"I bet you couldn't do this at London Zoo" gasped my 16 year old son, Toby, as he got close to a two and a half year old cheetah, called Moran. "He is so gorgeous – wouldn't he make the most lovely pet," added my animal loving 13 year old daughter, Libby, as she too marvelled at the young male, who had strolled over to see us like a domestic cat at the first call of his name, which means 'young Masai warrior'.
Toby and Libby meet a cheetah at The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club
This loving moment with the fastest feline on earth and seeing him at such close quarters was perhaps the most memorable wildlife encounter my family had at the exclusive Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. I had driven in a four by four to the five star luxurious resort with my wife, Jo, and children Hugo, 18, Toby and Libby from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. And the first impressions on arrival as we cruised through a conservancy to see wild zebras, wildebeest, warthogs and impala were to set the tone for a wonderful three-day stay.
Inside the hotel compound, you are met with spectacular views of the snow peaked Mount Kenya in the distance. The main building - built in the 1959 as a hunting lodge by the Hollywood actor William Holden - is set on a hill and slap bang on the equator.
Offering spectacular vistas of woodland, home to a variety of exquisite birds, it is a treat for the whole family boasting a host of activities including tennis, croquet, golf, archery, table tennis and a good size swimming pool. Within the hotel grounds lies an animal orphanage where not only did we meet Moran, one of five cheetahs rescued as a cub after being found alone on the Samburu African plains, but a tortoise called Speedy, who is not only a children’s favourite but over 100 years old.
Toby, Hugo, Libby and Jo - in a hat from Simply Classics Africa - meet Speedy the Tortoise
"The young children all love to ride on his back and he likes to be tickled under the chin," said our guide, Christine. "He is quite the draw and despite his age happy to give piggybacks to the younger children."
But it is the centre's work with the bongos - one of Africa's largest critically endangered antelope species with only 100 left in the wild - of which they are most proud. The bongo, which is from the antelope famil, has seen its numbers decline rapidly, and the centre have saved many and started a breeding programme, to try and raise its numbers.
Thomas, Toby and Libby meet an endangered bongo
The centre also has a leopard who my son Hugo spotted sitting precariously at the top of a flimsy looking acacia tree at least 20 metres above the ground. He was trapped as a cub by Maasai Warriors and held at ransom as his mother had killed chickens and sheep and the tribe wanted reimbursing for their losses. The Kenyan Wildlife Trust in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service brought him to the rescue facility and he has been in the orphanage since.
Day Two saw the boys and girls split up - but both head into the 1200 acre conservancy. We were on bikes - the girls rode horses. I am a keen cycler who commutes into the HELLO! Offices on my push bike most days. But never have I enjoyed a two hour cycle more as we weaved through herds of zebras, wildebeest, baboons and antelopes. "Most of the animals are very friendly but be very careful of the buffalo," warned our guide Francis, a champion cyclist in his own right and proud of the fact that recently crowned Tour de France champ Chris Frome was brought up in Nairobi.
Thomas, Hugo and Toby cycled through the 1,200 acre conservancy at The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club
"They have lots of young calves at the moment and are very protective. If they charge stand your ground or jump over the fence we will cycle along!" The fence was six foot tall and thankfully none of our climbing skills were called into action.
Meanwhile my wife and daughter were taking in the same delights but on very well behaved horses. "It was the most incredible experience to be surrounded by wild animals. The Duikers - the smallest breed of antelope and impalas skipping through the bush. Watching a pack of 30 baboons playing. At one point we were only a few metres away from zebra," said Jo. "We also saw a whole family of baboons and warthogs and the smallest antelope called dik-diks."
"It was an experience I will never forget," echoed my daughter Libby, who despite being a novice rider, was in safe hands on a leading rein with the guide.
Understandably, the hotel makes the most of the fact of its unique location slap bang on the equator – with one half situation on the southern hemisphere and the other just few feet way on the northern side. We leapt at the chance to participate in the extraordinary equator dance where, much to the amusement of my family, I was appointed Chief tribesman complete with feathered headpiece and asked to bang a drum while local tribesmen chanted in Swahili.
My days in the school lab are way behind me. However to witness the clockwise and anti-clockwise gravitational pull in two bowls of water either side of the equator was a sight that I will never forget.
TRIED AND TESTED CHEAT SHEET
When to go: Being on the equator the weather is good year round - there isn't a bad time time to go
Where to stay: The cottages overlook the lush grounds offering stunning views of Mount Kenya in the distance and are very family friendly
Don't miss: The opportunity to get up close and personal with the wildlife on a cycle safari - it's really out of this world
Top tips: Pack pale colours so you blend in on safari. Bring the best camera you have (don't forget your zoom to capture all the animals!)
What to avoid: Don't leave your windows open or the monkeys climb into your room and steal your food or belongings!
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