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Aberdare Country Club and The Ark Review: Sister Lodges That Offer Unique Leisure and Wildlife Viewing in Aberdare Park, Kenya

By Georja Umano

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Historic lodge Aberdare Country Club

The Aberdare Country Club started out as a property given to a lord by the King of England. Back in the 'twenties, it was built and nurtured by the lord and his family in a grand colonial style. Part of its beauty was its surroundings of huge acreage—hills, animals,  and the natural beauty that is the Aberdare forest and surrounding areas.

Idyllic grounds of the Aberdare Country Club

This part of Kenya is rich with lush jungly trees and vegation and animals that enjoy living there. Just 2 ½ hours from bustling, traffic-spewn Nairobi, the Aberdare is a glorious escape into rich nature.

Some bedrooms are in the lodge

“As will happen with rich lords who own many properties,” explained the charming story-teller-- of 25-year general manager, Phillip Nyagah, “what is now known as the Aberdare Country Club eventually got transferred to others and at one point became haven for cooperative of members.” And indeed, it had membership opportunities for the well-heeled who wanted a luxurious getaway.


Cottages on the hill of Aberdare Country Club

 The scope of the huge property grew and eventually incorporated a golf course, gym and spa, swimming pool, lush landscaping as one finds today.  This includes a 1,300 acre wildlife sanctuary teeming with Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, zebras, giraffes and the more reclusive leopards.

One of the resident peacock guests at Aberdare makes himself at home

In order to have a more intimate experience with nature, the club eventually also built The Ark, modeled on Noah’s Ark, only about 15 minutes away, right in the midst of the thick foliage of the Aberdare National Park.

Aberdare dinining room from original house

The Aberdare National Park is among the top beauties I have seen in Kenya: waterfalls, moorlands, the views of Mt. Kenya, and just the spectacular thick green foliage everywhere.


Deepak Kashyap, friendly and accommodating chef

Accommodations at the  Aberdare Country Club include cottages with fireplaces, along with a couple of very large suites.   The dining room is of the original domicile of the lord and his family, as are many other areas. Besides safari drives, golf, swimming and spa facilities, conference facilities and lounge bar, mountain climbing and horseback riding are also available. The safari game drives are wonderful and they are available both througout the sanctuary and in the Aberdare National Park.


Mary Juma, one of many attentive servers, shows me an arrowroot (a Kenyan staple)

The Ark was designed in the 1960s in such a way that every floor has lounges, patios and big viewing windows for wildlife.  All the bedrooms at the Ark are “cabin-style” as though on a ship, on different “decks” as well as sitting and viewing rooms and open verandas.


Outside bridge to the Ark: no one goes out after 6:15pm!

The Ark shares the same gourmet chef with the Aberdare Country Club. We experienced the stylings of Deepak Kashyap who introduced himself to us and was most eager to accommodate all dietary requirements. Imagine gluten free chapattis! 

The Ark sits in the middle of the jungle

There is a large staff in the formal dining rooms of both lodges who wear black and white uniforms with bow ties and are very accommodating in a somewhat formal style and yet very personable and sweet as we have found the majority of Kenyans to be.


Ark dining while viewing wildlife

A large watering hole was put in front of the viewing side, along with an area which would become known as a salt lick. Every day the staff puts out natural salts and nutritious additives the animals love all around the grounds.  A few floodlights shine down on the area.  And voila! Every night many wonderful creatures magically appear, usually with their companions and family members, to enjoy the salt and the water.


One of the viewing lounges at the Ark

The Ark has devised a unique system with an all-night game viewer on duty who will buzz the bedrooms: one buzz for elephant, two for rhinoceros, three for leopard, and four for an actual kill or unusual other sighting.  It is up to the patrons if they wish to get out of bed and welcome to come to the viewing area in their pajamas.  There is a small bunker room with an open window on ground floor for good photo shooting.


Orientation at the Ark for the night viewing

The night we were there, a herd of elephants as well as two rare black rhinos and a pair of African cape buffalo showed up early, just before dinner, as we were getting an orientation talk. Quickly all the guests sprang to the lounges and windows to catch the action outside. You are so close to the animals and yet they cannot see you. You can observe them for long periods of time with their natural behaviors.  I was lucky to catch an amusing encounter between a young elephant and a buffalo that were sharing the same space:

I was in the bunker taking photos and video, and at times the big elephants would come very close, look right at me and put up their trunks sniffing the air. They could smell me but not see me. It was fascinating.


Beautiful forest elephants live in the Aberdare National Park

I stayed up quite late observing. The night watchman said he would not ring the buzzer for elephants again since everyone had seen the herd of a dozen early in the evening. But I assured him that as an avid elephant lover I would love to see more. So he agreed to knock on my door three times should another large herd appear.


A genet cat comes for a snack outside a side door of the Ark

They did not disappoint! At midnight a herd of 27 jumbos appeared and lingered for over an hour.  I had a unique and solo viewing experience and took much video.  For an animal lover, this is close to paradise!


A handsome waterbuck poses for a photo op


So if you are traveling with someone who enjoys the luxuries of a massage or a round of golf, and you enjoy nature and animals, you can both be completely satisfied with the combination of these two wonderful places. You can spend a night at each.

Look out! Here comes a hyena...

If you decide to stay just at the Ark, most of the time you will be brought back to the Aberdare Country Club for lunch, as at the Ark you cannot walk around outside except on the long wooded walkway. It really is in the middle of the jungle with lots of large animals.  Game drives are available  from both lodges, and all registrations are done at the Aberdare Country Club. Full board costs approximately $280 per person per night.

Both properties have been taken over by Marasa Africa, a leading safari hotel group in East Africa.


Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.


Marasa Africa Kenya Central Reservations Office

Simco Plaza, 5th Floor, Suite 501, Lusaka road, Industrial Area

PO Box 48995, 00100 GPO

Nairobi, Kenya

PH: +254 202101333 MOB: +254 737 799990/2 FAX: +254 20556126

Email: [email protected]



Published on Jan 04, 2013

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