CENTRAL KENYA -
the Highlands and
the Great Rift Valley
Nairobi National Park
This comment was made by a local resident about Nairobi National Park, Kenya's oldest animal sanctuary, a glorious stretch of savannah set against dramatic skyline of the cosmopolitan capital of Kenya.
The is the only city in the world which neighbours a natural game protection area, harbouring more than 100 species of mammals. The park borders the traditional South Kapiti Plains and Kitengela Migration Corridor and attracts a range of exciting game. It is a seasonal park but most of the game, like the indigenous Black Rhino, live in the park all year round. Herds of plains zebra, wildebeest and eland enter the park during the great migration in July and August to enjoy the rich grazing until the next rains come.
In recent years a unique trend has been recorded with increasing frequency. A cheetah has successfully raised seven cubs in the park to the delight of local and international visitors. The park is an ideal starting point for ornithological safaris, with more than 400 species of birds.
Nairobi National Park was Kenya's first ever national park. It's golden anniversary occurs in 1997. It is here that Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi's torched ivory worth Kshs. 60 million, in a dramatic display of Kenya's commitment to curbing the slaughter of Africa's elephants for their tusks. The site is near the main gate of the park and bears a commemorative plaque with the striking words "Great objectives often require great sacrifices." Since then, the great bonfire has been lit twice to banish confiscated stocks of poached rhino horn and ivory.
There is no accommodation within the park, but Nairobi offers a wide selection of excellent accommodation to suit all visitor preferences and pockets. Many other tourist attractions are located close to the park, making it an ideal one-day trip venue.
Hells Gate National Park
Special locations to view include Fisher's Tower, formerly a volcano's plug, the Central Tower and Njorowa Gorges. Two extinct volcanos: Olkaria and Honley's are worth a trip. Natural steam vents rise from fissures in the volcanic rock. Obsidian, a striking black glassy rock formed from cooled molten lava is a feature of this landscape. Game to view include: buffalo, Maasai Giraffe, eland, Coke's Hartebeest, lion, leopard and some cheetah. A haven for ornithologists and rock climbers, the cliffs of Hell's Gate are breeding grounds for vultures, Verreaux's Eagles, aigur buzzard and thousands of swifts; 103 species of bird have been recorded in the park.
Mount Longonot National Park
Like Hell's Gate, Mount Longonot offers a wide range of attractions for visitors keen on activity holidays, including hiking, rock climbing, biking as well as bird and wildlife viewing. K.W.S. rangers are available as guides. Accommodation within these parks is limited. Hell's Gate has three campsites, Longonot has no accommodation within the park. However a fabulous range of nearby hotels, lodges, luxury ranch and homestays around Lake Naivasha provide ample accommodation for all budgets.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Notable game within the lake include the hippo and clawless otters. On the shores roam waterbuck, Bohor's Reedbuck and zebra. The woodlands and forest are now home to both black and white rhino. In 1987, only two black rhino remained following devastation by poachers. By creating a rhino sanctuary within the Park and reintroducing a breeding herd from Laikipia, KWS has now successfully re-established rhino in the park.
Game viewing is relatively easy: buffalo, leopard, lion, rothschild's giraffe, white and black colobus monkey are in plentiy. The bushlands offer eland, steinbok, impala, Chandler's Reedbuck and dik dik, whilst rock hyrax and klispringer occupy the cliffs and escarpment.
Accommodation includes: two lodges (total 244 beds), K.W.S. Guest House, five Campsites, self-help banda and two picnic sites: Makalia Fall & Njoro River Mouth (near Main Gate)
Lake Bogoria National Reserve
The surrounding grasslands are home to a number of animals. The reserve's herd of the rare Greater kudu makes it unique. Other game are: buffalo, zebra, impala, dik dik and many small mammals. The south shore has acacia-focus woodland and to the north is a papyrus swamp.
There is one lodge (8 cottages/78 beds), three public campsites near Emos Gate: Acacia Campsite, River Campsite & Fig Tree Campsite, one professional campsite and one picnic site: Loburu Picnic Site at the geysers.
Also reached on this circuit is Lake Kamnarok National Reserve opened in June 1983. It has a diverse landscape with a 4,000ft. deep valley with semi-tropical vegetation on its slopes contrasting with the dry thorn bush at the base. The main game to see are bush pigs, waterbuck, buffalo, elephant, Rothschild's Giraffe, Dik Dik and warthog. Water birds include pelicans and grebe. There is no accommodation within the park.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
An impressive feature is the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle from the plains of the Serengeti that cross the Tanzania border and rivers to reach the mara's grasslands from late June, tracked by predators: lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and circled by vultures as the journey unfolds. Their dramatic river crossing are a reality for tourists visiting in early July-August.
Apart from the seasonal migration, gameviewing is excellent year round. Game includes: elephant, Black Rhino, buffalo, plains zebra, hartebeest and the big cats; the rivers are home to hippo and crocodiles, 452 species, 53 of which are raptors.
Accommodation ranges from stone built lodges to luxury tented camps. The area to the north owned by the Maasai offers great game-viewing, game walks and night games. Safari operators set up private tented camps for small groups seeking exclusive and traditional safaris out of the Reserve. In the Reserve are four Tented Camps (total 296 beds) and two lodges (total 322 beds).
