Matthews Range Walking Safari
Key information: Matthews Range Walking Safari
- A superb walking safari in magnificent remote mountains.
- This is not a nature reserve, so you meet Samburu people living real lives as well as the animal life – and observe their successful co-existence.
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest18
- Human interest10
- Negative points0
- Total rating90
- Note: Negs: altitude
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: N/A
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
As of 2017, there are said to be only two walking safaris in Kenya, as a result of safety concerns. This one explores the fine landscape of the Matthews Range in northern Kenya, a place so remote that you can only really fly in, most likely to a rough landing strip which has been hand cleared by Helen Douglas-Dufresne, who is safari queen of this area, and her partner Peter Ilsley.
The Matthews and their northern neighbour the Ndoto range are separated by the Milgis river – or rather, its huge, sandy bed. They are roadless except beside some of the big rivers, so support from a camel train is the most practical means of long-distance exploration.
The landscape is very varied, from the wide beds of the main rivers, to thick riverside bush, to the sparse, dry thorn forests of the lower slopes, to the steep flanks of the range, to its surprisingly green highlands. Animal life includes elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard; hyrax; assorted lizards and snakes; and birds galore, including bee-eaters, hornbills and various raptors. This is not a wildlife reserve, though, which means that the wildlife co-exists with the Samburu tribal people, who now “get” the value of the wildlife to them despite the competition with their flocks and herds, so join the conservation efforts. Helen has been very instrumented in this. Her charity, the Milgis Trust, works for this co-existence, for instance paying locals to dig waterholes in the riverbeds in times of drought.
Part of the fascination of walking here is seeing and interacting with the Samburu people, those you meet en route in their bomas or driving their cattle, but particularly the cameleers and other expedition members, who you see at work and leisure; naturally, not on display for tourists.
Most of the walking is on droving trails and animal tracks, so can be adjusted to create the perfect expedition for the time and energy levels available. You will spend time on riverbeds of varying sizes, which make easy walking, albeit very hot out in their larger expanses in the middle of the day. More enjoyable are the riverside, bush and hillside paths which link the main rivers. On the high ground you get big and grand views of the silent, dry landscape. A feature of a walking safari is that you see fewer animals than if you are in a vehicle in a game park, but that doesn’t matter. It feels real and close, and you get much deeper into the landscape and environment.
Most nights are spent on the banks of dry riverbeds, many of them hundreds of metres wide, from which you can see the light changing and with luck elephants and other animals coming out for water. The camping is a delight: the huge camel train (35 of them for our group) delivers delicious food and drink and comfortable tents and showers, although it would thankfully never count as glamping. The campsites are immensely atmospheric, and sitting with a GnT as the sun goes down after a long walk can only create deep contentment.
Helen is the only person organising walking safaris in the area – she says she has never met another group in her 30 years in the area. Her firm is Wild Frontiers. The machinery of their expeditions runs silently and very smoothly: so much is done for your comfort and interest, but you never see any fuss – just lots going on.
WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk
Woken, disorientated, at 6.30am by an insistent alarm. I remember reasonably soon where I am – in the Aero Club at Wilson airport on the edge of Nairobi. Time is short before we are picked up for our flight, so I drag myself up, blearily – it was bed at 2am – for a rushed pack.
The airport is a throwback to old Kenya, full of people and not wildly organized, certainly not acquainted with modern methods, and all the more atmospheric for it: we have started an adventure. I am getting a feel for our group, and it looks like Sam has chosen well: we should have.....READ MORE
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Helen has a box of brilliant books, which are produced at every stop.
Wildlife of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (Traveller’s Guide) Paperback – David Hosking
Wildlife of Kenya - Daniel Krapf
Out of Africa: Karen Blixen’s classic story of settler life in the 1910s and 20s.
White Mischief: the story of the fast life in the Happy Valley of the 1930s/40s and the murder of the Earl of Errol.
Red Strangers: The White Tribe of Kenya, a history of white colonisation in the country.
Find these and other books on Amazon.
We’d love to hear of more - Suggest books and maps
Very basic maps only. Helen has some in her box.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
The issue here generally is heat rather than rainy seasons, which should happen in April/ May and end October/November, but should not prevent a good safari.
The somewhat cooler times to trek here are June, July and August but you can trek successfully at all times of year. Walkopedia was here in early March, and it was hot but very do-able.
Mid-day temperatures get very hot. Pleasant at other times.
You have to fly in – there are no roads. Then it is feet and camel support only.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
PLEASE CHECK THAT BULLET POINTS COME ACROSS OK WHEN PUTTING INTO DATABASE. SEE OPERATING MANUAL.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Dangerous animals, including buffalo, elephants, lions and other big cats, snakes and stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Only one option – with Wild Frontiers.
Nairobi is an international city with every kind of accommodation. A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively but effectively named Hotels.com. If you’re on a budget, Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Once on safari, it is camping only.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with information on this area. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- BBC country profile http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13681341
- see if http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/ has any relevant pages
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
- Tusk charity’s Kenya projects:
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more