I'm woken, in the steely light of predawn, by a soft voice at my tent flap, telling me tea is ready and there's hot water for shaving. There's a melodic dawn chorus – Narina Trogon, white-browed robin chat and emerald-spotted wood dove.
Tucked among a grove of fig, ebony and wild olive trees in the hilly west of Nairobi national park, the collection of eight enormous safari tents, mess tent and lounge tent that form the Nairobi Tented Camp, has a remote wilderness atmosphere that is as alluring as camps in the Masai Mara reserve that take hours to reach. Yet I am just four miles as the pied crow flies – and just half an hour's transfer – from the glass and steel, heat and noise of the city centre of the Kenyan capital. It wouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility to come from the UK for the weekend.
The camp opened earlier this year and is the first within the park's 117 sq km, a rolling extravaganza of plains and woods, rocky gullies, marshes and dense forest, a natural wilderness which in another city would have been lost to suburbs.
The camp is extremely comfortable and well-judged, but deliberately simple, based on the principles of a traditional mobile safari camp with no concrete or permanent structures, and delivered with effortless cool by the young British manager, Kim Pierce, and her team of mostly Masai staff and wildlife scouts. Red-robed warriors escort me safely to my tent, which has its own toilet and warm shower. The hot-water bottles are a pleasant shock on a chilly night. Out of the bush kitchen emerge meals that would put most restaurants to shame – a scintillating ginger and carrot soup, lip-smackingly good stuffed chicken breasts, homemade bread and wonderful local vegetables.
"There is nowhere else on earth where you get such a dramatic contrast between nature and humanity," says Will Knocker, co-owner of the camp, an experienced safari guide and former Queen's Royal Lancer, as we set off on an early morning game drive in his customised safari vehicle.
With the engine switched off, we roll almost silently downhill, peering into the dark green trees, hoping to spot a leopard still on the prowl after a night of instilling fear in the resident bushbuck and impala. "Get the roof hatch up," suggests Will. "Stand on the seats, you'll find it much easier to spot the wildlife." Camera clutched in one hand and grasping a roof rail in the other, I'm like a boy with a pocketful of toffees. I can't stop smiling. There's a breeze in my hair, the first rays of sun are on the dew and, just ahead of us, a black-backed jackal is on a scent-guided mission, trotting with a purpose and strikingly handsome against the red earthen track.
"We're at the northern end of an old animal migration corridor, which was blocked off when Nairobi was founded 100 years ago," says Will. "We've got to protect it, and the only way to do that is to have paying visitors. That's why we were so keen to persuade the park authorities to let us build the camp. It took three years to get the go-ahead."
As dawn turns to day, a magnificent, quintessentially East African scene opens up like a vast stage set revealed. In the foreground, slender-tailed mongooses streak across the track and into the tall grass with their pennant tails fluttering, while other minor characters, from swooping hornbills to lines of army ants, distract us from our task of scanning the horizon for megafauna. In the middle distance, handsome acacia trees – some of the tallest in Kenya thanks to the absence from the park of tree-felling elephants – are positioned elegantly to provide shade for massive-horned buffalo and a tasty leaf salad for slow-motion giraffes. Further off, six identical male ostriches model their daring but uncomfortable-looking plumage, while on the horizon a large herd of quick-tempered zebra – a mob, as Will calls them – are making their way east, towards the water holes of the Athi Basin.
There's so much to see, it's hard to know what to ignore – stocky eland to the left of us, wildebeest to the right, a loan reedbuck, a great martial eagle high on a branch. The park has more than 500 species of birds – more than the entire British Isles. Footprints that look like a strange tank has rolled across the muddy track are in fact from a living tank – a sticky pug of a hippo on a night-grazing sortie from the river.
We stop every minute, and Will's patience, like the Embakasi river that marks the park's unfenced southern boundary, never runs dry. Lions, of which Nairobi national park has a solid and growing population, would be a wonderful camera catch, but they elude us. Instead, we're treated to a succession of presentations by the black rhinos, the park's iconic rare species. More than 10% of Kenya's 500 black rhinos live here, some of them within charging distance of the Mombasa highway. A mother, resplendently gigantic with her dual curved horns, guides her tiny calf through the scrub as we watch, entranced; three young females plunder tender thornbush shoots with their prehensile lips on a hillside in front of Nairobi's skyline; and a surly old half-blind bull stands four-square, irritably aware of our presence, his satellite-dish ears twitching involuntarily.
We get back to camp before the noon sun strips all contrast from the landscape, ready to flop on the camp's big sofas or swing in the hammock, download a few photos and soak up a Tusker beer or two under Africa's vast, starlit sky.