A Little Story
If you live in Nairobi, you will be familiar with the Giraffe Centre, and if you don’t live in Nairobi but you google “top things to do when in Nairobi”, Giraffe Centre comes out as one of the top three.
For this wanderluster, a visit to the Giraffe Centre was a frequent childhood treat growing up. Our visits were usually on a random Saturday afternoon, and visiting this place was something that always excited me.
Why? Because I loved one giraffe in particular: and her name was Daisy.
Mum would say “we are going to see Daisy today” and that would have me grinning from ear to ear! I knew that meant we would be going to the Giraffe Centre.
I have a little confession though. As excited as I would be to be seeing Daisy, I would never attempt to give her any treats or feed her…
Being a typical scaredy-cat, I was happy to stand at a safe distance and see the giraffes, especially Daisy, and watch Mum feed them, but I chose to just watch. I would tell myself that I didn’t want to touch their long, purple tongues! But, if I am to be brutally honest, the real reason was that I thought I would be bitten!
One memory in particular stands out. I remember looking out from the elevated deck at the Giraffe Centre, across the woodland and seeing a large house covered in kai apple bush.
It wasn’t so much the house that intrigued me, but what I saw: giraffes sticking their heads inside the window of the house! I remember wondering what kind of place this was, where a giraffe would poke its head into? I was none the wiser as to the existence of Giraffe Manor!
Years later, that vision stayed with me. I would visit Giraffe Centre not only to see Daisy but also to see the house. It became a game, to see if I could spot a giraffe poking its head inside a window or door!
Fast forward to today where Giraffe Manor is top of the bucket list for most people visiting Kenya. Even as a Kenyan living in Nairobi, visiting has been on my experience wanderlustlist, but something that hasn’t been easy to achieve, because being a boutique hotel, understandably, access to the Giraffe Manor has been restricted to guests staying there.
But, a silver lining in this cloud of Covid-19 is that staycations have become a way to indulge in wanderlust, and so, some dreams have come true!
The Wanderlust Fairy Godmother granted my wish a couple of weekends ago, and I set Footsteps in Giraffe Manor. Wanderlustmate M decided that it was about time we checked off this dream and treated us to a night at this iconic property: I cannot wait to tell you all about it – grab a cuppa, and read on!
But First….A Little History
Giraffe Manor is a vintage home found in the leafy suburbs of Karen, in Nairobi. Aesthetically it looks like a stately manor built in the 1930’s but what makes it special are the resident giraffes that roam freely in its grounds.
The Manor’s claim to fame is thanks to Jock and Betty Melville, who bought it in 1974 as their residence. At the time, there were three Rothschild bull giraffes found at the Manor, whom the Melvilles named Tom, Dick and Harry. Being a conservationist, Betty soon learned that the Rothschild was close to extinction. In an attempt to save the species, she brought in female Rothschilds in the hope that she could breed them.
This was the beginning of The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, the Trust that runs the Giraffe Centre. The ethos behind the Centre was to provide a platform for close interaction with the giraffes whilst simultaneously educating on conservation. More than three decades later, the success story continues as the Giraffe Centre is still going strong and as mentioned before, is one of the top things to do in Nairobi.
The Melvilles stayed in the Manor until Jock died, and Betty then moved back to the USA. Betty’s son inherited the property and converted it into a boutique hotel, which remains to this day.
The Giraffe Manor
Today, the Giraffe Manor is run by a group called The Safari Collection.
The Manor still retains its old world charm and the suites in the main house are named after the giraffes that shaped its history. Each suite is unique and has its own decor and personality. With just a handful of rooms that accommodate a maximum of 30 guests, staying at the Giraffe Manor is an experience that is truly bespoke.
But, spending a night or two in this iconic Manor is only part of the charm. The piece de resistance is getting to interact closely with the giraffes that roam freely between the Giraffe Centre and the Giraffe Manor.
Given that the ethos of The Safari Collection is to embrace sustainability, community and conservation, it goes without saying that the interaction with these Giraffes is completely ethical and there is no element of animal cruelty involved.
Checking in….My Experience at Giraffe Manor
I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as we drove to the gates of Giraffe Manor. It felt like I was stepping into a dream to actually be staying here!
Covid-19 means enhanced protocols. Our temperatures were checked at the gates before we were even granted access. Social distancing means that at the time of writing this post, only half the Manor is booked, which allows for maintaining a healthy distance from other guests. Masks are mandatory in the common areas.
All protocols observed, I could not wait to check in to Betty’s Room, our home for the night.
Betty’s Room sits above the dining room of the Manor, and in the morning, the giraffes wait impatiently outside the window and balcony for their snacks. I honestly couldn’t wait to experience this myself the next day!
Meet the Giraffes
There are currently twelve Rothschild giraffes and a little baby that wander between the Giraffe Centre and Giraffe Manor. Each long legged beauty has his or her own quirks and personality! Being habituated, they are super friendly. The staff can distinguish between each of them and know them all by name and know their characteristics. Pretty soon, I had my favourites as well!
