Get to KNOW, EXPLORE, PROTECT and CELEBRATE Kenya
Every single week of the 50 weeks between January 2013 and Kenya’s 50th Anniversary of Independence on the 12th of December 2013 we are going to highlight one of the 50 Treasures of Kenya with stunning pictures, practical travel information and personal impressions.
This week we invite you to come along with us as we visit :
The Aberdare Range- ‘Scotland with Lions’
Still revered as God’s abode when He was not on Mount Kenya; it was originally known as Nyandarua by the Kikuyu,which means ‘the drying hide’ because its contours have features akin to the folds of an unspread hide. Throughout history for the Kikuyu people it has been a holy mountain and one of the abodes of Ngai or God and till today people from the land below take the effort to climb to its peak for consultation of God. On its foothills near Murang’a, myth has it that the daughters of Gikuyu, the progenitor of all Kikuyu were born under a massive Mugumo tree which can still be visited today.
Now known as the ‘Aberadares’ by many,the once upon a time Sattima Range is third highest mountain range in the country and the second highest ground in Central Kenya which forms the eastern wall of the Rift Valley where the former ‘white highlands’ were situated.
It was named the Aberdare Range in 1884 by the famous explorer Joseph Thomson in honour of the 1st Baron, Lord Aberdare, before it became well known as the headquarters of Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, the legendary leader of the 1950s Mau Mau Uprising.
This region is a must for landscape lovers and has been a major attraction which continues to be a favorite destination of travelers who love the outdoors and wildlife.
Although it is separate, the range is volcanic like most of the other mountains in Kenya and serves as a vital water catchment area providing water to the Tana and Athi rivers and part of Central Rift and Northern drainage basins.
The Aberdare Rainforest feeds the entire local and Nairobi water supply.
The Aberdare National Park is part of the higher areas of the Aberdare Mountain Range. It is surrounded by a predominantly indigenous forest which stretches over a wide divergence of terrains. This 160 km long mountain highland is about 2,100 m to 4,300 m above sea level with an average elevation of 3,500 metres with Ol Doinyo Lesatima which reaches a height of 3,999m and Kinangop 3,906m poised as its two key main peaks:
Ranked as the highest park in Africa, since most of the plateau is located above an altitude of 3,000 m, Aberdare National Park contains a wide range of landscapes. Its unique features from its endemic flora to its atypical geography blend to create an environment of great ambient beauty equal only to that of Mt. Kenya itself.
Managed under a MoU between Kenya Wildlife Services and the Forest Department; it was established in 1950 to protect the forested slopes and moors of the Aberdares Mountain. The Park was awarded an additional 584 km²extension onto the gazetted area and afterwards enlarged to around 770 km², making it the third largest park in the country.
This area contains a rich botanic fortune which is a mixture of tropical affluence and alpine greenery composed of lichen-hung forests, groundsel, erica, hypericum and the fascinating seneccio which grow up to the 18 feet high,whose brilliant yellow flowers bloom but once in twenty years!
The high moorlands of the Aberdare range which are evocative of the European highlands are a mosaic of thistles, tussock grass, lobelia and giant heathers camouflaged with moss surrounded by beautifully landscaped fields. Wild flowers such as gladioli and daisies. Red, pink, purple, yellow and orange everlastings are also abundant within its grassy fields during intervals of the year.
Its remarkable topography is characteristically diverse with yawning ravines that curve through the arboraceous eastern and western slopes; presenting myriad of terra firma ranging from high moorland to deep gorges topped with rugged peaks, teeming mountain streams, undisturbed rivers and cascading waterfalls.
As most of the country’s outstanding mountains, the Aberdares are composed of former volcanoes that were active some 5 to 6,5 million years ago. This is hard to recognize today though, since its Western flanks crumbled in a massive landslide 2 million years ago, when the neighboring part of the Rift Valley was caving in. The impressive result is visible as you approach the Aberdares from Naivasha through South Kinangop.
When climbing the steep 600 meter walls and zigzag your way up through dense rainforests and bamboo thickets with your car, you will shout ‘ah’ and ‘oh’ for the spectacular views back into the Rift. The Eastern side of Nyandarua rolls out more gently into the plains towards Mt. Kenya.
The Park consists of two distinct surroundings i.e. the Kinangop Plateau which is in the western portion of Aberdare National Park and comprises of moorland, bamboo forest alongside its peaks and the Salient with its dense rainforest to the east.
The Salient has its origin in an ancient migratory route of elephants between the range and Mount Kenya.
This rich diversity of vegetation is due to the rich, red volcanic soil which provides excellent growing conditions for the indigenous forest. From some vantage points the high altitude forests also provide sensational views of the resplendent crown of Mt. Kenya and the natural treasuries of the Great Rift Valley.
Although game-viewing is not that easy due to the tall trees and obscuring undergrowth in the Park. The Aberdare National Park is a conducive home to most of the larger mammals, hosting the second largest population of black rhinos in Africa and over 200 species of birds including the Jackson’s Francolin, renown birds of prey, nectar eating sunbirds,waders like the plovers and some species of owls.
