Taking my kids to Kenya was always going to be a special trip. Kenya is where my love affair with Africa really started. I learned my trade out here working at various lodges and camps in 1999, met my husband here (that same year), came here on my honeymoon, & worked as UK Manager of the Kenya Tourism Board. I had wanted to wait to bring my kids out here until they were old enough to really appreciate how special this country.
Nairobi is often overlooked by clients racing to get out onto the safari circuit but spending a day here is Nairobi is definitely worth at least a day of your trip. You can even go on safari right inNairobi. Nowhere else in the world does big game wildlife practically roam the city. The shopping is also incredible!
Our first stop was the newly renovated House of Waine. House of Waine is t is run by the most lovely Kenyan family (Waine is an anagram the 5 children's initials). It is a very discreet, chilled place from which to explore Nairobi. The 2.5 acres of tropical gardens are the perfect backdrop to recover from your international flight…or in my case…get over the stress of the Covid form filling!! Our interconnecting rooms were enormous and perfect for our family. After a delicious breakfast we were all set ready to explore what Nairobi had to offer.
The Giraffe centre is only 10 minutes from House of Waine, located in Langata next to the world-famous Giraffe Manor. Each morning the giraffes go over to the manor expecting guests to share their breakfast& then wander to the centre for the rest of the day. So even if you can’t get a reservation or the nightly room rate at Giraffe Manor is just a bit too steep, (it is an eye watering $3000 per night) you can enjoy the very giraffes that rule the Manor.
The Giraffe Centre serves two main purposes. It’s a breeding centre for the Rothschild giraffe, and as of today there are now over 600 Rothschild giraffes that are located throughout Kenya and breeding in the wild. It’s also an education centre, both for Kenya schoolchildren and visitors from far and wide and educates visitors on Kenya’s wildlife and environment.
You do have the opportunity to get up close with the world’s tallest animal, feed them and even get a giraffe kiss if you want. But the giraffes are bred, raised until they are 2-3 years of age and old enough to survive on their own, then placed in a safe area in seclusion where they learn to feed themselves before eventually being re-homed to the wild. To date, 40 Rothschild giraffes born at the centre have been re-located to the wild. Next stop - the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT), which operates the most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. Then finally... shopping!!!
After a quick lunch turnaround at House of Waine it was a 10 minute drive to Wilson Airport to board our Air Wilderness charter flight to Lewa. Air Wilderness by Lewa Wilderness, not only can be booked for transfers but also to dome some really unique and authentic flying experiences in Kenya.Darryl our pilot was the perfect air guide pointing out the landmarks as we flew over the changing landscape of Laikipia. After an hour we touched down in the hot and arid airstrip of Lewa.
We started representing LW in July this year and having worked on Lewa over 20 years ago, this was my first time visiting the lodge. We were met from the airstrip by the electric safari vehicle which silently glided us back to the lodge which was a5 minute drive away from the airstrip.
2022 is a momentous year for Lewa Wilderness and a double anniversary, marking 100 years since the Craig family set up home in the wilderness of Lewa, and 50 years since paying visitors were first welcomed. With that longevity comes an ingrained knowledge of the landscape, an intuition about the environment, and an empathy of people’s profound reactions to it, that is hard to replicate, and it translates to a very unique guest experience.
One of the first lodges in Kenya to welcome visitors in 1972, conservation has always come before all else and Lewa Wilderness has had a leadership role insetting up the locally-owned and run Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
Our accommodation was in one of the three garden suites that were first built by the Craig grandparents and had been upgraded and expanded over the years. The two bedroom cottage was enormous and plenty big enough for the five of us. As the kids excitedly chose which beds they were going to have, I sunk down into the deckchair outside not being able to believe we were finally here.
