Flying low along the Suguta Valley has always been something I wanted to do.

The Suguta Valley is a geological feature located in the northern part of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. The valley is situated between the eastern wall of the Rift Valley and the volcanic Mount Kulal. It is approximately forty miles long and thirty miles wide, with a salt pan occupying a large part of its floor. This is a harsh and arid region with very little vegetation and water sources. Despite this, it is home to several species of wildlife such as zebras, antelopes and giraffes, as well as several nomadic tribes who have adapted to the harsh environment. A popular destination due to its unique landscape and remote location.

On a recent trip to Kenya I was given the opportunity to realise my dream. I was offered a place on a private Scenic Air flight, a Kenyan charter flight company which professes to make your journey as exceptional as the destination.

Scenic air flight, Kenya, Illona Cross

Scenic Air was started in 2009 when a group of pilots purchased an executive Grand Caravan for their own private use. They invited friends and embarked from South Africa on an epic personal flying safari home to Kenya, following a route not often flown, up the east coast of Africa. The fun and breath-taking low flying experience of land, sea and sky were too spectacular not to share. Scenic Air was born with the sole intent of sharing such magical experiences with a wider audience. Today they are carbon neutral, a direct result of a partnership with the Chyulu Hills REDD+ Carbon Project.

I left camp in the Mathews Mountains after breakfast and flew directly to Reteti, a community-owned elephant sanctuary and rehabilitation centre located in the remote Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, near the town of Archer’s Post. Reteti is run by the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust. The sanctuary is dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orphaned and injured elephants back into the wild.

Reteti sanctuary, Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya, Illona Cross

Reteti was founded in 2016 with the goal of creating a sanctuary, as well as creating employment opportunities for local communities. The sanctuary serves as a model for community-led conservation, empowering local communities to take an active role in wildlife protection and management. The sanctuary provides employment opportunities for local people, which helps to reduce human-wildlife conflicts and incentivize conservation efforts as well as important educational opportunities.

Leaving Reteti I flew north; the sounds of Toto’s Africa in my earphones as Aaron, the pilot and guide, flew low level over the salt pans of Suguta which blushed pink with flamingo and tinged green and blue with mineral deposits. Lake Turkana was the northernmost point of my flight where Aaron expertly negotiated the Grand Caravan between extinct volcanoes and the Emerald Sea.

Scenic air flight over the salt pans of Suguta, Kenya, Illona Cross

Lake Turkana is the largest desert lake in the world, with a surface area of almost 4000 square miles. The lake is highly alkaline, uninhabitable for most fish species, and is fed by several rivers with no outlet to the sea. The rugged and remote beauty of the surrounding region is home to several indigenous tribes, including the Turkana people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years and rely on the lake for fishing, transportation and irrigation. Lake Turkana is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its geological and archaeological significance, including important fossil and archaeological sites, such as the Koobi Fora site which has yielded some of the earliest hominid fossils ever discovered.

Swooping south we landed at the Lake Turkana Wind Power station for refreshments – tea and cake from a well-stocked picnic box. From there I was flown to my next safari camp in Laikipia where my guide was waiting with a cool drink and a snack if I wanted one. Aaron communicated our arrival and arranged my luggage to be sent to camp making it possible for me to go looking for the journey of giraffes and the lioness which was seen near the airstrip a few hours prior.

Thanks for reading

Illona Cross, Tanzania

Author: Illona Cross