As we fly over the Kenyan tea plantations north of Nairobi, the expectancy of what’s awaiting me brings excitement and a sense of frontier nostalgia in equal measure. Just a short flight north from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi, the Ol Jogi reserve is located on the Laikipia plateau and spans 58,000 acres. Even those familiar with Kenya probably won’t recognise the name Ol Jogi next to its famous neighbours; this is because until recently it had been the private family home of the Wildenstein family, arguably the world’s most famous art dynasty.
After landing at the private airfield with a very soft bump, we are greeted by Alec Wildenstein, who calls Ol Jogi his home. His love of the place soon becomes apparent as he quickly informs me of his passion for wildlife and conservation. Ol Jogi itself has become one of the most important reserves in Kenya, specialising in conservation and this is no easy feat, as I will soon explain.
As we drive up to the house you can’t help but be impressed. For starters, the house itself has been painstakingly built into a large ‘kopjes’ a stones throw from the airport. As you walk through the various buildings you can tell that this has been a labour of love as well as a provider of refuge from the outside world. Away from the main house there are seven individually designed cottages overlooking a watering hole in the garden. Each cottage has been individually designed with a different theme for each one. The design and interior is unlike any you will have seen before; from the bespoke furniture, individual dressing rooms and ‘his and hers’ bathrooms (which take up whole individual cottages themselves). From your bed you wake up to spectacular sunrises above Mount Kenya and go to sleep aware of the vast array of wildlife drinking at the watering hole. The combination of luxury and nature is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
Returning to the amenities; you’ll discover the pool of all pools, which has been designed to fit into its nature-inspired habitat with its own cascading waterfall. In the rather labyrinthine pool house you will find a gym, steam room and spa, you can turn up at any time to the latter and enjoy a massage, manicure or pedicure.
In the house itself, where you’ll spend your mealtimes and starry evenings, staff are always on hand to bring you any drink you want. Then there’s the food – which I can only describe as masterful. French chef Sylvain Bel has been with the family for as long as Alec can remember and produces some of the finest food imaginable. Considering you’re practically in the middle of the bush here, this is quite an achievement. In order to ensure perennially fresh produce, he has cultivated an amazing vegetable garden – whilst also inventing some ingenious elephant-repelling devices. While you’re waiting for Sylvain’s culinary delights, you can wander down the underground tunnel below the garden to watch the zebras, giraffes, hippos and baboons congregate at the watering hole just meters away from you. At every mealtime the table is laid differently, in order to surprise, each time completely unique and equally impressive. Evenings spent enjoying such hospitality in such a glorious environment are unforgettable.
Ol Jogi’s splendour is impressive. But this isn’t all that the place is about. You’re hit with the sudden realisation that you’ll have 58,000 acres to yourself. This experience of complete and unequivocal privacy is unrivalled in East Africa. You’re able to see African wildlife at its most awe-inspiring, and what you do is really up to you – decide with a little help from your guides. With regards to activities there is certainly no shortage. Jamie Gaymer is the wildlife and security manager, one of the most passionate men around when it comes to wildlife and conservation, he is also a terrific character to boot. He accompanied us on the game drives explaining a lot as we travelled; it’s easy to get so entranced with his exposition that sometimes he’ll trick you by talking complete baloney before erupting into a hearty guffaw. Jamie also took us over to the wildlife rescue centre and veterinary clinic where you can see many of the animals that Ol Jogi has fostered, including cheetahs, lions and African wild dogs. One other enjoyable moment was walking up the river banks with Kimani, who is as passionate about the conservation as he is about the local community. He plays a key part in maintaining local cultures and traditions, alongside his work for the reserve.
For those of you who are passionate about conservation, the situation in Africa is not looking good. The price of Rhino horn costs more per kilo than gold or cocaine, and poaching has seen a massive surge in recent years. If you think these poachers are just opportunists wanting to make a quick buck, then think again. This is serious, organised crime. These ruthless individuals are well armed and well equipped and often bribe rangers for information. It’s people like Gaymer who have to counter the threat on a regular basis and this is not cheap – Alec has to employ a staggering 300 Kenyan rangers to protect these majestic beasts. Night and day rangers are atop every hill scouting for poachers. Other neighbouring ranches have experimented with new technology such as drones, however Gaymer maintains that nothing beats boots on the ground. This is partly the reason that Ol Jogi has been opened up to the public, as all the money that comes from tourism will get ploughed back into the ranch and will go to protecting endangered species. It is strange and wonderful to think that by holidaying at such an incredible place, you’ll be supporting such a worthy cause. There aren’t many places in the world where you can enjoy such opulence – and dare to feel charitable at the same time.
