It is now well over 10 years ago that Tristan asked me to jump in his plane and head to Meru National Park for the weekend. Having never been to Meru I lept at the chance, grabbed a few clothes (“not too many, it’s damn hot up there” Tristan said) and off we flew.
That weekend in 2004 started a chain of events that I can proudly say has resulted in my camp, Offbeat Meru Camp, celebrating its 10th Birthday this year.
At the time Elsa’s Kopje, a beautiful lodge, was the only accommodation in the park so that’s where we headed and based ourselves for the weekend. Mark Jenkins, the then Senior Warden, was briefed that we may be looking to build a camp in the area and became our guide that weekend.
Immediately one is struck by the raw beauty of the park, the red dust, the Nyambene Hills, the Doum Palms all make for a real African bush experience. We have all seen documentaries and photos of the Mara and to many that is ‘Africa’. But Meru is much more ‘real African Bush’ and this place was and still is a serious wilderness area.
In early 2005, having by now visited the park half a dozen times, a camp site was found and we began constructing the camp. The camp is situated on the banks of the Bisanadi River, a stunning clear stream that is a favourite with elephants. We have elephants in camp at least 25% of the year! The hard ground, rock and heat made for some tough days, especially with digging out the swimming pool and visits by elephants, lion, buffalo and others. But we opened our doors (or tent flaps) in June 2005 and have welcomed guests from all over the world and of all ages.
Park wardens have come and gone but the magic of Meru is still ever present. Game numbers have increased, Rhino have been re-introduced to the park and the birdlife is spectacular. The game has become more habituated to us as time has gone by, but is not as ‘picture’ friendly as in the more popular parks like the Mara. It is raw, rugged Africa at its best and looking back at peoples photos from 30+ years ago very little has changed in the park. Offbeat Meru is a small, friendly traditional safari camp which complements the real feeling of the African bush which Meru so enriches.
Sadly Meru is one of the least known and/or visited of the more ‘mainstream’ parks in Kenya and we see three times the number of guests visiting our sister camp in the Mara North Conservancy, Offbeat Mara. However for those who know Kenya or for those who want to know some off the beaten track real Kenyan experiences look no further than visiting this little known gem.
Friends often ask me which of the two camps I prefer, Offbeat Mara and Meru and I can honestly say I cannot answer the question. They are both special, unique places that work so well together as a combination. I guess I prefer Meru when I am in Meru and I prefer Mara when I am in the Mara and miss them both equally when not in either!