I had been looking forward to leading the Small World Marketing Fam Trip to Kenya and Zanzibar since preparations had started last January; however I can’t deny that I was more than a little apprehensive too; this was after all my first trip to Africa and however much faith I had in our clients all taking excellent care of the group, the fear of the unknown kept creeping in. Would transfers turn up? Would connections at places named simply ‘one tree hill’ actually connect? Add to that the fact that 2 weeks before our departure Kenya security concerns gained major coverage in the UK media and constant destination update emails from the FCO kept popping into my inbox I was not totally relaxed about my imminent adventure to say the least.
Luckily the faultless Kenya Airways night flight followed by our first smooth transfer immediately had me feeling better. We were greeted at Nairobi airport by the very efficient and effusive team from Youth Aviation who swiftly navigated us out of JKIA and over to Wilson airport in no time. On the runway we were led over to not one but 2 pristine helicopters complete with smiling pilots bearing goody bags, this was looking good. This is a great alternative way for those clients who want to fly straight out of JKIA and if the group is of up to 4 then it is not much more expensive than flying on a scheduled flight but a lot more exciting, especially if this is to be your first glimpse of rural Africa as it was for me.
Our flight took us over sprawling shanti towns and wealthier suburbs of Nairobi before the landscape below us opened up into the vast expanse of the Rift Valley. The further from Nairobi we ventured the tiny farms below us dissipated giving way to a vast undulating expanse of burnt umber dotted with shrubs and the occasional goat enclosure. It was just amazing to the uninitiated African traveler to look down on the little Masai small holdings and pinpoint the warriors standing out in their splendid scarlet robes like the pins on a google map.
Our trusty pilots were to transport us seamlessly to Mahali Mzuri in the Olore Motoragi Conservancy on the border of the Masai Mara ecosystem. As we turned a steep corner and soared down the valley our first dramatic sighing of our first destination was of space ship like saucers perched on the scarp face.
A row of uniquely designed spherical canvas and steel tents perched atop the valley, at once alien to their landscape but also strangely blended in with the natural environment. The distinctive 12 tented suites perch along the edge of the escarpment taking advantage of amazing views over the valley below.
As our helicopter touched down and we were advised to run diagonally from the blades whirring a little too close for comfort we were greeted by one after another scarlet bobbing Masai with outstretched hand and broad smile, “welcome to Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri” they chanted, as if we might not know who was behind this new and ambitious venture.
Champagne downed and head slightly buzzing, it was only 9.30am; each guest was guided to their own tented suite and gently reminded that lions do roam in the vicinity.
Each tent is named after a different Masai clan and comprises of a bedroom, which despite the large exterior was quite cozy inside and with a quirky contemporary feel. There were thoughtful touches throughout, like ready stamped postcards, homemade biscuits and a complimentary mini-bar which included more champagne, they definitely knew the way to this girl’s heart! Another nice touch was the Masai Spear outside the door which could be relocated to signal if one didn’t want to be disturbed. I was tempted to do just that on seeing the large inviting white bed but there was so much more to do before that became an option.
A quick introduction to managers (and brothers) Tarn and Liam whose passion for the conservation aspect of Mahali Mzuri was tangible – they camped on site for 5 years working with the local communities before the camp even opened!
The site was well laid out, spacious and organized with most of the action focusing on a large open central mess area which comprised of a dining tent and separate living room with (another) complimentary bar. The latter creating a homely and relaxed environment in which the operators could down their sorrows whilst watching the World Cup England game!
From here one could also wander down to the stunning infinity pool for a refreshing dip and further down to the spa treatment room on the valley floor.
We were soon invited to order a well-deserved late breakfast of whatever we would like, on or off menu. Apparently the chef had gone some distance to source the herbs for my omelette, which I did feel slightly guilty about!
That afternoon my inaugural game drive met every expectation I had dared to imagine. The SWM team had prepared me for the wonders in store but the reality completely blew all those out of the water. Within the next few hours we encountered elephant, zebra, giraffe, lion, leopard and migrating wildebeest. I’m not sure if the well experienced travelers in the group were more entertained by the game viewing or by witnessing my over-enthusiastic childlike excitement at my first safari experience.
Sundowners followed as the light gently faded over large gin and tonics and delicious mini chicken-pie bitings before returning to camp for dinner, oh no….more decisions on what to eat!
Saturday morning and another amazing game drive gave me the opportunity to tick off more first sightings on my game list. Hippo, hyena, gazelle, impala, topi….this was incredible.
The morning flew by and before we knew it we were back and looking forward to lunch. Lunch and indeed all meals at Mahali Mzuri were fresh and delicious with a definite nod to the chef’s Australian roots.
