I really don’t know where to begin with writing about my 30th birthday. It was just one of the best couple of weeks of my life and I’m not sure how our holidays will be able to top it! We booked a trip to Kenya and Zanzibar with Turquoise Holidays (this is our fourth trip with them following the Maldives for our Honeymoon, St Lucia for Tim’s 30th and Jamaica for our anniversary, and they’re always fantastic!). And after plenty of planning, visas, jabs and tablets, we were ready and raring to go!
We flew with Qatar airways – our first experience of flying with them and we were very impressed – comfy seats, good entertainment selection and surprisingly good food! We flew from Heathrow to Qatar in the evening, had a quick change and then flew on to Nairobi, arriving in the morning. We were greeted right off the plane, our bags were whisked away and we were shown to our private plane which we would be taking to Chyulu Hills!
I don’t think either of us were expecting it to be quite so small, but what an experience!
Our pilot was good fun and after 40 minutes of cruising above Kenya, we descended down through the clouds into the wide open space of Chyulu Hills airstrip.
We were staying at Ol Donyo lodge and our guide Conay was ready and waiting for us in his safari jeep with warm coffee and sweet treats (I’m not 100% sure how his name was spelled, but that’s how it was pronounced!) We soon learned he would be our guide for our stay and he was available all day every day whenever we needed him (within reason), which was superb.
Upon arrival at Ol Donyo we were met by the team stood outside, who called out ‘Jambo!’ (‘hello’ in Swahili) as the car pulled up, with big smiles on their faces (and ours!) We couldn’t have felt more welcome, greeted with freshly made ice tea.
Our room (I say room, more like an individual lodge in itself) was incredible, with a huge bedroom and seating area overlooking the watering hole, an outdoor shower, vast bathroom with open plan shower and standing bath tub, plunge pool with loungers, and an outdoor bed on the roof to spend the night stargazing!
Ol Donyo is a Relais & Chateaux hotel which always means one thing in particular – excellent food – and one of our top priorities when booking any trip! And I can happily confirm that the food was superb. Lunches were buffets with a great selection of salads, meats and cheeses, and desserts served by the waiters. The word ‘buffet’ often fills me with dread but this was of a very high quality and with just a few of us staying in the hotel, it was a very civilised affair! I was also a big fan of the local ‘Tusker’ malt lager.
I wasn’t able to get any foodie photos from the evenings because it was incredibly dimly lit – pretty much just from the flicker of the fires lit around the lodge. The blogger inside of me was a little bit sad, but to be frank it was hard to care as you sat overlooking the plains over to Kilimanjaro next to the warmth of the campfire.
The team knew it was my birthday during our holiday (even though it was technically in the Zanzibar part of the trip!) and on our last night at dinner, the whole kitchen team emerged with a cake and candles, singing traditional Kenyan birthday songs!
Ol Donyo Lodge is part of the ‘Great Plains Conservation’ that has a number of camps across Botswana and Kenya. The people behind the business coined a new phrase – “Conservation Tourism”. They define this as the use of quality led tourism experiences that are environmentally sound, with the benefits going specifically into making the conservation of an area viable and sustainable. And you could certainly feel this at Ol Donyo – the hotel was working closely with the local Maasai community who inhabit the land surrounding the lodge. When we visited, the area was suffering from a severe lack of rain and when we came across a dead cow out on the plains belonging to the Maasai, you could feel the pain and concern from the hotel staff. On our night drive, we came across an abandoned calf who had got separated from the herd. We found out the next morning that Conay and Nadine set out at 10pm in the jeep, picked it up, and drove it to the farmer.
I’ll be doing a separate post about our safari experience, giving my own hints and tips for anyone planning on going one. But for a little glimpse at the best part of any safari (the animals!), here are some that we could see right from our lodge!
Our room at Ol Donyo was completely open, overlooking the plains. At night, heavy curtains were pulled across but I got the sense that this was more for blocking light rather than animals. The attitude at Ol Donyo is to embrace the fact that you might get some critters in your room, but nothing big. There are fences around the hotel to stop anything larger coming in and guards are always on patrol – we were accompanied to and from the restaurant to our room at night. It still took a bit of getting used to, knowing that we were sleeping with everything from lions to elephants outside!
You can find out more about Ol Donyo Lodge on the Great Plains Conservation website here. And keep an eye out for my upcoming safari posts!