Perched high above the vast plains of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, the new Angama Mara safari lodge is the ultimate African utopia. Only there’s nothing traditional about this quirky camp on the hillside, which occupies a front-row seat at one of the world’s most spectacular wildlife theatres.
Vanessa Raphaely chats to owners Nicky and Steve Fitzgerald, who are icons of the local and international tourism business, about the design and launch of the lodge and about what makes it such an Eden for high-end travellers.
Less bold souls might have thought that the view from the lodge would speak for itself and that a simple but classy lodge design would more than suffice, but the architecture of Angama Mara is almost as unique as the views. What inspired the creative vision?
I know it might sound a little old fashioned, but it was the guest who inspired every aspect of the design. This lodge was built for them – not for the owners, the designers or even the view. Our guests are all on a journey here in East Africa, so everything needs to surprise them: the design both inside and out, the way in which they are taken care of, the way we show them animals, the food, everything. It’s very easy to be just a classic safari lodge, but then there are heaps of those.
What are your own personal favourite elements of the lodge’s design and architecture?
Steve: My favourite is floating over the water into the communal areas and then being drawn to the edge of the deck to take in the view – guests often cry at this point (Steve). Nicky: The Pavilion – I love the glimpse of turquoise of the swimming pool against a stormy Mara sky.
What has been the most challenging part of the building and launch phase?
As far as the build goes, the biggest challenge was opening on time (a rarity in our industry) despite losing a month due to torrential rains. We had to install in those rains – oh the mud. With the launch, it was challenging to have to welcome guests only two days after the kitchen was completed and one day after the guest areas were handed over…never again.
When you look back over all these years in the hospitality and tourism business, what do you think the biggest changes have been?
The Internet by a mile. Being able to tell our brand story to the whole world at the touch of a button was unthinkable 15 years ago. Also, travellers have migrated from “me holidays” (vacations focused on beaching, shopping, eating) to learning holidays, and once they’ve made this shift, they keep coming back for more.
What do you think, among the feast of offerings available, is the ultimate Angama Mara experience?
That’s a tough one. It should be exploring the beautiful Mara Triangle, but sitting in those red rocking chairs on the deck of your tented suite is a close second.
Do you think that lodge design in general is redefining itself? Or is Angama Mara just a bold exception?
The latter – you have got to be bonkers to go this route. But anyway, who wants same old?
Can you describe the magic of Angama Mara in a sentence?
When all is said and done, Angama Mara is simply a place where you can just be and you can fall in love with the world again.
See our December 2015 issue, now on shelves, to get the full story on the beautiful Angama Mara lodge.