Out of Nairobi/Travel: 24 Hours in Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp and Ol Pejeta House in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Laikipia County
Located 227 Kilometers from Nairobi and 57 Kilometers from Serena Mountain Lodge, Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the home to two Serena Hotel properties, namely, Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp and Ol Pejeta House.
The two properties can be accessed by both air and road. By road, the drive will take you approximately three to four hours from Nairobi. Alternatively, if you are accessing the conservancy by air, it should take you less than one and half hours to be at either of the two Serena properties. The air route will first take you to Nanyuki airstrip ostensibly from Wilson airport where light aircraft carriers can be chartered. The flight from Wilson airport in Nairobi to Nanyuki airstrip is a 30-45 minutes flight, then you can have a transfer to the conservancy organised by either Serena Tented Camp or Serena Ol Pejeta House depending on your destination in advance. This is ideally what is recommended however you can also make your own transfer arrangements from the airstrip. The distance from the airstrip to the conservancy is roughly 15-17 kilometres.
The only point of concern to make at this time is that the stretch of road to the conservancy from the Naro Moru – Nanyuki main road is currently under renovation and as such it is advisable to have a car that can handle that stretch of road that is if you are driving yourself from Nairobi. Also, due to the road maintenance the stretch of road can be very dusty especially at this time of the year.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a private conservancy affiliated to the UK Charity, Flora and Fauna International, but managed and owned by a local subsidiary, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which is incorporated in Kenya.
The history of the conservancy is very rich and getting acquainted to the origins and getting to know some of the famous previous owners of the current conservancy/previous ranch was one of the highlights of the trip to both Serena Sweetwaters tented camp and Ol Pejeta House. As I later came to comprehend, the present day conservancy was a cattle ranching area which at one time was owned by Lord Dalamere. However, over the span of years, after independence, the land has changed ownership from Marcus Wickham Boynton to Adnan Khashoggi and then to Lonrho Africa (which at the time of ownership, Tiny Rowland was the head of the group and had the ears of African heads of state’s) to the present day owners, the Flora and Fauna International.
All previous owners of the present day Ol Pejeta Conservancy are interesting in their own right however it is Adnan Khashoggi who built the lavish Ol Pejeta House that is the most interesting of all the previous owners of Ol Pejeja Conservancy as we now know it. To fully understand the magnanimity of his impact in the place, a visit to the Ol Pejeta House is highly recommended. The only downturn to this is, there is no fully fledged museum of the history of the previous owners of the conservancy. However, if you interact with the staff of the Ol Pejeta House, esp. Zainabu you will get a firsthand account of the rich history of Ol Pejeta House.
Over the years, the 110,000 acres of prime land originally used as a ranch area has been turned into a conservancy esp. after the property was acquired by the present day owners, the Flora and Fauna International, who had a deep desire to conserve Flora and Fauna biodiversity of the area. This private conservancy, partly due to the efforts of the present day owners, now boasts one of the highest wildlife-to-area ratios. This wildlife-to-area ratio is far better than even any of the Kenyan national parks!
The conservancy plays host to all the members of the ‘Big Five’ (namely; elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard).
The conservancy is also synonymous with Rhino’s this is because they have been on the forefront of conserving both black and white rhino with the latter being an endangered species. The other sanctuary found in the facility is a chimpanzee sanctuary, which is the only chimpanzee sanctuary in Kenya that shelters a large numbers of the rare and endangered species. This sanctuary is run by Jane Gondall Foundation.
The conservancy boasts itself a role model for conservation, which it is.
Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp
The Sweetwaters Serena Tented Camp is a sheltered oasis, clustered around a water hole and set in the pristine calm of the private Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This tented camp offers a charming blend of under-canvas ambiance and superb Kenyan safari luxury.
Located on the plains of Mount Kenya, the camp features fifty six* luxury tents, each with its own private veranda overlooking the water hole. The central Rhino Restaurant is housed in the former manager’s house of this once colonial farm, and offers both regional and international cuisine. Also within the house is the Kashoggi Bar and lounge, which centers on a blazing log fire. The Waterhole Bar, built in the style of a game-viewing hide, overlooks the waterhole and offers unrivaled wildlife-watching.
* Serena hotel chain has recently put up sixteen new luxury tents in the area adjacent to the watering hole in what is now called the Morani wing, from an initial thirty nine tents, despite the downturn in tourism, to bring the total number of tents to fifty six tents.
Activities and Cultural Interaction
a) Luxury tented camp accommodation
The tented camp accommodation offers a unique experience from your normal accommodation that one is used at home. The tents are spacious and come with all the facilities that one has come to expect in a Serena Hotel.
