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armchair bushman

Chyulu Hills (Kenya) for Easter

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armchair bushman

Every Easter, my friends and I like to plan a good long trip to an area of Kenya we've never been to before (or at least not for a long time). About a month in advance we started discussing where to go. Last year we had made contact with someone to go camping in a remote part of Laikipia, along the Ewaso Nyiro River south of Loisaba (bordering Tumaren Ranch). It was an excellent trip and we had planned it well so we did not run short of food or cold drinks.

After much debate, we settled on the Chyulu hills and got in contact with the head warden to find out about camping options in the park. He mentioned that there were two public campsites, but that if we wanted to take a ranger along, we could camp at a special place on the side of the hills. this seemed like a good option to us. Having the ranger would mean we'd get around the park easier without getting lost, and we could be in a more primitive campsite, away from potential crowds (as it turns out no one else camped at any of the campsites the whole time we were there anyway).

 

We were 6 people travelling in a late 80's Mitsubishi Pajero (amicably named the Baya Maya because its the same colour as Port-a-potties on swedish beaches by the same name) and a Land Rover Defender (amicably named Daisy, just because). Both vehicles were packed to the brim with cooler boxes, full of too much food and a few beers, and equipment. As is typical with me and my friends, our laziness and dillydallying meant that we didn't leave Nairobi until lunch time, just in time to sit in heavy heavy traffic leaving Nairobi on Mombasa rd all the way to the Machakos turn-off and beyond. People were driving like maniacs, causing the already bad traffic to slow down even further. So we didn't get to the gate (just past the Kibwezi turn-off) until 4:30 or so. The only person at the reception office was a very unmotivated lady with no information of our arrival. But she was polite and pleasant enough, and we had the wardens number who helped sort everything out for us with the ranger we were supposed to take along.

 

Unfortunately when we mentioned the special campsite that the warden had told us about, the ranger had no idea what we were talking about. By this time, however, it was getting late and we needed to get going to set up our camp before dark. So off we went to the closest campsite (its a good thing, too) which happened to be at the entrance to the Kisula lava tube caves. Its not exactly a primitive campsite, with two built long-drop toilets as well as a large cement table and stools covered by a roof. Not exactly what we'd wanted, but it was getting dark and the next campsite was 27km away, so we just set up our tents as a light drizzle fell. We had only seen a few Lilac Breasted Rollers on the way in, and the bush was extremely thick, and the grass was taller than our vehicles!

 

The next morning we slept in and relaxed in camp, trying to decide whether to stay or to pack up and look for another campsite. While we were there three separate vehicles drove up to the campsite to walk through the caves. They must have been staying outside the park or in Tsavo, because we never saw any sign of them again after that. We also explored the caves a little, but didn't go too far in. Apparently you can walk through and come out about 1.5km away from the campsite. Not everyone in the group was keen, so we stayed in camp until afternoon. Then we decided to try to get up to the satellite station campsite, which was supposedly about 27 km away. Unbeknownst to us, there are actually two roads to get there, one which is relatively well used, and the other which might as well be on the moon. Obviously, we ignorantly tried to drive up the moon. And after an hour and a half of rock climbing in 1st gear, we'd gone less than 10km and the sun would be setting in less than an hour, so before we'd even reached the grasslands above the tree-line, we had to turn around and head home to cook dinner and relax. We still didn't know about the other road, so we were almost ready to give up ever getting to the top of the hills. Again, it rained a little that evening, keeping us under the roof and away from our campfire. At this point we were glad for the roof and the long-drops (we brought our own fold up toilet seat to make life more comfortable). The ground at the campsite is VERY rocky, and finding a flat, smooth place to set up your tent is a bit of a struggle. Even if you had a cot, you'd be worried about putting holes in the floor of your tent.

 

The next morning we woke up fresh, having spoken to the ranger (who really wasn't serving much of a purpose now). When we told him about the state of the road the previous day, he laughed and told us there was another route which was better. Thanks for telling us man. Anyway, we set off again, past the old route and onto the new. It was still very rocky, and my poor baya maya rattled all the way up, but she did well. She didn't overheat and somehow we managed not to get any punctures. I think by this time we'd seen one dikdik and a squirrel, so we were itching for some game at the top of the hills. As we got out of the woodland, we passed a lone Eland bull and then a small herd of Hartebeest and a family of eland in a burned patch of grass. There were a few large sections of burned grass. We weren't sure if they were intentional or natural. Anyway, after just over an hour of driving through some STUNNING country, we got to the satellite campsite at the top of one of the hills.

