Return to the Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort

‘There’s a hoopoe on the lawn,’ my wife said.

She had been doing her yoga exercises out on the grass, while I was having a much deserved lie-in. I thought that what she said was an ulterior transaction – that she was really meaning, ‘It’s time you got up!’

So I did. I went to the window. And there really was a hoopoe on the lawn: that orange-coloured bid with a curved beak and a crest that makes his head look like a claw hammer. And he was making that hammer work hard, digging for insects.

We were at the Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort. The previous evening we had been to a preview of the Art with Owls exhibition back down the Moi South Lake Road.

I wasn’t very positive about the booking of the Sopa Resort. I remember when it was the Safariland Lodge. It was owned by a mzungu family. I never met them, but I used to enjoy their place. It was much smaller. It had an excellent kitchen garden and orangery, which supplied the lodge with fresh vegetables and fruit.

I am going back to the mid-1980s, by the way. On one occasion we met with a friend who was teaching at the Adult Studies Centre in Kikuyu. It was late morning, and he said, ‘Let me take you to Lake Naivasha for lunch’. And he drove us to the Safariland Lodge. From Kikuyu it took us less than an hour.

You wouldn’t do that now, not like that, on the spur of the moment. With all the traffic, whether you take the high road or the low road, you would have to double the time we took that lunchtime in 1985. And the Moi South Lake Road is breaking up again in places.

But back to the Sopa Resort… My only other visit there was not long after it opened. It was for a conference, where I was very much involved, and where the feisty arguments we had were more memorable than the conference venue.

But on this occasion I had more time to properly and quietly appreciate the place. After breakfast we took a walk round the grounds. The kitchen garden has gone. But the setting is still magnificent. There are the majestic fever trees leading down to the lake shore, and there are also many other flowering trees and shrubs.

To stage left, the swimming pools and gym are beautifully set. From there and down to the lake, one of the smaller conference centres nestles among the trees, and it has plenty of places for al-fresco break-out discussions.

To stage right, the 84 cottages, in clusters of four, curve away at the edge of the lawns and backed by the trees that hide the plastic sheetings of any of the neighbouring commercial flower farms along parts of the lake shore. The cottages are shaped like ones I remember from the fairy story books I had as a child; they are roofed with thin, tarred tiles that are treated to look like the clinker roofs of the old European settler farms.

Inside, and whether on the ground or first floor, the bedrooms are quite spacious with a curved cream wall that has a touch of art deco style about it. The bathroom has the luxury of a proper bath as well as a shower head. Each has a balcony looking onto the broad lawn with its trees and birds – so many of them, and so many different species. The birds, I mean – cattle egrets, superb starlings, scimitar bills, fish eagles and, of course, hoopoes.

And there are animals, too. Water buffaloes graze on the lawns by day; hippos venture there by night. Because of them, you are warned to always ask for a security guard to escort you when walking outside after dark. When we left in the morning, six splendid colobus monkeys, with their flowing black and white coats, were taking drinks of water right at the main entrance.

But before we left we had enjoyed a very substantial buffet breakfast in the main dining room with its wooden and dramatic vaulted ceiling. The only criticism I can make is that the coffee was too stewed. But it was our fault, I guess, for doing yoga, lying in, and nearly being time-barred for breakfast.

Before calling in again to the Art with Owls exhibition at Sarah Higgins’ Owl Centre, we stopped at the next door Elmenteita Weavers, with their attractive display of cloths and carpets. We bought some glazed bowls at the Fired Earth Pottery, and we bought some home-made and chunky marmalade at the Farm Shop.

There’s a lot going on down the Moi South Lake Road these days. Perhaps too much going on! The lodges and camp sites are mushrooming between the flower farms. Is anyone doing any planning in these parts?

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation