The town in Laikipia County has favourable weather and resources as well as a multi-racial population to thank for its status, writes KEVIN OGUOKO
Driving to Nanyuki feels refreshing, the open plains around you stretching as far as the eyes can see, or negotiating the turns around Nyeri, Mt Kenya imposing in the background, beckoning. It looks like the place that inspired movie scenes of people driving with the windows down, one arm on the door and Ricky Martinâ€™s Livinâ€™ La Vida Loca blaring from the stereo.
The driver brought the car to a halt at the entrance of a one-floor building with the sign â€˜Dormans shopâ€™ plastered above it. A closer look inside the building, this writer could see a number of Caucasians, Asians and Africans having a chat over a cup of coffee and snacks.
The first impression is that, Nanyuki is just not another upcountry town judging by its multi-cultural population. Rather, it has the outlook of leafy suburbs in Nairobi. Historically, Nanyuki is known as last stop of the Indian constructed and British-colonial rule commissioned railway line.
The growth of Nanyuki town is attributed to the British settlers and Indian coolies, who stayed behind as others went ahead to explore other parts of the country in 1907.
The town is today multi-cultural and is the market centre for farms, ranches, game parks and wildlife conservancies in the region.
Â The Nanyuki Mall
Nanyuki has the equator passing through it just six kilometres south of the town. Besides this geographical landmark, there lies yet another recently completed establishment that has overtaken all other previously regarded real estate landmarks.
The Nanyuki Mall stands tall in the heart of Nanyuki town, with Nakumatt as the anchor tenant. Facing the Nanyuki-Meru Road, the mall is one of the newer retail developments outside Nairobi and Mombasa as the mall concept continues to grow.
â€œThe demand for consumer goods in the Nanyuki was always there. There was just no one doing it in a large scale. Nakumatt filled that void,â€ says Benson Maina, the general manager of the mall.
He adds: â€œThe major challenge was getting Nakumatt on board to occupy space in the mall. Of course, once they occupied it, others came on board. It happened as plannedâ€
On average, the mall gets no less than 100 customers a day. With the establishment of the mall, so has higher prices for space been experienced in the locality.
â€œThe mall rents out spaces at Sh140 per square foot. Other buildings coming up are selling their spaces at an average of Sh60 to Sh80 per square foot,â€ says Benson.
Even as the region grows, the larger area around Nanyuki, remains under farm for large agricultural production. With huge tracts of private ranches growing major crops such as wheat and potatoes.
Nevertheless, there has been a renewed interest in land here as Valentina Lucas of Property Link Africa points out.
â€œPeople, at some point, wanted to get houses further from the Nairobiâ€™s Central Business District. So they settled for Karen and Muthaiga. Over time, they moved to Limuru, Naivasha. Now they have crossed the rift and they are looking into Nanyuki,â€ says Valentina of the growing trend of property owners moving further from Nairobi and the growing popularity of Nanyuki.
She adds that most people coming to Nanyuki are looking for land to build town houses.
The prices for land depend largely on the view of the land. The three major views include view of the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and rivers. She notes that large tracts of land are still held by local and native people from the Nanyuki areas who still believe in handshake and gentleman agreementsâ€™ land deals.
This has led to a lot of fraud in the area as some locals have taken advantage of the ignorance of land buyers. Land prices increase as one gets nearer the town. Further from the town, an acre of land can go for anything between Sh300,000 to Sh2.5 million, while nearer the town an acre fetches between Sh3 million to Sh5 million.
â€œI always advice clients to check the property and ascertain that the land they have chosen is the one they want by making them re-check it during different weather seasons,â€ she says.
Lucas adds: â€œThe roads can be a bit messy when it rains. And since there are no connecting roads in between the farm lands, this knowledge comes in handy.â€
Nanyuki plays host to a number of military bases. The Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Airforceâ€™s Laikipia Airbase and the British Army Training Unit Kenya (Batuk). The three military bases have had major influences on the social scene of the town, as it is usually abuzz with entertaining hotspots booming their music overnight.
Besides this, the bases have also had significant influence on the rental residential homes around the area. The residential areas majorly affected are regarded as the posh estates in the larger Nanyuki town. They include Muthaiga, Mugambi, Mukima and Sweetwaters.
The low supply of homes with an increased demand, with the British army accommodating its troops outside their camp stationed at Mt Kenya Agricultural Society of Kenya showground, made the Nanyuki residential homes market a landlordâ€™s market.
This has had the effect of triggering a development boom in the town as developers increased their asking prices to cash in on the high demand, and high purchasing power of the tenants.
â€œTwo years ago, you could not get a three-bedroom maisonette or bungalow for anything less than Sh150,000. The price range for such houses, especially in areas such as Muthaiga or Mugambi were between Sh150,000 to Sh250,000,â€ says Patrick Maina, a real estate agent in Nanyuki.
Fast-forward two years later, the situation is a little different and the prices have stabilised as landlords have adjusted their prices to reflect reasonable prices.
â€œA three-bedroom bungalow or mansion fetches between Sh50,000 and Sh80,000. One of the major factors for this is that the Batuk are building a new base a few kilometres from Nanyuki that will come with housing for their staff thus reducing demand,â€ says Patrick.
Nanyuki residential market is enjoying relatively good reviews more than its neighbouring towns, most notably Isiolo.
The town has relatively good security compared to Isiolo, which has had a number of public security alarms with the recent being the trade of firearms in the town.
Besides security, Nanyuki enjoys good road network accessibility.
â€œThe council has done its part together with the Kenya Urban Roads Authority to ensure that excellent road access is available within the centre, thus promoting business activities,â€ says Benson.
He adds: â€œMore could, however, be done to improve the roads connecting Nanyuki to Nyahururu since they fall under one county (Laikipia County). The road has been rendered impassable by small cars, which have to go all the way to connect with the Nyeri route instead of the pot-holed filled Nanyuki-Nyahururu highway.â€
Unlike neighbouring Isiolo town, water is not a major issue in Nanyuki town. The Nanyuki water company has proved to be efficient with water in all the major buildings flowing through the taps.
Major private social institutions have seemingly taken cue of Nanyukiâ€™s growth and available market for their services.
Aga Khan Hospital has a branch on the southern section of Nanyukiâ€™s Central Business District. Braeburn Group of Schools also has a branch in Nanyuki, making the town host of one of the eight branches of Braeburn School branches in East Africa.
Nanyuki hosts not less than ten commercial banks. The main economic activity in the town seems to be trade supported by a vibrant tourism industry.
When it comes to tourism, due to its favourable weather, Laikipia County has had more than a couple of number of high profile tourists visiting the game reserves based in Nanyuki.
The Lewa Conservancy is widely known to be a favourite hideout for Prince William of England, who is the second in line to the English throne.
Other game reserves include the Sweetwaters Game Reserve, Samburu National Reserve, Shaba National Reserve and most notably, the Mount Kenya Game reserve.
Nanyuki also plays hosts to a number of reputable hotels and lodges including Mount Kenya Safari Club and Sportsmanâ€™s Arms Hotel and Kongoni Camp Lodge.
Major social activities include nightclubs and polo, played in private clubs.