That second afternoon’s game drive took a circuitous route in order to take in viewings of nearby properties Mara Kempinski and Great Plains. The former was simply furnished in traditional style with 9 spacious tents, some well designed for families. A class below Mahali Mzuri but friendly and comfortable for families on more of a budget.
The latter, Great Plains, was up there with Mahali Mzuri at $1000 plus a night but its understated elegance and stunning location made it another fantastic option for those with healthy budgets and an eye for detail. Hosts Sean and Amy couldn’t have been more congenial or cool! Thoughtful touches included top end camera equipment and a lesson on how to use it, stunning black and white photography throughout betraying the owner’s National Geographic affiliation and brilliant activities for kids like bow and arrow making and camp fire building. A total of 6 beautifully decorated rooms with copper roll top baths and huge inviting white linen beds stand alone or a couple can be linked making them ideal for families or groups of friends.
Site visits over we wound our way back taking in more wonderful sightings of lion and leopard enjoying the last warm rays of the day.
Sadly the planned bush dinner had to be cancelled due to heavy rain but the team back at Mahali Mzuri made up for it with another delicious dinner followed by camp fire and enthusiastic Masai warrior dancing eagerly joined in their bouncing by several fam trip members – the prize for the highest jump was definitely claimed by Tom from Imagine Africa!
The drive from Mahali Mzuri to Naibor took us through fascinating scenery including the small but bustling town of Talek and then on to our first taste of the stunning Masai Mara reserve. Endless skies seemed to open up before us exposing scenes out of childhood picture books where zebra, giraffe and elephant meandered aimlessly together as far as the eye could see.
Tucked away amidst a dense grove of woodland on the banks of the hippo laden Talek River, Naibor then came into view. This was tented style camp at its best offering guests the most romantic of bush experiences. At once a mixture of colonial luxury and pioneering adventure; at Naibor we really felt we had arrived ‘in the bush’.
We were warmly greeted by staff and ushered to the most inviting of lunches set up under the shade of the trees overlooking a wide bend of the Talek River.
Lunch of delicious meats and salad led to over-indulgence and the need to spend a relaxed afternoon sprawled on the comfortable floor-cushions, rugs and sofas in the main mess area only interrupted by the resident pod of hippos splashing below us. However remote this camp may feel it still managed to have better Wi-Fi reception than our office in Wiltshire ensuring that the obligatory facebook updates can be made!
Chilling over, a late afternoon game drive gave us the chance to really appreciate Naibor’s location right in the heart of the action and we were all delighted to see lion, cheetah and leopard all within close vicinity to the camp. Our guides were always one step ahead of the other tourists in the reserve leading us away from the other vehicles where possible to give us a truly great game experience which was enhanced by their incredible knowledge of all we saw.
After sundowners we came back to enjoy a refreshing safari shower and quick lie-down on enormously comfy beds before coming down to the very relaxed mess area for pre-dinner drinks with Nigel our Kenyon born and bred host; a great character who happily regaled many safari stories to his entranced audience.
A truly scrumptious dinner of the tenderest steak was enjoyed at the long fig wood banquet table with copious good wine to accompany every course. After dinner, drinks and storytelling around the camp fire led well into the night!
After an early morning wake up call we ventured out on a morning game drive and to enjoy a picnic breakfast.
The previous night’s entertainment had rendered not all fam trip guests able to bounce out of bed for the 6am start but those of us who rather smugly did were treated to a meeting with the resident Notch pride of lions living close by. Lipstick was a personal favourite so named because of the black markings around his mouth.
Sadly our afternoon Youth Aviation helicopter transfer from nearby Ol Kiombo airstrip up to Enasoit in Laikipia had to abandoned due to bad weather in Nairobi but fortunately they efficiently adjusted plans and we were picked up by a Safarilink Caravan.
The 1 hour 20 minute flight took us over some of the most stunning countryside in Kenya. The views over herds of elephant, zebra and giraffe were truly unforgettable. The flight took us over the Rift Valley and up onto the Laikipia plateau before landing, somewhat bumpily, directly into the Enasoit airstrip.
Enasoit is a private wildlife reserve on the world-famous Laikipia plateau, at the foot of Mount Kenya and set within a natural wildlife corridor.
Our reception at Enasoit by our hosts Peter and Lulu was as warm as the hot sun beating down around us and we immediately knew we had arrived somewhere exceptional.
Taken straight to the central mess area for welcoming drinks each and every one of us was blown away by the classic elegance and homely nature of this property. For many years the private residence of a Norwegian family who still own and holiday at Enasoit, it truly is a beloved home from home. Most members of staff have been with the family for 10+ years and their passion and dedication to the family and their jobs is tangible, smiles are broad and nothing is too much trouble.
