Disclaimer: The following is a true story and not exaggerated at all.
When my cousin came to Nairobi for a two-week vacation back in January, I’d come home from work and we would just hang out and watch Netflix. He kept raving about The Crown, a historical royal drama, something that was on my never-ending list of TV shows to watch. Convincing me to watch it, we skipped right ahead to the second episode where the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visited Kenya and the iconic Treetops Lodge, where legendary hunter Jim Corbett, her bodyguard at the time, wrote the now famous lines in the visitors’ log book: For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen — God bless her.
Of course, my interest in the show peaked and even more in Treetops, a place I had previously dismissed because a tree house is clearly not wheelchair accessible. I don’t know what made me log onto their website but I did to find that they are in fact wheelchair accessible, after renovations in 2012, with ramps going across all levels. Then, of course, being thrilled about the accessibility, I told everyone I came across. And that is how I ended up at the legendary Treetops Lodge over the Easter weekend.
After spending one night at the Aberdare Fishing Lodge, we drove to Treetops, stopping only to spot wildlife and sightsee in the park along the way. We drove up straight to the lodge, which was previously not allowed. Instead, guests had to go to the Outspan Hotel and park there before being driven to the lodge. Located by a waterhole and a salt lick, the lodge is now bigger than the tree house I saw on The Crown.
Arriving in the early afternoon, we parked and went up the ramp from the lower ground to the first floor where a reception area with glass windows overlooking the watering hole was located.With a rich history as the first game visiting lodge on stilts in Kenya, Treetops was built by Major Eric Walker and Lady Bettie Shebrooke on a Mugumo (sacred fig) tree built beside a waterhole where animals would come for refreshment and natural salt lick near the elephant migration pathway to Mount Kenya. They got inspiration to build this lodge with the desire to shoot wildlife with cameras as opposed to guns. Initially, only open on Wednesday nights to overnight guests as a night-viewing platform, it was opened to the public on 6 November 1932 and only had two bedrooms.
Soon the world’s attention was on Treetops as the soon-to-be Queen visited the Lodge in 1952 accompanied by her husband, HRH Prince Phillip. Princess Elizabeth watched wildlife from the lodge loving the experience so much that she had tea served where they were watching the wildlife since she did not wish to miss any of the action at the waterhole. During that night, as recorded by the Treetops Hunter Escort, Jim Corbett, there were sightings of about 90 elephants, eight rhinos and a few waterbucks.
As she descended the Treetops Lodge, news was received that her father King George V had passed on in his sleep making her HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Her presence at Treetops Lodge during that night made her the first British Monarch since the accession of William IV in 1830, to be outside the United Kingdom at the moment of succession.
However, during the Mau Mau uprising against the British colonialists, the lodge was burnt down in 1954 and later rebuilt in 1957 with 14 Beds near the same waterhole and salt lick. The Treetops Lodge Kenya’s current owners, Aberdare Safari Hotels Limited, purchased the Lodge along with the sister Outspan Hotel in Nyeri in 1978. Treetops was then continuously developed to 40 Rooms in 1983 and 50 Rooms in 1996.
Treetops was completely upgraded in 2012 after a 6-month closure for a major refurbishment that resulted in 36 en-suite rooms. It is said that the lodge character was perfectly preserved while guest comfort, game viewing and dining experience was enhanced. The lodge façade, tree concept and building size did not change, but there are now three suites and 33 standard rooms.
Upon arriving at the hotel, we first headed to the reception which had large glass windows, where we were taken through the layout and the rules of the hotel. Located on the first floor, we then went to the rooms to freshen up.
Set up as a twin or double bed, all rooms were spacey and overlook the waterhole. My room had one of each double and single beds. The rooms had a vanity area with a desk, bedside table and a bag storage area that also functioned as a closet. There was a buzzer switch to alert all guests in case a large animal such as hyenas, rhinos, elephants and leopards came to the waterhole, so you never miss out. The en-suite bathroom had a wheelchair accessible shower (in my room), a toilet and a sink.The rooms were cozy but we preferred to spend our time in the rooftop viewing deck. Because the lodge is built on a tree, the tree trunk and branches can often intertwine through rooms and so I struggled slightly to access the room.
After a quick afternoon snooze, we went up at 4PM for afternoon tea to the lounge on the second floor, all accessible through smooth ramps throughout the lodge. There lay a selection of hot beverages, including tea, coffee and hot chocolate, and an array of cakes and biscuits.As we scooped up our treats, Diva and I settled into a nook by the bar overlooking the waterhole. The exquisite bar stocks a fine array of cold and hot beverages.Later, as everyone went for the complementary nature work at 5PM with a 30-minute naturalist guided tour within the fenced off “jungle” adjacent to the Treetops Lodge, diva and I opted to explore the lodge. Besides lodge animal viewing and nature walks, guests can opt to go for game drives, trout fishing, and horse-riding. I particularly enjoyed looking at the vintage photos and newspaper cuttings hanging on the walls.Diva and I even went up to the third floor where suites and rooftop viewing deck were located. Once everyone returned, we enjoyed a lovely sundowner with drinks there spotting two buffalos wading in the mud, enjoying themselves. We even played a couple of rounds of Monopoly Deal.Later at night, we went down for dinner at 8PM in the dining room on the second floor, next to the lounge. Usually, all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are served at the lodge except the first day’s lunch which is served at the Outspan Hotel after check-in.
The dining room’s ceiling had mini-chandeliers, that I thought were hanging a little too low, illuminating the wooden furniture. A buffet selection was set up. There was a selection of salads, classic English-style vegetables and meats, alongside Indian and Kenyan curries. Desserts included an array of cakes. The service was a little slow and the food was rather mediocre, compared to what’s available elsewhere. However, the Easter entertainment was a nice accompaniment to dinner.
As we wrapped up dinner at 9:30AM, we were alerted to the presence of an elephant herd at the salt lick.
Watching these elegant beauties gracefully and tactfully lick the salt from the ground from the lounge was incredible. I noticed that the younger babies were always kept hidden from view. Even the buffalos disappeared leaving the elephants at peace. Treetops has a powerful light, coupled with the full moonlight, the elephants were well-illuminated and visible. We watched them till 11PM, before turning in. I even watched them from my room, right till I fell asleep.
After an uneventful sleep, meaning no sightings during the night, I woke up refreshed at 7:30AM. We quickly got dressed and went for breakfast at 9AM. Treetops does a continental breakfast, offering a mix of cereal, pastries, bread, fresh fruit, eggs and other hot dishes. I had some watermelon, cereal, pancakes and some hot coffee to wake me up.Then, we went back up to the rooftop viewing deck to play more Monopoly Deal and look for more game.
At 12 noon, we packed up and checked out. After a thirty-minute drive, we arrived for lunch at the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri. Built in 1926 by Major Eric Sherbrooke Walker and his wife Lady Bettie, Outspan Hotel is the perfect spot between the Aberdare Mountains and Mount Kenya to build their dream Hotel in Nyeri. After enjoying a buffet lunch of soup, salad and some hot mains and dessert at this colonial-style hotel, we embarked on the three-hour journey back home.
Whether you’re a history buff or love wildlife and exploring Kenya, or just want a relaxing break, Treetops Lodge is a wonderful way to spend a weekend, especially watching elephants at the waterhole below, right from your room. Plus, besides Queen Elizabeth II, you’ll have joined the ranks of Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Lord Mountbatten and Paul McCartney who have all stayed at this iconic lodge.
Photos by Hitesh & Diva Shah