Have you ever wanted to stay at a place that you’ve seen in pictures for the longest time and the excitement felt when it’s made possible. Well that’s how I felt when I was invited to stay at Elewana Elsa’s Kopje in Meru National Park. It’s one of the most well-known lodges in Kenya and is steeped in history.
There are two routes to Meru National Park, we soon found out, the quickest one goes through Isiolo and the other via Meru Town. We chose the latter route as it was more familiar.
The first thing that amazes us as we enter the park is the number of different species of birds that we spot as we make our way along the track. It’s our first time in Meru National park and it’s exciting to say the least. One hour later, we pull up to Elewana Elsa’s Kopje perched on the famous Mughwango Hill, where we are welcomed by the property manager George and Theresa Van Wyk and the curious hyraxes running around the property.
After a short briefing, we are escorted to our rooms along a path, which is reminiscent of a forest filled with bird song. We check in to our lovely cottage, a rustic tree house overlooking the lush green forest. Inside are two levels, the top room leads out to the balcony overlooking the lush Meru plains while the downstairs leads to an open plan bathroom with an equally stunning view.
THINGS TO KNOW
Elewana’s Elsa’s Kopje was built by Stefano Cheli and opened in 1999 by Dr Richard Leakey, and Virginia McKenna, the star of the 1960’s film “Born Free”, and the founder of the “Born Free” foundation. It sits on Mughwango Hill, above the site of George Adamson’s original camp where he raised and released or-phan lions. Each cottage is crafted around the rocks, with a large bedroom, open living room, balcony and spacious bathroom, each taking advantage of the breathtaking views around it. It was taken over by the Elewana Collection in 2015. The collection includes 15 properties spread throughout Kenya and Tanzania
Built to embrace nature; birds fly in and out of the rooms with ease. Each rooms is built differently to maximise the views of the Meru plains. Open verandahs in each room gives you an unrivalled experience whichever way you look.
A beautiful infinity pool overlooking the vast Meru plains gives one of the most stunning views of the sunrise each morning.
Stafano’s passion for environmental conservation led to the design of a lodge that was not only elegant but deliberately hard to see, it uses minimal power and received the first Eco-rating in Kenya in 2003.
The morning sunrise has me awake by 5:30 am. The golden hues and rays seeping through the silhouettes of the forest trees are a sight to behold. Between the edge of the plains is a strip of cloud on top, where the sun in its perfect glory lingers long enough to be appreciated and shortly after goes inside the clouds to be missed.
After a quick snack, we head out for our morning drive with Wilson, our guide for the day. We head out to the Rhino Sanctuary. The first thing to note in the park is the healthy green vegetation attributed to the recent rainfall. Long thickets of grass and bushes, a natural carpet on the ground, the Morning Glory flower in full bloom almost everywhere.
One of the other guides radios in saying they have spotted the Elsa pride of lions and their mother was also spotted with her newborn cubs and as we drive up to where they were spotted, we meet the moth-er and her three cubs. We stop and learn that the young cubs have never been seen before making this an even more special experience. The lioness notices us and quickly guides her cubs in the long grass and just like that, they disappear. We head on to meet with the other group on a game drive, where they have found George, the leader of Elsa pride feasting on a Waterbuck. George’s older cubs try to get a piece of the meat but he chases them away and they will have to wait until he is finished.
We head to the sanctuary, another section of the park which has been fenced off to keep the rhinos in a controlled area and keep other wildlife out. The park has about 70 white rhinos and 30 black rhinos and we are lucky to see a few of them.
The evening drive was a different experience, we spot a herd of over 100 elephants grazing, led by their Matriarch, a magnificent experience watching these gentle giants. We head to the other side of the park hoping to see leopards but we were out of luck, instead we find a pod of hippos enjoying a cooling bath after a warm day.
HISTORY OF THE PARK
A unique discovery about Meru National Park is Elsa, the lion that was domesticated by George and Joy Adamson. Elsa and her siblings were orphaned on 1 February 1956 after George Adamson was forced to kill their mother when she charged him, in defense of her three cubs. Together with his wife Joy, they adopted the lioness’s four-day-old cubs,. After sending the others to a zoo, Joy was determined to give Elsa a chance to live in the wild. Her efforts paid off, earning Elsa worldwide fame at the time when her early life’s story was published in the book Born Free. When Elsa was three years old, she brought three cubs of her own to show to the Adamsons, whom the Adamson named “Jespah” (male), “Gop (male), and “Little Elsa” (female).
The life of Elsa and her cubs is also covered in the book ‘Living Free’ by Helen and Kurt Wolff. In 1964, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna first travelled to Kenya to star in the classic wildlife film ‘Born Free’ – the inspiration behind the eventual formation of the foundation twenty years later. The foundation is a wild-life charity devoted to preserving our animal species across the globe and preventing extinction through careful and considered conservation and education.
The lodge saved the Meru National Park, which had suffered from little or no income from visitors. Be-fore the opening of Elsa’s Kopje and subsequent income from visitors, there was talk in the government of de-gazetting the park and turning the well-watered fertile land into rice plantations, because a huge part of the wildlife was wiped out by poachers and some wildlife had migrated to safer parks.
Our last sunrise is magical. It rises as quickly as it disappears. We have our breakfast on the pool deck overlooking the plains and afterwards, my friends hike up one of the rock hills next to camp. For adventure seekers, this is a 15-minute hike with stunning views. There’s also a world class spa at Elsa’s set on a cliff next to the pool. A morning back rub as you watch the sunrise and enjoy the chirping of birds offers the ultimate relaxation.
After a magical three day experience at the camp, we sadly bid goodbye to this haven in Meru and head back to the hustle of Nairobi.
NEED TO KNOW
- It’s a 7-8 hour drive to Elsa’s so plan to drive up early. Use the Isiolo route it will save you time and traffic as you enter Meru town. The final part of the route to Murera gate is terrible, too many potholes so driving slowly is highly advised. You can also save yourself time and fly directly to Meru instead.
- Elsa’s Kopje has 11 rooms and two multi-family units. It can house up to 26 people and rates vary during the different seasons in the year. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call +254 730 127 000 (Kenya) or +255 754 250 630 / +255 784 250 630 (Tanzania) to book.
- The park has a diverse habitat and wildlife. It has thirteen clear spring-fed rivers lined with palms and the riverine forest and is also home to the hippo population. This is lion and elephant country, but Meru also has many rare species including Caracal, Lesser Kudu, Aardwolf, and over 400 species of birds, Gravy Zebras, Genet Cats and Rhinos. Resident rates to the park are Ksh300 per day.
For every night a guest stays at Elewana, $1 is set aside for The Land & Life Foundation- Elewana’s charitable arm. The Foundation runs the Wildlife Warrior Program which is a scholarship program, helping sponsor the education of the children from the local community with a particular focus on environmental conservation. Guests can also carry books or toys to donate to the local schools. The program also enables the community youth to undergo training in hospitality and have an opportunity to work at the camp.
Elewana were amongst the first to stop using plastic water bottles and straws in all their properties, an initiative being taken to reduce the use of plastics as they wish to preserve the environment.
- Day and night Game Drives
- Day excursions to the Tana River
- Visit the Rhino Sanctuary
- Guided Walks
- River Fishing
- Swimming Pool
- Bush Breakfast and Sundowners
- Massage, Manicure and Pedicure
- Cultural Visits
* Disclaimer: Nomad was a guest of Elewana Elsa’s Kopje Meru and all opinions, photography, and words remain their own.
Reviewed by Brian Siambi on June 2018