SANC­TU­ARY OLONANA

KENYA

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - HOTELS -

Ihad a sleep in Africa? When on sa­fari, ex­pect the noc­tur­nal sound­track to be loud and lively. The growl of lions, the bark of jack­als, the scur­ry­ing and rootling of scrub hares, hye­nas and bat-eared foxes. But then, at Sanc­tu­ary Olonana, set in bird­filled for­est above the Mara River near the gate­way to Kenya’s Ma­sai Mara wildlife con­ser­vancy, there’s the tremen­dous snuf­fle-snorts and tuba blasts of wal­low­ing hip­pos that, after lights-out, when the world is eerily still, are am­pli­fied to such a fre­quency you’d swear the portly crea­tures were splash­ing about in your en­suite’s tub.

The col­lec­tive noun for hip­pos is a bloat, which is just per­fect for the fan­ci­ful im­age of sev­eral tak­ing up res­i­dence in Olonana’s over-sized bath­rooms, fit­ted with three rain­shower heads lined in a row like a car­wash and with space for a skat­ing rink. This freshly re­fur­bished lodge re­opened in June as the shiny new gem in the crown of Sanc­tu­ary Re­treats, which op­er­ates camps and lodges in Zam­bia, Botswana, Tan­za­nia, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, and all with strong con­ser­va­tion cre­den­tials.

I first vis­ited Olonana more than a decade ago when the ac­com­mo­da­tion was in sim­ple tents, most staff ap­peared to be named Philip and a res­i­dent old warthog was known as Mower as his con­stant munch­ing kept the lawns trim. There was big Philip, small Philip and tent­man Philip, plus our over­land sa­fari driver and go-to guy Philip Koimere, now head of guide train­ing for Sanc­tu­ary Re­treats in Tan­za­nia. “Named for HRH Mis­ter Duke,” tent­man Philip con­fided when I queried the names.

Now Olonana is al­most un­recog­nis­able. The tents are gone, re­placed with se­ri­ously up­graded ac­com­mo­da­tion. Set along an un­du­lat­ing rise are a gar­den pool and 14 free­stand­ing suites of mud­brick and jagged stone with in­te­ri­ors that nod to an African con­text of earthy bush colours, tribal-pat­terned tex­tiles in dove grey and char­coal, art­work by lo­cal artists and pale tim­ber floors and sur­faces. A mas­sive four-poster is draped with swathes of net­ting; the en­suite is all mar­ble and slate and Hol­ly­wood light­ing. On a lower level of each suite, a half-moon con­ver­sa­tion pit mim­ics an en­cir­cling Ma­sai boma and there’s a river-fac­ing deck with am­ply cush­ioned and roofed daybed. The sense of space is gen­er­ous and full of light thanks to enor­mous win­dows and slid­ing glass doors. But when the sun goes down, an askari, or Ma­sai war­rior guide, will ap­pear armed with a spear to es­cort guests along those dark­ened, rustling path­ways.

The main lodge pav­il­ion is where meals are served and every­one gath­ers to sit in an arc of di­rec­tor’s chairs for evening drinks be­side a boma firepit. It has a dra­matic in­door-out­door feel. A Green­heart tree (War­bur­gia ugan­den­sis), known for its medic­i­nal prop­er­ties, juts through the cen­tre and the soft colour scheme is of sun-bleached blues and golds plus jolts of rusty or­ange in the oc­ca­sional sofa and cush­ions. There’s a li­brary room with a ter­rific as­sem­bly of books on east Africa, Ma­sai spears on the walls, gallery-wor­thy carv­ings, groovy clus­ters of fil­a­ment drop lights and myr­iad deck ar­eas that swoop and jut over the river.

Staff are given to out­bursts of song, es­pe­cially when a birth­day cake does the rounds and the kitchen crew ap­pear with wooden spoons to wave like ba­tons as they join a conga line. Din­ing by can­dle­light with matched wines and crisp white linen can be à deux or join fel­low guests to swap tales tall and small of wildlife sight­ings and mag­i­cal mo­ments in the bush. There’s no such thing as an un­event­ful day, or night, in the Ma­sai Mara. Su­san Kuro­sawa is travel ed­i­tor of The Aus­tralian.

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