Hot tips for visiting Central and Northern #Kenya

#MOUNTKENYA #OLPEJETA #SEGERA – BIG FIVE, BIG MOUNTAIN AND BIG LUXURY

(Posted 02nd July 2018)

Kenya, a country I regularly travel to, is not just the Masai Mara, Amboseli or the beaches from Malindi over Watamu to Diani and beyond.
While I indeed start my journeys mostly in Nairobi, to see new hotel developments and check out refurbishments and upgrades, do my regular visits also take me up north, through Central Kenya of course or else flying above it.
My regional airline of choice, RwandAir, flies twice a day between Entebbe and Nairobi but also, via Kigali, serves Mombasa, so I have all my bases covered.
Locally, whenever I can, I use Safarilink which offers daily scheduled flights to literally all key national parks, and between them too while serving Ukunda, Vipingo and Lamu at the coast, again, ticking all my boxes.
As I write this I am also putting finishing touches on my mid year visit to Kenya which will take me, via Nairobi, into the Limuru Hills before heading into the Rift Valley and then to the Kenya coast, before ending my trip on the Silole Sanctuary just outside the capital Nairobi, right at the edge of the national park.

Had previous ‘invites‘ materialized, would my add on programme have included that fancied trip up north, but having done this before, albeit a few years ago, are my memories still fresh enough to narrate what readers need to know when they want to put together a truly innovative and exciting itinerary, which will give them everything Kenya has to offer apart from a sandy beach.

Let me start with Mount Kenya where the Serena Mountain Lodge is accessible on an all tarmac road right from Nairobi to the doorstep of the lodge. Unlike in the old days – Mountain Lodge was once build outside the park boundaries – has KWS shifted the goal posts and put up a gate just a few metres away from Mountain Lodge’s parking. So, once park entrance is paid, one can then enter the magic of one of Kenya’s tree hotels, where one has the game come by instead of sitting in a safari cruiser and seeking it out in the bush.
Again, in the old days, guests were expected to arrive after lunch, spend the night and leave after breakfast but thankfully has Serena changed that – and made it worth the while to stay longer and partake of the many activities the lodge offers today.
As a ‘give back‘ gesture by KWS is it now possible to visit a trout hatchery not too far from the lodge AND, with guides available from the lodge, even go fishing – the catch is guaranteed to be served for lunch or dinner that day …

Fishing is also possible in the Aberdares by the way, another option to consider, but without the comfort of a luxurious tree hotel so close by.

What else is there to do one might ask. Well, a lot more:

Mt. Kenya Forest Walk


Enjoy an informative 2 hour guided walk through the Mt. Kenya forest where
we take you through the story of Kenya’s independence. Along the way get to
spot a variety of birds and some unique animals such as the black and white
colobus monkey, sykes monkey, olive baboon, giant forest hog, bush pig,
genet cat, white-tailed mongoose and mole-rat. One can also spot a variety of
members from the Antelope family such as Mt. Kenya Bongo, Bush bucks,
Defassa waterbucks, Red forest duikers and Suni.

A surprise “Dawa” treat is served to keep you warm from the inside and then there is more of the same of course at the main bar of the lodge.

Bush Breakfast

Before leaving for your next destination we welcome you to join us for
a mouthwatering and unique filling English Bush Breakfast as you take
in the cool forest breeze backed by the amazing sounds of the forest birds chirping.

Great for Children too

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The Serena Kids Club is a fully supervised, kid-friendly hangout space
for up to 10 children where little tots can play, learn and explore with
various crafts and games while parents enjoy a little down time too.
What’s even better is that it has a big strong window through which the
children are able to view the wildlife at the waterhole.

Mt. Kenya Moorland hike

A full day guided and informative hike across different forest vegetation and varying altitudes to get to the beautiful northern moorland tree cover with its unique flora and fauna, an experience which includes a picnic lunch as a scenic location and expert guides to tell all about flora and fauna the hikers see enroute.

Plant a Tree

Visit the tree nursery at Serena Mountain Lodge and make sure you don’t leave the lodge without planting a tree …

And finally there is:
Conquer Mt. Kenya

Tick off your bucket list by climbing Mt. Kenya – Kenya’s highest Mountain at 5,199 ft above sea level. It is also Africa’s second highest mountain with three summits (Lenana, Nelion and Batian) ascend and descend along the new “Nguniu route” which commences from the lodge led by their well trained guides. To ascend to the Lenana peak (4,985 ft above sea level) takes 4-5 days with a sleep over at Camp Moses on day 1, Shiptons Camp on day 2.
On day 3, at 3am start your final stretch to peak Lenana before descending at 6.30am to make it on time for breakfast at Mintos camp where you spend your last night.