In addition to the unique history, a safari at Lewa Wilderness is set apart from others by the sheer variety of experience. Guests can choose from an array of‘ steeds’ from which to experience the game-rich landscape: their new electric safari vehicles offer sustainable comfort on a classic game drive; Air Wilderness’ Waco bi-plane adds a touch of additional glamour and a birds-eye view; the powerful and graceful gait of a horse; the timeless, if more awkward, seat of a camel; or indeed one’s own two legs on Walking Wild… Game-viewing opportunities at Lewa Wilderness are as exhilarating and congruous as they are varied.
The incredible work that Lewa Wildlife Conservancy has done on behalf of Rhino conservation is just astonishing their success is evident through the sheer number of everywhere.With 236 or 14% of Kenya’s rhino population, this is definitely the place to come to spot these prehistoric-looking creatures. I love the audacity of a 5 month old rhino chasing off a pride of 10 lions!
Walking safaris are the best way to learn and appreciate the small details that makeup the incredible environment we are lucky enough to find ourselves in. Having said that, this afternoons walk was more about avoiding two bull buffalo we came across and learning the tactics of how to navigate our way around two rhino. It’s hard with kids to make them realise the importance of staying still & quiet but our guides were phenomenal and commanded the upmost respect and attention from the children who obliged beautifully with their instructions. As if the guides couldn’t get any cooler, Frank then set them a challenge of seeing how far they could throw rocks off the escarpment edge. Milo declared that Frank had earned himself a place in the village cricket team when he saw the distance he could throw!
Channelling my inner Meryl Streep! The 30 minute bi-plane flight is a real once-in-a-lifetime experience (& has been a lifelong dream since watching Out of Africa aged 10) Robert Redford (aka Will Craig!) weaved us through steep valleys, over the dramatic escarpments of Il Ngwesi & Borana and flew us low over the Lewa plains with Mount Kenya providing the stunning backdrop. The plane at Lewa Wilderness is the only commercial bi-plane in East Africa so this is a real USP for the property.
The impact of Lewa Wilderness and The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy goes way beyond purely wildlife. The local school and orphanage are a short 15 mins drive away and guests are encouraged to visit if they wish. Lewa Wilderness and their guests have hugely supported both establishments in various ways both structurally by helping construct buildings, providing school meals for all kids and sponsoring individuals through secondary who could not afford to normally go. Taking kids into this kind of environment is always eye opening but also hugely positive…on both sides. The girls were fascinated by Ella’s long blonde hair and couldn’t stop stroking it! The boys were bemused by the funny shaped football we had taken them but soon embraced the concept once Milo showed them how to throw it. I’m not sure the teacher was thanking us when the entire school embraced the concept of tackling with real enthusiasm!
There is nothing quite like getting close to wild animals on horseback. This baby giraffe was only three days old and the zebra was less than a week old, and yet were completely comfortable with us getting very near them. With 40 horses to suit all levels Lewa Wilderness is perfect for those who want to try a riding safari - whether a total beginner like our kids or more advanced like me (though very rusty!). The horses are amazingly calm and placid and were very patient with our kids. Lewa Wilderness are also about to launch an incredible new three day riding safari so watch this space for more info!
Lewa is the perfect playground for both big & little kids. There is so much todo that I’d recommend staying at least four nights to give you maximum time to embrace the abundance of adventure! Being on safari is such a a natural learning journey however at Lewa Wilderness it’s also the small things that really make it the most perfect family spot: crabbing in the forest spring, playing footie with Zazu the Jack Russell, picking fresh produce from the farm, jumping in the heavenly pool & riding on top of the land cruiser. Africa is the most amazing place to raise children and at Lewa, our kids had a little taste of the freedom that comes with an African childhood.
I have been working with and the team at Naibor for nearly 16 years now. They were our very first client when we launched in 2006 & I have visited them many times since. Coming back with my family & experiencing it through the eyes of my kids was incredibly special. It really is a unique camp. The combination of the perfect location right in the heart of the Mara, the cool design and style of tents, incredible guiding and of course delicious food makes it an unbeatable option for the Mara. Minutes into our first game drive & we are treated to a very rare and special sighting of a tiny but beautifully formed Serval cat!
