By John Nyaga
Deep in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park lies Finch Hattons Tented Camp from where one can wake up to a stunning view of the peaks of the majestic Kilimanjaro to the south-west and the undulating Chyulu Hills to the north.
The 17-tent luxury safari camp affords visitors a luxurious yet intimate setting — around permanent natural fresh water springs — from where to explore Tsavo West National Park, 9,000 square kilometres of wilderness, teeming with elephants, buffalos, bushbuck, elands, giraffes, hartebeest, impala, leopards, lions, oryx, wildebeest and countless bird species.
Named after Denys Finch Hatton, a British aristocrat who arrived in Kenya in 1911 and became fascinated with Africa’s wildlife — he passionately photographed them and lobbied for their conservation after giving up big game hunting. Denys Finch Hatton, also known for his love affair with Karen Blixen, the Danish author of Out of Africa – is said to have introduced the idea of “luxury safari” in the wild, where he entertained royalty and other wealthy guests.
Finch Hattons, established in 1993 and rebuilt in 2015, is “where luxury meets legend.” It has “preserved the ideals that Denys Finch Hatton lived by; a dedication to elegance and style, coupled with a passionate love of the Kenyan wilderness and a long forgotten way of life,” the camp’s management says in a brochure.
Popular activities for visitors include game drives to explore Tsavo West in open all-terrain vehicles, breakfast in the bush and sundowners in the wild. Finch Hattons also organises guided bush walks, climbs up Ol Donyo Crater, walks in Chyulu forest and excursions to Shetani Lava Flow, Mzima Springs, Chiamu Crater, Lake Jipe and the Roaring Rocks.
Dining is not taken for granted at Finch Hattons. Fresh Kenyan produce is used to create sumptuous breakfasts and gourmet lunches served on the terrace. A lavish multiple-course dinner with fine wines, and the option of several dining spaces from the plush dining room to dining under the stars at the Star Bar are the highlights of the food experience.
The newly built elevated luxury tented suites are all located on the edge of the springs created with a minimal environmental footprint. They use solar for the hot water, biobox, a wastewater recycling system, and have been built with local materials. Even the drinking water is filtered and preserved in glass reusable bottles at a facility in the camp, eliminating the problem of polluting plastic water bottles.
All tents are designed to give a luxurious setting, reminiscent of the glorious old days of safari, but with a contemporary twist and all the modern day comforts. Each tent has indoor and outdoor showers, a freestanding copper bath tub, a maxi bar and an oustanding deck where one can lose themselves in the calm and serenity of the African wild.
Retreating back to the camp from a game drive or one of the many activities, there are several relaxation areas to indulge in. The Chyulu Spa and Wellness Retreat boasts a yoga deck overlooking the Chyulu Hills. Enjoy a spa treatment with the natural Africology range of
products, swim in onf of the two swimming pools or watch the beautiful sunset with views of Mount Kilimanjaro on the 12-metre high observation deck.
The camp is a 35-acre concession in the national park that prides itself on having established amicable relations with the Maasai herder communities who inhabit the surrounding villages and livestock ranches, according to camp manager Jonathan Mutisya. Reaching out to the communities with information on the need to conserve wildlife has helped reduce the incidence of human-wildlife conflict, he says.
“Our goal is in preserving the pristine wilderness, allowing the Maasai to preserve their culture, and assisting them with the knowledge and tools to become the protectors of both,” says a member of the management team. The camp is working on a project to help upgrade the local schools while creating a conservation education programme for the next generation of the Maasai community.
Finch Hattons was instrumental in bringing cell phone connectivity to the nearby village of Il Tilal, which has transformed the lives of residents. They enjoy some of the benefits of mobile telephony, including the popular M-Pesa money transfer facility. Cell phone connectivity has also enabled the setting up of an information and telecommunication technology teaching centre at Il Tilal primary school by the mobile telephony provider Safaricom.
Tsavo National Park is said to have been once the best managed. Today, however, there are challenges for tourist facilities in the park. According to Finch Hattons management, the government agency mandated to protect wildlife and manage national parks needs to be a little bit more diligent.
“The park management needs to look into making Tsavo a tourist destination once again,” says a member of Finch Hattons management, pointing out as an example the lack of information for tourists at the gates to the park.
Neglect of access roads is another issue that needs to be addressed, she adds, noting that Finch Hatttons has spent some 50 million Kenyan shillings of its own funds over the years to improve the road network and build a rangers’ house for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Stakeholders in Tsavo need to work collaboratively, under KWS leadership, to conserve and manage the park, according to Finch Hattons’ management.
Livestock grazing in the park is the other problem in Tsavo – and many other Kenya national parks for that matter. Environmental degradation in the park is apparent as one drives around and one of the causes is the presence of cattle. It results in soil erosion and damaged roads.
The destruction of forests in the Chyulu Hills has also had an impact on the water table in the Tsavo ecosystem, exacerbating droughts such as the 2009 dry spell when Finch Hattons stepped in to provide food aid to the Iltilal community. Finch Hattons also fed dozens of hippos around the camp, saving them from imminent starvation death.
An increasing number of farmers are settling on the edges of Tsavo West and illegally extracting water directly from local rivers and natural springs, a development that could only worsen conditions in the park.