Obudu Ranch: Nestling in the clouds with the heavenly bodies

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Emmanuel Obe

No tourist destination in Nigeria compares with the Obudu Mountain Resort on the northern fringes of Cross River State.

You really don’t need a tour guide to have fun and a thrilling time at Obudu. The real treat starts tens of kilometres away as you move closer and closer to the resort. What commands your immediate attention, irrespective of where you are approaching the resort from, are the unending and rolling hills.

Located on the Obudu Plateau – an integral part of the Cameroon mountains – the tourist would have to climb 5,200ft (1.576km) above sea level to get there.

The journey from the bottom of the hills to the top, where the plush water park is located, used to be a risky adventure until some 12 years ago when the then tourism-friendly former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, initiated a comprehensive programme that has turned things around for the resort.

The 11km road running around the steep hills has been expanded and made secure in such a way that it can now take two vehicles irrespective of size coming in opposite directions. Its 22 sharp bends now nicknamed the Devil’s Elbows, could keep not a few travellers’ hearts in their mouth as the journey moves uphill. This is after a warm reception and documentation at the foot of the hills, near the water park.

Moving up, however, the visitor will be confronted by pleasantly shocking changes in weather, as they would often run into clouds, clear skies, clouds again and sunlight. At some points, there would be rain showers, and on and on.

At the top of the hills is a plateau where the climate is temperate and cold almost all day. But the lush green grassland on the plateau will certainly delight the visitor as they are ushered into the resort reception by friendly and ever smiling staff.

After checking in, the hunger to run around this resort with its “idyllic tranquillity,” will not let the visitor fully unpack. That could be the first trip to take a tour of this sanatorium with breathtaking views.

The Obudu Resort started out as the Obudu Cattle Ranch some 60 years ago, when a Scotsman, known simply as Mr. McCaughley, camped there while exploring the ranges of the Oshie Ridge on the Sankwala Mountains. He returned with Mr. Hugh Jones, a fellow rancher, who in 1951 and Dr. Crawfield, to develop it into a cattle ranch.

Its hideaway nature and peaceful disposition from the native Becheve people combined with the clement climate to make the ranch attractive to those who could take the chance and time to visit.

Obudu has comfortable accommodation for all categories of visitors. The rooms range from the standard double chalets, superior double chalets, African bungalows, club suites, a presidential lodge, a governor’s lodge and 20 mountain villas (complete flats). Whichever accommodation type you choose, the five-star treatment is evident. It’s one place in Nigeria where the air conditioner can’t be found. Because of the cold, each room is equipped with a heater.

Other facilities at the resort are the lounge/bar in an area that contains a fireplace and sports centres.

Already a lot of Nigerians are taking advantage of the place. Nigeria’s First Family has unofficially made Obudu the place to hold retreats. Several African presidents have nestled there. The Obudu Mountain Race has entered into the world mountain race calendar, while efforts are on to attract other global events to the place.

Though Obudu started out as a cattle ranch, ranching has declined, with the major cattle business on the hill carried out by the nomadic cattle Fulani.

There is however a modern facility for rearing cattle on the plateau. The main attraction is Donald, a one-tonne cross-bred bull, born in 2006. It is named after Donald Duke, the former Cross River State governor. The bull is so massive that visitors are made to pay a fee to see it. A tour guide tells you that the bull is not allowed to mate the female because its weight could break the back of the female mate. So, breeding with it is done by insemination.

Other attractions include the 40-metre canopy walk at the Becheve Nature Reserve built by Leventis. The canopy walk takes the tourist through a hanging bridge to the tree tops, where bird and game watching is done.

There is the natural swimming pool, left in the control of the locals, who charge a fee for visitors to use. The water comes from a natural and clean spring. The visit cannot be complete without a trip to the Holy Mountain. From the Holy Mountain, the visitor can look across to a primary school in Cameroon, which shares a border with the resort. A tour guide, Chris, from the local community, said the aboriginal inhabitants of the Holy Mountain, who lived in caves around the hill, were midgets who were chased away many years ago because they refused be receptive to their neighbours.

Obudu has been particularly lucky with its host communities. The locals, who live in traditional huts in the hills and valleys near the resort, carry on their daily lives in peace with the post-modern life at the resort. But in spite of their low income, they have a school, a clinic, a bank, and worship centres. Most of the workers at the resort are the locals.

The resort has its own challenges. Even though it has its boom periods, at other times, the guests are not just there. And it’s a wonder how the resorts raises funds to maintain its facilities, as it does not enjoy government subvention.

The resort relies on diesel generators for power supply. That is why the lights are shut out at 11 pm. To take public power to Obudu will require a monumental budget. Curiously, the deep valleys around the resort and the ready fresh water springs can be harnessed into a dam that won’t only produce electric power for the areas around Northern Cross River, Eastern Benue and the neighbouring Cameroons, the dam can supply water to these same areas at a cheap rate. Trapped on the hills, the water would not need power generators to pump to the settlements around. It will just be released by gravitational force.

Chief Solomon Ewuga, a former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory, who was there a few years back with his family, says, “It’s like an appointment with a select group ready to sing in a heavenly choir, a specially composed song on the hidden treasures in these undulating hills that pulsate and give you a memorable throbbing. Whatever description given is inappropriate of the sanguine, lush and beautiful feel you get.

“And the air is clean, fresh and inviting, but to enjoy it better, one needs some warm clothing to cater for the occasional windy and chilly spells. Obudu will definitely place our quest for tourism on a pedestal that can attract visitors and with them the benefits of increased employment, foreign exchange and related spin-offs that may not be immediately contemplated, but their appeal and investment value to our economy. While the real thing lies in the physical enjoyment of the enormous facilities in the Ranch Hotel, the sublime virtues far surpass my appraisal of the intrinsic qualities and values.”

Mr. Kelechi Agi, A US-based Nigerian has this to say, “If you love nature, good food, and virgin forests, plus a real amazing resort atypical of what you’d find here in the US, then you have it.”


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