Grace Leonard Waithaka

We recently had a chance to catch up with the new GM at Elsa’s Kopje, Grace Leonard Waithaka, to learn more about what she loves about Elsa’s and how she came to be a dynamic female leader in the luxury hospitality industry.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What is your background? And what are some highlights in your career?

Growing up in the small town of Maralal in Samburu County, Kenya humbled me. My fondest memory is walking to school (approximately 2 km away) each day with my friends and classmates. Maralal was then a small tourist town. Most of the explorers like William Thessinger lived there, as well as Tony Fitzjohn - one of George Adamson's personal assistants - who fondly speaks about this town in his book Born Wild.

At a young age, visiting my cousins in Longido, Tanzania elevated my passion for conservation and hospitality, which work hand in hand. This led me to choose a career in the industry, spanning more than ten years, working in various departments like sales & marketing and operations with luxury properties in Dar es Salaam and Serengeti in Tanzania, and now in Kenya.

I hope that my interaction with guests helps them gain a better understanding of the area they are visiting. For instance, at Elsa’s Kopje Meru, we share the story of Elsa the Lioness. Through this dialogue, guests end up learning about how Meru National Park managed to restore its glory in the 90s through the combined efforts of conservationists like Richard Leakey, George Adamson, and other conservationist pioneers in Kenya.

What makes Elewana Elsa’s Kopje so special?

Elewana Elsa's Kopje Meru is beautiful, unique and the only permanent luxury property inside Meru National Park. The setting is inextricably linked to the Born Free novel and movie which portrayed George and Joy Adamson raising, rehabilitating, and releasing lions from 1956 to 1970 into the wild. Elsa was the most famous of their felines and the lioness is buried here in our park. Joy Adamson’s ashes were later spread over her grave. The lodge was a pioneer of the green movement in Kenya and was built to be part of the natural rocky hillside using natural materials.

The stunning lodge is a firm favourite of mine, with elegant, open-fronted luxury cottages which are all unique and a sumptuous honeymoon suite decorated with stylish African flair.

Do you have a favourite aspect of the camp?

Elsa’s Kopje sits high on Mughwango Hill above George Adamson’s original campsite with spectacular views over the plains of Meru National Park.

From the plains below you can barely see Elsa’s Kopje, which is tucked perfectly around the rocks and trees; not a single indigenous tree was cut down during its construction. Yet while the lodge is unobtrusive and discreet from the outside, it offers a great degree of comfort and style. It is worth noting, however, that because Elsa’s was so carefully fitted into the natural environment, there are several steps between the rooms and the main areas.

Can you share a bit about the culinary experience at the property?

The food experience takes inspiration from the beautiful Meru conservancy, using palm leaves and local ingredients to delight and excite our guest’s palate. The fresh and colourful food is complemented by stunning pieces of glass wear from the Kenyan Kitengela glass company.

Head Chef Jackie ignites guests taste buds at every meal and they can expect to be blown away by magical outdoor breakfasts, Instagram-worthy lunches, and dinners under a magnificent starlit sky.

What activities can guests take advantage of while at the property?

Along with game drives, bush breakfasts and sundowners, they can hike up to Mughwongo Hill, fish, visit the rhino sanctuary, do a local school visit at Ura Gate primary school, visit the hippo pool, visit Elsa's grave, visit George Adamson's grave in Korra national park (day trip), visit Adamson Falls in Tana River Bridge and George Adamson Old Kampi ya Simba.

In terms of wildlife, what can guests expect to see during their visit?

The wildlife is abundant! Guests can spot Elsa’s pride of lions, over 400 bird species, Grevey and common zebras, Tuskers (long tusk elephants), Gerenuk – the long neck antelope, reticulated giraffes, oryx, Somali ostrich and more. We suggest guests head out early in the morning to see white and black rhinos in the rhino sanctuary. All cats are in the park though they are very elusive because of the density of the park.

It’s exciting (and unfortunately rare) to have a female GM, especially one from Kenya! Do you have any advice for women who are interested in finding roles industry, including women who would like to become a guide?

My best advice includes:

    • Have a vision for your career
    • Create your own personal definition of success
    • Form a personal board of advisors
    • Understand how your company makes money
    • Cultivate friends at work
    • Women Support Women: Reach out to role models in your company and outside your company. Choose great mentors. Be a mentor to other women

There are no shortcuts, remember it is not easy. Keep working, keep striving, never give up, fall down seven times, get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. Keep moving, keep growing, and remember to cultivate a culture of commitment. Roll up your sleeves and go to work.

Any other special, unique, or interesting info or details you’d like to share to highlight the camp and/or your role?

I am grateful to Elewana for believing in me and allowing me to steer this ship named Elsa's Kopje to greater heights. The support we continue to receive from our colleagues is immeasurable and will help us all achieve this dream, whether it’s the F&B dept, HR, finance, reservations, marketing, branding, or operations. I am also grateful for the great working relationship we have with Land & Life Foundation, the Born Free Foundation and Kenya Wildlife Service.