Vipingo Ridge: Luxury homes, golf and more

Friday November 14 2014

Villas at Vipingo Ridge. PHOTO | COURTESY

Villas at Vipingo Ridge. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By RUPI MANGAT

The view from the ridge is stunning. From my villa’s rooftop plunge pool, I can see neat sisal rows touching the aquamarine-blue waters of the Indian Ocean, and on the opposite side the ridge rises higher.

Enclosed in the sisal plantation, the verdant green fairways of the golf course rise and fall with the contours — starting and ending at the club house. The high ceilings and open archways remind me of the great mosque of Gedi.

“When the owners bought it, it was a derelict sisal plantation,” says Rob Ward, the CEO of Vipingo Ridge.

As we’re talking, I’m enjoying a platter of sailfish, after a morning of snorkelling at Kuruwitu Marine Conservancy with Katana Ngala Hinzand of the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association.

“We’re on one of the highest points of the ridge, where it’s at least four degrees cooler than below,” Ward says, digging into his steak.

“Our core business is selling property and creating a lifestyle for residents. It’s a great atmosphere for holidays. Besides golfing, there’s horse-riding, tracks for mountain biking and jogging, and soon we will have tennis courts and a leisure centre. And it has easy access to the beach. Children love it because it’s safe for them to wander around and explore.”

Some of the private homes look like they’re straight out of pictures in Architectural Digest. “The home-owners rent out their homes to holiday-makers. We take care of marketing and management,” Ward says.

“It’s a phenomenal investment,” he adds. “The owners bought the property (around the turn of the millennium) at $50,000 an acre. The price rose to $350,000 per acre very fast.”

Currently, the land is experiencing a 20 per cent growth in value annually.

“The past six months have been challenging because of the insecurity situation in the country, but nobody reduced their prices.

“With 2,500 acres, we have only just started and will continue to grow,” says Ward. “This can be a retirement place for homeowners, or a pied-de-terre; we will progress to an old peoples’ home.”

As the sun set, I met with golf course superintendent Damon Kirk, who has worked on golf courses — from Ireland to the Middle East — for two decades. When he first saw Vipingo, he says, “It blew my mind.

“For half the year, you’re playing in the wind and for the other half you’re playing against the wind,” says Kirk. It has to do with the monsoon winds — the kusi and the kaskazi — coming off the ocean. “So when you’re playing against the wind, we place extra tees on some holes.”

“It’s such a beauty,” adds Kirk. I have to agree; the course boasts spectacular landscapes. It’s dotted with baobabs rescued from road sides, and the pinkest desert rose I’ve ever seen.

I turn down the offer of a golf lesson and instead enjoy a drive around the estate along the fairways, over cobbled bridges to the mango orchard where the local women come to harvest wood and collect mangoes in season.

The mango orchard, planted 50 years ago, draws bees to pollinate other plants — it’s an eco-service. Huge dams full of rain water keep the estate self sufficient. A little patch of indigenous forest is reminiscent of what the ridge may have looked like half a century ago.

Back at my villa, I enjoy a few minutes in my private plunge pool. In the bedroom, latticed windows, a signature of design architect Urko Sanchez, cast patterns on the walls. Immense urns and tropical plants dot the terraces and brass chandeliers remind me of the Arab dynasties at the Coast.

Where does the name Vipingo come from?

“It’s from the mpingo tree,” says Joseph Thambu the executive sous-chef. The mpingo (plural vipingo) or African Blackwood tree is one of the world’s most threatened trees, and is found only in a few countries in Africa.

In Kenya and Tanzania, this beautiful hardwood has been cut down to make musical instruments — from clarinets to pianos — and wood carvings. It takes 60 years for a tree to mature.

Near the second tee, there’s a grove of trees — some vipingo saved because Ward decided he wasn’t going to cut them down to make space to build a house.

Instead, the plot was moved a few metres away and one of Kenya’s most endangered trees now thrives in the safety of Vipingo Ridge.