Follow the ‘Countdown to 50’ Campaign!
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 :
Tsavo West: Kenya’s Chief National Park
Tsavo is the biggest national park in the country occupying approximately 22,000km², almost 4% of Kenya’s surface area, making it one of the largest in the world. The coupled national parks of Tsavo East and West as a whole form one of Africa’s greatest wilderness reserves which offer a myriad of wildlife in a fresh unique mountain scenery and peerless geological attractions in the continent.
Tsavo is a typically vibrant region will lush emerald hills, fascinating lava flows, effluent springs and voluminous permanent rivers located in south eastern Kenya about 240 km south-east of Nairobi and almost 200km north of Mombasa. The park ‘s expanse extends along the western side of Mombasa-Nairobi highway and the Kenya-Uganda railway which divides the park into east and west. It covers 30 per cent of Kenya’s park area it is purported that the park was too big for people to exhaust hence the split into two.
It is further estimated that the park’s entire area is larger than that of Wales in Great Britain or Jamaica in the Caribbean !
The much more wooded Tsavo West covers an area comprising of hilly landscapes dotted with volcanic cones and dramatic black lava flows that characterize its 9,0ookm² range. The Tsavo East National park on the other hand covers over 13,ooo km² open, flat-to-undulating plains and scattered bush.
The region was disrupted between 2-3 centuries ago by a series of violent volcanic eruptions in the area.
Tsavo remained the homeland for Orma and Maasai pastoralists and Waata hunter-gatherers until 1948, when it was gazetted as a national park. Following Kenya’s independence in 1963, hunting was banned in the park and management of Tsavo was turned over to the authority that eventually became the Kenya Wildlife Service.
This immense park stretches from the north eastern Athi river to the southwestern Tanzania border. The region consists of 10 million acres of pure wilderness in its entirety, combining savannah, ranges, hills, montane forest and an extensive river system with Tsavo West boasting more in diversity than its neighbour.
The more favoured destination between the two on account of its marvelous panorama; replete with diverse wildlife in the camouflage of lifted cliff faces which offer some of the best rock climbing opportunities in Kenya. The park is abounding in scenic features and natural fortunes from the mountain forests of Ngulia hills and the livid Chaimu crater to the tranquil Lake Jipe on the Tanzanian border.
The Park’s many panoramic vantage points present you with moments to absorb the vast vistas of its savanna ecosystem which is comprised of open grasslands, scrub-lands, Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation and rocky ridges.
The park is refreshed by the Tsavo river and Mzima Springs surrounded by other geological particularities such as lava flows like the Shetani Flow caves and Shetani Caves.West of Chyulu Gate, en route to Amboseli National Park, the road passes for several kilometres across a huge expanse of black lava rock that is still barely colonised by plant life.
“; this green volcanic phenomenon is considered the best for topography fans who also want to view Kenya’s animals and birds; though the thick vegetation makes spotting animals more difficult than in some of the more open parks like the Masai Mara.
Tsavo West is home to the largest population of red-skinned elephants who are one of the outstanding features in this game sanctuary and the only red elephants in the world . These elephants are actually the same colour as every other elephant though they just appear red due to constantly dust-bathing with the Park’s fine red volcanic soil.
Thousands of them now inhabit the Park after the devastating effects of the widespread elephant poaching which occurred throughout the 1980s. The ivory trade ban almost a decade later completely halted the slaughter allowing wildlife-based photographic tourism to increase again, so the chances of seeing one are pretty high.
Notable predators like the Masai lion, cheetah and leopard can be rather elusive added to the hilly landscapes and woodland of Tsavo West which makes spotting wildlife even more challenging. This is probably because they are not as accustomed to vehicles like their counterparts in other National Parks and Game Reserves around the country.
Its other major wildlife attractions include, Black rhino, Hippos, Cape Buffalos, Masai giraffe and even monstrous crocodiles.
The Park also has a variety of other smaller animals such as the bushbaby, hartebeest, lesser kudu, Mongoose, Hyrax, Dik- dik, and Nocturnal Porcupine that can be spotted in the dark,
Its wildlife also played a significant part in history from March through December 1898 for its cruel ‘Man-Eaters of Tsavo’. As reported, a pair of notorious man-eating lions were responsible for the deaths of over 100 construction workers on the Kenya-Uganda Railway during the time when the British where building a railway bridge over the Tsavo River.
According to eye-witnesses testimonies, two mane less male lions stalked the campsite, preying on the Indian workers in their tents during the night for the nine months the railway was being constructed. This events have also been dramatized in,The Ghost and the Darkness , a 1996 Academy Award winning historical adventure movie based on the accounts.
Other attractions in Tsavo West National Park
The Kenya-Uganda railway that divides Tsavo is another jewel in itself ; although its construction was an exorbitantly expensive engagement by the ruling British Conservatives. The Imperialists anticipated that the line would allow them to control Lake Victoria thereby strengthening British command of its East African Protectorate and rivalling that of the German East Africa.
The area later became the bloody venue for, The East African Campaign, a major battle between the British and the Germans during the First World War. It was caused after the agreement which regulated European colonization and trade in Africa was first broken by the British when they launched an attack on their German neighbours in August 1914. The campaign was effectively ended in November 1917 ensuing a series of military engagements from the beginning of 1915 where foreign troops battled for territory in East Africa.
This war is another really an important part of Kenya’s pre-Independence history that many people still are unaware of until to date.One of the latest findings in the region that confirms this epic history is a German fort on what was called Hill 931. There are some forts that have been traced in the region which include— three on Tsavo Ranch at Mt Kasigau and Pika Pika and others located on the Tsavo River are the Mzima, Crater and Tembo Forts, at Tsavo River Bridge and one near Serena’s Kilaguni Lodge, in Tsavo West National Park.