The Serena team will take care of the cooking arrangements and their porters will be at hand to help guests with their luggage. All guests need to do is carry their sleeping bag and bring an adventurous spirit. Our experienced guides will ensure you take back with you a lifetime of memories.

And for those visiting Mountain Lodge with no other intention of getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city, they are more than welcome to stay put as game keeps migrating to and from the water hold, birdlife is rich and by the way, so is the food. All the rooms have balconies to sit outside – warm blankets are available, and then there is the main terrace behind the bar and of course the roof top from where one has a great view when the mountain is visible.

On the journey then goes, back from the lodge to the main road between Nyeri and Nanyuki, towards one of Kenya’s greatest conservancies and the home to the most Eastern Black Rhinos found anywhere in Eastern Africa at a go.
Of course are there also two Northern White Rhinos still to be seen, the only wilderness place this is now possible anywhere in the world – Ol Pejeta.

SERENA AND OL PEJETA – A WINNING COMBINATION

Ol Pejeta, Kenya’s most complete wildlife experience all in one place on the Laikipia Plains of Central Kenya has in recent years established itself as a choice destination for both overseas and local visitors, offering as comprehensive a game viewing experience as it possibly comes in Kenya. Located within sight of Mt. Kenya, itself a national park and one of Kenya’s adventure destinations, and the Aberdare Mountains on the other side, the estate was previously owned by one Adnan Khashoggi, famous for his extravagant lifestyle and notorious for his arms deals with regimes around the world.
He did leave however a legacy behind, as the present day Ol Pejeta estate was to emerge from his initially 160.000 acres large ranch and wilderness area, on which he established at the end of a nearly 2 km long grass airstrip his residence in Kenya, for long just called the Kashoggi House before it was in more recent times renamed into Ol Pejeta House. Now managed by Serena Hotels, the former residence has been meticulously maintained and offers unparalleled luxury in private surroundings, with staff at the service of their guests if not their beck and call.

Not too far away is Sweetwaters, a very posh safari camp where Serena’s famous hospitality awaits guests in the heart of the conservancy. Unique for Kenya is also a chimpanzee sanctuary which offers viewing of this otherwise nonresident species in Kenya, while in the wider surroundings Kenya’s greatest concentration of Eastern Black and Southern White rhinos are found, complemented by two of the last surviving Northern White subspecies, the rarest of them all.

Plains game, predators including lions, leopard and cheetah are found and while Ol Pejeta is a mixed ranch where livestock coexists with wildlife, this has only added to the attraction for visitors, as they can see both cattle and game live side by side. Here in fact is living proof that proper herd management reduces wildlife inflicted losses to a bare minimum, putting otherwise common revenge killings for livestock losses in a very different light, namely that there was perhaps some negligence on the side of the owners of livestock, failing to employ proper guarding and protection procedures, which are now part and parcel of Ol Pejeta’s commercial fabric.
There are some smaller camps on the distant side of Ol Pejeta, including one of the posh Porini camps and the conservancy too offers some self catering accommodation as well as camping spaces for families or wagenis wanting some more hands on experience. But without any doubt it is the Serena properties, Sweetwaters and the Ol Pejeta House which provide the type of luxurious surroundings, leaving no question about creature comforts unanswered, which many visitors to Kenya are looking for. From personal experience I know, that if a guest, staying say at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, wishes to go on a short safari, Ol Pejeta offers as comprehensive a game viewing experience as it probably comes in Kenya, with the added bonus of seeing large numbers of rhinos, more than probably anywhere else in East Africa on one spot. This is the place where the Big Five are just 3 1/2 hours drive away from the capital.
Schedules flights to Nanyuki are available several times a day from Nairobi’s Wilson airport, this correspondents preferred airline being SafariLink which regularly uses state of the art Cessna 208 Grand Caravans, and a flight takes, depending on the aircraft used, between 35 and 45 minutes. The Serena properties on Ol Pejeta all provide transfers to and from the airfield on request against a nominal fee.
Yet, a 3 ½ hour drive from Nairobi via Thika, Karatina and branching off before reaching Nyeri towards Nanyuki also offers scenic sights on a relatively good road, travelled on many times in person when visiting the Aberdares, and a stay of 2, 3 or even 4 nights will be a most rewarding experience, alongside enjoying Serena’s superb hospitality of course.
Ol Pejeta and Serena are partners in conservation and East Africa’s leading hotel group has for long been at the forefront of making significant monetary and material contributions to wildlife conservation and re-forestation across the country.
Visit www.olpejetaconservancy.org and www.serenahotels.com for more information.

