Insiders

Indagare Insider: Into the Bush with Angama's Kate Fitzgerald Boyd

Steve and Nicky Fitzgerald are African safari legends. Over four decades, the business and life partners established and ran dozens of the finest lodges on the continent, including many properties for the Indagare-adored brand andBeyond. In 2014, they finally launched their own Kenya-based portfolio, Angama, which means "hanging or suspended in mid-air" in Swahili. Since the 2015 opening of Angama Mara, the brand has collected numerous accolades and deepened its impact through the Angama Foundation, which focuses on supporting local education, healthcare and conservation initiatives. After Steve passed away in 2017, and Nicky stepped down as CEO in 2022, their daughter Kate Fitzgerald Boyd has been writing the next chapter of the business, alongside co-founding partner Steve Mitchell. Just a few weeks ago, they celebrated the opening of their second permanent lodge, Angama Amboseli, in southern Kenya’s Kimana Sanctuary, the land of the incredibly rare Super Tusker elephants (with prime views onto Kilimanjaro). The Indagare Team were among the very first through the door, where we shared stories of adventures and pearls of safari wisdom with Kate over glasses of wine and candlelight. Catch some of them below—along with an inside look at the opening, and Kate's travel tips for her home cities of Nairobi and Johannesburg. Plus: Get her advice and favorite brands for safari packing, and her list of favorite historic hotels in Africa. 

You grew up in hospitality (you’ve described yourself as a “back-of-house baby,” which I love). How did this somewhat unusual upbringing shape your worldview?

Kate Fitzgerald Boyd:

Being a back-of-house baby has 100-percent shaped who I am today: I'm a people-pleaser (guests first, always!) and a storyteller. I have learned to understand my audience—knowing that a guest, as well as the person you are talking to, deserves a one-size-fits-one approach. I think this comes from an entire lifetime of being exposed to the global luxury adventure traveler.

Did you always want to be a part of the family business?

KFB:

It was always our family’s dream to open a family business, similar to my parents' first hotel on the southernmost tip of Africa—where the owner/family is at the front door. But being a Fitzgerald, with the legacy I am tasked to uphold, I had a moment of rebellion following university, where I swore that I would never join the industry... but who was I kidding?! It was my destiny, and I love, eat, breathe, sleep it, every single day.

How have you seen Eastern and Southern Africa change over the years in response to the rise of luxury safari tourism?

KFB:

Speaking from 10 years of personal industry experience in Kenya, it has been amazingly wonderful to see the luxury safari offering in East Africa grow exponentially, both with new product as well as pre-existing operators investing in full refurbishments to their lodges and camps. I am a firm believer that there is a guest for every property, and a perfect property for every guest—which is why there is room for everyone.

In East Africa, I have also been witness to the streamlining and fulfilling of seamless logistics over the past 10 years. Take the Nairobi Expressway, for example, and how that has alleviated the old traffic nightmare—not to mention the multiple flight routes allowing easy passage on combination East African itineraries.

To be honest, I am so fully entrenched in East Africa that to pass comment on Southern Africa would be seriously making sweeping statements, but from an outsider’s perspective, and especially from the mid-nineties when my parents joined the safari industry—to say the luxury safari landscape has done a 180, would be putting it mildly.

When considering the many destinations for safari in Africa—What makes Kenya special for you?

KFB:

Beautiful question, easy answer: The people. My Kenyan colleagues have taught me so much over the years, and from working side-by-side together for so long now, I can honestly say that Kenyans simply have an innate desire to care—it’s not an ability or obligation to serve; it’s never a job; it just is. And it is magical.

Contact your Indagare Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to the Angama properties and beyond in Kenya. Plus: Click here to learn more about the Indagare Safari experience.

In the process of opening Angama Amboseli, what is one moment you will never forget?

KFB:

Angama Mara was my father’s dream and vision. Sadly, he died just three short years into seeing Angama Mara take its place in the Kenyan safari offering; he would have been so proud to see what it has become today.

In Africa, it is considered a blessing when it rains on an auspicious event, like a wedding; I know this because it rained on mine! The Amboseli eco-system had been experiencing a horrendous drought over the past 12 to 18 months, and the region was brown, crisp and in desperate need of water. Our beautiful new lodge was in serious need of landscaping (as is always the case post-build), and we were worried as to how we were going to get the land to recover.

