The majestic mansion standing on one of the hills in Gilgil is the only building on Mr Albert Njuguna’s expansive property that is easy to spot. However, it is his 11 guesthouses nestled in the swaying acacia scrubland in the heart of polo country that draw the eye.
Set in what remains of the White Highlands, with its stately mansions where the silence is broken by the whistling of the wind, the drone of a plane or the galloping of the horses, opulent colonial mansions are the norm in this area where individual landholders have personal airstrips. Therefore, the guesthouses that have now become Kika Lodge primarily made of canvas, embedded in the hills, buck the trend in that they are designed not just to blend in, but to take advantage of the wooded surroundings.
Both within and without, the rugged beauty of the hills, combined with the authenticity of an African bush, with its understory of shrubs, plants and grasses thriving in the Gilgil sun, make for a rare combination of nature and artistry. The resort looks like something out of a storybook, hidden away in the hills, away from prying eyes.
Started as a little gift to self, a vacation home in the hills, far from the madding crowd where Mr Njuguna and his family would come to relax from the often boring rigors of daily life now and again, the summit of a hill in the heart of Gilgil made the perfect location for building his dream home. Surrounded by the raw beauty, he marvelled at the stunning views by day and the distant lights by night.
“I usually take three days to decompress on a beach holiday, but here, perhaps because home is where the heart is, it takes me about three hours and I’m rejuvenated and so relaxed that I never want to leave. Everything here is so still and idyllic, it’s easy to forget that it’s less than two hours from Nairobi. I wondered why no one had yet discovered this place,” he says.
Rather than keep his paradise to himself, he invited his friends over, most of whom at first preferred to visit him when he was around, but there was little room in the main house. Once they visited, they found the experience worth repeating and wanted to stay whenever they wanted so, and it so it was that Mr Njuguna found himself the accidental lodge keeper with 11 guest houses on his hands.
MERGING OUT AND INDOORS
The cottages feature full-height glazing that allows spectacular views of the landscape as well as being entry points for natural light. Mr Njuguna,who couldn’t bring himself to tear down the bush or flatten the terrain, explains that the structures have a foundation of timber stilts that follow the grade of the land to let the land remain in its natural state.
“Each tent’s location is handpicked and specially designed to provide its own view of the surrounding bush, while offering complete privacy.
“Every room has expansive canvas walls that can be drawn back to bring the outside in, and the inside out to enrich one’s experience of the changing time and seasons by observing the light as it comes up on the hills and across the green valleys to the farmlands a little beyond,” he says.
Bird life abounds and game is to be seen all over the area. From the buffalos drinking at the River Gilgil that cuts across the property at the foot of hills to the impalas visiting their domestic cousins, goats, and sheep browsing and the scurrying animals, the view is a kaleidoscope of a natural world so alive. All sights and sounds can be enjoyed without leaving the bed in any of the cottages set on the ledges of the hill.
Beyond the bushland, the custom-crafted guesthouses spare no detail. Overlooking the hills is a simple green façade that belies an elegant simplicity that encourages a guest to sit back, relax and enjoy nature.
Today, many developers incorporate amenities and features pulled directly from luxury hotels and hospitality spaces into their projects. The widely-travelled Mr Njuguna’s guests are people accustomed to staying in ultra-luxe resorts and as his project took shape, he was keen to incorporate the same comforts.
“This is a place to admire nature’s beauty and immerse in the solitude of the serene grounds but that is no reason to skimp on comfort.” he says
Kika Lodge is open to the public. It is in Gilgil off te Nairobi-Nakuru Highway towards Nyahururu. The location is a dream vacation all year round due to its temperate weather. While you are there, you can take up hiking and cycling on the farm as you enjoy the lush landscape while getting a much-needed break.
There is also a 9-hole golf course.
With an airstrip and horse trails, you can arrive there anyway you please, by air or horseback.