‘In Maa it means a place of dark green trees. Ilkeek Orok’. James Pere manages Keekorok Lodge, in the southern Sekenani sector of the Masai Mara National Reserve. He was talking me through the rich history of the lodge, as we wandered across its lush grounds.
When it opened its doors in 1962, it was the first property in the reserve. Over the following decades, the lodge attracted royals and celebrities from across the globe, including Prince Charles and Carrie Fisher of Star Wars – whose photos hang in black and white on the walls of the Tembo Bar.
There are now 101 rooms, up from the original 25 in the sixties. The glass-fronted premium suites look out onto the main lawn, while the attractive sloping-roofed chalet rooms are arranged in a long arc in the back garden. Our wood-panelled standard room was also in the garden, with a view of the surrounding plains.
A distinctive feature of the lodge is the long elevated wooden walkway that leads to a wildlife viewing platform called Elephant Deck, and a stilted green hut known as the Hippo Bar. The latter is aptly named: the bar overlooks a waterhole crammed with dozens of wallowing and grunting hippos.
‘I always advise our guests to start their gamedrives on the walkway’, James said, as we watched the hippos jostle for space in the sludgy water. ‘Last year a leopard gave birth right under where we’re standing, and lions killed a buffalo by the waterhole’. The walkway rises above a seasonal stream, which should be in full flow with heavy rains forecast over the next few weeks.
Keekorok forms part of the Sun Africa Hotels collection, alongside Sovereign Suites on Limuru Road in Nairobi, Sun Africa Beach Resort in Mombasa, Lake Naivasha Country Club, Kiboko Luxury Camp and the Nyali Sun Africa Beach Hotel and Spa.
James credited Keekorok’s success over the last few years to its inclusion in the Sun Africa Hotels collection, which has helped to maintain high guest numbers in the low season. One of the main challenges facing the lodges and camps in the reserve is to sustain healthy occupancy rates outside of the migration season and, according to James, Sun Africa have managed to do that.
The lodge was certainly full last weekend, although it was to be expected over the Easter period. The Chui Restaurant was packed for lunch and dinner, where we enjoyed the usual buffet selection of curries, grilled meats, stir-fries, breads, salads and desserts.
Because Keekorok is in the heart of Sekenani section of the reserve, there were plenty of areas for us to explore on our gamedrives. The Sand River to the south of the lodge is particularly scenic, and so too is the Mara River to the west. We spent the majority of our time, though, navigating the network of tracks in the central plains, searching for the ‘Tano Bora’, or ‘Best Five’ – a famous coalition of five male cheetahs that is often seen in this part of the reserve. Despite being given detailed directions by the Keekorok guides to an area where they were last spotted, and even tailing an eight-vehicle convoy looking for the cheetahs, we had no luck.
But in typical fashion, we spotted a lone cheetah lying on a rocky outcrop just a few hundred yards from the lodge. We watched as she ignored the threatening squawks of two crowned cranes flying overhead. And when a herd of impalas wandered by, she stalked them in the long grass, until they caught wind of her ambush and snorted in alarm.
Few reserves can rival the Mara for its abundance of wildlife. And Keekorok provides an ideal base for exploring it. For more information and bookings, head to www.sunafricahotels.com, call 0703 048000, or pop into their office off School Lane in Westlands.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation