NAKURU, Kenya, May 29 – “We are here, we are here!’’ my daughter screams in delight as she breaks into a jig and her younger brother joins in happily. I am not too sure whether, at 18 months, he really understands what the ‘hullabaloo’ is all about.
My daughter was reacting to the sight of streetlights that have flamingo-shaped bulbs that usher you into Lake Nakuru National Park. She has been waiting to view these birds from the moment she learnt we were going to make this ‘almost evasive trip’ to the Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge at Lake Nakuru. But thanks to tireless efforts by my very able contact at the Sarova Corporate office Joan Nthiga, the trip did finally come to pass.
The two-hour drive from Nairobi was interesting, smooth and relaxing especially with the recent completion of the Nairobi-Nakuru highway. Other than giving the town an almost ‘extreme make over’, this new road has made this town an almost instant hit with travellers – now tourism industry players are all praises for the headquarters of the Great Rift Valley.
From the moment her father finished with payment and clearance at the Lake Nakuru National Park gate, my seven-year-old bundle of energy was almost falling out of the car window in her efforts to spot this ornithological spectacle and her ‘are we there yet?’ questions that had persisted throughout the two hour ride were still being repeated. Interestingly her love for this bird can highly be attributed to the fact that it is pink and not anything more (something maybe only another seven-year-old girl could relate to).
I nostalgically recall that my last visit to this very park yielded the sighting of a leopard just by the gate, but this time round we seem not to be so lucky.
This however does not dim our anticipation and excitement at the prospects of spending a night at this birds, animals and plants haven.
The Lion Hill Lodge is nestled at the foot of the hill – probably where the facility derived its name? I further notice that the lodge is strategically built to allow visitors the best possible view of the lake.
The lodge entrance is donned with clean, simple and well manicured lawns which immediately give you a homely feel. At the reception, a cheerful, hospitable lady introduces herself as Esther. She offers some warm towels then takes us through an introductory tour of the lodge and its offerings.
Done with the check-in process, we are walked to our room. Spacious! It is particularly well designed to suit a family, with an impressive double bed right at the middle of the room and an alcove at the window at a corner next to the door that works both as a seat during the day and an extra single bed in the night.
We are right on time for lunch, which my daughter would almost want us to pass, because in the two minutes since we arrived she has already discovered the pool and all she wants to do is take a dip in it despite the chilly weather.
Purely for this reason, lunch is a rushed affair for my troupe, but my keen eye would not fail to notice two or three things. The Flamingo Restaurant is the hotel’s main eatery and is where all the meals are served. It has an impressive architecture where logs have been predominantly used especially on the ceiling and walls giving it a more ‘outdoor feel’. The restaurant further boasts large windows and a patio that allows you to eat while you observe the happenings at the lake, making it both practical and romantic.
The food is amazing and I get to discover a new kind of mashed food made from beans and sweet potatoes (muchienye) and some amazing grilled trout that tasted so good, because the chef has tried to maintain all its natural juices while giving it a nice tangy taste.
The girl has already dashed off to the pool to quench her never-ending urge, showing off her newly acquired diving skills to her father and brother despite a clear warning that ‘Diving is not allowed’.
After a while, it’s finally time for a drive to the flamingo haven. On our way from the pool, I sneak a peak at the Tulia Spa and boy! Doesn’t it look inviting?
After getting a few tips from the hotel attendant we begin our adventurous trip. The park doesn’t disappoint; buffaloes, waterbucks, dik diks, a variety of birds and the rare white rhinos.
Unfortunately, we neither get to see the lion nor leopard but I guess you get some, you lose others. But down by the lake shore, my daughter’s expression is transformed from a simple smile to shouts of joy and hearty giggles. Despite the gusty winds, we all pose for photographs with the beautiful flamingos.
Our journey then takes us up the magnificent Buffalo Hill, which offers a spectacular aerial view of the lake and park surroundings. The Kenya Wildlife Service, which manages the park, is setting up a picnic site here.
It’s getting late by the time we return to the game lodge, tired. Dinner is preceded by some entertainment from a local dance troupe at the now-full restaurant.
Most of the visitors, Sarova Lion Hill Lodge Manager Ken Korir informs, are here for the weekend. Apparently this has picked up thanks to the reconstructed Nairobi-Nakuru Highway.
Mr Korir invites us to the terrace at the Rift Valley bar, which offers a panoramic view of the lake. It’s the kind of place suitable for a snack, drink or even a sundowner.
According to the manager, occupancy has gone up by almost 20 percent with activity really picking up especially during the weekends.
“It used to take nearly four hours to drive here but now visitors take just about two hours, which makes it very easy for a family looking for an adventurous outing, either for the day or to stay the night,” Mr Korir points out.
He reveals that keeping up with the emerging Chinese market is the biggest challenge for him now. He however says efforts by the Sarova chain to better understand Chinese cuisine and lifestyle so as to tap into the market are underway.
Apart from the well-structured facilities, creative cuisine and beautiful settings, the staff are superbly friendly (something I used to take for granted until I ventured out of our country).
Other things you may need to know;
The place can be quite chilly at night so carry some extra warm clothing.
More than 500 species of birds call Lake Nakuru home.
Degradation at the Mau forest, coupled with environmental pollution is affecting the water levels at Lake Nakuru. If not checked, an entire generation will miss out on this beautiful lake and its pink inhabitants.
For more information on the Sarova Lion hill lodge visit www.sarovahotels.com/lionhill.