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Category Archives: National Parks in Kenya

Why the Heck Is Conservation Important Anyway?

Why the Heck Is Conservation Important Anyway?

Last year we lost Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, leaving only two females remaining in the world.  However, the people at Ol Pejeta Conservancy are dedicated to protecting those two rhinos, not to mention rescuing chimpanzees from circuses and other unpleasant situations.  This post takes you on a tour of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, looking at their various projects, as well as the practicalities of how you can visit.

Located three kilometres south of Nanyuki, Ol Pejeta is one of many conservancies in the Laikipia region.  Conservancies are privately owned (as opposed to National Parks which are government-owned) and usually come about as ranchers set aside a part of their farm for conservation purposes.  The vegetation is allowed to grow naturally and wild animals come to these safe havens away from human habitat encroachment.  Ol Pejeta also works closely with the community, establishing a school and helping other farmers in the area with sustainable farming techniques and human-wildlife conflict.

What to do in the conservancy

As with other game parks, the most common activity is to go on game drives through the conservancy.   Lions, waterbucks, (southern) white and black rhinos, leopards, hippos, topi and other antelopes can all be found at Ol Pejeta.  There are two specific places however, that make Ol Pejeta unique: the Endangered Animals Enclosure and the Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

The Endangered Animals Enclosure is where you will find the two Northern White Rhinos pondering the demise of their kind.  Together with other stakeholders, Ol Pejeta is raising funds to attempt IVF for the female Northern White Rhinos.  The rhinos are aging however, so it’s a race against time and increasingly it looks like they will have to use a southern white rhino as a surrogate.  Recently, the conservancy started to offer horse rides through the Endangered Animals Enclosure, adding another level of excitement to visitors’ experience of the conservancy.

The Chimpanzee Sanctuary is the only place in Kenya where you can see chimps.  The chimpanzees have all been rescued from abusive situations whether they were in a circus or kept as pets or other entertainment.  As a result, they can be a little unfriendly, but after some time getting to know their new family and adapting back to the wild they settle into their new life.  The first time I visited, one chimp seemed to be carrying a lot of anger and was throwing sticks at visitors – fortunately there’s a fence between humans and animals.  But his aggressive behaviour was indicative of the circumstances he had lived in before coming to Ol Pejeta.  A ranger will take you on a guided walk around the sanctuary and tell you about some of the chimps – they have names and each has its own story.

There are several accommodation options within the conservancy ranging from the luxurious to the basic.  There are three public campsites that require you to bring all your own food, tents, cooking equipment and carry your rubbish out.  They supply firewood and will dig a toilet if you book in advance.  No showers though.  The largest lodging is Serena Sweet Waters Camp; a luxurious tented camp arced around a large waterhole.  The tents are spacious with en suite bathrooms and four-poster beds.  Meals are buffet-style and the dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the waterhole – dinner AND a show!  Pelican House is a self-catering guesthouse perfect for families and small groups to rent exclusively.  The Stables are a budget accommodation with full service while at the other end of the spectrum is Ol Pejeta Safari Cottages, Kicheche Laikipia Camp and Porini Rhino Camp.

For those interested in spending a longer amount of time to learn more about the conservation and community work of the conservancy, two-week volunteer programs are available.  They also have a Junior Ranger program for children aged 4-12 years, making this conservancy one of the most family-friendly in Kenya.

Ol Pejeta is about a four-hour drive north of Nairobi on a decent highway.  The last 20 kilometres is on a dirt road from the highway to the entrance gate.  If time is limited, you might prefer to fly from Nairobi to Nanyuki from where your accommodation in Ol Pejeta can arrange a pick up.

Would you like to visit Ol Pejeta?  Get in touch with us at OTA to organise your visit, either as part of a longer safari or as a special weekend away.  We recommend at least two nights if Ol Pejeta is to be your only safari destination, but it also makes a great overnight stop on the way to Samburu National Reserve.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to start planning this exotic safari experience.