Aberdare National Park
Mountain ranges and peaks soar to around 14,000ft., giving way to deep V-shaped valleys with streams and rivers cascading over spectacular waterfalls. This area is a must for landscape lovers. From its vital catchment area the Aberdare Rainforest feeds the entire local area and Nairobi water supply. Above the forest is a belt of bamboo a favourite haunt of the Bongo, a rare and elusive forest antelope. At 10,00ft. the bamboo belt gives way to moorland, home to eland spotted and melanistic serval cats. Other features are the giant alpine varieties of lobelia, groundsel and heather. It is ideal for walking, picnics, camping and trout fishing in rivers. The moorlands are reminiscent of the European highlands.
Animals abound in the forest. They include elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog and Kenya's indigenous and endangered Black Rhino. The entire forest is being fenced off to protect farmers from animal raids and create a rhino and forest sanctuary. The Rhino Ark trust organises fund-raising events to build this fence.
Game-viewing is very rewarding: lion, leopard baboon, Black & White Colobus and Sykes Monkeys are abundant. Rare sightings have also been made of the Golden Cat. Bird-viewing is a big attraction with more than 250 species recorded including Jackson's Francolin, sparrow hawk, African goshawk, eagles, sunbirds and plovers.
There is a variety of accommodation. Treetops tree-house lodge and the Ark, a lodge built in the shape of Noah's Ark. Night game-viewing is possible near the lodges in the Salient area of the Park with excellent sightings of elephant, buffalo, lion and rhino, drawn to the waterholes and saltlicks each evening.
There are two lodges (total 219 beds), three self-help banda sites (total 18 beds), eight special campsites (requiring advance booking) and one public campsite (moorland). There are five picnic sites.
Mount Kenya National Park
According to Kikuyu folklore, it is the home of the Supreme Being: Ngai, a name also used by the Maasai and Kamba to describe God. In traditional prayers and sacrifices, Ngai is addressed by the Kikuyu as Mwene Nyaga: Possessor of Brightness. The name comes from Kere Nyaga the Kikuyu name for Mount Kenya, meaning Mountain of Brightness - Ngai's official home.
Part of the mountain's fascination is the variation in flora and fauna as the altitude changes. The lower slopes are covered with dry upland forest, the true montane (mountain) forest begins at 2,000m is mainly cedar and podo. At 2,500m begins a dense belt of bamboo forest which merges into the upper forest of smaller trees, interpersed with glades. In this area the trees are festooned with high altitude moss.
These forest belts are host to many different animals and plants with at least 11 unique species. There are Black and White Colobus and Sykes Monkeys, bushbuck, buffalo, elephant and lower down Olive Baboon, waterbuck, black rhino, black fronted duikers, leopard, giant forest hog, genet cat, bushpig and hyena. More elusive is the bongo, a rare type of forest antelope.
A number of other rare or endangered species can be found here: Sunni Buck, Mount Kenya Mole Shrew, Skinks (lizard), and a variety of owls. Occasional sightings have been recorded of albino zebra.
The high altitude heath at the top (3,000 - 3,500m) is generally open, dotted with shrubs: African Sage, protea and helicrysum. The peak (above 3,500m) is moorland, with little game other than high altitude zebra and eland, common in the northern moorland.
There is only one lodge inside the park (total 66 beds) seven climbers huts (total 82 beds) and three self-help banda sites (total 136 beds). Just outside the Park there are three lodges (total 456 beds) and another self-help banda site (34 beds).
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park
is a fascinating one-day trip out of Nairobi, only 65 km. away. The mountain rises to 8,000ft. covering 20sq. kms. It is particularly attractive for hikers or families wanting some freedom and exercise out of their vehicle. It is recommended that visitors approach the park via spectacular Fourteen Falls on the Chania River.
The park's attraction is its beauty and views of both Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. It teems with game including baboon, colobus, bushbuck, impala, duiker and abundant birdlife.
The name 'Ol Donyo Sabuk' is Maasai for'Mountain of Buffalo'. Today some 250 buffalos roam the slopes. Kikuyu traditionalists call it Kea-Njahe, known as the 'Mountain of the Big Rain', one of Ngai's lesser homes.
The solitary mountain rises to 2,145m from an otherwise flat area. The steep ascent requires a 4WD vehicle. Near the summit lie the graves of Sir William Northrup McMillan (1872-1925) and his wife Lady Lucie. He was a huge Scot raised in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. He arrived in Kenya in 1901 for big game hunting, playing host to former US president F. D. Roosevelt during his famous 1911 safari at their ranch, Juja Farm (now a popular location for film crews). He and his wife were great philanthropists. They established the MacMillan Library in central Nairobi.
Also in this area is Mwea National Reserve (altitude 3,000 - 5,000ft., opened January 1976 covering an area of 68 sq. kms.), 180 kms. from Nairobi. Its main feature is the meeting of the tana and Thiba Rivers within the reserve and the Kaburu and Masinga hydro-electric dams.
There are many of elephants in the Reserve. Other prevalent game includes: buffalo, impala, hippo baboon, vervet and sykes monkeys, warthog, bushbuck, waterbuck, hartebeest, lesser kudu, jackal. Crocodiles are also found in dams and rivers.
There is no hotel-type accommodation in these reserves or parks. Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park has one campsite. Mwea national Reserve has two picnic sites: Gichuki island and Hippo Point.
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