Along the Oloonjua Ridge, in the south of Nairobi National Park, is a small rusty sign in the shape of an eland. I’ve often past this sign and wondered where it led to. Last weekend, I finally found out. It leads to the Ololo Safari Lodge, on the bank of the Mbagathi River.
The river marks the southern boundary of the park, so to get to the lodge we walked across a short suspension bridge. But you can also approach the lodge from outside the park, down Magadi Road and past Kitengela Glass.
Ololo first opened in 2015, after it was converted from a house into a lodge by Australians, Joanna and Craig Chapman and their family. They did a fantastic job. A gravel path winds up the ridge from the river towards the mess area and bar. Out front tables and chairs are scattered across a well-manicured lawn, and beneath a grove of acacias. Potted succulents surround a swimming pool and wooden decking area with a sweeping view of the park. The lawn backs onto the main building, with a thatched roof either side of a central stone-clad tower.
Guests have a wide choice of rooms, spread out across the property. The original stables have been repurposed into seven cosy en-suite rooms, and the old hay shed has been converted into a three-bedroom cottage. Beside the stables is a row of tented cottages, each a blend of makuti thatch, stone and canvas. And in the main building are the tower suite and terrace suite – where we stayed. All of the rooms are spacious and elegant, with furniture crafted in Joanna’s own workshop. Our terrace suite was built within the original foundation of the house, with a large living area and fireplace, a marble bathroom with a roll-top bath and a private terrace spilling out into the garden.
Craig and Joanna are warm hosts, and so too are the rest of the staff. They’ve done well to maintain a family feel to the lodge. The Chapmans are from an agricultural background, and Ololo is set on a productive 20 acre working farm. The lodge’s restaurant – the ‘Kitchen at Ololo’ – is supplied daily with fresh produce from the shamba at the back of the property. Here they cultivate a vegetable garden and a mushroom house, rear free-range chickens, grow their own fodder and produce natural fertiliser through worm composting. Their new cow, Joyce (who recently gave birth to a calf they named Re-Joyce) is also part of a milk production plan. So Ololo have all the right ingredients to provide a real ‘paddock to plate’ experience for their guests.
We ate very well over the course of the weekend. Our lunch was served on the deck overlooking the park, in the company of a resident basking hyrax. My sweet and sour Yurinchini Japanese chicken was followed by a Persian orange and almond syrup dessert cake. Dinner was just as decadent, which we enjoyed under the thatch of the main restaurant. Lunch is available for visitors of the park, but tables have to reserved beforehand through firstname.lastname@example.org.
With its proximity to the city, and secluded bush setting, Ololo is also an ideal spot for a business retreat. The large, multi-purpose meeting room is as elegantly furnished as the rest of the lodge, and can be used after a gamedrive and lunch on the lawn.
If you approach Ololo from the park, the turnoff to the lodge is 1km east of junction marker 18B.
Whether it’s just for lunch, or for a relaxing weekend, a visit to Ololo is bound to enhance your experience of Nairobi’s unique national park.