What’s the chance of staying another two nights?’ I heard one of the guests say. ‘We are due to go on to the Mara – but we like it here so much.’
I could well appreciate her feelings. We were at Elsa’s Kopje in Meru National Park and, of all the lodges in all the parks that we have visited over twenty plus years, I would rate this as the very best.
For us it was a weekend treat for our older son, just before he went back to his university in the UK. We had to splash out – Elsa’s Kopje is no way a cheap place – but it was well worth the splashing.
Meru is one of the less visited of our parks. And that, I guess, is one of its main attractions – you would be very unlucky to encounter a tourist minibus there. But the park is in so much better shape than when we went there twenty years ago; the tracks are now well-maintained and signposted; there are a few accommodation options, from a couple of luxury lodges to a public campsite; the scenery varies from the thorn-bushed plains to the wooded water courses with their stout baobabs and doum palms. The animals are plentiful, too – though you have to hunt for them more than in parks such as the Masai Mara, Amboseli or Samburu.
However, I will leave a fuller description of Meru Park till another time…. It is Elsa’s Kopje that I want to focus on.
The word ‘kopje’ in Dutch means a small head or little cup, and it was taken up in Afrikaans (and pronounced ‘copy’) as the name for a small hill or hillock – the domed outcrops of rock (‘inselbergs’ is the technical term) that you find especially in the Mara and across the open plains of the Serengeti. They are fascinating places, complete and self-sufficient systems – where snakes feed off the rock hyraxes and eagles feed off the snakes.
In Meru, Elsa’s Kopje is right in the centre of the park. It is named after the lioness that George and Joy Adamson rehabilitated to the wild, released in the park – and then made world famous through the book and film, ‘Born Free’. George’s first campsite was just below the kopje.
One of the most striking (or, actually, not striking) things about the Elsa’s Kopje is that the thatched cottages of the lodge merge so unobtrusively with the scatter of rocks. And from the cottages and the lounges the view is magnificent – over the open plains that stretch to the far horizons of the north and east.
There are nine cottages and a ‘private house’ with two ensuite bedrooms, a sitting room and a dining room. Each cottage is distinctively designed. From the outside they might look like the quaint houses of the Hobbits in ‘Lord of the Rings’, but inside they are the epitome of the luxury safari lodge.
The bed is a wide double; the washbasins in the bathroom are also double; there is a bidet alongside the loo; there is a bath as well as a shower. The furniture and the fittings are all quality. The attention to detail is remarkable: from the wind-up torches to the ceramic containers for soap, shampoo and conditioner. The bath in our cottage was outside and as if sculptured out of the rock. So you could soak yourself in the sunshine, as you listened to the sounds of the bush and watched the game down on the plain below.
From the home-made biscuits with the wake-up call tea, through the bacon and eggs after an early morning game drive, through the fresh salad and cheeses at lunchtime, to the rich desserts at dinner – the food was all superb.
Sam and Flick Taylor have only just taken over the management of the place, after a couple of years running another Cheli and Peacock camp in the Mara. With degrees between them in zoology, food science and marketing, they have impeccable academic qualifications for the job. But more important, they obviously have a deep feeling for the wild – and an easy way with people.
I talked earlier about splashing out… Well, Elsa’s Kopje has also a pool where you can do another kind of splashing out, across the lawn from the dining room and bar. Or you can laze in one of the deckchairs under a parasol. Like the kopje itself, the lodge is a self-contained system. And, like the lady I mentioned at the beginning, we didn’t find it an easy place to leave.