On November 2, at 2:00 p.m., as our first guests pulled up to the turning circle with their guide and crossed the threshold, the heavens opened—and have not subsided since. The land has turned emerald green in just three weeks. We all looked up, amazed, at the sky, and for those of us who knew my father, we could not help but think it was him showing his support in this next phase of Angama’s life as a hospitality brand.

Related: Coexisting with Giants: Elephant Conservation with Dr. Bruce A. Schulte

How is your vision for Angama Amboseli different from what you’ve done at Angama Mara? And what aspects of the Mara mission do you want to continue and deepen at Amboseli?

KFB:

For what stays the same, it is our brand promise: People first, always—Firstly, our guests, and then our team, our landowners and neighbors. We delight our guests by delivering wonderful holidays in iconic destinations of East Africa, so that we are able to run a good business—and by doing that, Angama is able to make meaningful and sustainable differences to the communities and conservation partners near the lodges.

For what is different: Where Angama Mara is seriously sexy in her aesthetic of warm tones and vibrant color, drawing on the lodge’s location in the heart of Maasailand, Angama Amboseli is hopelessly handsome following the bold inspiration of the cooler tones of the mountain, the chartreuse of the Fever Tree forests and the curves of an elephant. At Angama, we always want the design of our lodges to give a sense of place to our guests.

What is something about the Angama brand that you wish more people knew?

KFB:

That we take what we do very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously. We are a young brand that likes to have fun (just look at the design of our lodges). Joy is one of the cornerstones of our brand, and while fun must never be at the expense of the guest experience, a sense of joy and the people our guests meet are what stay with our guests long after they've left. If you just look at our TripAdvisor reviews, 90 percent of them mention staff members by name. (Editor's Note: The Indagare review does, as well!)

At Indagare, we often say “people make places.” Who is one person from Angama Amboseli who “makes” the place for you?

KFB:

Wow, that is too hard! I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with that young team—60 percent of whom were hired locally, and are brand-new to the industry—and opened a lodge into seriously challenging weather conditions (El Niño arrived on our doorstep along with our first guests). I love them all. That said, our General Manager, Collins Randiga, is one of the hardest working leaders of people I have ever had the privilege of working with (he was part of the opening team of Angama Mara eight and a half years ago), and there is nothing Collins cannot achieve with a firm hand and a warm smile. Front of house, there is a young woman named Miriam Semeyian, who everyone—guests and staff alike—just gravitates towards. She is first in the lodge every morning and last to leave every night, and no amount of anything is too much to ask. Our guests simply adore her and her wonderfully warm way.

Related: Rediscovering the Meaning of Travel During Covid, in Kenya

What is your favorite safari ritual?

KFB:

Oh! That’s easy: Being first! My father and I were always first out on safari whether it was a high-end, private-land kind of safari, or us self-driving in the Kruger National Park. Get up and get out as early as possible to make the most of every day! Even if you are not seeing wildlife, just being out on a vehicle, especially in the morning, is what safari is all about.

Second to that is packing my safari bag (which Angama supplies our guests with at all our properties). The daily ritual of checking that I have all my favorite game drive items with me for the day adds to the anticipation: Hat, suncream, binoculars, tissues, sunglasses, jacket, scarf, phone, water bottle—all placed in my bag, ready to grab at first light (knowing that Angama always has the "bitings"—a fabulous East African word for snacks—covered!).

In a recent article for the Angama blog, you reflected on the fact that Matetsi (at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe) was one of one your father’s three “soul places.” Can you tell me a little bit more about what this term means to you—and perhaps share some of your own “soul places”?

KFB:

A soul place is somewhere—anywhere—that fills your cup. Where a large piece of you feels at peace in the quiet of just being there.

I would have to say my three soul places are my birth town of Arniston, a small fishing village two hours up the east coast from Cape Town; the Garden of Remembrance at Angama Mara—a place we don’t talk about on our website or in sales pitches, it is a place we go to remember those who we have loved and lost, and that beautiful little garden is lovingly looked upon by the small chapel we built in my father’s memory; and lastly, the western corner of the Mara Triangle, where not many other vehicles go, and all that is there is space for miles, and that whopping Great Rift Valley escarpment… It is down there, that I can breathe.

Although—I do have to say that Kilimanjaro, that impossibly beautiful and shy mountain, is fast wiggling her way into my heart. She is completely mesmerizing, and just staring at her in the morning light is fast becoming a way to fill my cup.

