The delectable Mr Nomad had to my surprise, booked a weekend away to the Aberdare National Park. I do not normally enjoy surprises but who am I to complain about being whisked away for some quiet time with my beloved husband in the most magical of locations?
The Aberdare National Park can be found in a protected area of the Aberdare Mountain Range in central Kenya, located east of the East African Rift Valley, some 100 kilometres north of Nairobi, the nation’s capital. It was established in or around 1950 and covers an area of approximately 766 square kilometres and is known for a wide variety of picturesque terrain from steep forested ravines, temperate grasslands neighbouring moorland, bamboo forests and rich rain forests. There is a vast network of streams and rivers running off the mountains into the valley’s and this gives way to two magnificent water falls – Chania Falls and Magura Falls.
In addition to the spectacular scenery, the diverse and rich landscape provides a home to over 250 species of birds, and a vast array of large wild life. We took a steady drive to Aberdare National Park and I was amazed to realise that this wonderful location was practically on our door step, a mere 45 minutes drive from home. We were to be accommodated at a lodge known as The Ark to be found somewhere within the dense greenery.
We parked up, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and it wasn’t difficult to see why this building was so aptly named. The Ark Lodge in the heart of the Aberdare National Park in Mweiga, Nyeri was nautically themed and was a take on the biblical Noah’s Ark. Each floor was appropriately referred to as a deck (of which there were three) and there were numerous balconies and lounges with four viewing areas. Wake up calls were provided by a staff member stalking the corridors playing a xylophone. There was a buzzer in each room which would be sounded by staff members if wild life was spotted through the night, to rouse the guests to ensure that not a thing was missed!
The Ark was overlooking a large flood lit watering hole and natural salt lick. The staff welcomed us warmly and assured us that it wouldn’t be too much longer until the wild life came to visit and almost on cue, as we settled onto a balcony with a delicious coffee, elephants appeared out of the bush, meandering down to the water’s edge. There was a handful of buffalo, warthog, waterbuck and we were astounded to see giant forest hogs, a creature that we had never seen in the wild prior to this trip.
There were also bush buck present at the party and in fact, a beautiful male bush buck with gloriously stripy legs was another first for us. We had barely checked in to the lodge, and within the first ten minutes of our arrival, the animals were all there to be seen. We had not had to track them, or attempt to follow them to seek them out, nor make any real effort at all and as we observed this wonderful sight, more and more elephants emerged from the bushes and ambled down to join the amazing array of animals.
There was also a Spoonbill present which fascinated Mr Nomad as it dragged its spoon like bill along the bottom of the watering hole to scoop up some tasty treats. We were also able to see some majestic grey crested cranes.
There were around 30 elephants who graced us with their presence and Mr Nomad and I couldn’t believe our luck. We ventured into an underground bunker to view the elephants from a different platform and we were mesmerised as they mooched around, greeting each other as they went, kicking up the salty sand and even crouching on the ground to lick up the naturally occurring salts in the soil. There were many baby elephants present with one tiny creature being estimated at only one month old and we were privileged to witness many of those babies suckling their mothers.
Buffaloes joined the elephants and the two very different species of animals just rubbed along together without any friction, sharing the coolness of the evening as the sun began to set. It was enchanting and Mr Nomad and I couldn’t take our eyes off these animals.
We continued to watch intently as more and more animals ventured down to the salt lick, including some hyena. They had been slumbering in the tall grass and had largely gone unnoticed but dusk was prime kill time so they gradually emerged from the grass, rousing themselves to prepare for any hunting. They were no threat to the wild life already present at the watering hole and did not appear to be in the mood to cause any chaos.
To say we had been at The Ark for only a matter of hours, we were overwhelmed with the wild life that we had already seen. The surprise trip had certainly got off to a magical start.
The following day, we decided upon an expedition out into the national park itself and set about a journey to see the waterfalls. The countryside was unbelievably green and fertile, the climate certainly more temperate than Nanyuki. This was a welcome change from the usual searing heat, intense sun and dusty conditions to which we had grown accustomed. The bush was so dense and prolific that it was impossible to see many animals although the evidence was there to see in the form of huge piles of elephant dung. We did see buffalo and plenty of flighty bush buck on the way, but the drive through the park was stunning.
