A RETURN TO NAIVASHA TURNS INTO AN EYE OPENER
(Posted 02nd May 2016)
Visits to Kenya always require some flexibility of locations visited, and this time, apart from covering the historic ivory burn of 105 tons on Saturday, proved to be no different.
The weather did play a role this time, as rains swept across much of the country with an intensity rarely seen, seeing some of my well laid out plans literally washed away due to accessibility problems.
Two hours drive out of Nairobi does one find the Great African Rift Valley and while often the weather there is completely different from the capital, this time it was not the case as it rained cats and dogs too, apart from a few dry intervals and the sun making a brief, almost mocking appearance.
Lake Naivasha, an old time favourite of mine and of course a crowd favourite of the locals in Nairobi, was to be my choice destination for a getaway over the long May Day weekend.
It was to be a return with a twist as it turned out. Almost five years ago I had written a lengthy feature about the Lake Hotel, which today is known as the Lake Naivasha Country Club and this year the property turns 85 years old, making it the oldest resort hotel on Lake Naivasha.
(One of the five cottages on the original site where in 1931 the Sparks’ started to build, the last of them completed in 1933 – of course since then repeatedly rebuilt and modernized)
Since then, with repeated ownership changes along the way, has this lake side property grown to 50 rooms and the name Lake Hotel, immediate predecessor to the Lake Naivasha Country Club, was introduced in 1944 when the erstwhile manageress Evelyn Denwett bought out her owner by the name of Mr. Storey.
The Lake Hotel really took off vis a vis popularity and size, when Michael Cunningham-Reid purchased the property in the mid 1960’s and began to add more rooms and cottages. It quickly turned into a weekend getaway for at the time mostly expatriates from Nairobi, before more and more tourists came to Kenya, helping to fill the beds.
Weekends, both Saturday and Sunday, would see the place packed with guests coming in for lunch, enjoying the famous curries and grilled meats on the lawn outside the main building before taking a boat ride on the lake, something of course not to be missed even today.
(The boat ride gets one close to the birds but also, at times, close to hippos which populate the lake shores and come out at night to graze)
My last visit to this property must have been a few years ago, making it a habit to visit other lake side lodges and resorts too to assess their location and quality and it was therefore a surprise to get into my room and found it, well, very different from what I recalled.
Present owners Sun Africa Hotels, inspite of the challenging times Kenya underwent in terms of tourism arrivals in recent years – thankfully is the country in an upswing mode again – invested big time to upgrade and modernize all rooms and clearly for the better.
Four poster beds, in some rooms at least, flat screen TV’s, swipe card door locks, mini bars, state of the art bathrooms, new energy saving lights and WiFi are now a feature across all the rooms, and little wonder has the market responded to this as the resort was literally sold out over the entire long weekend.
Add the food to the equation and yes, no doubt we have a winner. Buffets are available for breakfast as well as for lunch and dinner. The food theme varies from day to day and there are choices of several hot dishes for both meals, soup and desserts of course included. The dining room is a busy bee place and on both nights were birthday’s celebrated with the entire kitchen and dining room staff forming a singing and dancing juggernaut, carrying birthday cakes to the celebrants’ tables. This latter observation in fact goes to speak for the mind set of all staff I encountered, among them new as well as old familiar faces, they are all showing their pride in their profession and serve with a smile, without being servient, an important difference.
A private trip, to get out of the city after covering the preparations for the ivory burn at the Nairobi National Park, hence turned out to be much more. While the awful weather prevented me from doing a few side trips I had much looked forward to, I will just have to come back to Naivasha to accomplish the planned visits to those places, in dry conditions that is. But on the upside, I found this charming lake side property once again wearing a new shine, in the rooms that is as the exterior is due for a face lift too I understand over the coming months. All this took place in almost silence as Sun Africa Hotels – in fairness the room upgrades and modernization is just reaching its end – has not even began to harp about their new state of the art room offerings and I am happy to set the ball rolling towards that end.
Let me mention in closing that the lakes of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley were a few years ago declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and especially visits to the alkaline lakes of Elementaita, Nakuru and Bogoria – Naivasha and Baringo are strangely enough fresh water lakes – are highly recommended. There visitors see flocks of flamingos painting the lake shores pink and encounter the endangered Rothschild giraffes and both Southern White and Eastern Black rhinos in Nakuru National Park.
All these lakes can be visited on day trips with the Lake Naivasha Country Club as a base as can the near by Hells Gate National Park which surrounds Mr. Longonot.
And as a final breaking news item has Sun Africa Hotels confirmed that their Lake Baringo Club will be rebuilt with construction starting later this year. A new, more elevated site has apparently been chosen on the sprawling lake side property, after rising lake levels had during the past few years all but swallowed every single building which was standing near the shores of Lake Baringo on that particular location.
For more information about Kenya click on www.magicalkenya.com or visit www.kws.go.ke for details on the country’s national parks, game reserves and marine parks.