I used to consider Kilifi a go-to town for backpackers given the array of affordable accommodation and entertainment options here, with most high-end holiday homes being found in surrounding beach towns. Finding a spot like Kamili House online, therefore, was a pleasant surprise. That very weekend, our flight from Nairobi was booked and a bright red tuk tuk which picked us up from Malindi Airport was rattling down a sandy road towards the house.
The chalk-white Kamili House sits in a thriving lush green garden south of Kilifi Creek and comfortably sleeps 11 people in four suites, one twin and one single bedroom. A front terrace where we spent many an evening playing board games, dancing and dining opens up to a sky blue infinity pool and ancient baobab trees. The pink lounging pool chairs match the bougainvillea flowers dotted around the garden. Set on top of a cliff, we would take a break from playing make-do water polo to gaze at the expansive Indian Ocean below us. Here, at the crack of dawn, we would spot fishermen sailing back to the village with their catch from the previous night. A small wooden gate leads from the pool area down to a private sandy beach where we would go looking for colourful shells at low tide.
Originally purchased and renovated by Heather in 2010, Kamili has now been passed on to her children and remains first and foremost a family holiday home. Fondly known during her flying days as “All-weather Heather”, she came to Kenya in 1959 and started commercial flying in 1969 with the Flying Doctors. She spent the next 40 years flying throughout the East African region and became renowned for her selflessness, bravery and professionalism flying relief missions into then war-torn Somalia and Southern Sudan. Working in a male-dominated field, she knew how to navigate the bush like no other pilot. In her 2017 obituary, The Times reported that in her time flying aid workers, doctors, nurses and missionaries, she developed a few tricks of the trade such as camphor soaked cotton wool in the nostrils while airlifting casualties with gangrenous wounds. When calculated risk dissolved into regular brushes with death, her obituary read, she laughed it off.
Heather is said to have had a keen eye for detail with a love for landscaping, and the grounds at her seaside haven coupled with the decor at the house are testament to that. The lawns here are still immaculately kept and bright flowers bloom around the property, perfectly matched by the charming decor within the high-ceilinged living areas. There are white terrazzo floors upon which sit antique Persian kilims, rustic intricately carved wooden doors with a distressed finish, a clear love for pottery as indoor accessories, colourful photographs and paintings depicting daily life in Kenya, laidback Swahili chairs and tables with antique chests, as well as family photographs which give the space a personalised feel. The house is bright and airy, chic yet comfortable, a real home away from home. My room even had a private courtyard with a checkered black and white floor which resembled a giant chessboard, engulfed by palm trees.
Kamili is Swahili for ‘complete’ or “perfect”, a name I found befitting; even if one were to be confined within these two acres for the duration of their holiday, they still wouldn’t feel the need to leave. You can cook your own meals but we chose to have the kitchen staff handle all our food and shopping. We had a fresh tuna for lunch, accompanied by a courgette salad, fries, prawns and tzatziki sauce. There was also a cheese-and-greens stuffed baguette accompanied by a salad made with cilantro and mangoes which were in full season. The highlight, however, was the poolside Swahili dinner on our last night. On top of a blue table-cloth stood glowing candlestands and a vase of fresh frangipani. Soft chapati that came apart in layers like primary school exercise books were cut into even triangles then neatly laid on a plate. There was coconut rice, kachumbari, samosas and the star of the night; a spicy Swahili fish curry which we cleared in seconds, but let’s just say that it’s because we didn’t want it to be cooled by the breeze.
Kamili has its own helipad if you choose to arrive on a private charter. Otherwise Kilifi is easy to get to, with scheduled flights to Mombasa (90 mins), Malindi (60 mins) or Vipingo (20 mins) away. There is also an airstrip on the Kilifi Plantation, a five minute drive from Kamili for private charters and personal aircrafts.
Rates start at Ksh 65,000 for eight people or less, and Ksh 80,000 for more than eight.
Photographs: Brian Siambi