Wajee Nature Park is a nature sanctuary in Nyeri County in central Kenya. It is a homegrown ecotourism initiative. The 20-acre park is the home of Jagi Gakunju, an avid naturalist.
After a two-hour drive from Nairobi, we disembarked at a parking lot dominated by a massive fig tree and surrounded by lush vegetation. Strolling through the thickly wooded sanctuary, it was amazing to see how the land has regenerated.
Gakunju inherited the estate, previously a coffee plantation, from his father in 1986. He decided to regrow the original forest. He cleared the coffee bushes and soon native trees started reappearing.
He also planted hundreds of trees, scouring the country for indigenous tree seedlings. "Any place I found an interesting nursery, including in Dar es Salaam, I bought young trees," he said.
Today Wajee Park is recognised as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International, a collective of global conservation groups.
The park is home to over 120 bird species. Morning is the best time for a forest walk. The resident naturalist pointed out different birds and drew our attention to calls from others we could not see.
There were African green pigeons, montane white-eyes, the green-backed honey guide and more. I saw a pair of African wood owls for the first time.
These medium-sized birds with rounded heads looked down at us curiously. One very important bird is the threatened Hinde's Babbler, a species endemic to Kenya's highlands. Sixty per cent of all HInde's Babblers are said to be found around Wajee.
The park also attracts migrant African birds like the black cuckoo shrike and the African pygmy kingfisher, and species from Europe like the Eurasian Bee-eater, Blackcap and Willow Warbler.
Wajee's manager Robert Muchunu said they often see the common duiker, mongoose, genet cats, Sykes monkeys and African civets, although we did not spot any of these.
Back at the visitor area, we sat in a partly open restaurant where refreshments are served.
For overnight visitors, Wajee Park has camping grounds, guest rooms and self-catering cottages.
A larger accommodation block with a restaurant was recently built farther away so as to maintain the serenity of the forest sanctuary.
I stayed in the double-storey guest wing not far from the old house. The next morning we woke up to various bird calls. Breakfast included traditional millet porridge. I was loathe to leave this peaceful nature sanctuary in the highlands.