Tara Elliot drives down to Chui Lodge in Naivasha, a slice of tranquility merging bush and lake to create a peaceful getaway from the bustle of Nairobi.
Set between Lake Naivasha and Lake Oloidien, Chui Lodge is a slice of tranquility merging bush and lake to create a peaceful getaway from the bustle of Nairobi or a gentle safari introduction for foreign visitors. The Zwager family, long-time owners of neighbouring Oserian flower farm, Ranch House Bistro and Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary, originally built Chui as guest accommodation for the flower farm, naming it after the area’s healthy leopard population.
June Zwager, wife of the late patriarch Hans, designed the lodge as a homage to indigenous Africa. Her passion and interest in African art and craftsmanship underpins every corner; walls curve and bend to create private dining nooks and comfy hideaways made cosy with fireplaces. June’s collection of West African artifacts are carefully placed on the dramatic sculpted central fireplace. The intricately carved wooden pillars, like every piece of furniture in the lodge, were designed by June and carved by a local carpenter from indigenous leleshwe wood. Even the upholstery is handmade on the premises, and this is why Chui is so at home with itself.
Today, under the management of June’s granddaughter and her husband, Suzanne and Geoff Mayes, Chui’s homely feel sets it apart from most bush lodges. It is only 90 minutes from Nairobi and we arrived to freshly squeezed watermelon juice, a eucalyptus-scented washcloth, check in formalities and a briefing from Chef Bernard on his planned evening meal, after which we were ushered to our cottage, Oloidien. A welcoming fire crackled in the grate and the king-sized, four poster bed enveloped with romantic netting impressed. Stepping into the bathroom we gasped over ingenious tree- branch framed windows painted by artist Mary Mazeras, and the enormous rose-petal strewn bath.
Revitalised, we popped across to the Ranch House Bistro which provided exactly what we needed – delicious fresh food under the trees with a view of Lake Oloidien. A weekend of relaxation had began.
Chui is not short of activities and we hopped on board a van for an afternoon game drive through Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary, home to endangered Grevy’s zebra. Revenue from Chui and its sister lodge, Kiangazi House, support the sanctuary which has an abundance of leopard, hyena, jackal, buffalo and plains game. Our afternoon of wildlife spotting which included both Maasai and Rothschild giraffe was crowned by sundowners on a hillside with an excellent view of the western wall of the Rift Valley. Here we were joined by other lodge guests and over bitings prepared on site coupled with chilled drinks in front of a blazing log fire, we learnt that the couple from Nairobi were enjoying their third visit to Chui. “We come here to get away from our children,” they explained. “It’s close enough to home to get back if needed, but we need the break and Chui is perfect.”
Our night drive back to the lodge was met with a roadblock of two heavily pregnant hyenas, and when we eventually got back, Chef Patrick was waiting with a beautifully presented four-course meal which we struggled to finish after the bitings we’d overindulged in.
The following morning our guide Bernard collected us for a lakeside breakfast, a rather magical experience. Tables were set up on the shores of Oloidien, coffee brewed in a French press and chilled bubbly popped as the chef whipped up pancakes and a full English breakfast while a crackling bonfire kept the early morning chill away. Tummies full, we sat back to watch the lively birdlife, listening to the cormorants and fish eagles throwing their melancholy call into the sky. Afterwards, all we could manage was a dip at the pool, keeping an eye on the game ambling to the waterhole before we embarked on an afternoon boat ride. This is great for bird photography – the skilled skipper got us close to pelicans, fish eagles, hippo and numerous other birds warbling and fishing away.
While a little disappointed that our bush dinner was obstructed by a downpour, the opportunity to snuggle in front of the fireplace with Geoff, Suzanne and a guest couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, swapping stories over bitings and glasses of red wine, suited us perfectly. Sadly, as with all getaways, you have to leave at some point, although generous bouquets of Oserian roses presented to guests on departure ease the leaving pangs. Just a little.