Laikipia: Kenya’s high county

LIFESTYLE |

Section of Aberdare forest, Aberdare National Park. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Laikipia may be in the news for all the wrong reasons as bandits continue to make some parts of the county uninhabitable. But Laikipia is much more than smouldering bricks. It has been referred to as the “millionaire’s playground” for good reason.

Hemmed in between the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and the Rift Valley, Laikipia was the preferred home for white settlers who found the plains ideal for cattle rearing amidst the abundant wildlife. A sizeable number of their descendants still call Laikipia home. These usually hobnob in Nanyuki town, dressed in weathered khaki shorts and wide-brimmed hats, their shirts unevenly folded to the elbows.

While a casual observer may see the wide plains as nothing more than ‘empty’ tracts of land, Laikipia has come to represent the finest the country has to offer in terms of tourism. The establishment of private and community conservancies has created a niche product that combines low-impact but high yield forms of tourism. The vast and varied repertoire of wild beauty is only rivalled by the Masai Mara.

These conservancies have acted as magnets, attracting the high and mighty in the world of business, showbiz and sports. Most of them fly into the country on private jets or chartered flights before using choppers or small, fixed-wing aircraft to transfer them to their hideouts before sneaking out of the country as quietly as they came in.

The region is home to some of the most exclusive lodges in Kenya, a number of which compete with the best around the world. The exclusive nature and the outstanding quality of the lodges and camps in Laikipia offer the serene atmosphere needed by celebrities who are attracted by the extraordinary ecosystem with massive wildlife populations.

Laikipia has Sirai House, a lodge in Borana Conservancy owned by British billionaire Michael Spencer and that hosts a maximum of 12 guests in six suites.

Word has it that the personal character of the potential guest is much more important than the more than a million shillings needed to secure exclusive accommodation at the entire facility and a sampling of any of the 3,000 wine brands. There is Arijiju, also in Borana Conservancy, that seems to have been hewn out of rock as the owner (who prefers to remain anonymous) sought to create an architectural masterpiece in the wild.

He worked with architects Alex Michaelis from London and Nick Plewman of Johannesburg-based Plewman Architects for 10 years to actualise his dream of building one of the most beautiful homes in Africa.

He even got some inspiration from a pair of lizards sheltering from the tropical sun, the cue he needed to gauge the precise movement of the sun across the sky. For all that work, the close to a million shillings accommodation bill is not too much to ask.

What about Sirikoi Lodge, described as a “grand family home in the bush.” The lodge in the 62,000-acre Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was built by Willie and Sue Roberts, part of a family that has been in the local safari business for the last 50 years. Sirikoi was the third lodge Willie built, having done the first one at just 19 years and without the help of an architect! Sirikoi was voted as the best resort in the world during the 2019 Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards. 

And can we forget Laikipia’s romance chapter? It was in Laikipia, Rutundu Log Cabins, where Prince William unveiled the sapphire and diamond ring of his mother, Princess Diana on Mashujaa Day 2010. 

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