By Sadie Whitelocks, Avid-adventurer – 26 countries in 12 months, two polar regions, one mountain, hand luggage only.
Tuesday 20 Mar 2018 10:00 am
‘That one’s the best kisser,’ someone said, pointing at a smaller giraffe to my right-hand side.
Yes, this was the surreal scene at the exclusive Giraffe Manor in Kenya before dinner time, a very hands-on petting session with a pack of long-necked beauties in the lodge’s serene front garden.
In a bid to see a unique side of safari, I’d booked a trip via The Luxury Safari Company and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
From getting unique encounters with giraffes to staying at a tucked-away lodge with an abundance of wildlife to myself, and camel riding through the sun-drenched savannah, here’s a low-down of my whirlwind top-notch trip through Africa.
Giraffe Manor: kisses from long-necked beauties
A short drive from Nairobi airport will lead you to the luxury of Giraffe Manor, constructed in 1932.
It reminded me of something out of an Agatha Christie novel, with the grey stone building based on a Scottish hunting lodge.
Inside the property, the smell of logs burning and polished dark wood gave a comforting feel.
I was staying in a room named Helen’ which was on the first floor with two twin beds and a large silver bowl of pellets to feed one of the giraffes, which would apparently pop its head through the window in the morning.
The inn is home to a friendly herd of Rothschild’s giraffes, characterised by their white lower legs and distinctive patchwork coats.
It’s worth popping to the visitor centre, a short walk through the hotel garden, during your stay. There you can learn more about the giraffes and get an opportunity to feed them from an elevated viewing platform.
Back at the hotel, there’s a feeding session before dinner in the garden. It felt pretty wacky drinking gin and tonics while kissing giraffes.
To get them to touch your lips, you merely pop a food pellet in your mouth and they swiftly nip it away.
As promised, in the morning I did get a wake-up call from one of the giraffes and its long blue tongue came though my window on the hunt for food.
At breakfast, the close-up encounters continued and the creatures cheekily craned their necks into the dining room to get a little food for their bellies.
Eating and drinking on safari:
The food at all three lodges was on point, with options for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans.
One of my most memorable meals was a cut of red snapper at Loisaba, with the fish rich in flavour yet still light.
Over at Solio, the kitchen used a range of fresh vegetables from the garden and local community to rustle up the most divine salads for lunch. The fruit at breakfast was also deliciously sweet.
Be warned: the homemade chilli sauce featuring scotch bonnets left to soak in vodka for a month guarantees to blow your socks off.
Each evening, either during a drive to spot wildlife or back at the lodges, I was offered a sundowner cocktail.
The traditional dawa cocktail at Solio – featuring a heady blend of vodka, honey and lime – was my favourite.
At Loisaba, the prickly pear margarita made from the cactus plant’s fruit was a definite novelty. Luckily, all prickles had been removed.
The strong Kenyan coffee is another winning remedy, especially with 6am wake-up calls for early morning game drives.
Solio Lodge: wildlife galore and top massages
A 40-minute flight from Nairobi domestic airport (Wilson) will get you to Nanyuki and from there it’s about an hour’s drive to the sublime Solio Lodge.
I was picked up from the airport by Solio’s star guide, Amos, who was voted one of the top guides in Kenya. It’s easy to see why. From the get-go, I was bowled over by his wealth of knowledge.
On my transfer through the conservancy grounds, which cover some 19,000 acres, we saw the most epic spread of wildlife.
A lioness with her three cubs was a definite highlight and we also caught two pairs of lions during their mating session.
Solio lodge boasts six spacious suites. Amos said my room was big enough to play basketball in and he was right.
There was a fireplace, an enormous bed, a living room and a spacious bathroom with a tub next to glass patio doors.
The best thing about Solio is the abundance of wildlife and it’s home to an impressive population of white and black rhino.
Everywhere I turned there was an animal within range, from rhinos to lions to giraffes and dozens of gazelle.
It is also a birder’s paradise, with the wet marshlands attracting a hoard of feathered friends.
Spotting a grey crowned crane and eagle owl were highlights.
Loisaba: Sleeping under the stars and camel rides
For a change of scenery, take a drive or a short flight to the 56,000-acre Loisaba conservancy, which boasts an epic sweep of more desert-like terrain.
There are 12 luxury tents perched on a hilltop, along with a restaurant, bar and stunning infinity pool area which look over the vast landscape.
But for something completely extraordinary head to the conservancy’s star beds.
This part of the property incorporates four charmingly whimsical bedrooms, decorated in a traditional way.
Think gnarled pieces of wood, thatched roofs, no windows and great views from the loo.
This smaller lodge is run by locals, who proudly wear traditional clothing of their Samburu tribe, and there is a central dining area.
The most special thing about these rooms are the beds.
The mattresses are elevated on top of platforms decked out with old Land Rover wheels.
The wacky design means you can wheel the bed forward to an outside deck arching out of the room so you can look at the night sky, hence the name star beds.
I was left speechless gazing up at the Milky Way.
To add another unique element to your overnight stay, take a camel ride to your star bed, but just hope you don’t see any lions to spook them en route.
During my stay at Loisaba I saw a mesmerising mix of wildlife, from striped hyenas to kori bustards, but unfortunately didn’t get to see one of their resident leopards or cheetahs.
One reason to return.
How to get there:
The Luxury Safari Company makes tailor-made itineraries to meet client’s specifications. For more information, visit theluxurysafaricompany.com.
British Airways runs daily direct flights from London Heathrow to Nairobi with flatbeds available in business class on the late-night return leg.
The new Four Points by Sheraton is on the doorstep of Nairobi airport, with views overlooking the national park. It’s perfect for pre- and post-safari accommodation.
Main picture: Sadie Whitelocks