 

Words cannot describe the beauty of this place. And photos cannot do any justice (I have some but have not finished downsizing them to post them here). The actual campsite is set back from the edge of the hill (at the base of another) and does not have much of a view. Its very open and exposed and we wondered how well tents would fare there in the wind at night. There is, however, a small patch of trees with a shady clearing in the middle off to the side, where you can cook and relax away from the wind and the sun. Also, some big water tanks or fuel tanks fenced off.

 

Driving back on the main road, there's a little track to take you to the top of the hill, looking out toward the north and the East. Again, words cannot describe the view. We had brought food and drinks along, so we spent half the day there, soaking it all in. while we were up there, we notice a new fire starting not too far away from where we had driven up (but far from where we were now). So we kept an eye on it, but it did not seem to be growing or moving fast. Eventually, we felt guilty having left the ranger in camp with only a couple of snacks, so we packed up and made our way down again. There is a place where the road splits near the top and the other fork takes you across the top of the hills and down the Western side to Ol Donyo Wuas (now called Ol Donyo Lodge). We were very tempted to drive along that road and see the other side, but time and fuel constraints dictated that we had to get down (my baya maya is petrol, and not exactly economical on fuel). So we spent the third night again in the same campsite, wishing we were actually up at the satellite.

 

We finally got through to the warden again who then explained that when he told us we could camp on the hillside, he did not have any particular campsite in mind but that we could just choose any spot we wanted and camp! We're glad we didn't do that. there are very few suitable places to camp along the road up to the top. Its mostly very steep and very rocky and the grass is very long. We would have had to do a LOT of serious clearing before we could even think about setting up tents. It would have been a serious fire hazard as well. With such hard rocky ground, I don't know how we would have dug a latrine for ourselves, and I would have felt very guilty just doing our business on the open ground.

 

Anyway, the next day we had to pack up and make our way back to Nairobi. The return journey was more hair-raising than on the way out. People coming home from easter holidays with their families drive like they the world is ending in the next 20 minutes. We could not believe how people were driving with their children in the cars. Needless to say, what should have taken 2 hours from Kibwezi took more like 3.5hrs and we were dead tired when we got home in the dark.

 

In the end we were ok with the Kisula caves campsite. But if we were to do it again, we would leave nairobi very early so we could drive all the way up to the satellite site and set up camp there. It seems there's a lot more to see and do at the top of the hills than there is at the bottom. We also wouldn't bother with the ranger. Extra expense, extra food and tent to take a long, very little extra value, other than watching the campsite while we were gone. He was a very pleasant guy and eager to please, but just not necessary.

 

Chyulu Hills is a KWS National Park, but as it is not a prime game-viewing park, they are not on the smart card system, so you can pay cash at the gate. For residents and especially citizens, the entry and camping fees are very reasonable, meaning this doesn't have to be an expensive trip. Everyone seemed eager to please and happy to see visitors. There are apparently lions in the park, but we were not near their regular spot. Also elephants, but again, we didn't see any. That park could do with more elephants to open up some of that thick bush. It is bordered to the North by Kibwezi Forest, run by the Kenya Forest Service. You can stay at Umani Springs self catering camp (run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) in Kibwezi forest if you want a little more comfort than just camping. All of us would love to go back there again and explore a little more up at the top. Not sure we'll do the same trip next year, but at some point, we'll definitely be back.

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twaffle

What an adventure, I enjoyed your writing very much.

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armchair bushman

Kisula Caves Campsite Coordinates (According to Google Earth): 2°31'43.39"S 37°51'12.01"E

 

Satellite Campsite Coordinates (According to Google Earth): 2°35'37.83"S 37°51'29.73"E

Zoom in to the rise directly south of the satellite campsite coordinate and you will see 3 white dots (Arial towers/satellites). Zoom in to ground level and turn your gaze upon the views to the north and the East. Just a small idea of what we were looking at.

 

Happily this is a pretty high resolution image on google earth.

 

Wish we had had Tracks 4 Africa on one of our phones so we could upload our route here. Pretty simple to follow the road with such a clear image on G earth, though.

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Patty

Thanks for your report. Looking forward to your photos.

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Game Warden

Indeed. Photos...

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armchair bushman

Indeed. Photos...