To give you an idea of the increase in poaching, in South Africa in 2013, 1004 Rhino were poached, compared to just 13 in 2007. Depressingly, 2014 already looks to be a record year. These frightening statistics are only just starting to jolt the world into caring and, thanks to Prince William’s Patronage of the charity ‘Tusk’, the world’s media are finally giving the situation the coverage it deserves. Prince William summed up the situation perfectly at this year’s Tusk Trust Awards, saying ‘It is unfathomable to imagine a world in which Rhinoceros ceased to live in the wild.’
Ol Jogi has 64 Rhino; 45 black and 19 White and this is, compared with most areas, extremely good. In many Safari Parks you are lucky to see just one, whereas at Ol Jogi you can see a heard of these amazing mammals every day.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Alec, Jamie and their team, Ol Jogi has become a haven of wildlife and a shining example of conservation. To give you an idea of the sheer volume of wildlife at Ol Jogi, they have 400 of Africa’s remaining 5,000 Reticulated Giraffe, 12 % of the endangered Grévy’s Zebra and you will see large herds of elephant at any given time. Then you have hyena, Laikipia hartebeest, impala, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle and tens if not hundreds of bird species from Egyptian geese to saddle-billed storks.
Due to the vastness of the estate, there’s really only one way to see all the amazing landscape – and that’s by air. Tropic Air is an extremely slick air charter service run by the entertaining Jamie Roberts. Based out of Nanyuki, you can have a helicopter on the front lawn at Ol Jogi in 15 minutes. For those of you slightly worried about flying in helicopters, their fleet primarily consists of very new and immaculate Eurocopters, known as one of the most reliable machines in the sky. The pilots aren’t bad either; remember that amazing footage from the air in David Attenborough’s series Africa? That was them! Jamie picked us up after the most amazing lunch on top of a mountain on the edges of the reserve, and if the lunchtime views weren’t already awe-inspiring we were soon flying over zebra, elephant and tribesmen washing down by the rivers. After a short pit-stop to take in the views on a vertical rock named ‘God’s Finger’, we were following a river back to Ol Jogi, flying low over some resplendent creatures. We had a limited amount of time, however the great thing about helicopters in this area is that there’s so much you can do in a short time frame, from a flight up Mount Kenya, to an excursion to Lake Bogoria to watch the Flamingos.
By air you can also really see what the team at Ol Jogi are doing. You only have to fly to the reserve’s boarder to see the difference in vegetation, turning from lush green land to dust in just a few metres. Alec, Jamie and reserve manager Johnny Weller’s ideas go far beyond the perimeters on the ranch. They are teaching the Maasai how to use their cattle to repair the land rather than damage it, how a cow’s manure can act as fertiliser and how their hooves have a utility as ploughs. The local community have been greatly supported by Ol Jogi, with new schools built, a women’s group recently founded, the building of a state veterinary centre and much more, all thanks to Ol Jogi’s spirited community ethos.
So now to business; how much does a place like this cost? Well when I say $30,000 per night, jaws may drop. However, though this sounds like a huge amount of money, let me strip it back for you. It sleeps 14 people and this works out at $2,000 per person, per night. I know standard luxury London hotel rooms that cost as much. It is also worth mentioning that this includes an array of extras for which other safari camps would almost certainly charge. Ol Jogi is more exclusive, private, rewarding and secure. Plus, name the last luxury holiday you came back from actually feeling philanthropic?
The great thing about Ol Jogi is that there’s ‘something for everyone’; this isn’t a hackneyed soundbite, it really is true. Obviously for anyone passionate about wildlife, this place is basically paradise on earth. However if you are that character who thinks a Safari was a bit too rough and ready for them, then think again, the house brings luxury comparable with chartering a Superyacht. I’d like to think of Ol Jogi as a place that you don’t just visit once, but rather a site that you’d return to year after year, experiencing something new with every magical visit.
For more information, please visit: oljogihome.com