Some rare sights include lions, the golden cat and the near extinct mountain Bongo, an elusive forest antelope that lives in the bamboo forest. At about 3,000m , the bamboo gives way to moorland where animals like the eland, the spotted and melanistic serval cats can be spotted.
The albino zebra which is another curiosity has also been sighted here on few occasions.
This a typically ideal haven to a number of endangered species such as the giant forest hog and rare wild dogs including Sunni Buck. Other animals easily seen in the park include the, leopard, baboon, black and white colobus monkey and Sykes monkey.
Explore the Abedares
The Aberdare National Park offers the ideal environment for exploring as one can go trekking throughout the forests and across the moorlands or even go horse riding at the foothills of the Aberdares.
Evenings are the best times to view the animals as they venture out to the salt licks and water holes. Nocturnal game viewing is a earnest experience at the two lodges located within Aberdare National Park.
A bell at the lodges is used to notify visitors of an unusual animal at the waterhole.
If you want to enjoy the nighttime wildlife viewing, both Treetops, also famous for its historical royal connection, and The Ark are the best choices. Visitors can observe different animals, such as elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos and the like from here. These animals frequent the waterhole and can be seen from the comfort and security of the places nearby.
There are five picnic sites available for those who enjoy picnicking.
The park also provides favorable fishing opportunities in the cool mountain streams. Both brown and rainbow trout abound in these streams and provide excellent angling and a sport-fishing license can be obtained at the Park’s office. Visitors can also indulge in trout fishing in the ice-cold Guru Karuru and Chania Rivers or go camping in the moorlands.
Photography and Bird viewing are other very rewarding pastimes you can also delight in.
Elephants can still be seen occasionally although the dense vegetation makes it a challenge to see most of the animals
The Aberdares spectacular waterfalls include the famous Thompson’s Falls; Chania Falls and Karura Falls which have viewing platforms nearby to from where you can watch the hundreds of bird species found in the Park.
It is also worth mentioning the Queen’s Caves which were made notoriously famous by the Mau Mau freedom fighters who used the caves as their hideouts and to preserve their meat due to their coolness during those historic days prior to independence.
Another particularly exciting attraction is the Dedan Kimathi post office which is a giant mugumo tree where the rebels would leave messages for Kimathi’s attention.
Other attractions apart from the Ol Doinyo Lesatima and Kinangop peaks are the Twin Hills, Elephant Hills and Table Mountains.In the surroundings there are a number of small farms and coffee estates that you can visit to get a better taste of Kenya.
Practical travel information.
Although the roads in the Park make movement easier in the Park’s moist condition it is most advisable to use 4WD vehicle when visiting the Aberdare.
There are approx. 60km of primary roads and 396km of secondary roads, which are rendered practically impassable during the rainy season, which lasts normally from March to May and,to a lesser measure, from October to December.
Despite being so near to the equator, the high altitude determines the climate, resulting in cooler temperatures and more rainfall.
The rainforest is often shrouded in mist and the high rainfall across this part of Kenya can turn the tracks which are normally navigable into deceptive mudslides; except during the wet season when extreme caution is highly recommended!
How to get to Aberdare National park
The park is easily accessible by road with Aberdare being about 160km from Nairobi. There is a tarmac road from Nyeri and Naro Moru on the eastern side of Aberdare. However, the best access route is from the towns of Nyahururu and Naivasha. Gates are situated at Ruhuruina, Kiandongoro, Ark, Wandare and Treetops, if approaching from Nyeri. From Nyahururu, use the Rhino Gate, Shamata Gate and from Naivasha, use the Mutubio Gate.
Airstrips are also available and the two good airstrips which can be used in this event are Mweiga Airstrip next to the park headquarters or Nyeri 12 km from Mweiga headquarters.
The Park is open daily from 6.00 am to 7.00pm and no entry is allowed after 6.15 pm. You will however need a prepaid smart card to gain full entry.These are available in Nairobi or at the Park Head Quarters in Mweiga in Nyeri.
Apart from a number of private and public campsites, KWS rents out various self-help bandas and cabins as well as the basic Fishing Lodge which you find detailed information about on the KWS homepage. The most comfortable of all accommodation inside the park is offered by the Ark which is under Fairmont Hotels and Treetops (which gained fame as Princess Elizabeth stayed here during her visit to Kenya when receiving the news about the death of her father in 1952 that turned her into the Queen of the British Empire) which belongs to the Aberdare Lodges.
In Nyeri, the undisputedly best hotel is the classical Outspan which has a huge park-like garden, swimming pool, tennis court and offers bird walks. Guests for Treetops are received and transferred from here. The Green Hills is another recommendable hotel offering a fair service at reasonable prices.
It is still unfortunate that with all the choices of accommodations in the Aberdare National Park and the high number of visitors the park registers; most of them tend to do it for an overnight stay at its famous lodges, reason why in fact the park is largely unknown for most of the visitors.
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Until the next time its many thanks from the 50 Treasures of Kenya Trust to all the contributors in this feature with special acknowledgment going to our chairman Mr.Harmut Fiebig for the wonderful photography and most of all to you our treasured audience for your delightful company.
Its always a pleasure to share a treasure.