14 Apr Obudu Ranch Resort: The under-mined gold reserve
Nigerians periodically troop to other countries to spend their vacation. They pay handsomely to do so, even if the pleasure is not worth the price. Those in the Diaspora who need a get-away also head somewhere else because they assume that, apart from their native homestead, there are no exotic places in Nigeria to spend their free time.
Countries of the southern and eastern flanks of Africa, on the other hand, make huge revenue from receiving millions of visitors yearly who do nothing but roam the forests and game reserves for pleasure. While this happens, Nigeria snuggles on like an over-pampered orphan, whose inheritance has been allowed to fallow because of indolence and indiscipline. There are a number of potential tourist attractions of international calibre scattered all over the country, but our love for everything foreign have turned these attractions into distractions.
In the early 1950s, the European colonial masters across West Africa preferred having their holidays in a particular spot in Nigeria. This was because the climatic conditions were similar to those in Europe. In fact, some of them used to invite their families and friends on vacation because, apart from having the same weather and climate as their homeland, it provided extra greenery that contrasted the brick and mortar feeling of most European cities and countryside. That tourist destination is the Obudu Ranch Resort, in Cross River State, which in those days also served as a Rest House for top colonial administrators. The ranch then, reared the best beef in Africa.
It was a team of veterinary experts led by a Scottish veterinary doctor and rancher, McCaughey that spotted a sprawling flat land high up in the sky while flying across the region on a duty tour in 1949. It was a virgin plateau, but it was large enough to be developed into something more useful. The team landed and noticed that the climate was not just temperate, but the land was mosquito and tsetse fly free; an excellent condition for cattle breeding. It also meant that humans would be free from the dreaded malaria and sleeping sickness. So, a rest house was added, and it eventually became a resort for the colonial masters; and subsequently their immediate Nigerian successors.
Sitting pretty on an area of about 10,240 hectares, the ranch is located on an altitude of about 1,600 metres above sea level with the highest point sitting majestically at 1,810 metres above sea level.
From the foot of the hill to the ranch proper, a windy tarred and well paved road meanders 11 kilometres up with 20 hair-pin bends. Moving up the hill could be quite frightening, but the sight of the exotic and fascinating scenery racing past provides excitement – the rising and falling hills, the dripping springs, steep valleys, gorges, spurs and passes, all add colour to the memorable journey. The most exciting experience climbing up is passing through the Devil’s elbow, an intersection where strong easterly and westerly winds collide. As a vehicle zooms past, the force produces a loud bang. The natives used to assume that it was the devil that positioned itself in protest at that point to hit vehicles going to the ranch.
As you approach the top of the plateau, the feeling of what to expect up there starts welling up. Once through four of the hair-splitting bends, you experience a different world altogether, characterised by strong cold and sometimes very harsh winds, chilly atmosphere and sparse vegetation of grassland which runs the length and breadth of the plane like nature’s well-kept lawn. As the journey progresses upwards, the sight of stunted trees, imposing rocks, granite and limestone hills give the visitor a feeling of going through nature’s picture book. At the top, you are already a stone- throw to nature in its own country home. Peace becomes palpable!
Where the ranch proper is situated at the peak, the climate becomes a big contrast with that of the surrounding lowlands. Coming from the same geographical categorization below, one wonders what makes for the marked difference in sight and feeling. Well, it is the altitude. Just as the saying goes: the higher you go, the cooler it becomes.
On the plateau the climate is generally semi-temperate.
- Highest Temperature: 30 -33degrees Celsius(average) between November and January
- Lowest temperature:4 – 10 degrees Celsius (average) between June and September
- Highest Rainfall in August
- Lowest Rainfall: 0.76cm in December
- Highest millibars of pressure: during the rains
- Lowest millibars: during dry season
- Highest Humidity: 80 – 90% – during the rains
- Lowest Humidity: 50 – 55% during dry
- Maximum average Sunshine per day in the dry season is five hours between October and February
- Minimum average of two hours in the thick of the wet season between July and
Anything that requires sunshine for growth at the ranch stops where nature’s benevolence ends. Winter gears are required for a comfortable stay in the abode: wind cheaters, sweaters, frocks, woollen socks, above- ankle boots or rubber shoes and fez or shower caps because of the persistent dew dropping from the pine and eucalyptus trees lining the pathways. It is recorded as the only place in Nigeria where snow falls.