Contrary to imagination, the giraffes do not hang around Giraffe Manor all day. They roam between the Manor and the Centre as well as the wooded forest that these properties sit on. However, you do see them from the front deck at the Manor at any given time, albeit at a distance.
The most enchanting aspect of Giraffe Manor, apart from spending time in the vintage house, is interacting with the giraffes. The interaction here is very different from that at Giraffe Centre, and in a sense, is best described as almost intimate.
At 4:30 pm sharp, the giraffes know that it is time for them to come over to the Manor. It feels so well orchestrated as they literally turn their backs on the Centre and saunter over to the Manor!
It is tea time for both humans and giraffes, with a delectable High Tea set up on the lawn.
But, who drinks tea when you can literally play with giraffes? With the excitement of this playtime looming, it is safe to say the tea is forgotten and gets cold!
If you remember my little confession earlier, you will recall that I was scared of feeding the giraffes. Admittedly as a grown up, some things don’t change! I was a little nervous even as we checked in to Giraffe Manor! I thought that I would get away with seeing them from a safe distance and that would be the end of that story. But as you can probably imagine, our hosts at the Giraffe Manor were having none of that! Read on….
Big Edd, a large bull was the first giraffe to come to the lawn and peer expectantly at everyone, waiting for his snacks. Needless to say, I kept well away! But then, along came Salma, a friendly female who had the biggest eyes!. As she looked at me, I thought to myself “you’re gorgeous, but maybe Wanderlustmate M can feed you?”
Edgar, one of the members of staff at Giraffe Manor saw my hesitation and quickly came to my side to reassure me, and coached me on how to feed Salma.
She scooped up her treats from the palm of my hand with her long tongue, and as I was still jumpy, quite a few pellets fell on the ground versus going into her mouth! A couple of tries later I found myself starting to get more and more comfortable and Salma and I soon became good friends, to the point where she would gently head butt me if I accidentally ran out of treats for her! Baby Jock joined her and both Wanderlustmate M and I were furiously feeding both of them, oohing and aahing at just how gorgeous these creatures were!
Now that I was happier being around these beauties, Edgar thought it was time to go and say hello to Big Edd. He is named Big Edd for good reason: he is one of the largest males and looking up, I felt like a teeny dwarf in his presence!
I was encouraged to stroke his coat and was surprised at how silky it felt, but I drew the line at hugging him around his neck because that would be getting too close for comfort!
My favourite moment had to be feeding these two friendly ones. By this time, I had completely surprised myself at just how comfortable I felt standing between them. At that moment, just the three of us existed, and being so close to these elegant creatures was indeed magical.
Tea-time lasts from 4:30 p.m onwards, and it is easy to spend a couple of hours with the giraffes until the sun sets. When they have had enough snacks, and the humans decide to attend to their tea, the giraffes saunter off to the woods for the night and it feels a little sad to see them leave! But, there’s the anticipation for the morning after….
Breakfast With The Giraffes!
Waking up at the Manor the next day, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, and I couldn’t wait to see if our long legged friends had made an appearance. Edgar told us that the giraffes make their way to the Manor at about 6:30 am, and wander around poking their heads in to whichever window is open. Each room has treats in it so breakfast starts even before we get to the table!
When we woke up, Salma and a very pregnant Betty were ambling around, and I was more than happy to have them all to myself, at the balcony of Betty’s Room and give them some morning treats.
It felt almost satisfying to an extent, to be at eye level with these beauties that otherwise tower over you! Again, the two of them couldn’t eat these treats fast enough and fiesty Salma needed to be fed more than Betty, who was pregnant at the time!
This was just the start of what was to be an epic morning. Breakfast with the giraffes is the moment that pretty much everyone cannot wait for when staying at Giraffe Manor: after all, where else in the world (that isn’t Disneyland) can you have this experience?
“I’ll have Eggs Benedict and a cappuccino please, with a side of giraffe….!!!!” is pretty much the order of the morning. Again, the delectable breakfast plays second fiddle to the giraffes as every moment is spent playing with and feeding whichever ones decide to pop in. Salma and Betty are the most popular, and Big Edd can’t get enough of these tasty treats either!
And another surreal moment right here….almost feels like Big Edd is saying…”you just enjoy your coffee while I nibble on some treats…”
Like all good things, this too has to come to an end. Big Edd has his fill and ambles off to find his friends, but Salma is still wandering around and because we became such great friends at High Tea the evening before, I have a special affinity for her. Salma and I spend some time playing before it is time to say goodbye and step out of this dream, and head back home to my ho-hum life!
So, was it everything I dreamed of and more?
Yes, yes, yes and a hundred times again, YES. This is not a tourist trap by any means, and is probably THE most authentic experience you will ever have this close to a beautiful wild animal, ethically.
It truly is a once in a lifetime experience, and I would go back again in a heartbeat.
Until next time, happy safe wanderlusting!
The Fine Print: This is NOT a sponsored post and neither is it a collaboration with The Safari Collection. Our stay was on an independent basis and has been fully paid for by us and the opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer.