Experience the difference

Coutts Coverage

 

Kenya - Creature Comforts

Kenya may be famous for its safaris, but Barbara Walshe discovered a seriously luxe location that's also worth hunting down.  Here, she tells us why Ngerende Island Lodge is a roaring success.

It’s 4am and I’m jolted awake by an animal roaring outside my door.  It’s my first night at the five-star Ngerende Island Lodge in Kenya, and I am about to be eaten by a… well, I’m not quite sure what.

It’s 4am and I’m jolted awake by an animal roaring outside my door.  It’s my first night at the five-star Ngerende Island Lodge in Kenya, and I am about to be eaten by a… well, I’m not quite sure what.

 

It sounds like a cow, but I’ve never heard one this scary before.  There’s a rumor amongst staff that a leopard once sprung out of the grass and hasn’t been seen since.  Or perhaps it’s the elephants, lions, buffalos or wildebeests I’m due to see in just a few hours on my first safari drive.   They might have come for me first…

It doesn’t help that there’s practically nothing stopping this angry beast getting to me.  Each of the seven exquisitely designed lodges here have one wall made entirely of canvas which, when pulled up, opens onto a vast, elevated wooden balcony that overlooks the river.

Just the previous day, I’d relished the view, how you can be inside your cosy lodge but outside with nature at the same time. Now, in the darkness, with the roaring, I’m not so sure. I pull a pillow over my head to hide from what could be a hideous end. And next thing I know, it’s 9am, and there’s someone tapping on my door. My safari driver is waiting. In the face of impending death, I’d fallen back to sleep.

“Kenya was too focused on game drives.  There was nowhere people could go to experience real luxury that still had a heart of Africa”

It turns out it was hippos making all the noise.  One of the meanest animals in the jungle (even if they are the cutest, peeping their eyes out of the water), get in their way and they will stamp you to death.  But they weren’t trying to kill me at 4am, according to Matthew, my private safari driver.  They were simply swimming up the river and calling out to their family to join them.

 

Close-encounters with a spectacular range of wild animals is just one of the delightful surprises in store at Ngerende.  Based on the edge of Masai Mara National Reserve, another surprise is how up-close and personal you get with the local culture.

On arrival at the lodge’s own landing strip, just a 45-minute flight from Nairobi, you receive a traditional welcome from local Masai warriors dancing, jumping and chanting their greetings.  By the end of your stay, many of them will be your friends.

There’s David, the gentlest and loveliest warrior, who is our designated waiter for the week.  Then Daniel, the naturist, who teaches us all about his culture and the surrounding nature.  And William, who provides the entertainment each evening, playing traditional music on his flute.

Visits to the local Masai village and school bring you in even closer contact with this famous tribe, and gives an eye-opening insight into daily life.  It’s the women, for example, who build the family homes here – tiny, smoky, thatch roof mud huts, just like something out of the Stone Age.  They build these because, with their husbands away hunting for months on end, and being just one of their many wives, woman must take full responsibility for the children.

 

You get used to expecting the unexpected here.  Each day, meals are served in a surprise location somewhere on Ngerende’s 12 acres.  One lunchtime, you could be eating as you watch crocodiles stalk their prey.  Then at dinner, you’ll be dining alfresco on your balcony.

And the food is beyond all expectation.  Chef Edward may consult you on the three-course lunches and five-course dinners each day, but what arrives is increasingly outstanding as the week goes by - salads served in mini icebergs, peaches and cream that make your mouth water – it’s Michelin level food, and reason enough to visit Ngerende.

This kind of luxury is not the norm for Kenya, which is why owners Eunice and Robert began this five year labour of love, finally launching it in 2008.  "There is too much focus on game drives in my country," Eunice says, which resulted in a glut of rustic accommodation springing up.  "But there was nowhere people could go to experience real luxury that still had a heart of Africa."

And Ngerende is crammed full of Kenyan heart.  From the hand stitched canvas awnings in each lodge, to 50 per cent of the staff recruited locally, to running the resort sustainably.

 

“Your personal butler runs a bubble bath with rose petals and essential oils each evening, rustles up a roaring fire and has hot water bottles heating your bed”

Everything is run on solar energy here, with a generator used as back-up.  The garden is full of organic vegetables that are used in the kitchen.  Rainwater is collected from the roofs to use for soil irrigation during dry spells.  And each guest is invited to plant a tree on the grounds at the end of their stay to offset their carbon footprint.

As a holiday destination, it has everything.  If you’re seeking out adventure, there are game drives to spot the Big Five, balloon safaris, bush walks and bird watching hikes.  Even fishing trips and cooking lessons can be organised.

If it’s relaxation you’re after, the on-site spa offers everything from deep tissue massages to therapeutic treatments.  The pool, now nearing completion, offers a sunbathing deck that overlooks the river.  And then there’s your personal butler if you’d rather just relax in your room.

 

They run bubble baths with rose petals and essential oils each evening, rustle up a roaring fire to read in front of and have hot water bottles heating your bed each night, helping you collapse into a deep sleep on hitting the pillow.

And believe me, you do.  I’m told the hippos continued to roar every few mornings.  But if they did, I didn’t hear them.  At Ngerende, I was simply under their spell.

Factfile

  • Kenya Airways operates daily flights from T4 London Heathrow to Nairobi.  Call 020 8283 1818 for reservations or visit www.kenya-airways.com.
  • A three-night package at Ngerende Island Lodge between 1 July and 31 October 2010 starts at £1,085 per person, based on two people sharing.  This includes internal flights, airport transfers, full board accommodation, two extended game drives, a guided bushwalk, game viewing at the Olchoro Conservancy, a visit to the Masai village and half-hour massage.
  • Flight time to Kenya is eight hours.  It is three hours ahead of GMT, and two hours ahead of the UK during daylight savings.
  • Currency is Kenya Schilling or US Dollar.
  • A great year-round holiday destination, with migration season between June and August, these are extra-special months to visit.
  • Before travelling, you need the following shots: Hep A, Hep B, Polio, Yellow Fever, Tetanus and Malaria tablets.

 

By Barbara Walshe

 

Ngerende Special Offers

Stay a minimum of 5 nights; 2nights at Ngerende in the Wild and 3 nights at Ngerende Island Lodge and GET A FREE BALLOON SAFARI
Book the wedding package, for a minimum of 5 nights and the COUPLES WILL GET A FREE BALLOON SAFARI
Book two nights at Ngerende Island Lodge and automatically get a third night free! A SAVING OF 33%
Guests on honeymoon at Ngerende Island Lodge will get a 20% discount, chilled bottle of wine on arrival