Pie Aerts will run a personally escorted photography expedition to the Mara North Conservancy and Amboseli this October. Below he gives us a few insights on the areas the expedition will visit.
Tell us about your experience of Elephant Pepper Camp?
Dare I say it, but Mara North Conservancy is my number one conservancy in all of Kenya and Elephant Pepper Camp my favourite camp in the entire Masai Mara ecosystem, due to a number of reasons. First of all, the location of the camp in the heart of the Conservancy is outstanding, in an area with lots of resident wildlife. The camp has a true bush camp feel with ground-level tents and its unfenced, which means wildlife walk in and out during the day and night. You are completely emerged in the wilderness with elephants and hippos grazing literally in front of your tent. On top, the camp has some of the best food you’ll experience in Africa, with a very talented head chef and an amazing shamba that serves fresh veggies and fruits year-round. But perhaps the biggest reason for me to keep coming back to this camp, is the lovely staff. Every single one of them, from housekeeping to waiters and mechanics to gardeners radiate such a welcoming energy. Such a heart-warming team of beautiful souls that made this camp feel like my second home in Kenya.
What is so special about the Mara North Conservancy?
In comparison to the more crowded Masai Mara National Park, it’s located away from the tourist buzz. However, its proximity to the National Park still guarantees an incredible wildlife abundance. In fact, it’s the most abundant place I have ever visited in the entire ecosystem. The Conservancy is well-managed, with a general rule of no more than five vehicles in a single sighting. All camps based in the Conservancy perfectly obey that rule, never causing any harm to wildlife, which is my most important value in picking and selecting partners and areas to work with. This causes peaceful sightings in which you can enjoy the wild in near exclusivity.
What really works well for photographers in this area?
The Conservancy is very well balanced from a vegetational point of view, with a good mix of open grasslands, bushy gorges, and rivers, which make up for an incredible playing field for photographers. The location of the camp in the heart of the Conservancy allows for very early game drives and late evening game drives since you are not restricted to gate opening hours and can maximise on time in the field when the light is at its best and game becomes active.
What was your best wildlife sighting on your most recent trip to this area?
Do you have a minute? Hah, so many I can’t even choose. The absolute best part is that – due to the rule of only five vehicles per sighting and the relative low number of camps inside the conservancy – you’re mostly alone with wildlife. I had countless ‘private’ sightings here over the years, with prides of lions, breeding herds of elephants, cheetah cubs, and even leopards. Especially when you travel in the right seasons, which I strive for with my Photography Expeditions, That’s why I always come in October, after the migration buzz but with wildlife still in full effect. It’s the best season of the year to visit Mara North Conservancy. Imagine, a private leopard sighting in the heart of the Masai Mara, such a unique event! Memories that last a lifetime!
We know you are a fan of Tortilis Camp Amboseli, tell us about your recent visit?
I have a weak spot for this place and have been coming here twice a year for almost five years now. That’s also the reason why – in addition to Elephant Pepper Camp in Mara North – I bring my guests on the same trip to Tortilis Camp in Amboseli. For me, the crossings of big breeding herds of elephants on the dried lakebed of Amboseli lake, is one of the most impressive sights in the entire continent. An absolute spectacle of Mother Nature, in which herds sometimes up to 40-60 individuals cross the lakebed in search of food and water. Tortilis camp has exclusive access to the Kitirua Conservancy, that borders the Amboseli National Park, and that hosts half of the dried lakebed. This means no other people but guests staying at Tortilis will be around, giving you exclusive access to one of the most spectacular wildlife sightings in the world, a feast for photographers. Under the guidance of guides, I have been working with for years, I took some of the best wildlife imagery in my career so it’s safe to say that Tortilis Camp ranks amongst my top camps in the entire continent. I haven’t even talked about the incredible staff and the lovely food. Trust me, you come here once, and you will keep coming back forever!
Do you have some advice for amateur photographers breaking into wildlife photography?
Yes, come and join me on one of my privately hosted Photography Expeditions and I will teach you all I know about this incredible profession, and unravel all the secrets about how to make it in this industry. All jokes aside, these expeditions are really an incredible way to learn and grow. They are designed to teach you all I know about how to engage with the wild and how to create and send meaningful stories into the world. The most important aspect of growing as an artist is to make sure your personal and creative identity are aligned. Only then you can truly listen to your intuition and follow your heart. And, as a result of that, you will start creating stories that matter to you rather than to the rest of the world. And when you create art that you care about, it’s much easier to convince other people to believe in the same values and beliefs. So, if you want to push your skills and art to a higher level, come and join me!
Please tell us about your next expedition in October 2023 and what gusts can expect?
I’m hosting a photography expedition in October 2023 to Elephant Pepper Camp and Tortilis Camp for a small group of 6-8 people. In the past 3 years I have spent 60+ weeks in Kenya and I know the country and its people inside out. This has generated an in-depth understanding of seasonality, geography, animal behaviour, photographic opportunities, community living and cultural aspects, and of course wildlife conservation. This combined with 10+ years of experience in photographic storytelling, makes this expedition a unique opportunity to learn. The entire itinerary is crafted around the theme of storytelling, which means I deliberately chose these 2 areas, camps, and guides to work with. We will maximise time in the field and won’t be restricted by gate opening hours. We can off-road in both conservancies so have full flexibility. In between game drives – I will be hosting lectures and there’s room for 1-on-1 tuition as well. It’s a trip that’s centred around teaching you how to tell meaningful stories about the wild and you will go home with an incredible series of images! So yes, all I can say is, get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
For more information and to book on Pie’s forthcoming October expedition visit https://www.pieaerts.com/masterclass/kenya-photography-expedition-october-2023/