September 2016

On the southern stretch of the Aberdares

Driving up the escarpment road to Lari, the big valley drops – which of course is the Great Rift. We’re at its highest point along the Nairobi-Naivasha Highway and with the morning mist cleared and the sun shining bright, Longonot’s wide yawn and volcanic ridges show wide.

Checking on Google Earth, we’re on the Gatundu-Kinare road about a kilometer from Kijabe town.

Stepping out of the car by the clutter of signposts that point to Kijabe Hospital, the Kenya Forest Service and Kinale forest, the patch of planted forest is inviting and while we wait for the rest of the group, a stroll through the forest is refreshing.

It’s the first time for most of us to hike in Kinale Forest in Lari – which houses a cluster of forests.

“Kinare (also called Kinale) Forest is one of the forest blocks within the greater Gatamaiyu Forest Nature Reserve. They are grouped within the Kikuyu Escapement forest according to the Birdlife International Data Zone,” tells Gladys Kungu, a data analyst with Nature Kenya.

Others include the Uplands, Kireita and Kamae – all on the southern tip of the awesome Aberdares that stretch a hundred kilometers northwards.

We enter the forest – nicely fenced to safeguard the forests of the Aberdares – a joint effort by Rhino Ark, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service and the communities living around it.

We bum along the earth road through the forest and finally reach a spot to spill out of the cars to see a beautiful orchid growing on a tree in the forest.

No one knows what the orchid is but some of the best places to find the 265 orchids native to Kenya are found in the protected glades of the highlands – like the Aberdares, Mt Elgon and Mt Kenya and others.

Tall, bamboo stalks appear – “We’re quite high in altitude because Mountain bamboo grows at 2,500 feet,” informs Fleur Ng’weno our walking, talking encyclopedia.

While the birders are busy with peering through the trees for forest birds, l sneak up the hill through a woodlot that’s been felled. The view once on top is of the peaks of Aberdares –  among them the looming Elephant Hill in the skyline.

Back on the road, the birders have vanished and following the road, it’s impossible to say which of the forest paths they have taken.

But the thing with birders is that they are never too far away and soon the eagle-eyed hikers appear from a forest trail – and we’re told about the wild flowers in bloom. The flower trail leads us to a patch of recently harvested trees in a plantation and the fragrance of harvested cypress is heady.

It’s an uphill gradient and then pops of colour – bright orange, brilliant blues and dazzling yellows mixed with pastel lilacs and pinks – it’s a floral mosaic in the forest.

It reminds me of the flower bloom in August and September in Namaqualand along the western coast of South Africa and Namibia when the land is carpeted in a kladeiscope of wild flowers – unforgettable.

Our flower bloom is tiny compared to Namaqualand’s 440,000 square kilometers but nevertheless impressive. Kenya’s boasts something like 10,000 species of wild flowers.

Studies increasingly show that every wild flower is important – a whole world in itself supporting everything from tiny fungi to pollinators such as bees and butterflies and birds. Without these powerhouses, we risk losing more than just pretty way side flowers – we could starve without pollinators.

All the walking builds an appetite which is followed by an al-fresco lunch. With time on our hands, we meander down another forest path that’s not a plantation.

It’s stunning with different trees – like the podo, cedar, hagenia and bamboo with vines and grasses, mosses and lichens because the air is so clean. A tiny shrew dropped by a raptor lies on the ground. There’s the sound of water – a river flowing deep in the valley. The fast hikers make it to the river through the mud while we enjoy the calm and quiet of the forest. And then on the floor of the forest is a burst of colour – the rarely seen Doherty’s Bushshrike.

Fact File

Enjoy hiking – log on to

Look out for the annual Orchid Show in Nairobi.

Great guide for flower lovers:

Orchids of Kenya – by Joyce Stewart the Royal Horticultural Society’s Director of Horticulture. It is the first to cover the 265 orchid’s native to Kenya.

Wayside Flowers of Kenya by Teresa Sapieha

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This interactive photographic guide helps you to identify plants from East African ecosystems.

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