MOUNT KENYA SAFARI CLUB
Wilson Airport is situated in the heart of the city and is the kick off point for all of the small internal flights around Kenya. From there it’s a short one-hour hop to Nanyuki and onto Fairmont’s Mount Kenya Safari Club for a part-golf, part-game experience. Situated in the foothills of the eponymous mountain, this historic gem was founded in 1959 as a private club and has included royalty, business magnates and movie legends among its membership. Winston Churchill, Conrad Hilton, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were all members.
Under the ownership of Hollywood heartthrob William Holden – famed for “Sunset Boulevard”, “Bridge Over the River Kwai” and of course our own “The World of Suzie Wong”–the palatial hunting lodge transitioned into a conservation reserve and animal orphanage.
An interesting quirk is that the Equator – or zero degrees latitude – runs right through the centre of the property. Guests in the aptly named “Equator Suite” wake up in the Northern Hemisphere and cross to the Southern Hemisphere to visit the bathroom!
Over the years, it was inevitable that some members decided to build themselves a golf course and result is the quirky and tricky 9-hole par three track in the hotel grounds. A small clubhouse was added, and although now largely unused, still has much of the old decorations inside. It is situated to the right of the first tee, and a perhaps somewhat bruised previous member had a fence erected, complete with engraved plaque, to stop slices shattering the peace of the “Members Bar”!
With internal OB’s, large trees that surely weren’t part of the original design and tricky greens, this is a lot of fun to play. Watch out for the sneaky OB on the 2nd and check out the bunker shaped like Africa on the downhill 4th. Playing the 7th also involves crossing the Equator, teeing off in the North to a green in the South. All good fun. The closing hole is a highlight, uphill over a pretty pond back towards the clubhouse. There is a large bunker right across the front of the green, so take an extra club and swing easy. Fairmont has stocked the club with brand-new TaylorMade clubs, and there is no shortage of caddies with character to make each round a blast. With each hole having two tees, a quick 18 is a breeze.
Out with the central property, much of the accommodation is in delightful cottages where, in a nod to the lovely cool evenings here, a log fire will be roaring when you return at night.
The hotel is spread over 100 acres of gardens and forests and borders a game reserve. Peacocks, Maribou storks and other large birds roam freely throughout the premises. In particular, the Wildlife Conservancy and Animal Orphanage is a must-see. When strolling amidst the animals, many uncaged, don’t miss the opportunity to meet and feed “Speedy Gonzales”, a giant tortoise which is more than 160 years old. With its own stables, the hotel also offers leisurely trips on horseback up towards Mount Kenya, or memorable (if nervously), through the local game reserve!
The nearby town of Nanyuki has been home to a British Army training camp for decades and has several lively nightlife venues. As one might expect, the Nanyuki Country Club features a perfectly respectable 9-hole course for its members and guests. The Fairmont can arrange tee times and supply clubs and transfers. With a distinctly old colonial air, this is exactly what one might expect. No airs or pretentious, just a spot to get a quick nine in after work with a lawn terrace being the perfect spot for a couple of “cleansing ales” after your round.
The local name for Mount Kenya is “Mawingo”, and when you find out it means “the clouds”, you realise why it’s rare to see the top of it! Patience was rewarded on the morning of our final day when the sharktooth-like peak was revealed, and it was worth the wait. The Mount Kenya Safari Club now has its own airstrip and with 5-minute “airport transfers” this is a fantastic facility, and we were soon off on the short flight to the Maasai Mara.