Last week, I spent a couple of days at a property called Wileli.
My curiosity on the meaning of Wileli sent me on an online goose chase. I later learnt that the name is a portmanteau of William and Elizabeth, the English couple who founded it in 2009.
Wileli, off the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, is tucked away deep in the woods within a vast conservancy in the northern fringes of Lake Naivasha. It is at the base of Eburu, a dramatic range of hills that stretches for approximately 15km.
With only a day to prepare, I packed a small suitcase, including a few warm clothes. The last risk I wanted to run was to ruin my treat with a cold. I set sail on a Wednesday afternoon.
To get to Wileli House, you drive to Naivasha, and branch off at Morendat Institute of Oil and Gas along Moi North Lake Road. If using public means, taxis are available from Naivasha town. A cheaper option though is to use Wasili, a taxi hailing company that operates exclusively in northern counties. You need to download the app. The road was recently tarred, but before that, driving along this route was a nightmare.
Wileli is situated approximately 35km from the highway. The breathtaking geography of flower farms and lush ranches that hug the horizon will buoy you during the long drive. Onwards and westwards, farmlands fade into an expanse of grasslands and acacia forests. Further down the road past Bila Shaka flower farm, you lurch onto a dirt track. For the next 5km, you drive along the murram stretch that is marked by overhanging giant boulders on either side. This stretch though is easily navigable and shouldn’t trouble motorists.
Just as I was about to start fidgeting, Wileli House burst into the view. My adventure in the wild had just begun.
Wileli was initially a farmhouse before the owners converted it into a resort featuring six cottages: two deluxe units and four suites. The chalets are etched on hard rock and furnished with predominantly chic, uncut wood that enhances the naturalness of the setup. But it’s the water flow that is a work of ingenuity and magic. What beats a warm bath whose water gushes from the natural rock above?
The main house serves as the restaurant, bar and lounge. It has a kitchenette that comfortably serves 20.
Head chef Ezra Hassan knows his onions –quite literally. He’s particularly masterful with beef steak and salads. You also get to eat fresh fish from the lake just a stone’s throw away.
Given the layout of the establishment, warm busts of delectable aromas waft seductively from the kitchen to the sitting area. The maître d’hôtel, Nicholas Ngugi, is a jovial chap who’s speedy and waits with oiled precision. Wileli has a minibar that routinely closes at 11pm, although guests can sit at the lounge until midnight.
Nights here are pleasantly quiet albeit frigid. Rooms are, however, fitted with heaters. Guests traditionally sit by the fireplace to prattle and laugh the evening away. As you watch the wood crack softly in the beautiful fire, the night’s quietness is disturbed by a hippo grunt. A hippo’s heavy throaty wheeze isn’t exactly musical to the ear. And when a bull hippo groans within a 20-metre radius, it will sure jolt you off your seat. Herds of hippos and buffaloes graze in the sprawling fields. Visitors are, therefore, not allowed to venture out of their cottages after dusk. At twilight, you can watch the sun set from the side overlooking the hills or watch the tower of giraffes grazing below.
If you aren’t roused by a woodpecker drumming a tree for breakfast, then the family of Colobus monkeys high up a nearby acacia tree will be on hand to usher you into the new day with their mischief and dicey lurches from one branch to the other.
For romantics, a cave inside the conservancy is a must-see. Called Heaven’s Gate, this 12ft high and 30ft long dwelling with a fountain offers an idyllic setting for candle-lit romantic dinners, marriage proposals and anniversaries. The staff set it up on request, usually at a fee. No proposal has gone south in this cave, I was told.
Richly endowed with flora and fauna, the conservancy is home to grazers such as zebras, warthogs, buffaloes and giraffes. Guided walks are part of the package, and it takes roughly two hours to tour the facility.
For birders, the conservancy is located along an active intercontinental bird migration corridor, and features more than 200 bird species, including some of the rarest Aves on the continent. Should you miss a white-crested African fish eagle diving at breakneck speed for fish, you won’t fail to spot guinea fowl rummaging in the bushes. Aden Boyana, the guide, is a jolly man who is unrivalled in the subject of birds. He knows them with their English and local names. Wileli is also a hikers’ haven, with the undulating landscape of the nearby Eburu Forest.Trees here are dying though. Ten per cent of yellow-barked acacia are either dead or fast drying up –the giraffes to thank.
Notably, Wileli House charges a flat rate all year round, making it a perfect getaway during the festive season.