Fame of Mount Kenya Safari Club
This is the story of the fame of Mount Kenya Safari Club. Well before mass tourism, Safari, meaning trip, was associated with hunting trips taking considerable time and cash and included going after the elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, and leopard. In the 1950s, the celebrity conservationist and Hollywood movie star William Holden along with two of his friends, a Swiss and an American, did one such safari.
Kenya before independence
Kenya was a destination for soldiers of fortune, intrepid travelers, hunters, and settlers. It was a time when the word “conservation” was not entirely understood as it is today. It was also a time before the independence of Kenya, and so the Mau Mau fighters of the Kikuyu tribe were starting their war of independence. They hid in the forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. These woods had upcountry inns that provided hunters with a place to respite for a few days, but with the risk of these freedom fighters, most of the north was empty. William Holden and friends were ready to spend several weeks in Kenya despite the unrest.
Farm to fame
The beautiful town of Nanyuki with its broad street lies at the foothills of Mount Kenya. It was a buzzing marketplace with an expanding population dealing with all kinds of commerce and trade. Even today, Nanyuki, the last highland before descending into the northern plains, does indeed retains the frontier spirit. There was one accommodation in Nanyuki that was the favorite spot for William and his group. It is on the equator on mountain slopes that towers above the forests with gardens beyond. This place started out as a coffee farm just a few kilometers above Nanyuki town. By some quirk of fate, the owner was forced to sell it in 1960 due to crop failure, and that became the turning point in their lives. After lots of dreams and many drinks, the three bought it and named it Mount Kenya Safari Club.
Coveted private retreat
The inn converted into what became a gorgeous hotel in East Africa. The mesmerizing view alone is worth the trip to this majestic and historical hotel. Due to its unique location, Mount Kenya Safari Club later became a sanctuary for illustrious visitors such as Hollywood stars, celebrities, royalty and heads of state. It was a hideaway for the crowned heads and the glitterati and its “gold book” was a “Who’s Who.” Founded by the Sunset Boulevard celebrity William Holden and host to guests such as Winston Churchill and Bing Crosby, Mount Kenya Safari Club is an establishment with extraordinary views of the mountain. This historic club reflects the colonial architectural design, providing a glimpse of Kenya from a bygone era.
Stunning cottage suites
The twelve William Holden Cottage Suites, named after the founder, are identical and reflects the charm and history of the original residence. They possess spacious lounges and are elegant with beautiful stone fireplaces, expansive private lawns overlooking the mountain and five-piece ensuite bathrooms. The stunning suites have two adjoining bedrooms for two couples or a family, offering privacy and luxurious accommodation.
Fascination with nature
When Don Hunt came to East Africa to film episodes for his children’s TV show known as “Bwana Don,” he was captivated by it. While in the country, he and Holden cemented their relationship through their fascination with nature and the extraordinary wildlife. Iris Breidenbend, who eventually became Iris Hunt and Julian McKeand who was a professional hunter, joined Don and Bill.
Mount Kenya Ranch
Surrounding the 65 acres of grounds comprising the Mount Kenya Safari Club stood a mixed farm owned by a Major in the British army. When this adjacent land came up for sale, Holden and his group purchased it immediately to combine it with the grounds of Mount Kenya Safari Club. That was the birth of Mount Kenya Game Ranch with captive breeding programs of African species and an orphanage where Iris had raised rescued orphans, bringing them back from the brink of death. Conservation, preservation, and the concept of “ecology” only became popular many years after Mount Kenya Game Ranch.
Wildlife conservation awareness
William Holden’s acting career spanned 40 years and included 80 films plus an Oscar. But the role in which Holden took the most pride was the co-founder and conservationist of the Mount Kenya Ranch. Throughout his life, Holden continued his support of the game ranch and referred to it as the greatest of his life. His dedicated efforts to conserve the wildlife so precious to all soon expanded throughout the globe, as he instilled in everyone a reverence for the creatures of nature. In America and Britain, green movements brought wildlife conservation awareness to the forefront through tee shirts bearing a baby seal.
Endangered mountain bongo
Today, Mount Kenya Safari Club is a posh hotel and location of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy. It is home to the largest herd of mountain bongo in the world that is captive-born. The natural range of these endangered species was the Mau Escarpment and Aberdare National Park. Hence plans are afoot to release 20 of these beautiful antelopes into Mount Kenya National Park. The partners made the bongo the logo and symbol of the Mount Kenya Game Ranch because it was one of the rare species.
Dream comes true
In 1973 Holden brought Stefanie Powers into his East African project, and she was swept up by his contagious enthusiasm. After William passed away, Powers and the Hunts established the William Holden Wildlife Foundation. The foundation carried out Holden’s unfinished work and received its IRS status in October 1982 as a Public Charity. The first group camped on the education center site the following year in January.