The African Touch
The Kimani brothers attend Mangawhai Beach School; you couldn’t get a more local trio. Mum was a Wintle – one of the first families to settle in Mangawhai, they’re a big family with a proud history and strong links to the community. But here’s where it gets surprising, the lads are local in another village too – Nakuru, Kenya! Tembo, Zuri and Shaka might be Mangawhai originals, but Dad is Kenyan born and keeps the African connection alive and well for his young family. Karoma and Tasha Kimani blend their love of two countries by running ‘The African Touch’, safari tours of East and Southern Africa. Home base is Mangawhai, but the heart is definitely in two camps. Their story unfolds a little differently to your average romantic hook-up. Tasha had lived and worked in London doing a typical Kiwi OE. Not ready to return home, she applied for a tour-guiding job with Absolute Africa. Soon she met a plucky young bloke who through sheer determination and persistence had become Absolute Africa’s first-ever Kenyan-born truck driver. The pair were thrown together on tour. Karoma knew his stuff and wasn’t afraid to share it; Tasha thought him arrogant and requested to work with a new driver in the future. The battle of wits finally turned a corner, evolving into a love story worthy of its own article.
Eventually, family and Mangawhai lured Tasha home, with Karoma following shortly after – an exciting and nervous time for the pair. To this day, Tasha acknowledges her husband is a bushman at heart. Bringing him to New Zealand was one thing, but straight to Mangawhai where the theme is water at every turn – fishing, surfing and beach life? Alien to say the least.
The couple established backpacker’s accommodation, The Coastal Cow, which they ran for seven years. Locals often asked the pair to take them to Africa. What started out as banter over drinks eventually got them thinking – could we do this, could we throw a crew together and tour like the old days? Tasha says, “I rang the local papers to drum up publicity for our crazy African dream and boom! – we had a story published immediately. So we had to walk the talk. We got a little formal at this point, setting up an info evening at our backpackers. I remember holding up a glossy brochure from our days with Absolute Africa and saying, ‘see this truck – we’ll have one of those, it’ll look a little like this’, pointing enthusiastically at the picture, while not having a clue where we’d get one!” The inaugural tours in 2005 saw 36 people take a leap of faith in The African Touch, mostly Mangawhai locals.
Tour life continued, itineraries were fine-tuned and bums on seats grew – the concept was solid and business life thrived. Unlike bigger tour operators, the Kimani’s have created something unique; travellers are guided every inch of the way and can meet Karoma, their guide, before they even depart NZ shores. Karoma reckons it’s great to snub big company pomp, hidden costs and shallow itineraries; “I love showing the real Africa, the path less trodden. Yep, we cover the major attractions, but I can share a deeper level, drawing on my Masai/Kikuyu heritage.” Guests are taken to Karoma’s Mother’s village where they meet his Mama Wainaima, crowding into her modest home for goat stew.
In 2007, the couple took a further plunge into local Kenyan life and bought 10 acres of land. The vision? A campsite. The timing was right for Tasha’s parents who were looking for a new challenge, so together this enterprising family built a camp. Punda Milias is now a mature and busy campsite, and a regular stop on The African Touch itinerary.
When Tasha fell pregnant with their first son, people in the guiding industry thought they were mad touring with a youngster in tow. Perhaps the crazy African mentality hit a higher gear, but they were determined to continue. Tembo became their youngest overlander at just seven months. Tasha adds; “We adapted. Yes, it was full on, but we threw two more into the mix – then we knew what juggling was really like. Ranging from a baby to school-aged, our passengers have been incredibly kind to our boys, with many saying it added richness to the tour. I think that’s why they’re so confident today, this year alone they’ve had about 22 grandparents. We know it’s not everyone’s ideal to have kids on board, so we’re pretty strict at keeping them out of the way, and we don’t take them on every tour.”
Quizzing the kids about life in two places throws up interesting comments. Tembo says; “It’s cool because we don’t have to pay and we sleep in tents.” While at five years old, Shaka has his priorities straight, “I love seeing all the animals.” Karoma realises his kids are blessed, “It’s fantastic to share my home with them, it gives them a balance between modern NZ life and Africa’s isolation, wildlife and culture.”
Perhaps the nomad life was always in Tasha. But she also feels connected to this part of the world – the Wintles have always been big on the outdoors and community. Tasha’s great-great-grandmother gifted the Mangawhai Heads campground to Mangawhai – it can never be sold. Her late grandmother is the voiceover at the local museum, and her children are Kiwi kids with African spirit. However, she does believe ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and for this lucky family that’s a dynamic mix of two very special villages.
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