Hunters Lodge reloaded – a blast from the past

Many of Kenya’s, if not East Africa’s old hands, will remember those days, when driving from Nairobi to Mombasa, or vice versa, was an adventure of sorts.

Hunters Lodge reloaded – a blast from the past

Many of Kenya’s, if not East Africa’s old hands, will remember those days, when driving from Nairobi to Mombasa, or vice versa, was an adventure of sorts. Cars, not nearly as reliable back then as they are today, had oil checked and topped off before setting out from Nairobi, the cooling fluid in the radiator was filled to the brim, and the car fueled, and considering the cost of petrol it was always “full tank tafadhali.”

Along the road, several key landmarks allowed to assess how far one had traveled, starting from the “Small World Country Club”not too far from the branch-off where a road turned off the main highway towards Machakos – on weekends a rather notorious hangout with the rondavels regularly booked up, and not exactly by married couples.

The Sikh Temple in Makindu, built nearly 90 years ago in 1926, is another such landmark and many travelers, locals, and foreign visitors alike, stop to take pictures as was the little trading post of Sultan Hamud. Enroute to the half-way point is Kibwezi, where a Kamba woodcarver cooperative in those days offered authentic carvings of ebony wood, which to this day is a magnet for tourists to buy the often no longer that authentic ebony wood but rather imitations smartened up with black shoe polish.

The halfway point of the nearly 500-kilometer-long highway between Kenya’s two main cities, is Mtito Andei, in those days known for the hospitality of the Tsavo Inn and for being the access point to the main gate into Tsavo West and the Tsavo Safari Camp in Tsavo East, set up under the shade of huge trees along the river bank with the Yatta Plateau forming the backdrop and a splendid place for sundowners, especially when majestic Kilimanjaro was out in full few.

Further along the road came “Maneaters,” if memory serves me right, before hitting the town of Voi, home to one of the Commonwealth War Grave Memorials and access point to the Voi Safari Lodge in Tsavo East and also the location where one would turn off towards the Taveta border with Tanzania, in the process passing the Taita Hills Safari Lodge and their 28,000-acre private sanctuary, before other landmarks on that side of the country like lakes Jipe and Chala, or the famous Grogan’s Castle came within reach.

From Voi on to Mombasa then came only one further landmark point, Mackinnon Road railway station – the railroad for many stretches runns almost parallel to the highway – before reaching Miritini, Changamwe, and eventually hot and humid Mombasa itself.

At the main waypoints, one religiously stopped in those days, to top off fuel, again “fill her up,” check oil and cooling liquid, and have a quick soda or fresh juice, before venturing out on the road again.

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Topping off fuel was the optional part, but checking cooling liquids and oil was quintessential in those days to avoid overheating, the radiator blowing, and clouds of steam emerging from underneath the bonnet.

Those who shared these good ol’ days with me, will have noticed that one waypoint, however, was omitted, and indeed that is true. I am talking about Hunters Lodge at Kiboko, some 100 miles out of Nairobi or a third of the way enroute to Mombasa and in the other direction two-thirds of the way when heading to the capital.

Hunters Lodge, built way back in 1958, in those days of the mid-70s, while clearly through its heydays already, was a popular stop in particular for those coming from the coast and opting not to have an early lunch at the Tsavo Inn and rather have a late snack at Hunters Lodge. Ponds, fed by the Kiboko springs in the sprawling compound were then and still are today home to dozens of bird species and for those who ran precariously late, perhaps after a fan belt broke or the radiator needed to cool down before refilling it from a jerrycan brought along for that purpose, there were cottages where one could spend the night before heading into Nairobi at the crack of dawn the next day.

Hunters Lodge sadly fell into a state of disrepair for a long time, and as cars became more reliable and the highway was, several times in fact, repaved, those stopovers of the old days were suddenly no longer as relevant and necessary as they once were.

News that MADA Hotels had taken over Hunters Lodge and undertaken a major refurbishment of the main building which comprises 12 rooms, the restaurants, bar and public areas, was most welcome, therefore, prompting me to go down memory lane and write about this place, which I am sure for many of my readers in my age group will also bring fond memories of days long since gone. From information received it appears that in fact more rooms have been added, showing the intention of the owners to provide a venue within easy reach to the capital where small conferences and workshops can be held just off the main highway and set in 25 acres of wilderness close to the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo West national parks.

MADA Hotels also operates two smaller hotels in Nairobi, the Fig Tree Camp in the Masai Mara, two beach resorts near Kilifi, and a camp in Amboseli. The hotel group also owns and operates the Jinja Nile Resort in Uganda and a safari camp in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, presently the only two of their properties outside Kenya.

Hunters Lodge was only recently re-opened after a lengthy refurbishment and modernization program, and opportunity permitting, is perhaps a drive from Nairobi to Mombasa worth the consideration, to revisit the landmarks and little hotels along the route and provide some further insight of what things are like today compared to the “old days” I was privileged to experience in Kenya.

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