Entering Hells Gate

So I’m on a bicycle and there’s an annoyed-looking buffalo not so far away.  This is Hells Gate National Park, famous in Kenya for its largely predator-free environment (apparently aggressive buffalos don’t count), and hence providing the unique opportunity to cycle or walk amongst the wildlife.  Often on safari, you find yourself either on a game drive or driving to the next park – either way, you tend to spend a lot of time in a vehicle.  Hells Gate gives you a chance to stretch your legs and here you are going to find everything you need to plan your experience.

Hells Gate National Park is located in the South Rift Region near the town of Naivasha, 90km from Nairobi.  Dubbed “A Walk on the Wild Side” by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the park is 68km² of savannah where you can cycle and walk amongst the animals.

This week, Francis and I took two of his children for a bike ride through the park.  We saw zebras, elands, gazelles (both Thomson’s and Grant’s), baboons, buffalos, warthogs and giraffes.  It was super-exciting for the kids – despite their father being a safari guide, they have not had much opportunity to go on safari themselves.  Matthew has inherited his dad’s keen spotting eyes and, with the energy of an eight-year-old, zoomed ahead to report the buffalos and warthogs that we were about to see.  Leopards and hyenas also live in the park, but they are rarely seen.

The most common trail is eight kilometres from Elsa’s gate to the Ol Njorowa Gorge.  At Elsa’s gate, the main entry point for Hells Gate, bicycles are available for hire.  There are other places to hire bicycles from local guides, which is perfect if you want to also take a guide into the park.  Don’t expect top quality bicycles, but the brakes worked, the wheels went round and, for the most part, we could change gears (but the park is pretty flat so you can get by without too many gears).

About one kilometre from the gate is Fischer’s Tower, where rock climbing equipment is set up.  Hells Gate is more famous for its geological formations than it’s animals, and Fischer’s Tower is a rocky pinnacle that pokes up from the ground in the middle of otherwise flat land.  The tower is only 25m hight, so it is very manageable to scale.

Ol Njorowa Gorge is the highlight of the park.  Guides are stationed at the gateway to the gorge where there is also a picnic site and car park.  There are two walks to choose from – the shorter walk takes 45 minutes to one hour and the longer one is two to three hours.  On the longer walk you will see where Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie was filmed.

A further 5.5km on (and only 500m from Ol Karia gate) is the Geo Spa.  Hells Gate was named for the steam coming out of the rocks creating a likeness to what the gateway to hell might look like.  The whole Rift Valley was created through volcanic activity and many mountains throughout the valley are extinct volcanos.  There is still a lot of geo-thermal activity occurring in the area, with Hells Gate being the most active (Mt Suswa also has steam coming from the ground, which local Maasai have tapped to collect water).  The Kenyan government is working with foreign experts to create a massive geo-thermal plant which will ultimately provide 40% of Kenya’s electricity.  The Spa is where you can get close to the geo-thermal activity and take a bath in the hot springs.

If you feel like you need more than a day to enjoy all these activities, there are two campsites in the park.  The facilities are basic, but when you are camping inside a national park in Kenya, that is enough excitement to overcome not having a hot shower.  The Ol Dubai Campsite sits on a ledge overlooking the grazing animals and Fischer’s Tower.

I hope this has piqued your interest in taking a cycling safari in Hells Gate!  We love including a day trip to Hells Gate into our safari packages, giving our guests a chance to stretch their legs between game drives.  If you would like to plan your safari to Hells Gate and other Kenyan parks, contact us on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today!

Or you can join our Wildlife Wonder Safari in January 2019.  Covering three of East Africa’s premier game parks, this trip circuits southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.  Watching wildlife and visiting communities of different cultures, this trip shows all sides of life in East Africa!  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park

“The World’s Only Wildlife Capital” is Nairobi with a 117 square kilometre National Park only seven kilometres from the city centre.  On this unique urban adventure you can snap some pictures of the wide savannah with the city skyline in the background.  Black rhinos are the highlight of this amazing wildlife park.  It was Kenya’s first national park and is a local treasure for Nairobians.

