Last weekend I stumbled upon one of the best-kept secrets of Nakuru. Take a turn at Shell, off the A104 – Nairobi-Kisumu Highway at Kunste. Get onto the Nakuru-Nyahururu Road and drive on for seven kilometres looking out for a wooden sign inscribed ‘Maili Saba Camp’.
Unimpressive was the first thought that came to my mind, as I turned left into the gravel road. It led behind a typical village shopping centre as you would find in any rural part of Kenya. The road, as if to chastise my shallowness, opened up after two turns to beautiful rolling wheat farms and long grassy meadows with happy-looking cows. The motorway noise got fainter as I descended further into the Menengai Crater.
Picturesque views on either side demand your attention; I drove on mouth agape, dumbstruck by the beauty of it all. A crater and caldera are pretty much the same, apart from the fact that a crater erupted and a caldera, like Menengai, didn’t.
Craters also tend to have a lake in them while calderas, like Menengai, don’t. Everything about Maili Saba Camp is simple and straightforward. The pathways are decorated with the volcanic rock picked from the caldera, while the bathrooms are tiled and painted without much fuss and the gardens untended. It keeps the whole camp looking unpretentious, what you see is what you get.
And I have to agree that manicured lawns would have looked out of place. It has a maximum capacity of 39 rooms-sharing, which you can easily do because my banda, very thoughtfully, came with a children’s room with two beds and a cot.
From the stoop of my banda, I could see herdsmen in the caldera walking back their cattle, meandering neatly in single file through the greenery. Birds singing in the distance as the sun set magically in the horizon.
The more I sat there taking it all in, the slower my heartbeat got. Here and now, nothing mattered, but that view. It was as if I was getting a mental massage from Mother Nature herself, as a lone butterfly effortlessly fluttered among the long natural grasses.
The restaurant triples up as the bar and the lounge. Simple furniture draped in red Maasai shukas, and again, the same no-fuss red concrete walls. A bonfire kindles between the seats, as the hostesses warmly go about ensuring we felt right at home.
You don’t come here to be pampered in luxury, you can get that elsewhere. What you get here is simple serenity. Unpolished, as nature intended. It’s the only establishment in either direction and I find myself hoping it stays so forever.
The camp offers two options of excursions into the caldera. You can either opt for a six-hour hike to the peak of the Menengai or a short walk from the camp to a permanent spring at the bottom of the caldera. The long hike starts early morning and guests are dropped off at the foot of the summit, ascend to the peak and then down to the caves.
The short walk is relaxing and the guide engaged us expertly us on the fauna and flora as well as the history of the caldera. This is a bird lover’s paradise with over 20 species of bird found within and around the caldera. We managed to catch a glimpse of the White-headed Barbet, Augur Buzzard, Cordon Bleu Waxbill, the Helmeted Guinea fowl, a pair of Purple Grenadier, the Crested Francolin and Red-winged Starling, among many others.
There are also small rodents like rock hyrax and various snakes like spitting cobras, black mambas and pythons. Back at the camp, the swimming pool is a perfect place to while away the afternoon heat and relax after a long morning walk.
Grab a cool drink and laze in the secluded pool overlooking the caldera as the sun goes down. The evening ends with sundowners as the birds sing and dance in the distance. The feeling of being one with nature is intense. The Maili Saba Camp is a simple approach to serenity.
Nestled in the bosom of Mother Nature, you completely forget that you are barely a two-hour drive from Nairobi. It’s relatively affordable at Sh7,500 on full board for Kenyan residents. What you get is a perfect place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The camp will also arrange, upon request, a game drive into the Lake Nakuru National Park, which is only 10 minutes away. If motorsports are your preferred way to unwind, the Rift Valley Motor and Sports Club is but a few hundred metres ahead where you can set lap times at the go-kart track.