Treetops is a glorified treehouse next to a watering hole in Aberdare National Park, Kenya, where you can watch wild elephants. It’s also the setting for a turning point in British History.
During a working visit to Nairobi in 2007, I squeezed in 2 days to explore. I donned my Pith Helmet and headed off to Treetops.
Queen Elizabeth II at Treetops
You know how it is. You watch wild elephants. Then go to bed just an ordinary princess and wake up Queen of England and Head of the Commonwealth. It happens.
Princess Elizabeth visited Treetops in 1952. Sometime during the night, unknown to her, she acceded to the throne. Back in London her father, King George VI, had died in his sleep. She learned the news the next day, after leaving Treetops and arriving at Sagana Lodge. Sound familiar? You might have seen the dramatised version in the brilliant Netflix series The Crown.
Her bodyguard at the time, Jim Corbett, famously wrote in the guestbook:
‘For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen – god bless her’.
Regrettably, after my stay at Treetops, I descended still a commoner. Very common some would say (unkindly).
A beer on the terrace
We arrived at Treetops around 3:30pm. I unpacked the few things I’d brought for the night, grabbed a beer, then went upstairs to sit on the deck. Looking out at the unpromising small, dusty waterhole I wasn’t optimistic. Would Africa’s big game really swing by for a drink here?
Not to worry. I sat back and relaxed. Enjoying the scenery and cool beer.
A few minutes later, movement in my peripheral vision.
Watch wild elephants
It was an elephant. A big, bloody elephant! I sat up quickly out of my default slouch position. Glancing around the deck to share the moment with other guests. I was alone.
Another elephant. Then another. Soon a herd of six or seven were drinking thirstily. I leaned forward, resting my chin on the varnished handrail. A tingle up the back of my neck. Moments like this, of such extraordinary pleasure, are rare. And I had this moment all to myself. To watch wild elephants.
Soon the elephants moved on. Followed by other groups of animals. Each taking a turn to drink. Baboons, Antelopes and more.
Discrete spotlights illuminated the waterhole after sunset. Rangers briefed guests on the habits and behaviour of the animals.
We were welcome to stay up all night or go to bed. Each room had a buzzer. Rangers kept watch and used a coded system to tell us which animals were visiting. The more buzzes the bigger the animal. 5 buzzes for an Elephants. 1 buzz for a monkey. 2, 3 and 4 buzzes for everything in between. Deactivate your buzzer when you’ve seen enough.
To some extent, Treetops was trading on past glories. I didn’t care one bit.
The original building opened in 1932 with only 2 rooms. Then growing exponentially to 50 rooms. Built around the tree rather than in the top of it. It seems everyone wanted to watch wild elephants.
That building was burned down in 1954 by African guerrillas.
The Treetops you see today is not the one the Queen stayed in. Same location. Same waterhole. Still a sense of history. The changed building doing nothing to diminish the experience of seeing these incredible wild animals at close quarters (cold beer in hand).
A word about the decor
I believe Treetops has been refurbished since my visit. Decor then was gloriously kitsch. Unchanged since the 1960s. Dark varnished wood. Peach curtains and valances. Collections of old books in glass cabinets. Treetops was a time capsule.
Why you should visit Treetops
- See African animals up close in their natural habitat (with a beer in your hand). To watch wild elephants is a magical experience.
- Visit a place of global historical significance.
- You never know your luck. You might wake up a queen.
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