The best way to enjoy the park is to start early in the morning so you can see the animals at their most active.  You can enjoy a picnic lunch in the park and follow some of the walking trails before finishing with another game drive.  If you do not have your own vehicle, you can reserve a private game drive in an open-sided KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) safari vehicle.

We have had several visits to Nairobi National Park this year, first in January with Richard then in February with Hasse and his family.  The beautiful Saddle-billed Stork made an appearance in amongst the wildebeest and zebras, who decided the road was a good place for a dust bath.  Lasse came with his family in April and Jeppe’s family in July when they came across a lion who had just killed.  Elands are very common to spot in this park – they are very shy and often disappear in the other parks around Kenya.  Giraffes are plenty and the birdlife is incredible.  With Celia and her friends in June we saw a Leopard Tortoise, two lionesses and some buffalos getting intimate in the “Jacuzzi” (that is, waterhole).  In May, Sunrise of Africa School in Kitengela had a visiting teacher from England and invited her to the park at the end of her work.  Accompanying Linda was Sammy, the director of the school, and Sammy’s daughter.  They enjoyed breakfast in the park in amongst their animal spotting, which included lion, eland, zebra and impala.  The herbivores were all together in a clearing, looking almost like a Garden of Eden.  The lion had a freshly-hunted impala which he took into the bushes to eat in peace.  Last year Pauline and Auriole were very lucky to see about nine black rhinos in one area as well as a group of rock hyraxes.  On my first ever visit I saw a bushbuck, Fish Eagle and so many hartebeest.

Co-located with the National Park are the Nairobi Safari Walk and the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, dubbed “Refuges of the Wild”.  The Animal Orphanage provides refuge for injured wild animals and for young orphaned animals.  The animals are treated, but sadly many will never be rehabilitated back into the wild.  However, the orphanage is associated with several international breeding programs, so the work there is highly important.  We visited the Animal Orphanage with Lindsay and got the best Serval Cat sighting one is likely to get.  Lions, leopard and buffalo are all there, and of course plenty of monkeys run amok around the grounds.  It is a bit sad to see these animals stuck behind bars when their brothers are just outside roaming free.

The Safari Walk is a raised boardwalk that gives excellent views over the national park, with observation points at waterholes where wildlife is most often found.  With Xavier we walked the boardwalk and saw a cheetah lounging on the lush green grass.  Xavier also had an incredible game drive in the park, spotting a lioness with a young playful cub, an ostrich sitting on his eggs, Grant’s gazelle, Secretary bird, rhino and even a leopard!

For non-Kenyan residents, it cost US$50 to enter the national park and it’s open from sunrise to sunset.  Depending on the type of car that you choose, a half-day excursion can cost from US$150 per person including the park fee (price varies according the number of people in your group and the length of time you want to spend in the park).  The Animal Orphanage and Safari Walk each cost US$25 to enter and are open from 8am to 6pm.

Tsavo West National Park

Tsavo West National Park

In March 1898 the construction of the Mombasa to Kampala railway reached the Tsavo River.  Colonel J.H. Patterson was sent to Kenya to supervise the construction of the railway and the Tsavo River Bridge.  For several months, two man-eating lions reined terror on the 3000-man labour force of Indian and African workers at Tsavo River.

In December the same year, the lions brought the rail works to a complete standstill for three weeks as they had taken 28 Indian workers and an unrecorded number of African workers.  On 9 December, Colonel Patterson killed the first of the two lions.  He had been hunting them for several months and finally succeeded (whilst being propped up on a flimsy structure), approximately 1200 metres from the lions’ cave.  On 27 December, the Colonel killed the second lion from a tree 1800 metres from their cave, effectively ending the terror and enabling construction of the railway to continue.  In early 1899 the railroad head progressed to Nairobi.

Colonel Patterson found the lions’ cave, declaring it to be “beyond all doubt the man-eaters’ den” as hundreds of human bones and skulls were discovered inside.

