The slippery high road to the moors of the Aberdares is stunning through thick groves of bamboo forest giving way to the hagenia forest that’s also known as rosewood on higher slopes. The colours of the forests are rich and lush – the luxuriant green of the thick moss on the fat branches of the hagenia and the wispy tails of the hanging lichens in the fresh, clean air of the mountains. At this high altitude, forest ferns and giant lobelia compete for space with Red-hot pokers breaking though the many shades of green. I’m eager to see the Mountain Bongo – one of Kenya’s rarest antelopes but the antelope with ivory-tipped horns doesn’t dash out of the forest like it did a decade ago.
The road gets really slippery, the tyres don’t hold and plans to climb Ol Donyo Lesatima the highest peak at 13,120 feet (3,999 meters) are abandoned. Instead we have many miles to explore of the 100-kilometer long stretch of the volcanic Aberdares.
The forests give way to the moorland filled with tussock grasses and secret little tarns on the high vales. We could be on another planet.
A reedbuck dashes across the road and vanishes into the mountain glades. Great mounds of elephant dung lie on the road.
“The last census in 2005 show that we have 2,000 elephants in the park,” tells Catherine Wambani the KWS warden of the park. “The whole park is fenced with two openings for elephant crossings during their migrations. One is at Shamata and one at Kihuyo and they are each 65 feet (20 meters) wide.
“We have on-going research with a university that is studying elephant behaviour after the fence,” continues the veteran warden. It will be interesting to see how the mega-herbivore takes to modern infrastructure.
Driving lower down, we enjoy a picnic by a deep ravine with a mountain buzzard hovering high up while scarlet red wings flash by. They are the Hartlaub’s turaco.
The Giant Forest Hog
We’ve been awed by a family of the Giant forest hog – mum, dad and babe – munching on the grass. First described in 1904, after the infamous Richard Meinertzhagen (who killed the Nandi chief Koitalel arap Samoei in cold blood), shipped the first specimen to the Natural History Museum in England, it’s an animal of the mountain forests. They are virtually extinct in the Nandi hills (where Meinertzhagen first saw them) but doing well in the Aberdares – after the lions were gotten rid of. The cats had been introduced to the park but they created havoc.
“The Giant forest hogs are doing well with no lions around,” tells Wambani. And she continues with another increasingly seen animal – the African wild dog that in the early decades of the 20th century was almost exterminated by farmers who saw them as vermin. Yet these highly specialized pack hunters have a beautiful side to them – as caring as any other parent.
A pair of Jackson’s francolin forage at the edge of the bamboo forest. I peer through the scribble of stalks to look for more and we’re in for a real surprise.
A zorilla dashes out of the forest and runs along the road in broad daylight. A zorilla is not to be confused with a gorilla. Whereas a gorilla is the largest ape on the planet, a zorilla is about two feet long and almost squirrel like – but with an attitude. It emits really foul smell from its glands when threatened and lions prefer to sulk away from it.
Driving out of the park, troops of colobus monkeys chew on the leaves of the trees. Checking in at the gorgeous Aberdare Country Club, the fire is on in the foyer to ward of the chilly night air. Once a farm house built in 1936 by Mike and Dot Lyons (not to be confused with Lyon’s the ice cream brand) after the great depression in England in the 1930s, it’s been updated and l’m loving the gorgeous spa to escape to.
After a gargantuan dinner, the night game drive shows the rare Reticulated giraffes foraging with elands and impalas around.
And then it’s back to the warmth of the luxury room with a log fire on.
Escape to the Aberdares
Enjoy the luxury of Aberdare Country Club
Have ‘me’ time at the gorgeous spa, a round of golf or tennis, swim or just chill. It’s an easy three hour drive from Nairobi to Mweiga via Nyeri. Or stay at the Ark in the salient in Aberdare National Park, the 767-square-kilometre mountain park – kws.go.ke – Entrance with Safaricard only.
The northern Aberdares is being developed around Shamata Gate – it is 40 kilometers from Thomson’s Falls.