Lake Nakuru National Park
I was in the heart of Africa and bound for a trip to Lake Nakuru National Park in early 2013. I was also in a part of Africa called the Rift Valley. Over millions of years, tectonic forces have been trying to tear Africa apart with the Rift Valley now stretching approximately 7000 kilometres in length from Lebanon to Mozambique. East Africa has now settled but the northern part of the rift valley continues to move, with the red sea slowly separating the Middle East from Africa.
My visit to Lake Nakura National Park was full of constant surprises. I was expecting to see an abundance of Lesser Flamingos and a few other wildlife species such as the zebra and rhino. In fact the opposite happened. What I wasn’t expecting to see is what I saw.
My first impressions of the national park were baboons, and plenty of them. It was incredible. In fact, tracking their behaviour led us to the discovery of a male leopard lurking in the forest. The baboons began to attack the leopard, which led to high-pitched squeaks from the baboons and serious growling and snarling from the leopard. Numerous baboon spectators were watching from the treetops, a few accidentally fell from a tree branch in fright. Sammy, our guide and driver was demonstrating his ten years worth of safari experience. His ability to spy and track the leopard was remarkable. Our next rare find was a female leopard calmly sitting on a fallen tree branch. We also took the opportunity to take a few photographs before she ran off – most likely to rescue her male friend attacked by baboons.
In the distance we saw a rare tree-climbing lion asleep in a tree branch. Unfortunately he did little more than stretch his hind legs but I still felt grateful to have caught a glimpse of him. Along the lakeshore we saw a number of bird species including the famous Lesser flamingo, Egyptian goose, Pelicans, ducks and storks. Sammy mentioned there were over 1000 bird species in the area. It was bird lover’s paradise.
Not far from the lakeshore were a number of rare white rhino’s bulldozing their way slowly through the grassland. Throughout the national park an array of African’s most favourite wildlife came out to play including the warthog, waterbuck, impalas, gazelles, giraffes, zebras and buffaloes. The tension amongst the wildlife continued as we saw a couple of giraffes neck fighting, which mildly amused me. The zebras were more at peace and I saw a couple nuzzling. The warthog’s journeyed in pairs while one male impala, distinguished by his large horns dominated the female impalas and gazelles. The remaining male impalas were seen lurking in a group and typically called the ‘bachelors’.
We drove up to the Baboon lookout point to savour an aerial view of Lake Nakuru. On closer inspection I saw this brilliant blue and orange lizard scuttling about. We stopped for lunch at picnic point not far from the Makalia falls. Vervet monkeys were abound and taking delight in teasing all the tourists for food. It was quite entertaining, as they appeared both cheeky and afraid at the same time. We saw some more buffaloes, gazelles, giraffes and an ostrich before we existed the national park.
Hells Gate National Park
I was up for more adventure in the rift valley and planned a visit to Hell’s Gate National Park, approximately 100 kilometres north of Nairobi. After arriving at the National Park I paid extra shillings to hire a bike. It offered a special experience, which wasn’t typical in many national parks throughout Africa. I biked 8 kilometres to ‘Fischer’s Tower’, a famous landmark in the Lion King movie. I continued to cycle in the national park admiring geological sculptures such as volcanic plugs and columnar basalt cliffs. There were a few animals scattered about but at 1.00pm the sun was overhead and it was warm. It was exhilarating to cycle right past zebras. Some stared and some ran away. And then they went back to their relentless grazing. I made my way along the dusty road until I reached the Picnic point and rangers office. From here I had to hire a guide because I would be trekking into Masai land and out of the National Park.
I met Jackson, my guide for the next three hours. Well that’s what I paid for. We took approximately four hours. The trekking through the gorge was challenging as I scrambled up and down near vertical gorge walls. River erosion had carved into many rock layers exposing intricate clay patterns and friable volcanic ash. As we ventured out of the gorge, I admired the braided rivers stretching across the alluvial fan that sparkled in the sunlight. The cliff faces were a geological story. Light grey layers of volcanic ash with burnt branches sat underneath darker ochre colour earths. In the river there was a scattering of sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Conglomerate rocks had grown to boulder sizes and there were plenty of pumice and obsidian rocks lying about.
By now Jackson was showing me a number of hot springs and I could tell the ground was warm by the steam coming out of the ground. We had walked past the devil’s bedroom deep in the river gorge and scrambled down a rock face that produced a small waterfall, known as the devil’s shower. Before the knowledge of Earth Science, the local village people believed this energy to stem from the fires of hell below. The hot water flowing was 76 degrees and the smell of sulphur was strong. The most fascinating geological wonder I saw was Hell’s kitchen. Here, significant steam was erupting from the ground and I saw rock pools with boiling water and bubbling mud. From Hell’s kitchen we then climbed almost vertical up the cliff face to enjoy the view. In the distance I could see the Ol Karia Geothermal station and it’s impressive plume of steam. It is claimed to be one of the world’s hottest sources of natural steam and I could now account for the constant rumbling sound I could hear in the distance.
My cycle back to the main entrance was a lot more adventurous than I had anticipated. As the sun’s glow was softening, many animals had begun to graze. Numerous zebras were about and made noises very similar to that of a horse. I saw a lone giraffe by the edge of the road and for a moment I felt very unprotected. I didn’t see the warthog until I heard it grunting like a pig. I also saw a mixture of gazelles, baboons and a eland and waterbuck in the distance. They all seemed at peace with one another, quietly grazing away. Occasionally one or two would lift their head and peer at me. The most challenging moment was cycling past a herd of buffaloes staring at me with their stern faces; their eyes following my movement. Such big horns I thought – and then I didn’t look back.
David Sheldrick Wildlife’s Trust
Visiting David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust established in Nairobi in 1977 was an elephant treat. David Sheldrick was an anti-poaching warden who pioneered techniques to raise orphaned rhinos and elephants with the intention of releasing them back into the wild. The elephants aged between six months to three years came marching out to a muddy water hole in which they were first bottle-fed. Afterwards, the elephants romped around playfully spraying mud and dust in all directions. Some elephants were particularly tame and would approach the rope edges with confidence and curiosity. Their skin was leathery and prickly. The speaker told elephant stories and how they were thought to have become an orphan. Most of the time it was due to poaching although there were a few exceptions due to poor health. With the milk formula not being cheap, and costing around $800 per month to raise each elephant, I donated some money towards being a foster parent for a baby elephant called Tano. She was aged two and an half months when she arrived at the orphanage from northern Kenya. She was found on her own – her mother most likely poached.
The nature walk nearby was a cross between a zoo and nature boardwalk. There was an abundance of trees and birds, but what particularly caught my attention were the cheeky baboons, sun-baking crocodiles, frolicking giraffes and the melancholic black and white Columbus monkeys. It was my last nature visit to see in Kenya before making my way to the airport. It had been a fabulous trip – I must return.