Due to the extreme fluctuation in weather temperatures, during the day it can be very hot and at night very cold. The hotel provides hot water bottles to help you keep warm at night!
b) Colonial-styled lounge and bar | Water Hole
Unwind you day at the well-stocked Kashoggi Bar and lounge which has a vantage view to the water hole. As you quench your thirst, the animals as well will be coming to the water hole to quench their thirst and you will be able to have walk to the water hole, if you need to, for an up close with the animals that frequent the water hole during the day.
During our stay there, we witnessed elephants at night which came to drink water and graze near the tented camp. Also in the morning, we got to see this rhinoceros couple whom we were told had made the watering hole their spot. They sleep there every night.
Also, if you wake up early you can get to view the sunrise either from the verandah of your tent or near the watering hole.
c) Camel treks, guided nature walks and/or bird spotting
The Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp has extensive grounds in which one can indulge on a camel ride. This is ideal activity, especially if one is accompanied by their family, for the young ones and young at heart. The Camel treks usually go around the fenced Serena Sweetwaters property and during the camel ride, the guides get to share with you interesting tit-bits and facts.
If you are not a camel type of person, during designated times usually in the morning, there are guided nature walks around the facility. This way, you get to do your morning exercise while learning a thing or two.
Other activities one can indulge into while still at the Sweetwater Tented Camp is bird watching.
d) Other activities
At an extra cost one can undertake the following activities while at either Serena Tented Camp or at the Ol Pejeta House;
i) Day and night game drives daily
The Serena drivers who have a great understanding of the sanctuary will give you a two hours game drive. Due to the high wildlife to area ratio you are bound to see most of the big five in the span of the two hours game drive. However, if you want to increase your odds of viewing the lions, you can arrange for the lion tracking option (under this option, you pay an extra fee which goes towards the conservation efforts). This option is available between 0630-0930 Hrs and 1530-1830 Hrs.
ii) Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Rhino Sanctuary
During the day visit the Sweetwaters Chimpanzees sanctuary which is run by Jane Gondall Foundation. Learn about the foundations work and how they are going about saving Chimpanzees which come from Burundi.
The other sanctuary to visit obviously while at Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the Rhino Sanctuary. Get a chance to interact with Baraka, the blind Rhinoceros.
The Ol Pejeta House
A short drive from the Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp is the once grand ranch house of multi-millionaire Adnan Kashoggi, now the Ol Pejeta House, which is a facility run by Serena Hotels.
This imposing and magnificent house stands at the centre of the private Ol Pejeta Conservancy very near to Nanyuki. Set in extensive grounds, with glorious views of Mount Kenya, this opulent mansion features a series of reception rooms, including an elegant drawing room with baronial fireplace and a series of scenic verandas, which extend right around the house.
The Ol Pejeta house was a house built by the then owner, Saudi Arabian born and Western educated Adnan Kashoggi. The house was built in the late seventies/early eighties and it served as a vacation home to the then richest man in the world, who is reported, built the house for his wife. The house also served as a party central of sorts since Mr. Adnan was as Gatsby as it gets and it is reported that the high and mighty in the early eighties at some point in time, they might have visited the house for a little party in the ranch!
Mr. Adnan fell out with the powers be in the aftermath of the 82 coup and was unwelcome to the country thereafter. Lonrho Africa took over running Mr. Adnan’s ranch after he was kicked out of the country.
The current house does not have anything that would tell you of its unique historical past apart from the interior décor esp. in the living room and the exquisite paintings that hang on the walls, which show a widely travelled and cultured man, Mr. Kashoggi was. And perhaps all arm dealers are, as it is purported he was! There is nothing else that indicates or showcases of this treasure trove apart from the occasional staff that are well acquainted with the stories of the houses past.
Activities and Cultural Interaction
The Ol Pejeta offers almost similar activities and interactions as the Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp. However, the house is most ideal destination for small delegation that wishes to have their privacy from the high turnover Sweetwaters Camp. Also, weddings which could make use of the extensive Ol Pejeta House grounds and afterwards a honeymoon for the newlyweds!
1. Download Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp and Ol Pejeta House Fact Sheet (pdf) which is available on Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp website and Ol Pejeta House website
2. Download the Ol Pejeta map which can be accessed also from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy website.
3. Photographs by Niazaro Kala
Disclosure: This trip was facilitated by Serena Hotel (accommodation).
Entry filed under: review, Tembea Kenya Series, Travel. Tags: Adan Khashoggi, Fauna and Flora International, Jane Goodall, Maneno, Niazaro Kala, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Ol Pejeta House, Serena Hotels, Sweetwaters Serena Camp, Tented Camp Ol Pejeta.