 

Patience is a virtue.

Might take me some time. I don't have access to them right now.... Will post them when I do.

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pault

I'll be patient, and appreciate the words, but "words cannot describe the beauty of this place"... you can't blame us for being intrigued - even if the "photos cannot do any justice". :lol:

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armchair bushman

I'll be patient, and appreciate the words, but "words cannot describe the beauty of this place"... you can't blame us for being intrigued - even if the "photos cannot do any justice". :lol:

 

Haha. fair enough. Maybe this weekend.

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armchair bushman

Photos (1 month later!)

post-17034-0-72328200-1335981445_thumb.jpgThe very long grass

post-17034-0-90503100-1335981476_thumb.jpgSome kind of Longhorn Beetle

post-17034-0-83193600-1335981695_thumb.jpgSome kind of Cicada (maybe an orange-wing)

post-17034-0-38364800-1335981856_thumb.jpgA massive daddy-long legs spider

post-17034-0-20224100-1335982368_thumb.jpgHeroically ferrying firewood from the gate to the campsite

post-17034-0-22552400-1335982504_thumb.jpgHeroically ferrying trash out of the campsite to the gate (no space in the vehicles!)

post-17034-0-97670700-1335981943_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-17433800-1335981982_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-86310500-1335982085_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-97472700-1335982138_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-54948900-1335982164_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-40479000-1335982187_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-58478000-1335982252_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-17134200-1335982273_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-65542100-1335982294_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-12693500-1335982310_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-24619900-1335982338_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-20469100-1335982394_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-78497400-1335982430_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-86094700-1335982452_thumb.jpg

post-17034-0-04323500-1335982481_thumb.jpg

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armchair bushman

I'm especially happy with the panorama photo. I miss this place immensely!

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Game Warden

Great work on the stitch panorama! You can always open a gallery and upload your images there, check out my signature line for more help.

 

Matt

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twaffle

I love the long grass shot (the first image) looks like it is flames with the light reflecting. You have some seriously good landscapes and if they don't do the place justice, then we all just have to go and see it ourselves. Glad the insects got a look in, something that I haven't had the lens to embrace, but upgrading so should have one before my next trip.

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pault

I like them. It is a beautiful place - even nicer than the high area in Tsavo West, and quite green. It reminds me a bit of the Aberdare highlands, but it reminds me of other places too, so perhaps I should just let it be itself! :rolleyes: I can see why you are so keen on it, so you must have done it some justice, especially with the panorama.

 

Very creative garbage disposal (almost heroic).

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armchair bushman

Yes it was a little reminiscent of the aberdares I suppose. Much too dry and rocky, though.

 

I felt like a hero anyway....

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TheKenyanCamper

@@armchair bushman I've forgotten how to use this site so I hope you see this. Came across your article while researching a trip up to the Chyulus next week. Thank you for the write up and for all the pics. Chyulus is one of those places that have little to no info about them and your post has given me an inkling of what to expect. I've been to the park previously but never to the top, looking forward to it! Cheers for sharing.

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Game Warden

@@TheKenyanCamper You need to contribute more often so as not to forget ;)

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IamFisheye

@@armchair bushman so what are your plans this Easter?

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Marks

A convenient bump. Thanks for a beautiful account (photographic and written) of a beautiful place.

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armchair bushman

@@armchair bushman so what are your plans this Easter?

I've just come back (yesterday) from an inexplicably expensive trip to the UK, which, for very annoying reasons, could not be extended to Easter (starting Friday). So I'm broke, tired, and a little unmotivated. I'll probably be doing some dusting, vacuuming, laundry, movie-watching, and MAYBE a day trip to somewhere like Karura Forest, Nairobi National Park, or Gatamaiyu.

 

Sad state of affairs, really. A 3-night camping trip would have really been an excellent prospect for this weekend.

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PT123

..back to reality! Thanks for the great shots of the Green Hills of Africa - I don't know how I missed this post the first time around.

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Atravelynn

I caught this heroic report on round 2 with the photos. That fire photo is cool!

"Chyulu Hills is a KWS National Park, but as it is not a prime game-viewing park" Maybe I have been hypnotized by the Ol Donyo Lodge marketing, but I thought this place is filled with some of the biggest eles anywhere and huge concentrations of cheetah. Maybe just the Ol Donyo property part.

 

Karura Forest or Gatamaiyu---please share if/when you visit here.

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