There are also interesting battle sites in the region covered by the park such as Salaita Hill , Challa, Mahoo, Latema and Reata Hills around Taveta.
Back in 1978 Bill Woodley, the warden of Tsavo West then, invited the Mountain Club of Kenya to explore the terrains in the park which offers some of the best rock-climbing solid granite-gneiss walls in Kenya.The access the MCK has to climb and camp in the park is a special privilege and other climbers should initially contact the MCK for more information if they intend to climb here.
Non MCK members are also advised to contact the MCK if they wish to climb in Tsavo.
Explore Tsavo West
Tsavo West is an all year round exotic sensation which is ideal for those who want an exhilarating experience well away from the crowds. It is an excellent place for visitors who enjoy walking and who have time to spend days visiting its surroundings and the diverse habitats.
The Park’s flora teems with beautiful wild flowers which appear mostly during the short rains which quickly dot the ground with dainty blossoms each with a distinctly alluring aura.
It is also home to diverse bird species featuring nearly 600 species including ostriches, kestrels, buzzards, starlings, weavers, kingfishers, hornbills, secretary birds,herons, the threatened corncrake and Basra Reed Warbler. Reports of ringed birds have been received from as far as St.Peterburg in Russia and even in Oman;southwest Asia.
Tsavo West being the Game viewing paradise that it is currently attracts photo-tourists from all over the world who are interested in experiencing the vastness of the wilderness and incredible terrains.
Its recent volcanoes, lava flows and caves offer great opportunities for exciting geological excursions and cave exploration. There are numerous rocky outcrops and ridges in the park including the Shetani lava flow, another example of a recent volcano towards the Chyulu Hills,with its rich lava flows and ash cones.
At Mzima Springs in the North of the park with its lively waters which are filtered underground from the Chyulu Hills as it gushes from below a lava ridge into a series of clear pools. Mzima produces 50 million gallons of fresh sparkling water daily making it the main source of Mombasa’s vital water supply.
You still immersed yourself further in some underwater hippo and fish watching at a unique underwater observatory which has been built to give you an incredible view of this crystal clear underwater world, where the massive hippos glide silently through swirling shoals of barbel.
The volcanic Mzima springs have created a sprawling wetland paradise of giant Raphia palms and oases alive with waterbirds.
Practical Travel information
Tsavo West National Park has more than 2,000 kilometers of well maintained, all weather, roads with good signposting which direct visitors from one attraction to the next wonder. Most safaris in the park usually focus on a relatively small but essential 1,000km² area in the park north of the Tsavo River known as the Developed Area.
Most of the visitors to Tsavo West as it is come on short road trips from the coast to the area’s lodges. This is attributed to the relative proximity of Tsavo to the coast making it an ideal safari destination for those staying on the coast, or wishing to combine a safari and beach holiday.
You are always advised to pack enough drinking water, picnic items and camping equipment if you intend to stay overnight. Also useful are: binoculars, camera, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and guidebooks which will enhance your visit during your excursions.
How to get there
The park is located on south eastern Kenya, 240km from Nairobi along the western side of Mombasa-Nairobi highway.The main access routes are through Chyulu Gate from Amboseli and Mtito Andei Gate from Nairobi.
The Park can also be reached via Taveta –Voi road through Maktau, Ziwani and Jipe Gates.
There are several good airstrips for chartered aircrafts at Chyulu, Mtito Andei, Tsavo, Jipe, Maktau, Kasigau and Ziwani gates.
Where to stay:
The northern part of Tsavo West is the most developed part of the park in terms of lodges and infrastructure and a Tsavo West lodge safari would normally include two or three nights at one of the four main safari lodges in the Developed Area.
Entry in the park as in other situations is by SafariCard only that may be loaded but unfortunately yet obtainable at Mtito Andei Gate.
The lodges in the park cater to everyone from the medium budget visitor to the luxury seeking tourist. They vary from the open and wildly luxurious Finch Hattons Camp on the south western edge of Tsavo West with its spectacular bird life of over 200 locally recorded species. To the Voyager Ziwani Safari Camp often referred to as the “Jewel of Tsavo”; formerly known as Ziwani Hotel, it has simplistic beauty and charm making it a popular honeymoon destination due to its spectacular view of mount Kilimanjaro and high level of privacy.
There is the fairly priced Kilaguni Serena Lodge, one of the first lodges ever to be built in a national park , which is situated in the lee of Mount Kilimanjaro and sheltered by the volcanic splendour of the Chyulu Hills. This classic stone-built lodge overlooks its own water hole, which is visited daily by elephants, buffalos and a wide variety of plains game.
Severin Safari Camp which is hidden in the remote Kitani Wildlife area of Tsavo West National Park is another eco friendly luxury camp offering a unique combination of adventure, wellness and relaxation for the sophisticated traveler who loves romantic pampering and unique wildlife experiences. The Ngulia Lodge which is perched on the Ndawe Escarpment just below Ngulia Hills, overlooking the Rhino Sanctuary surrounded by Scenic Hills is also another good choice.
There are 3 public campsites with water and latrines at the Kamboyo campsite around 8 kilometres from Mtito Andei Gate, there is the Chyulu Campsite about 1 kilometre from Chyulu Gate and Lake Jipe Campsite which is on lake Jipe’s shore. A wide variety of ‘special campsites’ e.g. Royal Little, Simba, Kenge and Kudud which have no facilities which are also available and must be booked in advance through the warden or KWS Headquarters.
For more information please visit:
We trust that this feature has been informative to you.
If indeed, please take it a step further and spread the message, like it, share it and follow us as we countdown to Kenya’s 50th birthday!
Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter and stay posted for the next Treasure.
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.