And then, the proposed journey goes further north to the only 5 star property in this part of the country, the Segera Retreat. Set on a private conservancy of 50.000 acres is this property something extraordinary, spectacular in its garden settings and superbly tuned to attending to their guests every wish with staff at their beck and call around the clock.

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I think one should coin the phrase, and in fact I just did, that one has been ‘Segerad’ … meaning submerged in luxury, having to ‘endure’ and ‘languish’ in what amounts to royal quarters, tastebuds bombarded with exquisite food, not Michelin rated (yet) but not far from such honours either and staying in an open air art gallery, given the sculptures found all over the place.

When visiting was I accommodated in one of the six villas and a writing on the chalk board on the bottom of the stairs to my upstairs suite bid me a warm welcome, as did a handwritten letter from the General Manager Jens, a most unusual and yet most appealing way to say Jambo, old style.

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The time between my stay and now seems both distant as well as ever present, perhaps a contradiction in terms but nevertheless giving an insight how intense the experience was, and it was only two days which felt both like two weeks and two minutes.
The accommodation convinced at first sight, the private deck outside invited to laze around or even have the open air tub filled with hot water – no task seems too much for the staff – and looking across the plains below showed game galore, lion roars at night included.

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The phrase ‘out of this world’ is misused too often for me to use it in such reviews but here, nothing short of these four words can describe my impressions.
From the night guards to the gardeners and guides, from the guest relations staff to the waiters and chefs and from the Spa manageress to the General Manager, there was not one moment I was not engaged, had my questions answered and my every wish read from my face, or so it seemed.
The accommodation one has to discover hands on so I will just say that there is probably nothing which matches Segera’s villa interior in the whole of Kenya, and I have seen it all, well, 99 percent of it for sure.

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Move to the food. Try not look for a dining room, as there is none. There are however a number of venues used to provide breakfast, a la carte only of course and prepared to order, lunch and dinner, and guests culinary wishes, temptations and even dares are fully answered by the Segera Chef team.

I had not one meal at the same venue twice while there during which I ‘celebrated’ six meals in total plus High Tea sessions, not to forget those.
Food for lunch, the first day with a bias towards Italian cuisine, was freshly prepared and suggestions made and invited for dinner. Organic produce and the best of available seafood, fish and meat only was served expertly by my waiters and the wine selection, also second to none, caught my eye though not my palate as I stuck to water and tea, in this case a glorious waste of an opportunity given the vintages Segera stores in its wine cellars.

On my second day I ended up under shade trees in the bush along a little river and a herd of elephants walked by not 100 metres from my table, foraging as I tucked into the delicacies prepared by the chef. Let me end here by saying that her soups were worth breaking and entering the chef’s office to get hold of the recipe, which in the end she willingly shared however.
Enter the game drives and outdoor activities and again does Segera excel and the guides answered all my questions and then some.

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Of course it is in a 4×4, custom build, that one sets out for a game drive, and they are always good for a surprise, like an unexpected bush lunch or tea and pastries suddenly appearing at a scenic site while out of the vehicle stretching one’s legs. Walking safaris too are possible and I can only say encouraged, given the way Segera feeds their guests.

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Not far from the retreat does one find the gardens, where much from flowers to herbs and vegetables galore are grown, giving the kitchen team the freshest of ingredients day in and day out.

Enter the art scene and that alone could fill the centre spread of a travel magazine, so elaborate it is and so carefully selected that it become part of the environment and does not stick out like a sore thumb as seen in other places where the wrong sculptures ended up in the wrong place. Good taste, a sense for discreet yet impressive art pieces and style went together here to create a harmonious and holistic environment across the resort, again not found in any other place I have visited in Kenya.

I missed sampling the Spa, something I will remedy when I return but explored every other corner nook and cranny across the property, not only unhindered but encouraged by Jens and his team, to explore, discover and enjoy.

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My time was up all too soon and the one and a half hour return journey to the Nanyuki airstrip once more allowed to meet game galore while still on the conservancy. A private airstrip is located right next to the lodge but only available for charters and not the scheduled safari flights leaving every day from Wilson Airport.
Segera here I come again will be my battle cry when next making my way to the retreat, and the sooner the better, as nothing has ever quite so lit my imagination and expectations like Segera did.

For added information check out www.segera.com

Well there you are, if you are looking for a very special travel experience while in Kenya, this itinerary provides something unique and away from the heavily frequented national parks and yet ticks all the right boxes for an intrepid traveler, from birds to game to scenery to unadulterated luxury.

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