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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.

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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

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage

The crowd gathers at the barrier from around 10am.  It’s a mixed bag – foreign tourists, Kenyan families bringing visiting relatives and friends, and several dozen small school children.  At 11 o’clock the rope barrier is dropped and everyone enters the Elephant Orphanage.  The crowd scuttles past the stables where the baby elephants sleep at night and down a narrow path to pay the entrance fee and continue down to a large clearing with another rope barrier.  As the visitors find their place for the best views of the elephant orphans there is a sense of excitement and anticipation.  At last everyone is in and suddenly from the bushes in the Nairobi National Park appears the first group of baby elephants.  They scamper down to the clearing where massive bottles of milk wait for them.  Some of the elephants can hold the bottle with their trunks and feed themselves, while the smaller ones need assistance from the keepers.  They guzzle down the milk; those who are feeding themselves throw the first bottle down and nudge the keepers for a second.  Cameras are snapping wildly and the school children are a bit nervous and a bit excited all at the same time.

In 1948, David Sheldrick became the founding Warden of Tsavo National Park, the largest park in Kenya, where he was forced to deal with the problem of armed poachers.  After his untimely death in 1977, his wife Daphne established the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  Among other activities, the elephant orphanage is one of the projects of the Trust.  It supports baby elephants that have lost their mothers due to death from injuries, natural causes or poaching, or the orphan has gotten lost in the wild.  Baby elephants (like human babies) cannot survive without care and the dedicated team at the orphanage provide both the physical and emotional care required.  When the elephants come of age, they are released back into the wild after an extensive rehabilitation process.

Elephant Orphanage, OTA - Kenya Safaris, www.ota-responsibletravel.com

During visiting hours, the elephants are fed and the keepers introduce each orphan and tell their story.  It’s a rare opportunity to see these young elephants play together and interact with their keepers and potentially you!

The Elephant Orphanage is a great activity for children, conservationists and anyone who loves elephants.  It is located adjacent to Nairobi National Park, not far outside Nairobi’s city centre.  The entry fee is 500 Kenyan Shillings (approximately US$6) and the feeding and talks last for about one hour.

Are you keen to visit the baby elephants in Nairobi?  Contact OTA on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to find out how.

Lake Nakuru National Park: A bird watcher’s paradise

The Rift Valley province in Kenya is home to seven national parks, including the two premium parks as designated by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).  Lake Nakuru National Park is one of those premium parks and will be the subject of this article.

 

White rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

White rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park

Named the “Bird Watchers’ Paradise” by KWS, Lake Nakuru was first gazetted as a bird sanctuary in 1961.  In 1964, the park was extended to the north, so it now covered the whole lake and a surrounding perimeter.  In 1990, the lake was designated as a Ramsar site – the Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the protection, conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitat.

Flamingoes at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.comCyanophyte Spirulina platensis, the major food source for flamingos, thrives in the lake and supports huge numbers of Lesser Flamingo.  Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos and other water birds are found in abundance, as well as a large variety of terrestrial birds, bringing the number of species found in Lake Nakuru National Park to nearly 450.  There are approximately 56 mammal species residing in the park including both black and white rhinos.  The park hosts unique vegetation including about 550 different plant species including yellow acacia woodlands and Africa’s largest Euphorbia candelabrum forest.

Tree-climbing lions at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Tree-climbing lions

There are three viewpoints in the national park: Lion Hill, Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa.  These are designated areas where you can get out of the vehicle, stretch your legs, and get some stunning photos of the lake and surrounds.  There are also a few hills that are not established viewpoints (so you must stay in the vehicle) that also offer views of the picturesque landscape; Enasoit, Honeymoon and Lion Hill Ridge are three.  Lake Nakuru also has a waterfall feeding it at the south end. Makalia Falls gushes during the wet season and is barely a trickle in the dry.

Makalia Falls, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Makalia Falls

There are two public campsites within the National Park – one near the main gate and one at Makalia Falls.  Although Makalia Falls’ location is preferable, running water is intermittent as are doors on the toilets.  There are also several special campsites dotted around the park.  There are no fences between you and the animals in these campsites, so you must be careful when you are cooking and make sure you do it in daylight hours.  Camping fees are US$25 for non-residents, 500KES for residents and 200KES for East African citizens.

Makalia Falls campsite, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Makalia Falls campsite

To enter the National Park, the fees are US$80 for non-residents, 1000KES for East African residents and citizens plus 300KES for a small vehicle (up to six seats).  There are toilets, a restaurant and a curio shop at the main gate.  Entry permits are valid for the day of entry only, and you must be out of the park by 6pm (or parked at the campsite if staying overnight).  So it’s a good idea to get in early if you only have one day.

Baboon family, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Baboon family

Packing a picnic is a cost-efficient and quite pleasant lunch option – the lookouts mentioned above make good lunch stops, just watch out for baboons!  Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa lookouts both have toilets and covered areas.  There is another picnic site in the middle of acacia woodlands.  If you are in the park for just one day, Makalia Falls is also a nice place for a picnic.

Road block at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Road Block

It is definitely worth spending a day exploring Lake Nakuru National Park.  As one of Kenya’s premium national parks, it is famous as the home to thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The park also provides sanctuary for Rothschild giraffe, rhino and leopard.

Leopard at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Leopard

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