Ol Jogi: the Grand-Dame of Laikipia
Kenya is a pioneer of the “original” wildlife safari. Popularised throughout the 20th century, with great novels and films depicting an era of romance and high adventure, it remains to this day a destination of great diversity. An impressive cross section of landscapes makes this a compelling country to explore – wild savannah, interminable grassy plains, the snow capped peaks of Mount Kenya, forests suffused with birdsong, huge deserts, ancient Swahili settlements, and vast private ranches. Tourists flock in their droves each year for a sighting of the great wildebeest migration – the 8th named wonder of the world - and there is a seemingly endless and ever-expanding choice of lodges, tented camps, and safari operators. Yet when it comes to the calibre of seriously world class luxury at the very top end, there is relatively, and surprisingly, little to choose from.
Cue Ol Jogi - an extraordinary, super-sized estate in Laikipia, belonging to the Wildenstein family. Alec Wildenstein Jnr is assigned to the running of the estate, and only fairly recently (the last few years) opened the property up for exclusive rental, in a bid to invest back into the ranch and their conservation work through tourism. Clearly this is where his passions lie and his efforts to develop a pioneering conservation model are unflagging. Ol Jogi is a private rhino sanctuary taking serious action in the fight against wildlife poaching. It is home to 64 rhinos, who amongst other endangered species including cheetah, hartebeest, Grevy’s zebra, lion and wild dog, are protected by a task force of wildlife rangers and intrinsic security system. It has also contributed considerably to investment within local communities, including water supply, community cattle grazing, healthcare (including free medical care to all Ol Jogi staff and their dependents) and education.
Laikipia is a region composed largely of private ranches-come-wildlife reserves, housing huge populations of endangered species, including black rhino, wild dog, and Grevy’s zebra. For those seeking wildlife sightings without the four-wheel drive traffic of the national park circuit, it certainly presents a very appealing sense of exclusivity, privacy and some beautiful private homes. However, for sheer space (58,000 acres including the Nanyuki and Ewaso Nyiro rivers), attention to detail, service, and luxury of the highest order, Ol Jogi is extremely special.
On arrival in Nairobi, you are whisked through immigration, onto a private charter, and straight to their private airstrip. From thereon in, a host of well-trained staff attend to your every whim. If you’d like a massage, just meander over to the Moroccan hammam and see resident masseuse, Liz. Fancy a game drive at noon and lunch at 3pm? No problem… You are entirely at leisure and the staff will work around your clock. The cuisine is prepared by head chef, Sylvain Bel, who creates some really tasty dishes (we especially loved the beautiful breakfasts and selection of fresh salads at lunch time) and House Manager, Frédéric Chanelet, does a truly exemplary job taking care of the house and its guests. This is no easy feat when considering the extent of exquisite chinaware, silver, beautiful towels, linens, clothes hangers… There are enough varying sets of table ware to never see the same one twice over a week long stay, and many are collectors’ items no longer available for purchase – Baccarat and Queen Lace glasses, Limoges and Hermés crockery, Christian Dior tea sets beautifully painted with leopards and other wild animals, all perfectly stored and labelled within their own walk-in safe. It is very apparent this is a home belonging to people who love fine living. Though opulent, in parts a little over-the-top, there is no question of its extreme luxury and comfort. From the enormous his and hers bathrooms and separate dressing rooms, to the full working hammam, manicures/pedicures on tap, a beautiful billiards & games room, or just gazing across the lawns to their watering hole, frequented by zebra, hippo, giraffe, gerenuk, warthog, and impala, this is a place to want for nothing.
Game drives are usually with Wildlife & Security Manager, Jamie Gaymer. Thoroughly engaging and full of character, Jamie will take you over the rocky hills ‘kopjes’ and open savannah for all sorts of wildlife sightings and accompanying stories. You can also take some beautiful accompanied walks/hikes of varying levels of difficulty for a different perspective of the land and surrounds. Other on-property activities include floodlit tennis courts, swimming pool, table tennis, horse-riding, and games room. And for a change of scenery, they have a full, 5-star mobile camp for heading out into the bush and sleeping under the stars. One of the most memorable experiences was being driven at night to the river and walking over the lantern-lit wooden bridge for drinks by a huge roaring fire and dinner served under canvas. The team are constantly coming up with new ways to surprise and delight their guests. There are plenty of different spots for picnic lunches, candlelit dinners, and sundown drinks with spectacular views.
Indeed, Ol Jogi is somewhere to base oneself for a week-long stay, first to experience the estate, and then for some wider exploration. Helicopter charter is an ideal way to visit Mount Kenya for freshwater fishing and beautiful rainforest walks, the lakes of Baringo, Naivasha, Nakuru and Elmentaita are easily accessible, as are visits up to Samburu and the Matthews Range. And for those seeking high adventure, it is possible to visit the remote and stunningly beautiful Suguta Valley and further north to Lake Turkana.