North Island Nostalgia…

22nd May 2013

Far away, a thousand miles into the Indian Ocean, is an island so beautiful that it makes the heart sing – North Island.

The beaches sparkle in the sunlight, plump drifts of sand grown fat with their own natural formation, unspoiled by human detritus. The coral sands are washed each day by a frothing, crystal turquoise sea, and inland the granite rock mountains and forests are shaded by palms and home to giant tortoises (with tiny babies)… this is a magical place, and the memories of our (too short!) family holiday here will stay with us all forever.

Such natural glory does not come without a cost; it has taken a huge amount of work to rehabilitate the island to its current state, and the brilliant people who worked with Wilderness Safaris to envisage, design and construct the heavenly accommodation here are truly inspired. They dreamed of restoring this granitic bolt of paradise to its original, endemic species, borrowing tortoises and enticing birds after an impassioned rat-killing spree, and with style and grace beyond this, the island accommodation seeks to blend in and accentuate a sense of utter privacy, and unblemished desert island charm.

All structures are created with wood and glass and shells, with stone and brass and all heavily pared back to a deeply satisfying style. Nothing man made is permitted to mar the beach views, sun beds and shades are back within the canopy of green, the glorious hand-crafted pool is cut into the rocky mountain side, shrouded with trees, dappled with shade and relishing infinity views over the beach below.

The interior designer should be lifted up on a high pedestal, paraded in successful glory around the world. Safari style, a great favourite, has been translated to barefoot beach luxury with such success, and it is maintained sympathetically and gloriously throughout. The main bar area, sun-dappled and differentiated by sunken sitting areas, vast upturned tree trunks and private, candlelit dining areas is a properly dreamy space to enjoy, and the villas themselves are a sumptuous pleasure. Wildly spacious, with private, dark wood polished floors and a study or children’s bedroom, (with old fashioned projector style cinema screen option), is a wholesome distance from the Master bedroom, across a wide-planked deck.

The dive centre is particularly satisfying, built within the old buildings of the copra farm, now wonderful old stone husks of buildings, with thick walls all whitewashed and sunbleached and somehow embodying all that is attractive about surf and dive culture. Sit barefoot on the high wooden stools and book yourself out with the dive team, who measure feet for flippers and kit you out in matching sun suits for sexy dive style.

The dive diary is packed with exciting spots, but, to mitigate unrealistic desires and painful jealousy, it is best not to look at it until you return from your own adventure. Suffice it to say, our family dream of swimming with turtles and sharks was even better in reality, with the added joy of watching our eight-year old’s eyes nearly expand to fill his mask as we showed him a white-tip shark beneath us, soon frightened off by the subsequent fast-paddling of his legs beneath.

Sea turtles are thriving here, and their popular breeding grounds on the West beach are carefully nurtured; we were excited to find the great tyre-like tracks of their progress the night before, but were staying at the wrong time to be able to sneak up and watch the old girl actually laying, as other guests have. The turtles to return to the beach of their birth to lay their own eggs, a staggering natural fact that seems to push against the bounds of credibility, but then, so does the possibility of them ever wanting to go far from here in the first place.

Climbing up the mountain to look down upon this sparkling landscape is therapy in itself, especially if you can escape your family for five minutes and enjoy some serious meditative peace and quiet, or, even more indulgent, meander up to the spa. The open sided, wooden construction of the spa building has seriously spectacular views, to be soaked up during an elaborate and most delicious ‘foot-washing’ ceremony soon after arrival.

So with all of this in mind, it is not so hard to understand why Conde Nast Traveller Reader awards voted it ‘No1 in the World, Best of the Best’ a few years ago, and why the young Prince William brought his bride here for their honeymoon. The beauty and privacy and super style combine to make it a destination to enjoy at the time, and for the memories to linger deliciously thereafter. Despite being a hugely far flung distance from anywhere, there are easy flights routing through Nairobi, and, you may gasp in horror at the thought, but we recommend spending an extra night here on the way.

A short drive through horrible traffic from Nairobi airport brings you out of the city and into the glorious rolling landscape of Giraffe Manor. This fabulous old historic house abounds with personal charm and wildlife glory, and provided a thrilling overnight adventure for our children and ourselves. The giraffe centre was started by Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville, following their personal rescue of one threatened Rothschild giraffe – named Daisy – in the 1970s, followed by a baby male soon after. Successive generations and rescued animals have been long nurtured by the family ever since. The aim has always been to reintroduce the animals back into a safe wild environment, although some become so at home here that this becomes impossible.

The family no longer live in the house, but staff try to maintain it in as much of the same style as is possible without personal effects. The atmosphere is house-party civilised, with shared drinks and dinner among the few other guests.  The staff are superb, all very engaged and engaging, all as excited as we were to feed the long noses that push through the breakfast windows. This is the focal point of your stay, the old-fashioned rooms and fab restaurant notwithstanding. The excitement of feeding giraffe pellets by hand, or by mouth as the children were encouraged to do, is invigorating and wonderful. Revel in the enormity of these crazy-legged ungulates, the beauty of watching them so close and the real hands-on experience of touching them. IT is an uplifting, enlivening end to a lifetime-memorable holiday!