can go off-road and right up to the animals. Akatch knows where to find them. One day, we watch lions heave themselves up into tall, spindly trees, their paws dangling down from the branches, tails twitching. With another sundowner (drinks in the bush are daily events at Bateleur, each evening in a different spot), a team of Maasai warriors surprises us to demonstrate their adumu dance, jumping and singing hauntingly. It’s an honour to watch the continuance of this ancient culture, which has remained largely unchanged for centuries.
All of this is exhilarating and exciting, but it’s also tiring. “Safari is actually quite hard,” says Fox. “You’re out early, your hair is dusty, you feel hot and sweaty.” Bateleur offers relief, a balm for the thrill. “It needed to feel like a sanctuary when you came home — an oasis where you can recover.” On our final night, we return from our game drive to a hot run bath. Herbs scent the water. We don’t play music. We barely talk. It’s hard to take in — and to put into words — what a pleasure and a privilege it is to be here in this special, spectacular place. The staff sings as our jeep leaves for the plane that will take us away from here, their welcoming voices filtering through the jungle as we trundle down the hill. VL
Vogue Living experienced Bateleur Camp as a guest of Travel Associates Virtuoso. travel-associates.com.au/virtuosoandbeyond.com