Kenya’s most famous hotel, Treetops, was hosting Princess Elizabeth in February 1952 when she became Queen Elizabeth II on the death of her father George VI. The original tree house she stayed in was burned down in 1955 by Mau Mau freedom fighters; the present, much larger, construction is an ugly box, built on stilts, with a few trees growing through it. The main Nyeri road passes by just 3km away, and shambas and villages are easily visible: this is no jungle hideaway. Both tree-hotels, Treetops and The Ark, are located in the controlled area called the Salient, a lower-altitude extension of the Aberdare National Park. Depending on the season, mist and low temperatures can affect both lodges: take warm clothes.
The problem at Treetops is clear when you survey the scene from the open-air “top deck”. It is a victim of its own success. The laying of salt by the waterhole guarantees the nightly arrival of heavyweight camera fodder, but has brought about the destruction of all the nearby forest by elephants. The current scene – tree-planting areas enclosed by electric fences and acres of mud – is neither popular with visitors nor good for wildlife. That shy forest antelope, the bongo, hasn’t put in an appearance since 1988. Despite the lack of cover, black rhino are seen often, and leopard two or three times a month. But efforts to encourage hardwood forest regeneration behind the electric wires seem doomed to fail – they’ve been trying for more than thirty years.