‘This national park is only one of two national parks in Kenya where you can disembark from your vehicle and engage in some outdoor activity such as cycling and hiking.’
We set off from Nairobi at 7:00 am via the old Naivasha road to arrive at Hells Gate National Park by 8:30 am.
Only ten years ago a drive to Naivasha would mean miles and miles of pine woods and grand eucalyptus trees. Indeed there is one particular area of the Nairobi – Naivasha road which for me conjures up a fairy tale or children’s book.
The grass here is always vibrantly green no matter the weather with herders napping whilst their sheep graze. I imagine it as the path Little Red Riding Hood would take before she makes her way in to the deep dark forest. Today, on the drive to Naivasha, the forces of urbanization are only too apparent with the highway expanded and even a few fast food restaurants emerging at pit stops overlooking the Great Rift Valley. Through the naked eye as you look down at the Great Rift Valley from any of the viewing points, you can see homes rapidly sprouting which will inevitably become villages and so on. Naivasha no longer seems like a distant getaway and I wouldn’t be surprised if in years to come it merely becomes an extension of Nairobi.
Nevertheless, no amount of urbanization can take away from the splendor of the Great Rift Valley. An early morning hot beverage overlooking the Valley awakens the soul with its sheer magnanimity and the realization that this is the terrain where paleontologists only recently found the earliest known ancestor of human beings.
Hell’s Gate National Park – The Hike
This national park is only one of two national parks in Kenya where you can disembark from your vehicle and engage in some outdoor activity such as cycling and hiking.
Cycles are available for hire as you approach the main gate, Elsa Gate. Unsurprisingly the National Park has been chosen by UNESCO to make it into a world heritage site due to its unique geological landscape and the hot springs that are , more apparent in the gorge. That vegetation grows around the hot springs is remarkable.
On entering the park, we were famished so stopped over at the Fishers Tower which is only one kilometer from the main gate and easily visible on entering the Park. There are a few benches behind the tower to have a quick break and an early morning breakfast which we had carried with us. Fishers Tower (and Central Tower which is visible from the Lower Gorge walk) were formed by semi molten rock which was forced to the surface through cracks in the earth and eventually solidified to form these towers. Fishers tower is well known to rock climbers too. Even though there were a couple of dustbins around the tower it was slightly disturbing to notice a considerable amount of rubbish had spilled over and not been collected.
Before the sun really beat down us we made our way to hike the lower gorge (Ol Njorowa). Our guide changed into his Maasai uniform and off we went. We needn’t have worried too much about the sun as the gorge is so low down that it is very cool and quite wet due to the natural springs which flow through it. There are hot springs as well as waterfalls. If you bring an egg it would in no time boil in the hot springs. The natural beauty of this gorge is jaw dropping with its different coloured stones and the various rock formations. My hiking companions who had recently been to some of Jordan’s wadis were equally impressed not only with the dramatic scenery but also with the lack of queues and throngs of people. It is really just you and the elements here.
It is entirely comprehensible why some of Hollywood’s top films have been shot here or indeed used as inspiration for their cinematic vision. Some of Angelina Jolie’s scenes were shot in the Lower Gorge for Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (ironically and aptly the Great Rift Valley is often known as the cradle of life) and the visual backdrop of the Lion King (2004) film was heavily based around the Hells Gate National Park.
There is an option to do a long hike or a short hike. We chose to do the long one which took us approximately three hours though we did it very leisurely. There is also a slight price difference for the hike depending on which one you chose to do.
Our original plan had been to visit the Elsamere Museum, the home of Joy Adamson, famous conservationist who raised orphan lions with her husband George Adamson and eventually released them into the wild. However we were too squeezed for time to visit. If time permits, I understand it is quite fascinating.
The Sanctuary Farm – Lunch
We arrived at Sanctuary farm for lunch at 1:30pm. The farm is set on 500 acres overlooking Lake Naivasha. Lunch is produced with fresh produce grown on the farm. We had called ahead and requested there were enough vegetarian dishes on the menu. They happily obliged and organized a very healthy but tasty Ottolenghi (Israeli – British chef who creates healthy delicious meals) kind of lunch. There was plenty to go round with a soup, nearly four kinds of salads, a cheese board, quinoa cutlets, roasted aubergines with a tahini dressing, freshly pressed coffee and a lush carrot cake to end with. For the non – vegetarians there is all of the above and an option of a chicken or fish dish.
For the active, there is horse riding available at the farm and camping and accommodation is also available should you want to spend the night here.
After a very lazy lunch we departed for Nairobi at around 4:30 pm.
Lunch cost approximately KShs 3,500/- per person including alcoholic beverages with coffee and tea.
Heeral’s Top Tip – leave early to avoid traffic and make the most of your day by avoiding the heat on the hike.