Nestled in between red dusty roads and Africa’s iconic “tree of life” the Baobab, lies Nyika Bird Sanctuary. A quaint house surrounded by thorny shrubs and a chorus of bird song. I’ve never really been a fan of big hotels. I prefer small, private and quaint spaces. Nyika Bird Sanctuary ticked all the boxes for me. Exclusive, rustic, eco-friendly, I could already tell it was a hidden gem and I couldn’t wait to explore it!
Robin McDonald the owner of the property is a retired safari guide. Over the years he has raised his children on the sanctuary, attempted various types of farming, watched migratory birds come and go and have Elephant trudge up to his house. He is very much part of the land as much as the land is a part of him. Nyika Bird Sanctuary was formed after Rob had returned from residing in Mombasa for many years. His neighbours are Tsavo Trust who are doing a wonderful job conserving the wildlife but their main focus is the larger mammals such as the Elephant. Robin then decided to set up the bird sanctuary due to the abundance and variety of birds found.
Bordering Tsavo East National Park, Nyika is regularly visited by an array of animals. It was only a few weeks before we visited that one of his dogs was eaten by a leopard! Pole Robin! I’m sure it must have been tough. He also experienced having to relocate a Puff Adder (which was at least 6-ft long). With quick thinking, he put the snake into a drum and released it into a river bed. LOL if I was in that situation I would have run a mile away screaming, “Not today Satan, not today!”
Nyika Bird Sanctuary is 234 km from Nairobi (around 3-4 hours driving) and 284 km from Diani (we were coming from Diani and took the Shimba Hills route, this takes around 5-6 hours).
Once you get to Mtito Andei go to the Total Petrol Station. There is a road shortly after it, look out for a KWFT building, you’ll pass a series of dukas on this road. Continue towards the Mtito Andei train station, go under the bridge and over the train tracks. Take the first road on your right. You’ll then reach a white sign in front of a giant Baobab tree, go right. After passing some rock formations on the left, the road will then split into three, there are some white signs mounted on the fence, take the immediate right. Continue down the road tunnelled by trees and turn into the second left. Drive through the cement poles and you have reached!
In case you suck with directions Rob is more than happy to meet you at the Total Petrol Station.
Rob isn’t a fan of overly complicated things and this is reflected in the house. It’s a simple, rustic yet a beautifully done bush home.
The house can hold 6 guests in total, it consists of 3 bedrooms (one large en-suite double room), one twin en-suite room and a lounge room (where 2 guests can sleep).
There’s also a fully kitted out kitchen (includes a fridge, freezer, stove, oven, crockery and utensils), so any budding Gordon Ramseys’ or Nigella Lawsons’ out there don’t worry, Nyika has you covered! There’s also a large dining room and an outdoor BBQ chill place.
The upstairs (which was my favourite part of the house) is the sun downer/sunset roof terrace. We were told on a clear day you can see Mt Kilimanjaro from the terrace, unfortunately, it was too cloudy during our stay.
At the back end of the house, there is a dipping pool (perfect relief from the heat) and a seating area with a fire pit in front of the dried-up river. Many years ago, this river flowed so much, Rob used to have a boat in it.
The house is run on solar power whilst the fridge and stove run on gas. For those who need to constantly be connected through your phone, you can charge it using the batteries (there are USB ports). There are no sockets so you won’t be able to charge your laptop or cameras, although I highly recommend you stay off your laptop and enjoy being out in the bush. The showers aren’t heated as well but to be honest, it’s so hot there, you would rather have a cold shower. Since the tanks are located on the terrace, the water naturally heats up when the sun is out. If you really need to have a hot/warm shower the best times would be around lunch time or early afternoon, basically when the sun has been out. Be mindful of how much water you consume, Nyika’s only source of water is from a well. Bahati, the cleaning lady, comes in every day to do your beds and clean your dishes.
What we got up to at Nyika:
- Enjoyed our sunset views
Our late afternoons were spent on the roof terrace. Watching the sky blend from golden hues to pink as the sun sunk behind the horizon. Sharing stories with Rob and sipping on cold beers, whilst his dogs relaxed next to us. Life honestly couldn’t get any better than this.
