Shimba Hills National Reserve hosts one of the largest coastal forests in East Africa, after Arabuko-Sokoke forest. It is located 33 Kilometers South of Mombasa. Shimba Hills Lodge seats in the middle of this dense forest, which is rich in flora, fauna and hosts the highest density of African elephants in the country.
Over the weekend, I went to the lodge seeking to bond with nature away from the chaotic city.
About three Kilometers from Kwale Town into the park you will see a signpost on the rights pointing towards the lodge. Follow the path for about kilometer to get to the gate manned by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The entry fee for residents is Ksh 350 and a similar amount for a vehicle with a capacity of at most six people. This gives you access to the park for twenty-four hours. The path is made of murram so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck.
Shimba Lodge is built in a valley about 2km from the KWS gate. The trees form a huge canopy above the narrow path to the lodge, with sunlight filtering through to the lush green vegetation below making it feel like you are completely cut off from the modern world.
For a couple of minutes, I thought I was lost as there was no sign of a lodge until the road ended up on a concrete paved parking the size of a basketball court. This is where it got even more confusing. The parking is right in the middle of a forest without any building in sight. The only sign of human intrusion being a signboard declaring that vehicles are parked at owners risk. The only car thieves I could think of are the baboons who were staring at me defiantly.
Upon looking closely through the trees you will see a winding footpath paved with flat quarry stones, wooden railings on the side and green lanterns hanging from the trees. Follow the footpath to get to the reception.
Shimba Hills Lodge was built three decades ago by a conservationist called John. It won multiple architectural design awards in mid-80’s. John is said to have built the lodge by only cutting down one tree. Everything else was blended seamlessly with nature.
The lodge which is mainly made of timber is situated in a valley, next to a large waterhole. The workers used to fill the pond with sugarcane to bait elephants who would come to drink water but due to accelerated human-elephant conflict, it is no longer done. The pond is now filled with fish and huge monitor lizards. If you are lucky you can spot a leopard drinking from it at night. During the day it is mostly monkeys who hang around it.
You won’t get to see the big five in Shimba Hills but it has lots of other things to offer. For starters, it has the last breeding herd of the magnificent Sable antelopes in Kenya. Other animals include warthogs, buffalos, waterbucks, hyenas and Maasai giraffes. There are over a hundred recorded species of birds in the reserve including red-necked-spur fowl, Zanzibar Red, and croaking Cisticola.
Other attractions around Shimba Hills include Shedrick Falls and Pengo Hill. A ranger takes hikers to the 25m falls over the escapement and scenic footpath twice daily-10am and 2pm-free of charge. Pengo Hill is about 450m high offering a beautiful view of the landscape, Mt Kilimanjaro on a good day, Tsavo plains and the coastal line to Chale Island.
I met Gabriele Kampenhuber, GM & co-owner Shimba Hills Lodge, who showed me around. She is not only beautiful but also easy going and deeply involved in the surrounding community development. To cap it all, Gabriele treats every client like a longtime friend. When I asked why she left her home and lucrative job in Austria for Kenya where she has lived for about eight years now, her response was unexpected.
“I fell in love with Kenya as I felt connected to my roots. Here I feel liberated from my previous life where your life is labeled and almost reduced to a price tag. You constantly have to define your worth by the value of your car, house, clothes and even shoes especially since I was working in the luxury goods industry. In this Lodge, I don’t need to spend 200 Euros on a single pair of shoes. Life has more meaning.”
The lodge boasts of a large dining that also doubles up as a conference facility. If you host a meeting in the lodge then you are bound to get the full attention of participants since there is very little poor network coverage hence they won’t be distracted by their smart gadgets. The lodge also has a fully stocked bar.
There are three main types of rooms. Triple rooms, Twin rooms aka tree house cabins and suites. The triple and twin rooms have shared bathrooms, a ceiling fan, and balcony facing the pond.
The suite has a living room filled with a couple of comfy couches, a king size bed, en-suite bathroom and a long private balcony overlooking the waterhole. In fact, all the rooms in the lodge face the waterhole. The suite is perfect for those who highly value their privacy.
There is a wooden walkway about 10 feet high running from the lodge to a new watering hole under construction. Once complete, guests would be able to watch elephants playing below. Gabrielle also plans to host a pageant competition using the walkway as the runway. I can’t wait to attend that.
Another interesting thing about the lodge is the murals painted on the walls depicting typical day activities in an African village. They include villagers hunting and festivals. The villagers have huge calf muscles and behinds. There are also cave paintings in each room, bulb holders made from tree bark in the washrooms and a collection of skulls and bones of various wild animals.
What I like most about Shimba Hills Lodge is the feeling tranquility, cool temperatures, and proximity to Diani, which has been voted Africa’s Best Beach Destination more than once. Therefore, you can go swimming on the sunny white sands beach and go back to the lodge for lunch.
Shimba Hills Lodge Contact (Phone +254 711 367 345, Email:[email protected])
Written By MarkMaish