Inside the vast Aberdare National Park in Nyeri, resting on wooden poles is a lodge that entered the history books after Queen Elizabeth II, then a princess, visited Kenya on the night of February 6, 1952.
Overlooking a water hole, Treetops Lodge, which was literally built on top of trees, put Nyeri on the world map following the death of King George VI in 1952, which saw his daughter, then visiting Kenya, become queen.
To preserve the rich history of the hotel, which is three-and-a-half kilometres off the Nyeri-Nyahururu highway, Aberdare Safari Hotels have refurbished but maintained its original design.
Built of wood, the hotel is suspended on wooden posts. It has four stories and a rooftop viewpoint.
Inside the polished structures of the hotel, relics of the royal visit remain intact. Letters and prominent images of the then young princess adorn the walls, alongside those of her husband, Prince Philip.
Her room, known as the Princess’ Suite, stands out from the rest of the double suites available.
“It is usually available upon request, but the rates are slightly higher compared with the other suites since it contains features that are not offered in other rooms,” explained Mr Stephen Kabatha, a naturalist at the hotel.
The hotel was built in 1932 by Major Sherbrooke Walker and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Mary Feilding, who owned the Outspan Hotel during their stay in the country to escape the war in Ethiopia.
At first, the hotel accommodated only two people, a guest and a guard; but with time rising demand for accommodation forced Walker to increase the number of rooms from two to 36.
During the peak touring season, the hotel accommodates between 70 and 77 guests, with a room going for Sh16,000 per night. But those who want to experience a night in the Princess’ Suite pay up to Sh18,000.
According to Mr Kabatha, the decision to build the treehouse hotel was informed by the dangers the presence of wild animals posed to the workers, leading to increased cost of labour.
“They had to build it atop to ensure the safety of the guests and the workers since it was constructed beside animal trails that lead to the waterhole and natural salt licks,” he said.
After the princess’ visit, there was the Mau Mau uprising, which saw most of the freedom fighters, led by Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, seek refuge in the Aberdare Forest.
The colonial government declared the region off limits to Africans, and an order to shoot them on sight was issued.
To protest the colonial rule, the Mau Mau burnt down Treetops Hotel. But in 1957, a new lodge was built opposite the spot where the original one stood.
Mr Jim Corbett, a hunter and author, immortalised the princess’ visit and coined the famous saying on the visitors’ log book: “For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down the tree the next day a queen. God bless her.”
He had accompanied her and Prince Philip during their stay at the lodge. Princess Elizabeth became queen when she was 25 years old.
The game-viewing lodge has observation lounges and a ground-level photography hat guests use to observe the wild animals as they troop to the waterholes and salt licks.