A visit to Solio Lodge and Game Sanctuary
Solio Game Sanctaury lies between the Aberdare Mountain Range and Mount Kenya in the highlands of the Laikipia plateau.
Most famous for being Kenya’s most successful Rhino Sanctuary, protecting both Black and White Rhino from poaching, and running a successful breeding program allowing for rhino to be translocated to other regions of Kenya, most recently, 10 rhino were moved to a new conservation area near Kisumu in Western Kenya.
The ranch is over 5,000 hectares, with two main contrasting habitats; the open grassy plains are ideal for viewing a wide range of plains game in high concentration. Burchell’s Zebra, Buffalo, Eland and the majestic Beisa Oryx can be viewed in mixed herds, and more often than not - quite magnificently these mixed herds have social groups of up to eight White Rhino. A wonderful spectacle that is rare to see anywhere else in Africa, but a sight that would likely have been far more common and widespread throughout this remarkable species natural range before the demand for rhino horn drove them to the brink of extinction.
It is also possible to view Black Rhino on the plains in lesser numbers feeding on the small seasonal shrubs - again, a real treat as an encounter in the wild with a black rhino is seldom, and often in thick bush where a swift glimpse is all you’ll catch before this temperamental mass of muscle and horn crashes into the undergrowth out of sight.
There are over 150 White Rhino and 70 plus Black Rhino in the Solio sanctuary.
Another opportunity offered to the game viewer on the plains of Solio Ranch is to look at the ‘Laikipia’ Hartebeest, an unusual sub-species only found in this area.
The second main habitat is the woodland forest fringing a marsh which runs through the spine of the ranch. Dominated by the beautiful Yellow-barked Acacia, this has to be one of Laikipia’s most picturesque settings. Morning and evening light playing off the vibrant greens of the swamp and turning the woodlands into a rich palette of greens, browns and yellows is a beautiful backdrop for any photographer or painter.
The swamp also has plenty of rhino, buffalo, giraffe, impala, baboon, to name a few. Also an ideal habitat for leopard, we have had great sightings near the swamp of leopard lying on the wide acacia branches, and moving along the swamp edge, occasionally peering out through the long swamp grass.
On our recent visit, an afternoon game drive had taken us across the plains, before dropping down into the acacia forest to a spot overlooking the swamp to watch the sunset. Having waited for three white rhino to vacate the grassy glade, tables and chairs were set out, and with wines and beers in hand, and the wonderful company of Lapeta and local guide Freddie, we watched the changing light and grazing animals, Defassa Waterbuck staring back from the middle of the swamp. As the light began to fade, a shout of ‘lion!’ rang out from Annalisa, our French and Italian speaking representative from Milan, who was joining us to get a taste of life in one of Africa’s most stylish lodges. Maja excitedly confirmed that she’d seen the lion's tail end swagger across into the bushes behind us. We all scanned the scrub, but all we could see was the bush, and the three white rhino that had circled around. Then as if appearing out of nowhere, not three metres from the rhino was the huge head of a large lion, complete with a dark thick mane, amber eyes staring intensely back, enough to raise the hairs on your arms, a fantastic sight. The rhino were seemingly oblivious to his presence, and after a few moments, he slipped away again, into the falling darkness.
Lapeta had caught a glimpse of a second male lion, the two males of the resident pride he knew very well. We quickly packed up our sundowner, and drove through the bush to try and get another view. They decided they did not want to be seen, and after a short search, decided it was time to return to the lodge in time for dinner.
Solio Lodge is very well located overlooking the swamp and acacia woodland. One of the most stylish lodges in East Africa, it makes excellent use of the wide spaces available, with each of the six bungalow sized rooms taking in the magnificent view through a glass facade. Each room has a unique artistic theme, complete with a lounge, bar and fireplace in the bedroom, and a vast spacious bathroom, with wonderful views from both the deep bath, and what has to be one of the most amazing showers one can experience.
The main lounge, bar and dining room reaches out across a lush lawn, and viewing platform towards the swamp. Three fireplaces help to provide a cosy atmosphere in yet another exceptionally stylish space.
Ava Paton - one of Kenya’s most well known and experienced lodge manager looks after the lodge guests in her usual friendly and charming manner, and we were lucky enough to have met Pete, assisting Ava run the lodge for the upcoming busy season; and to hear of his tales from running the Iditarod in Alaska, to his experiences last year on the ranch.
The food would not be out of place in a top European restaurant, with a creative and healthy selection of dishes accompanied by some very fine wines.
Solio Lodge is an extremely comfortable and peaceful lodge, and an ideal base to make the most of what Solio Ranch and Game Sanctuary has to offer, and there is a lot on offer. Spa treatments, guided walks, game drives, horse riding, mountain biking, excursions to Aberdare National Park, visits to the cattle ranch, local community and education projects, or just unwinding in exquisite surroundings at the lodge, allowing the wildlife to come to you, and taking in the serenity of this beautiful wilderness area that has done so much for Rhino Conservation.
Huge thanks to Ava and Pete, and the whole team at The Safari Collection for such a memorable visit.