It is commonplace to find a fire-place stocked with smouldering live coals in the lounges and executive suites. This is to keep off the extreme weather from doing much harm to the body. Even the walls of most of the buildings are clad with stones to keep cold at bay. Despite the “extreme” weather, it is a pleasant spectacle to behold and a memorable experience to share with nature. Nature is nearer the resort than the world below!
Staying outside an apartment gives a first-hand experience of the winter period in Europe. Just imagine being in Zurich, Switzerland, in January; or coming nearer home, the peak of the harmattan period in your area and you will have a faint idea of what happens almost all year round at the resort. Air-conditioners are often on the warm mode, and refrigerators and freezers are not common there.
The extraordinary weather aside, the vegetation unfolds breath-taking beautiful and fascination scenery such that could endear a cripple to attempt a stroll. In its rise and falls, perennial streams and springs with high quality potable water meander. The valleys have tall trees with thick undergrowth while the uplands have medium size grasses with stunted trees.
The ranch itself is blessed with whispering pines and eucalyptus trees which act as windbreakers; while creeping plants add more aesthetics to the walls of some of the buildings.
Aesthetic plants aside, temperate vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, beans, peas, spring onions, green pepper, lettuce, cabbage, rhubarb, parsley, strawberries and turnips are easily grown there.
Nature was too generous with the location. Other blessings also include wildlife. The caves located far into the extreme fringes of the resort harbour rare species of gorillas and monkeys. The gorillas have been caged to provide some kind of extra attraction to tourists and guests. Tigers, leopards, hyenas, stone beef, grass-cutters and porcupines are also found in abundance – though far removed from the main activity areas. Exotic birds and guinea fowls, parrots, sunbirds, kites, owls among others add colour to the ranch’s blue sky and trees. Reptiles and insects are however very scarce due to the very cold weather.
The settlement had an initial 27 grazing ranges. Only less than half of those are in use because of the limited stock of cattle in the ranch. Unlike what obtains in Mambilla Plateau in the Adamawa/Taraba axis, the ranges at the Obudu Resort, which are similar to those found in Singapore, are not visible from each other.
Aside from the natural features enumerated above, there is a natural swimming and padding pool named “The Grotto”. It was carved out of the rock and situated in natural surroundings with exciting approaches. It might be quite dangerous to go swimming in the pools very early in the morning or during the cold season. It’s usually freezing cold.
To break the naturalness of the resort, recreational facilities like lawn tennis and badminton courts are provided alongside a mini golf course which had an initial buzz put of 14 cups. There is also a squash court as well as horse racing facilities. The recent upgrade at the resort saw the addition of some modern indoor and hospitality facilities as well as recreational guided tours that include sight-seeing far into the nearby wildlife sanctuary.
With the expansion of the access road, an airstrip at Bebi, just before the foot of the hill and the commissioning of the Cable Car facilities (first in Nigeria, 2005), journey to the ranch is much more pleasurable even as the excitement is no longer tension-soaked. Before then, it used to be a sweet horror experience going up the narrow winding road to the resort. Although there used to be very horrible tales told about the accident-prone nature of the road, records available do not present a frightening story.
To ascend the hill, a vehicle with good accelerating power and a careful driver are required. In its almost 70 years of existence, the ranch road is reputed to have not less than 97% safety record…
The resort is located in the Sankwala area of Obanliku Local Government Area. It is part of the Cameroon Mountain range and is about 65 kilometres from Obudu town and more than 320 kilometres from Calabar, capital of Cross River State. The location can be transformed into a global tourist’s destination if a little more attention is given to it.
The three fears usually associated with tourism appreciation in Nigeria – poor infrastructure, irregular power supply and security challenges — can easily be sorted out at the resort than anywhere else in the country. The location itself provides ample security against infiltration by criminals, a small hydro plant on the nearby Agbokim Waterfalls can provide enough electricity to power the entire resort and surrounding communities, while an upgrade of the Calabar-Ikom-Obudu Highway is all that is required to complete the infrastructure provisions required.