Most people whizz past Thika on their way north, but it’s more than just a commercial centre.
Out of the town itself, this area famous for its pineapple plantations offers something for everyone, whether it’s a taxing hike or a weekend doing nothing much in a coffee plantation.
A few decades ago, Fourteen Falls must have been a magical place.
The falls themselves are really very beautiful, and in the dry season, it’s possible to pick out each of the separate waterfalls. But encroaching habitation has taken its toll, and the waters are now scummy and greenish-coloured, and the banks strewn with litter.
Nevertheless, it’s still a mesmerising spot. Guides offer boat rides, and for a small fee will plunge from the top of the falls into the pool below.
A few kilometres from the gate of Ol Donyo Sabuk national park is the McMillan House,
where William Northrup McMillan, an American philanthropist, and his wife, Lucie, hosted legendary house parties, entertaining the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
The exterior is well-preserved, but a farmers’ cooperative, which owns the house, has taken up part of it as an office. Plans to turn it into a museum have yet to come to fruition, but it’s relatively easy to get access.
The house is more or less stripped bare but take a look at the dungeon where the Duke of Aosta, commander of the Italian forces in East Africa, was interned (and died) during the Second World War.
Fourteen Falls Lodge
Worth popping in for a quick bite if you fancy nyama choma and a swim. This small hotel off the road on the way back to Thika also has quadbikes for rent at Ksh1,000 per hour.
There’s a good trail available, with several different laps to try. The bikes themselves are in need of a bit of maintenance, however – you might find yourself walking home.
Ol Donyo Sabuk
It’s one of Kenya’s smallest national parks, dominated by the densely-forested hill of the same name. It takes about three hours to get to the top on foot (or 40 minutes with a vehicle) with views on the way up of Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro on a clear day.
Near the top is the grave of Lord McMillan, whose wish was to be buried at the top of the hill. It was a wish unfulfilled as bearers were unable to lug his 158kg frame to the summit. Although no view from the top, there are nice shady spots for a picnic.
Former home of Beryl Markham, huntress and aviatrix, this 1930s colonial-era farmhouse lies amid a sprawling coffee plantation a short drive from Thika.
It’s a great place for families with a large living room and fireplace, and a playground, including a sunken trampoline, in the five-acre garden.
For those looking for a spot of exercise, there’s ample scope for tramping through the coffee. Sleeps 10. Rates start at Ksh17,500 for the whole house on a self-catering basis. www.manyikahouse.com
Blue Post Hotel
This historic hotel, built in 1908, occupies the plum spot in town opposite the Chania Falls. The falls may not be as grand as Fourteen Falls, but they’re certainly cleaner.
The garden is a pretty, shaded spot for lunch (buffet lunch is served daily) or afternoon tea if passing through. If making a stay of it, choose the rooms overlooking the falls.
The rooms are garishly decorated but clean and comfortable enough. Prices start at Ksh6,500 per room. www.blueposthotel.co.ke
Sabuk Guest House
This Kenya Wildlife Service-run guest house in Ol Donyo Sabuk park has weathered the years well. Formerly the warden’s house when it was part of Lord McMillan’s ranch, this is now an attractive, if slightly worn, bungalow with verandah and garden.
Early in the morning, it’s a good place for spotting the park’s buffalo herds. Sleeps 10. Ksh2,000 per person if five or fewer. Ksh20,000 for the whole house. www.kws.go.ke