What’s next on your travel wish list — both within Africa and outside of the continent?

KFB:

Within Africa, I would love to go back to Tswalu. I last went about 30 years ago, when wildlife was being reintroduced back onto the property (when it was managed by CC Africa), but I remember that Karoo landscape being beyond gorgeous! And a bucket-list dream is to experience Klein JAN, the restaurant on-property.

My travel wish list beyond is endless. Right up there is seeing Polar bears in the wild, followed by visiting Japan (talk about opposites!). I would also love to take my family back to Mexico. My favorite thing to do is pack up my family and explore the world; I want my children to experience every type of community, expose them to all walks of life, and encourage them to understand that the world is wonderfully different, and that is something to celebrate.

Related: Safari Game Changers Share Their Vision

What are your tips for packing and dressing well on safari?

KFB:

Layers are always key as the temperatures can fluctuate dramatically throughout the day in Africa. And neutral colors keep you cool while out on safari. Don’t overpack, as most high-end safari operators offer laundry services, and one has to be mindful of weight allowance when flying on small planes.

To be honest, I don’t think you can go wrong with a couple of great white t-shirts or shirts, some comfy khaki or olive chinos, accessorize with a great belt (Kenya has the best beaded belts!) and safari boots. Pack a light-weight down jacket for when the temperature drops, and a pashmina. That is all you need.

My personal ultimate indulgence, though, is a great safari hat. The Traveller, by the Australian brand Akubra, is my firm favorite (in fact, I have two!) as it flat-packs, and you don’t have to worry about carrying a hat in hand luggage on your long-haul flight.

Related: An Interview with Dereck and Beverly Joubert and Melissa Biggs Bradley

Lightning Round: Nairobi and Johannesburg Travel Tips

What is your favorite restaurant for a meal with a local friend and why? Or with a friend from out of town? With family? For romance?

  • In Nairobi (NBO): Cultiva is an urban farm offering garden-to-fork meals, and the menu is fun and fabulous! Highly recommend the pork tacos. Great for a friend from out of town.
  • In Johannesburg (JHB): Bellinis in Illovo: It is a local restaurant of clean Californian-style food. The menu hasn’t changed in 25 years, nor should it! Best for romance or with a group of friends.

Favorite shop for safari style?

To be honest, Zara always carries great staples for safari wear, but when shopping locally:

Related: Indagare Conversations: Anna Trzebinski, Fashion Designer

Favorite place for a drink?

  • NBO: Cave à Manger, just opposite the Hub in Karen. It sits adjacent to a fabulous wine cellar and offers great tapas-style food.
  • JHB: Marble Restaurant’s bar overlooking Jozi at night: This is where the beautiful people gather, and the drinks are equally exquisite!

Favorite museum or cultural site to visit over again?

  • NBO: The UN Building: This is the largest center of the United Nations in Africa, and the tour is fascinating. I also love the Karen Blixen Museum, set in her house in Karen—but I am a hopeless romantic, so that experience is more just about dreaming of a bygone era.
  • JHB: Satyagraha House, which is where Gandhi lived while in Johannesburg. The museum is a beautifully peaceful oasis in the heart of Johannesburg—and it also happens to be a fully vegetarian boutique guest house.

What is your favorite neighborhood to wander in?

  • NBO: Gigiri Courtyard in Nairobi has a wonderful compound of restaurants, bars and stores; it's a great place to spend a couple of hours wandering about. Don’t miss the Artisanal Gallery for some retail therapy!
  • JHB: Parkhurst is a wonderful little neighbourhood to get lost in, full of fabulous restaurants and boutique stores. 4th Avenue Roasters make the best coffee in town!

Do you have a favorite hotel (or two, or three) and why?

Another tough one! I love hotels, and I profess to be a bit of a collector of the Grand Old Dames of Africa. I am lucky enough to have stayed in the Mount Nelson (in Cape Town, South Africa), The Victoria Falls Hotel (in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe), The Norfolk Hotel (in Nairobi, Kenya), the Cataract Hotel (in Aswan, Egypt) and La Mamounia (in Marrakech, Morocco). There are still a few to go, but again—I think these speak to the hopeless romantic in me. I love a hotel with a history!

Some other favorite hotels in the world:

Related: Indagare Matchmaker: Best Safaris in AfricaContact your Indagare Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to the Angama properties and beyond in Kenya. Plus: Click here to learn more about the Indagare Safari experience.

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