A good guide is critical on safari and Jackson was a master with our kids. As an ex primary school teacher he could explain the complexities of the animals in a simple but equally informative way. (I think every parent should have teacher training to gain this ability!) He was endlessly patient with the constant questions, embraced the kids’ silliness and was also an amazing photographer…kindly sending all his shots to us. To come on safari, have these incredible experiences and then have a personal photographer capture them is areal treat.
I’m always a little reticent about Masai village visits which can inevitably feel very touristy. However, fortunately our visit was far from this. The village Naibor takes their guests to visit is one that they have close ties with as many of their staff originate from it. We paid a donation of $30 pp which went straight to the (very impressive) village school. Yet again our rugby ball gift was source of much amusement and entertainment and made the whole experience feel more like a two way exchange than an observational experience for us. It’s amazing how a ball can always break down boundaries!
Cats galore! Over the three days we were at Naibor we were lucky enough to see all the big cats (& the beautiful little Serval cat!) The Mara is phenomenal for witnessing these graceful creatures. On our last game drive, we gave our guide Jackson, the challenge of finding the only cat we hadn’t yet seen…the elusive leopard. He more than delivered, finding the most beautiful mother and cub. As you can see by the last clip, our encounter was slightly more intimate than anticipated!
Ending our trip at Hemingways Watamu was the perfect decompression after the jam-packed safari. Hemingways has changed enormously since we were last here on a rugby tour 19 years but then so have we!! With three kids in tow now we were looking for somewhere that was big enough to have lots of space and activities for them to burn off their energy & to give us a few, rare minutes relaxing! Hemingways & Watamu is perfect for that. With 3 pools, a gym and activities on every day plus so much to do in the area we were all kept busy…did someone say ‘relax’?!!
Watamu is jam packed with lots of great places to eat and activities to do. I’d definitely suggest booking your hotel on a B&B rate only so that you have the flexibility of getting out & enjoying some of the very cool foodie establishments! Here are some of our top tips for a family stay in Watamu:
1. Paddle board snorkel – this was a lovely, motor-free way to enjoy the marine park. It’s about an hour paddle board to the snorkelling site which was teeming with fish.
2. Deep sea fishing – Hemingway’s has a long history of deep sea fishing & it is a must for anyone staying here. With kids you’ll only want to do the four hour trip and seasickness-tablets are highly recommended!
3. Wake boarding & donuting in the creek – the creek is the perfect place to learn to wake board as it’s so warm, flat and quiet. Plus, Tribe are incredibly patient teachers. We had a family hat trick with all of us getting up on the board!
4. Sundowners – this ultra-cool beach bar definitely has the best sundowner spot in Watamu overlooking the creek.
5. Eat crab samosas – again an incredible sundowner spot with the most delicious samosas. Also do a canoe trip where you can enjoy the sunset from the water.
6. Get your beaded gifts from Enoch– the amazing cobbler just outside the Hemingway’s gates. He can create bespoke belts, shoes, dog collars….all for a really good price!
7. Ride in a Tuk Tuk – these are everywhere around Watamu and are a great fun, cheap way of getting around….the kids loved them so much they want to save up to bring them to the streets ofBath. Our highlight was when one of our drivers apologised for the lack of music and then proceeded to serenade us with Tina Turner’s ‘Whats love got todo with it’ for the entire journey! Thank you Watamu for the perfect way to roundoff our trip.
Our kids may not have vocalised how stunning the scenery is or how dramatic the sunsets are but it’s all gone in! Ella couldn’t wait to tell her class how high the Masai can jump, Oscar was keen to share how the leopard walked within inches of him & Milo couldn’t wait to tell his mates about our crazy Tuk Tuk race!
I’m so glad I waited until they were old enough to appreciate it and fully ignite their love of Africa. Kenya….we’ll be back!