Sitting in front of the mess area spectacular scenes unfolded. Who would ever need television again when such incredible natural dramas unfold in your own front garden. Like scenes from the making of ‘The Lion King’, elephant, zebra, giraffe and secondary actors emerge from stage left and right as if beckoned by some invisible director.
The décor too portrays the owner’s Scandinavian roots with lovely colonial antiques, stunning textiles, furs, family photos and rainbow bunches of locally grown roses adorning every surface. It feels as if you have stumbled on a royal hunting lodge from a bygone era.
Small and perfectly formed Enasoit Camp accommodates up to 12 adults in 6 double / twin en-suite tented cottages each situated within its own grounds spreading out from the central mess tent. There are then another two additional rooms near the pool which can accommodate four additional people.
On inspecting our individual rooms we found that each is cleverly designed using canvas and natural materials, with wooden floors, a fireplace and a private veranda with a comfortable seating area for morning tea and remarkable game viewing.
It was the end to a most perfect day’s safari when after a most charming home cooked dinner you are led back to your cottage to be greeted by a roaring fire and most comfortable of beds complete with fur encased hot water bottle. It did not take long to be lulled to sleep by the soft padding and occasional snuffle of lions on guard right outside the tent.
The next morning having each enjoyed tea or coffee on our individual verandahs overlooking the already teaming waterhole we meandered over to the mess area to be greated by no less than Aargi the orphaned cheetah….
…Mabel the resident ostrich….
….and Ziggy the bad tempered zebra. All of whom are a much loved part of the Enasoit family!
Introductions over we set off with Peter to enjoy a fantastic morning’s walking safari into the foothills of Mount Kenya. Peter timed our excursion perfectly with welcome rests combined with descriptions of the fascinating flora and fauna around us.
The view back over Enasoit from the top of our first mountain was reward enough for our exertion but then it got even better when combined with viewings of elephants and their calves on our more gentle descent down the far side.
Our activities didn’t end there. On our return having showered (under the biggest and most powerful showerheads we encountered on our travels) we then divided into 2 parties, some deciding to unwind with a fabulous massage looking out over the waterhole…
…and others plumping for a leisurely horse ride to the pool house where we all convened for lunch.
A 5 minute drive, 20 minute horse ride or 30 minute stroll from the main camp, the pool house is nestled amongst verdant gardens which a myriad of birds have made their home. Making a fantastic contrast to the main camp, the pool house provides 2 additional cottages and a main camp area located around a refreshing pool and deck complete with resident warthogs.
This would provide an excellent add-on to the central safari experience, a secluded base for honeymooners or even a get-away for older children. Having enjoyed lunch in the main pool house we then spent a leisurely afternoon by the pool enjoying the sights and sounds of this Eden-like retreat.
Peter pulled out all the stops for our second evening with a night game drive. For the first time on our entire fam trip 7 of us sat in complete silence for well over an hour whilst we enjoyed the night sky and sounds of the wild whilst awaiting the pièce de résistance, a sighting of lions in their nocturnal environment, playing, hunting and eating jaw-dropingly close to our own open-sided game vehicle.
After a final delicious breakfast of home-made granola, local honey and yogurt we were all very saddened to say goodbye to Enasoit and our hosts. This unpretentious camp had really been taken to all of our hearts.
The drive to Nanyuki gave another opportunity for sight-seeing before meeting our Safarilink flight to Nairobi from the provincial airport. This prompt and comfortable flight delivered us safely to Nairobi where we were transferred to the newly opened Hemingways Nairobi Hotel for lunch.
Hemingways Nairobi, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is an elegant new boutique hotel situated in Nairobi’s Karen residential area with magnificent views of the nearby Ngong Hills. This impressive colonial style hotel was well designed and would make an excellent stop-over in Nairobi or a destination in its own right. It comes as a welcome haven from the usual hustle and bustle of life in Nairobi.
Our hosts, Managers Alastair and Simon, could not do enough for us and after an enjoyable tour of some very inviting looking suites we enjoyed a very spoiling lunch on the balcony before being whisked away to Nairobi airport via the National Park. Hosted by Hemingways in their very comfortable game vehicle this was definitely a very pleasant detour to beat the traffic and not only that it gave us our only rhino sighting which meant we had seen the ‘BIG 5’ whilst in Kenya.
A night flight to Zanzibar courtesy of Precision Air and we were happy to be picked up in large luxury vehicles for the final hour transfer across the island to Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa.
Awaking at Zanzibar White Sand the room was bathed in white light and I remembered that we were now on our island paradise for the last few days of the fam trip.