We also passed by another lodge which is steeped in history. The famous Treetops Lodge can be found in the Aberdares National Park which gained notoriety when in 1952, a then Princess Elizabeth climbed a tree and upon her descent, she became Queen Elizabeth II.
The roads were a little gnarly and as we climbed the mountains in our trusty steed, the air got thinner and the altitude more challenging.
After only a couple of hours trundling along the bumpy roads, we arrived at Chania Falls. Mr Nomad had gone to the trouble of ordering a picnic lunch so we prepared the hamper in the back of the car and hiked our way through high grass and dense thicket and what a sight lay before us! Chania Falls was quite simply, breath taking. With an elevation of around 1502 metres, Chania river surged over the edge of the cliffs with a staggering power and it really was epic.
It was a stunning location and we clambered down to the base of the water fall and set up a romantic picnic on the rocks. It was beautiful and despite the loud roaring of the incredible force of the water, it was peaceful and we felt rather lost in the moment. There were no trappings of a modern society here, there were no other humans present and this entirely naturel phenomenon was spectacular in its simplicity.
After a while, Mr Nomad and I made our way back to the car and ventured a little bit further along the challenging roads to another water fall, known as Magura Falls. These falls had an elevation of around 2456 metres and were just as stunning as Chania Falls. At the base of Magura Falls was a large cave, known as Queens Cave where it is rumoured the Mau Mau freedom fighters hid during an uprising many years ago.
The Mau Mau uprising (1952-1960) also known as the Mau Mau Rebellion, or the ‘Kenya Emergency’ or the Mau Mau Revolt was a war in British Kenya Colony between Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA) also known as the Mau Mau and the British authorities. The armed rebellion of the Mau Mau was the culminating response to colonial rule and there was prolonged and violent anti-colonial warfare. The primary zones of Mau Mau military strength were the Aberdares and the forests around Mount Kenya.
This water fall, being taller than Chania Falls, meant a steeper descent but we had to visit the cave and we were not disappointed. The trek down was not for the faint hearted and more suited to a mountain goat but we made it down safely and after wandering around in the dark and dank cave, we scurried back up the mountain side to take in the wondrous sight of the spectacular waterfall. It had been a wonderful adventure and it was great to be amidst the great outdoors, taking in the stunning scenery.
On our journey back to the lodge, we were thrilled to spot some furry Colobus monkeys resting on the branches in the trees preening their glorious bushy tails, along side some Sykes monkeys swinging their way through the foliage. We had seen plenty of baboons too. When we pulled up into the car park at The Ark, we were greeted by an enormous male waterbuck nonchalantly munching on the bushes.
We treated ourselves to a cocktail on the balcony whilst once more watching the elephants, the stalwarts of the salt lick, and following some monumental cracks of thunder, the heavens opened and rain descended upon us. As Mr Nomad expressed his curiosity as to whether the hyena would still hunt in the rain, his questions were answered as we heard the furious clattering of hooves and a manic herd of buffalo galloped past us, closely followed by a large cackle of hyena. The buffalo sought refuge in the watering hole and they splashed their way into the sanctity of the lake. The hyena, some 15 of them, were reluctant to follow them into the water and as the rain showered them, the buffalo for whatever reason, thrust forward, charging out of the water and franticly ran off, keeping the vulnerable younger buffalo in the middle of the herd.
The hyena gave chase and we knew what was happening – the hyena would no doubt out run the buffalo until they were too tired to defend their baby who would inevitably become a large meal to the baying predators. There is some kind of morbid fascination in watching this battle of survival of the fittest but I for one did not wish to witness the end of a life. In the end, the grisly outcome took place out of eye sight, as the hyena drove the buffalo deep into the thicket where no doubt an ambush had been set up by more awaiting hyenas.
Needless to say, Mr Nomad and I had been transfixed on this battle and again, couldn’t believe the amazing sights that we had been witness too at this magical place. As we listened to the hyena excitedly calling to each other, a haunting sound in the darkest of nights, we wearily turned in for the night more than satisfied with a wonderful day and having spied a Genet cat and two white tailed mongoose whilst having dinner, this topped off a lovely surprise weekend away.