In February 2013, we went to Tsavo West National Park to learn more about the history of the legendary man-eating lions and explore the second-largest park in Kenya.

Its label as the “Land of Lava, Springs and Man-Eaters” gives quite a good idea of what one can expect to find in Tsavo West National Park.  Located in Kenya’s Southern Region, 240km from Nairobi, Tsavo West is a massive 9045 square kilometres.  Closer to Mombasa than Nairobi, the park makes an interesting diversion from a coast holiday for a few days while not having to travel too far.

Accommodation is a bit limited on the Tsavo West side compared to Tsavo East, but there are a few lodges and campsites inside the park.  Voyager Ziwani, Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge, Severin Safari Camp and Finch Hattons fill the upper range of accommodation.  Expect to pay around US$450-500 per person per night including all meals (a bit more at Christmas, New Year and Easter).  Game drives, bush walks, laundry service, spa treatments and sundowners are available at the lodges.  Finch Hattons was awarded Africa’s Leading Safari Lodge in the 2013 World Travel Awards.

If you prefer something a bit more budget-friendly, there is a campsite near Chyulu Gate.  Kenya Wildlife Service also provides accommodation with Kamboyo Guest House and Lake Jipe Cottages.

There are a few sights around the park that are worth visiting.  Poacher’s Lookout provides a great view over most of Tsavo West including the lava flows.  At Mzima Springs a guide can explain the history of the area as you walk around.  Most of the spring’s water goes to Mombasa while the rest flows into the Tsavo River.  There is an underwater observation room where you can see the various fish species that inhabit the pool.

To visit the Man-Eating Lions’ Cave, you can get a ranger to escort you from Tsavo River Gate.  There is a walking trail to the cave but being within the national park, you need a ranger while you are outside the vehicle.  Tsavo West is also home to a Rhino Sanctuary which is free to visit with plenty of animals.  It is only open between four and six in the evening however.

The wildlife you can see in Tsavo West includes hippos, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, dik diks, elephants, zebras, giraffes, Cape buffalo, black-backed jackal, eland, oryx, warthogs, impala, klipspringer, and lesser kudus.  There is also plenty of birdlife including kingfishers, hornbills, starlings, helmeted and vulturine guineafowl, hoopoes, waxbill, barbet, mousebirds, and bush-shrike.  The landscape is mostly brushy woodland making animal spotting a little bit more challenging than the open savannah of other parks.  The elephants are red due to the colour of the soil with which they bathe themselves.

Have you visited Tsavo West National Park?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.  Or if you would like to visit Tsavo West please visit our website www.ota-responsibletravel.com and send us an enquiry today.

Mt Longonot National Park

Mt Longonot National Park

Mt Longonot National Park is situated approximately 90km from Nairobi and provides a wonderful hiking opportunity for the hale and hearty.  Labelled by Kenya Wildlife Service as “Sheer Adventure”, it certainly can feel like that as you traverse the narrow track around the rim with very little between you and a steep fall either down the mountain or into the crater.

Located near Naivasha in the Rift Valley Province and Central Kenya region, Mt Longonot covers an area of 52 square kilometres.  It rises 643 metres from base (2146m above sea level) to summit (2789m).

It’s a fairly steep ascent for about 3km from the base to the crater rim – it was a volcano.  You can then opt to circumnavigate the entire crater rim, which is approximately 7km, before descending back to the base.  From the top you have expansive views of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Naivasha.  Guides and porters are available upon request.

Being such an easy day trip from Nairobi, one sunny Saturday a group of us decided to go.  It was the beginning of a training regime to prepare us for climbing Mt Kenya.  I have decided that Mt Kenya will have to wait a while – my (un-) fitness level was embarrassingly revealed on Mt Longonot!  On weekends Mt Longonot is a very popular outing for many Nairobians and we saw people of all ages running and walking on the mountain – elderly men, training athletes and a swarm of children participating in a sponsored activity.  As a result the path up to the rim was almost like a highway and the first point you reach at the top was crowded.  Fortunately most were simply climbing up to enjoy the view from that point and then descending.

