The speckled moon shone through the solitary yellow fever trees along Lake Naivasha. The air was crisp and as we drove along. Our guide pointed his torch into the distance and looking back were tiny star-like reflections of shy dik dik, hippos, zebra and even a pack of hyenas. Our host for the evening, joined us for the late night game drive and lamented at never having laid eyes on leopards at the Hippo Point Sanctuary, a stunning 600-acre property flanking Lakes Naivasha and Oloidien.
In a split second our guide whispered, “Look there! On the tree! Leopards!” As we slowly drove round a corner, the torch shone on two satiated feline beauties, mother and cub, resting on the trunk of a fallen yellow fever acacia tree, bathing under the moonlight.
Muffled shriek whispers ensued as we watched them nimbly get up and walk off into the night. The drive back was spent in sheer and utter awe and the conversation continued well into the night, as we sat by the fireplace, wine and scotch in hand.
Patronised by the likes of Lauren Bush, Liv Tyler, Ralph Lauren and Steve Jobs, Hippo Point is a sight to behold. Built in 1932, the mock Elizabethan Manor House, where we stayed, is set in a lush verdant lawn marked only by beds of scented lilies, succulents and a variety of vividly coloured flowers that are cut and arranged to bring life to every corner of the property.
Ensconced in the corner of the reception room at the Manor House are two larger than life paintings by Tonio Trzebinski, owner Dodo Cunningum Reid’s late son-in-law, ominously facing each other and flanking the fireplace where a plush sofa offers comfort. In the centre of the room, a French style table rests on top of a weathered Persian silk rug where a variety of spirits, mixers, crystal carafes and glasses are perfectly arranged, should one need a bit of tipple at any time of the day. For the weary traveller, its clear that the sole intention is to kick up your feet and enjoy this place as a home away from home. In the rest of the Manor House, the communal spaces are laid out in much the same way, each offering a slightly different flavour, from the solitary beaded Yoruba chair sitting in a nook to the outdoor covered patio where an 8-seater medieval style table is flanked by safari camping chairs.
For my husband, the opportunity to leave the kids behind for a night was in itself a triumph. We had arrived just before noon after a comfortable 2-hour journey down the Old Naivasha Road. With some time to spare before lunch, we toured the ‘grounds’ and managed a peek inside the ominous Dodo’s Tower. Mentioned in countless fashion and travel magazines from Tatler to Harpers Bazaar, this magnificent 120ft tall structure, serves at the Cunninghum–Reids second home and provides guests with awe inspiring 360 degree views of the two lakes and a plethora of wildlife below. The sanctuary itself hosts over 350 species of birds from Flamingos to the more vocal Egyptian Geese.
Next was a stop at Hippo Point’s organic garden. Boasting over 40 varieties of herbs and vegetables including artichokes, tender stem broccoli and sweet potatoes, each picked fresh in the morning and transformed into delicious meals that are often laid out in the lawn adjacent to the Manor.
A buffet of four fresh and divine Ottolenghi-inspired lentil, cous cous, beetroot and mixed leaf salads awaited our return, plus a main course of red snapper with coriander pesto delicately wrapped in layers of flaky Filo (or phyllo) pastry. A colourful cotton cutwork tablecloth from India covered the table, and the cutlery was silver with mother of pearl handles. I realised that what made Hippo Point so other-worldly was the ability to take the simplest of pleasures, like al fresco dining (which Kenyans often take for granted) and somehow elevate it into something extraordinary almost Alice-in-Wonderland-like!
The evening sun-downer overlooked Lake Oloidien where a kilim was sprawled on the lawn and oversized floor cushions gave us the chance to recline and marvel the setting sun, as we nibbled on glorious feta and coriander samosas. As the sunlight slipped away, the warm glow of hanging lanterns and the jiko provided just enough ambient light. The most profound observation was the absence of man-made noise, just the gentle chirping of the weaverbirds and the distant heckling of the Colobus.
Hippo Point is ideal for a quick romantic interlude away from Nairobi this Valentine. I can imagine it would be perfect for a longer break with friends or family, and has even hosted small weddings.
The Manor House has 8 doubles and 1 single with each bedroom tailored slightly differently from wrought iron four-poster beds with Russian bed linen to French upholstered sleigh beds with exquisite hand embroidered blankets. Every corner of this property is thoughtfully and a little eccentrically styled. You’ll find more than a few pieces of primate related objet d’art scattered around including salt and peppershakers. Clearly the owner is quite smitten by them.
For the more active guests, the property offers nature trail walks, horse riding and game drives – but for those simply looking to relax and get away from the city, Hippo Point offers the creature comforts of a beautiful home in the midst of profound natural beauty.