The Kenyan coast is, for most Kenyans, the traditional holiday destination. Even with its unparalleled beauty, the shine of the Coast can lose its luster after one too many visits. But you can spice up your trip by taking the road less travelled. Rather than head straight for the ocean, you can consciously take a detour into interesting spaces like I did on a recent outing to region I thought I knew all about. My diversion was Taita Taveta County, famed for its elephants and gemstones. Should you be embarking on this excursion from the capital and short of time, I recommend taking the hour-long flight or boarding the Madaraka Express train that will take approximately four hours to Voi station.
Our trip down there was too ambitious given the current rains that put our all-wheel drive tour cruisers to the test due to the muddy conditions. After an exhilarating ‘rhino charge styled’ experience, however, we arrived at our Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary base in time for late lunch. The 28,000-acre private conservancy is located at the foot of the Taita Hills and lies adjacent to the Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. While the longer dry seasons guarantee animal sightings as they congregate at the watering holes, game is harder to come by during the rainy season. What many miss, however, is the magnified splendour of the landscape. I can only think of a few other places which dazzle green better than in Taita country after the rains. Originally owned by Hilton from 1948, the conservancy is currently managed by Sarova Group. For a wholesome experience thus, we were booked for a night in each of their two properties, Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges, renowned for their outstanding architecture.
The Taita Hills property is fashioned with decor of early day Kenyan lodgings. Vibrantly coloured ivy climbs the walls of the three-storey structures while the interiors have rough stone walls. The hotel is not separated by fences from the sanctuary and you are likely to see animals converging around the watering hole outside, close to the swimming pool. Elephants, buffaloes and gazelles are common and you might even see some of the 600 bird species that inhabit Tsavo West. The standard rooms, where we were spending the night, offer lovely views of the Taita Hills, blooming gardens and the watering hole. Some of the rooms have double beds while others have twin or three beds. There is a private verandah and the attached bathrooms come with basic toiletries. You can choose to have your meals in your room or in the expansive Chala Restaurant. We chose to eat in the restaurant and whether there or in the rooms, the chefs can prepare any cuisine, to suit your taste. We later moved to the well-stocked Lobby Bar for a good old tipple until late in the evening.
The following day at Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge was just as delightful. The entire lodge is housed in individual rondavel-style buildings raised on multiple sturdy pillars. These structures are arranged around a series of watering holes which are visited by the animals at all times, day and night. The lounge and bar have balconies, decks and wide windows all around for unobstructed animal viewing. You will have the wondrous experience of watching gazelles, waterbucks, impalas, zebras, elephants and many more.
The lodge has one restaurant and a bar -- elevated like the rest of the buildings -- where meals and drinks are served. We continued viewing wildlife as we sampled the wholesome dishes prepared with some herbs and vegetables from their own garden. The meals are served buffet style and are accompanied with fresh fruit, salads and desserts.
For a distinct safari dining experience on your wilderness vacation in Tsavo West Park, you can request for a private bush meal that will be prepared and served in the open savannah. You can also have dinner or enjoy a champagne sundowner atop a mountain range called Kudu Height. Our evening ended atop the Kudu Height drowning the night sounds with music as we sipped some wine and champagne.