As River Mathioya snakes through the hills and ridges of the small-scale tea farms in Murang’a County, Aberdare Cottages sits grandly in wooden lofts a few kilometres from one of the main water towers in Mt Kenya region.
The scenic views featuring a waterfall, a dense Aberdare forest and a breathtaking landscape of tea farms contribute to chill blissful weather immersing the guests to the region’s flora and fauna.
Here, guests are not only treated to tasty meals and decent accommodation, the entrepreneur goes as far as ensuring the visitors are treated to nature excursions surrounding the hotel through long and short hikes, tea and dairy farm visits as well as fly fishing along the shores of the river that drains to River Tana.
Previously, Zachary Gichane always sought for adventurous activities outside the hustle and bustle of the city in the village spending quality time with nature to ease off the steam that comes with corporate jobs.
“I am very passionate about the hospitality industry which is not limited to quality food and services… I have incorporated travel and outdoor activities to ensure that our visitors enjoy their stay here. The idea is to make a difference and showcase the location,” he says.
Due to its strategic location, the hotel has received visitors from across the world who come to the central highlands to practice fly fish sporting, for the longest time been viewed as a preserve for the elite.
Mr Gichane notes that previously one needed to be a member of the Kenya Fly Fishing club to participate in the sport that was introduced in Kenya during the colonial rule.
“Now it is accessible to anyone who visits us. We only organise for a permit from the fisheries department in Murang’a,” he adds, noting that they only require the right gear for fishing.
Temperatures in Mathioya drop as low as nine degrees Celsius especially during the cold season which makes it a haven for trout fish since they flourish in flowing cold water.
Guests can practice fishing at the Cottage’s park and in the river.
“The fishing is purely for fun… we fish and release,” he said, noting that guests have a guide with them to help them locate the fish.
Though fish do not draw as many tourists as visiting the country’s savanna such as Maasai Mara to watch the big five or the wildebeest migration, Mr Gichane says it is catching on as people are now attracted to spending time in nature, giving rise to adventure tourism.
He aims to transform his locality by offering opportunities through agritourism.
Agritourism incorporates two industries- agriculture and tourism. In this practice, people visit farms and often take part in farming activities.
“Everyone is a farmer here and so I make sure that they benefit from my enterprise. I buy all my food stuff from them and they are more than willing to let visitors learn from their farms,” he noted.
People in Mathioya are largely tea farmers, growing three types of tea- green, black and purple tea– that are harvested and sold to the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) in its 56 affiliated factories. In this area, farmers sell their produce to Gatunguru tea factory.
For instance, when guests arrive at the Aberdare Cottage for a three- day stay, they are taken to farm tours upon their request where they witness first the processes involved from hand tea picking all the way to sorting in buying centres and then to weighing and packaging in the factories.
As the guests’ partake in tea picking they have to adhere to the rules stipulated by KTDA of picking two leaves and a bud for quality purposes.
“We charge Sh1, 500 per person for the farm tours… most of the people who come have no idea how tea is picked or processed and so it is also a learning experience for them,” he adds.
Tea tasting classes
Further, the guests are also taken to the tea tasting classes where experts determine the quality of the tea picked in the region.
Other nature excursions include short hikes that are within a kilometre from the hotel to farms where guests learn how to rear and keep different animals in homesteads.
“These are things that are overlooked but people are impressed by how certain people can be both dairy and poultry farmers as well as run a farm with subsistence crops,” Mr Gichane notes, adding that for such short hikes, the guests are not charged.
Since Covid-19 struck two years ago, Mr Gichane notes people have valued work flexibility and thus he is more concerned in ensuring that when guests come to his hotel they can still lead a quality life.
“People can now work from anywhere and my goal is to ensure that even when they visit they feel much at home leading quality lives away from home or their work station. Covid-19 offered us an opportunity,” he adds.
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