Perch at Sunbird Lodge

Posted On 24th March 2016

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

The fast pace of city life can be overwhelming at times. Unconsciously, this pace is replicated in most eating houses as one is almost literally rushed to give way to other paying patrons going with the constant glances from the waiters, followed by an eager clearing and wiping of the eating surfaces coupled with the dropping of other equally irritating 'will that be all' hints. It gets worse if your tab is below average if you know what I mean. Maybe I am to blame; I could be frequenting all the wrong places so it was with ease, in the company of the missus, on one lonely Sunday afternoon that I decided to try out an establishment, recommended by a friend, outside the bustle of the city.

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

As expected, the calm of the countryside started rubbing off on me almost immediately as we set out on Waiyaki Highway as the cold Kikuyu air filled my lungs. "There is something about the travelling that seems to float ones cares away, it could be the fact that you actually are leaving most of life's baggage behind" a thought that was quickly halted by a jostle made by deep tracks created by heavy trucks that dot the route. "Surely serikali should do something about the damage" my thoughts shifted.

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

 I have always used the speed-ridden main highway, but opted to take the Mai Mahiu route for a reason other than a slow drive. I'd always wanted to make a pit stop at the escarpment for a view of the Valley below but was always too much in hurry to. Stopping next to Mwangi's curio shop like a tour van laden with Korean tourists headed to the Mara, we took it all in. One of the best sights I will ever encounter. The recent rains had done well for the country below as the normally dry landscape had an enchanting lush green to it. I could not help but gleam with a little pride overhearing Mwangi give a quick history lesson to the chattering tourists all the while pitching a sale. "This road is actually the 'old' road, and was built by Italian prisoners of war...this giraffe carving goes for fifty dollars, yes it is the same Italians that built the little church you will see before you reach Mai-Mahiu town. The trucker town as usual was chocking in its trademark dust and thanks to the fine tarmac, Longonot crater was soon on our left. The journey to the Happy Valley or Naivasha as it is commonly known was uneventful with the monotonous savannah scenery being a constant feature, an anti-climax of sorts after the great escarpment view. Naivasha was rather quiet as we quickly passed through before joining the highway main high again.

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

Now North West of the capital, approximately one and a half hours later, having covered 127 kilometres tucked in the unspoilt plains of the Great Rift Valley is a gem worth exploring. Branching off the Nairobi – Nakuru highway, following a clearly visible signboard, the road closed to a small and exclusive lodge, The Sunbird Lodge located on the shores of the shallow Elementaita Lake which boasts being an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its abundant birdlife, the pink flamingo being an easy spot. The wetland is also included in the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance that seeks to identify and stem the progressive encroachment of wetlands worldwide.

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

Polite staff including manager Samson, who was expecting us, ushered us into the premises into an intricately decorated reception and lounge area. Eye-catching, most of the pieces that make up the decor especially the paintings and centre-pieces, draw their inspiration from traditional Africa. A clear sliding door that opens to a balcony, undoubtedly the lodge's signature, with a clear view the lake and the country beyond from a raised vantage point is where we chose to sit. The stunning view rivalling that of the escarpment with a little urge from a beverage of choice was the best remedy to a hectic lifestyle. The best part was that the courteous staff did not show up on the balcony unless when summoned. As you would imagine, it is not really alluring being interrupted by a rude waiter who insists on checking your bottle every five minutes to see if you are done when down on one knee proposing. That aside, if you are not too scared of serpents, you might be lucky to catch a glimpse of one, hinted Samson, from the safety of the terrace of course, before it slithers away into the cover of the brush.

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

Owned by Austrians Schabus Günter and Pircher Othmar, who have made Kenya their home for the last decade, the establishment open all year round, borrows its name from one of the 450 bird species that make a pit stop at the lake. The lodge that opened its doors three and a half years ago effortlessly blends in with its environs considering most of its structures are built from raw rugged stone and wood completed by makuti thatched roofs ensuring a natural experience.

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

For residents, Lunch and dinner is under the a la carte meal plan with a set menu that runs for ten days served either in the restaurant which seats approximately thirty people comfortably complete with two fire places to face off those cold evenings or at the outside on the balcony when the weather permits. The prices at the lodge are not too far up the roof contrary to expectations. For visitors, Samson recommends the roasted chicken breast on toast accompanied by a variety of salads which costs Sh580 that we savoured and or the grilled chicken burger served with French fries for Ksh. 600 whose generous portions I must say is good value for money even as he added that the vegetables used are all grown within the lodge. For dessert fresh oven baked apple strudel with vanilla ice cream and cream did the trick. Beers and a glass of wine average Sh200. With about fourty five staff members that breathe life to the lodge, warmth and security is guaranteed. For the bird watcher, this is no doubt a must visit. The lodge also encourages discovery of the surroundings by organising nature walks and excursions on request. I could not help notice how the lodge's location makes it ideal for private functions.

Photo Credit: Wilberforce Okwiri

Samson implores us not to miss the sunset. True to his word, it turns out to be breath-taking; leaving the senses in awe and thus making leaving the premises a chore. No need to worry, a well-stocked bar with promise of a bonfire in the evening ensures guests do not miss their favourite drinks as they indulge in a good time whilst discussing the adventures of the day our host led on. Later, a well-deserved rest in one of the fourteen cottages, all amply spaced with a view of the lake is what one looks forward to before waking up to a buffet breakfast with eggs beat from the lodge's resident chicken. We would have taken him up on the offer were it not for the nagging thought of our old life and commitments the following day being the start of the week. We will definitely be returning to ‘perch at Sunbird Lodge' especially after Samson intimates of plans of accommodating into the large compound, Impala and Thompsons Gazelle for the viewing pleasure of guests.

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