Zanzibar White Sand is the brain child of Polish business man Andre Niznik. He is a kite surfing fanatic and fell in love with Zanzibar and Paje Beach whilst on holiday with his family. ZWS is a real family project and fortunately for him they are all highly talented! Natalia oversees the Marketing and reservations, his son has set up all the wifi and computer system (there is wifi in every villa) and his partner has done a fantastic job with all the interior decorating.
My stunning 2 story villa was one of 11 unique villas designed by renowned architect Neil Rocher. Five 1-bedroom villas, five 2-bedroom villas and one 3-bedroom villa spread over 4 hectares of tropical garden which when fully grown will provide complete verdant seclusion.
The luxury villas each have two units connected by an exotic rainbow bougainvillea strewn garden with a terrace, private swimming-pool and outdoor bathtub. In each distinctive villa one unit is composed of the white airy bedroom, bathroom and walk-in closet while the other includes the kitchen, dining room and lounge.
Following a substantial breakfast of tropical fruit, pancakes and then for some full English breakfast we were given the morning to explore our stunning surroundings and unwind with a fabulous massage in the hotel’s luxurious spa.
Nestled among its own lush gardens two thai style massage rooms, a steam room, sauna and tropical seating area provide ultimate pampering and relaxation by a soothing waterfall.
In the afternoon we enjoyed a tour of the newly built property taking in a few of the behind-the-scenes delights including the carpentry workshop where the buildings timber frames and amazing curved timber roves were created by especially trained locals as well as much of the furniture which going forward will be available for purchase and shipment abroad and the well-tended vegetables gardens teaming with pumpkins, sweetcorn, tomatoes, courgettes and every imaginable herb.
That evening the manager had decided to really spoil us with a trip out to a secluded beach where best to watch the the truly dramatic sunset whilst enjoying delicious sundowners as well as the most beautifully presented selection of canapes.
Dinner followed back at the property where the roof of the main building, and the best viewing spot for miles around, had been decked out for a sumptuous degustation 6 course dinner party allowing the chefs to show off their most delicious creations. A truly fitting last evening in paradise.
The final day in Zanzibar was a memorable one with all 7 of us trying our hand at kite surfing with differing degrees of success. It hardly mattered, the view was not too bad whilst sat awaiting our next attempt.
With its steady year-round winds, flat shallow waters protected by coral reef and paradise sandy beach, Paje beach is well-known as one of the top kitesurfing destinations in the world and with the hotel owners also owning the neighboring high-end Kitesurf club: Zanzibar Kite Paradise it seemed rude not to give it a go before sadly packing for the overnight journey home.
And as I sat on the final Kenya Airways overnight flight home, before falling contentedly to sleep, I was able to reflect on what a truly fantastic and seamless adventure it had been. Even if largely unbeknownst to us the global media had been having a field-day with the Lamu bombings which coincided with our time away, we had felt safe and cocooned in each and every fabulous property that had become our home away from home. Flights ran on time, connections were not only met but positively added to the experience (I got to see the real Africa), hosts and staff alike were some of the warmest people I have ever met and most of all I got to see scenery and skies I will never forget and the full array of African wildlife in all its spectacular, breath-taking majesty. I would return in a heart beat!
And don’t just take my word for it, I could be biased…..
Operator comments on Mahali Mzuri:
“Loved the location of the lodge. Beautiful views. Loved the quirky design of the tents and communal areas. Pool was a great addition as not too many lodges in the Mara offer a pool.” – Claire Picknell, Mahlatini Luxury Travel
“Very luxurious – almost didn’t feel like there should be that much luxury considering we were on safari!! Would suit certain clients very well. Beautiful surroundings.” – Lily Read, Quintessentially Travel
Operator comments on Naibor:
“My sort of camp! Really love it” – Tom Blakey, Imagine Africa
“The game drives were great and the cars were great. Relaxing at the lodge between drives would be perfect as you have so much on your doorstep. The location right on the river is amazing and you could just spend your time there with the hippos and elephants that come to the water.” – Claire Picknell, Mahlatini Luxury Travel
Operator comments on Enasoit:
“Walking, horse riding, pool fun, night game drives + lion stalking. I haven’t had a better two days at a lodge in Africa.” – Ben Nelson, Turquoise Holidays
“Has to be in my top 5 properties in East Africa. Faultless” – Ben Oxley-Brown, Steppes Travel
Operator comments on Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa:
“Love what they have done here. The site is unbeatable, prime location on the beach. Love the beach villas and how they open up onto the beach – very cool! The lodge fits in perfectly – the barefoot, not over the top luxury combined with its location is perfect. This property is right up my street.”- Ben Nelson, Turquoise Holidays
Behind the scenes there is an amazing set up with the vegy garden and workshop – I can see how much effort is going into this place.” – Jamie Taylor, Africa and Beyond