As we had all day, and we figured 7 km wasn’t too far, we decided to take the track around the crater rim.  I supposed that 7km was not too far on flat ground, and I supposed the crater rim would be somewhat flat.  I was wrong on both counts.  On the western side of Mt Longonot the rim rises sharply and it is a bit of a rocky scramble to get over it.

Stunning views are the reward for the slog – as you circumnavigate the crater you first see over Lake Naivasha and its surrounding flower farms to the west, then south and east towards Maasai Land and finally north to the Aberdares.  My hiking buddy was Agnes and she told me that in years past, this was a place local Maasai men would come to throw themselves into the crater if life became too difficult to deal with.

The track up the mountain is also the only way down.  It’s very sandy, and I could not say which direction is easier: two steps up resulted in one and a half steps down as you sink in the sand while one step down resulted in sliding down the equivalent of three steps and worrying about knee joints.

Perhaps I’ve painted an unfairly grim picture of this mountain, but please understand that my sedentary lifestyle means that mountain climbing isn’t awesome for me!  My climbing companions loved it and couldn’t wait to do it again.

 

OTA is offering trips to Mt Longonot National Park for US$100 per person (non-residents’ price; 7450 Kenyan Shillings for East African residents), including park entry fees and transport between your accommodation in Nairobi and the mountain.  That’s a 25% discount if you simply quote the code: MLNP@ezine in your email to tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.  And this is valid until the end of 2014!

Kilmanjaro’s Royal Court… Otherwise Known As Amboseli

Kilmanjaro’s Royal Court… Otherwise Known As Amboseli

Known as the “Kilimanjaro Royal Court”, Amboseli National Park is nestled at the foothills of Africa’s highest mountain.  Amboseli is a top destination in Kenya for wildlife and one of the classic African images is that of a herd of elephants strolling across the plains with the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro in the background.  It is to catch this sight that people flood to Amboseli National Park.  While Kilimanjaro is actually across the border in Tanzania, Amboseli has a perfect view of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain which rises an impressive 5895 metres above the plains.

Amboseli is approximately a half-day drive from Nairobi, meaning you can leave early in the morning and arrive in time for lunch and an afternoon game drive.  Some of the lodges and camps in the area offer a walk with local Maasai warriors and it’s definitely worth taking the opportunity for a sunset or sunrise walk to view Kilimanjaro.  The best time to view the majestic mountain is at dawn, when the clouds lift and the light is clear and soft.  Early morning walks are very good photo opportunities as you witness the African sunrise lighten the mountain and distribute golden rays to the dry savannah of Amboseli National Park.

You can spend a full day game driving in the park, which contains swamp grounds where elephants and hippos are in abundance.  A variety of plains game, antelopes and birds can also be seen.

There are several camps and lodges both inside and outside the park.  Maasai Simba Camp is run by the local community and profits support the hospital and schools in the neighbouring village.  Kibo Camp is very close to the main gate and offers outstanding service at a very reasonable price.  Inside the park is Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge which won Africa’s Leading Eco Hotel in the 2013 World Tourism Awards.  Part of the Serena Hotel chain, a stay here includes game drives with professional guides, bush dinners with a campfire and Maasai dancing, and village visits.  Tortilis Camp is a classic luxury safari camp with stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro.  In nearby Selenkay Conservancy is Porini Amboseli Camp where your stay includes game drives in Selenkay Conservancy plus one full day with picnic lunch in Amboseli National Park and a visit to a Maasai village.

If driving 250km is not your thing, Amboseli also has an airstrip with regular flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

Why not book a weekend trip to Amboseli? With beautiful lodges inside the park it is possible to travel there on Saturday and return on Sunday – what a unique way to spend a weekend for a Nairobian!  Get in touch today (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) to book.

amboseli

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