2. Caught a sunrise
I’m an early bird but not a super early one. I had to force myself awake to watch the sunrise and in true Nyika Bird Sanctuary fashion, I was treated to a variety of birdsong whilst the sun came up. It’s moment like these, I find peace.
3. Relaxed in the outdoor dining area:
Before breakfast, we would sit outside with a cup of chai enjoying the morning breeze and watching the birds (Nyika is a bird sanctuary so there’s plenty of birds to look at!) Pair that with a book and it’s quite a pleasant place to pass the time.
4. Babysat the dogs
When Rob was away, we would take care of his two dogs. I can’t complain as I’m a massive dog lover. You can bring your dogs to this property, just call Rob to let him know. Also, ensure your dogs don’t run off into the bush to chase a bird, the property does border with Tsavo East National park and remember one of Robs’ dogs was eaten by a Leopard not too long ago.
Outside of Nyika:
Tsavo has always fascinated me, from its violent history of the man-eating lions during the time the lunatic express was being constructed, to its sheer size. Tsavo East is generally flatter, with large plains whilst Tsavo West is more mountainous and wetter than its counterpart. I wish we had more time to explore both East and West, but hey we shall save that adventure for another time!
We spent a full day at Tsavo West National Park. Due to the bushy nature of the park, it was quite hard to spot any game. We were lucky to even see a few elephants (one including a massive bull!)
Before the heat of the day could get to us, we headed towards Roaring Rocks and went up the hill to the view point. Definitely worth it, since you get a panoramic view of the park.
We then made a pit stop at the Mzima springs, these are a series of natural springs whose source is the Chyulu Hills. It was pretty eerie walking to the spring, it was obvious that hippos and crocodiles had made their way up the track we were using. After being told there’s an 18-ft. crocodile inside the springs, my heart was rushing and my eyes kept darting to the side to ensure there wasn’t a giant crocodile just chilling next to the foot path. It made me realise how brave Alan Root was going under water to film Mzima: Portrait of a Spring.
If you want to appreciate the beauty of the springs, go to the observation tank where you can view the springs underwater.
Thankfully neither crocodile or hippo made a lunch out of us, so we headed towards Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge for lunch (the cost of a buffet lunch is KSH 2500), to cool off from the heat and digest we then took a refreshing dip in their pool.
Costs, booking info for Nyika Bird Sanctuary:
The cost of the house is $ 50 during the week and $ 55 during the weekends for the entire property per night. Whether you’re 1 guest or 6, the price stays the same.
Rob also offers game drives into Tsavo West for $100 and into Tsavo East for $125. You would need to pay park entrance fees and organise your own breakfast and lunch.
Rob also makes his own pickles (KSH 300 – KSH 350) and sells honey (KSH 450) from his own hives which you can purchase directly from him. As I’m writing this I’m also eating his honey by the tablespoon, NOM.
If you wish to contact the Nyika Bird Sanctuary you can call: +254 (0) 710 384 808.
You can also book through Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/17619933
Nyika Bird Sanctuary has its very own campsite now! Located at the top of the sanctuary. The facilities include a mess tent/BBQ area, washing up area, flushing toilets, bucket shower, bins, lamps and a fire pit. During your stay, you will get a 400-litre bowser of water, if this runs out you will need to purchase the extra water. They will also provide an askari who is in radio contact with the main house and would be able to assist you with any issues.
The idea of the campsite is to create a bush experience yet have the simple comforts you would need.
– Ksh 500 per person per night (with your own tent)
– Ksh 1,000 per person per night (renting a tent) The tents come with two beds, two chairs, one bedside table and solar lights and linen.
– Ksh 200 for a small bag of charcoal
– Ksh 200 for a bundle of firewood
– Ksh 2,000 for an extra bowser of water
For more information call: +254 (0) 710 384 808 or check out their website: http://milesmacdonald.wixsite.com/nyikabirdsanctuary/single-post/2017/09/11/The-New-Campsite
Rob has also introduced cat fish farming on the sanctuary, hopefully, they’ll grow big enough for him to sell!
Although our stay in Nyika Bird Sanctuary was short, Rob made it feel like a home for us. He’s very insightful and it was an absolute pleasure swapping stories with him. There are only a few places and people that leave a mark in your soul, Nyika and Rob definitely have for me. Looking forward to coming back.