14 September 2016

Of waterfalls and the Salient at night

The animals begin to arrive at the Ark. More than two at a time. And the stage is set at the salient for the evening’s entertainment. Of the two thousand elephants in the Aberdares, there’s a herd of twenty at the waterhole. The baby in the family fits squarely under the belly between its mother’s legs. It’s a beautiful scene with the floodlights of the Ark and the full moon.

The elephant family nudge clumps of soil with their toes to lick the salt on the salient. A huge male blows a trunk-full of dust over itself while some in the herd dangle their trunks in the waterhole for a drink.

Meanwhile, a pair of Grey crowned cranes – a bird that’ increasingly rare to find – come to the swamp as do the night birds. An owl hoots and lands on the rock by the water pool. The elephant family leave just as a trio of Spotted hyenas lumber in. They play amongst themselves and lie down to rest for some time before something catches their attention. It’s a family of the Giant forest hog busy foraging on the lush scrub around the Ark. The Giant hogs weighing up to 150 kilograms outstare the hyenas and the show is over as the hyenas skulk away.

We move from the upper outdoor deck of the Ark to the lower inner deck by the lounge. The night gets chillier. The midnight moon moves from atop the waterhole as a string of elephants wander in from the forest – the whole line mesmerizing, reflected in the water.

To cap it off a White-tailed mongoose scurries across the salient and disappears into the darkness of the night.

The night in the Ark passes without a whistle (when a rhino or leopard appears) but in the first light of the day the leopard makes an appearance – so fast that only the early risers see it slip into the forest.

Armed with a packed lunch of cold meats, salads, fruit and coffee, we spend the day in the mountain park which the intrepid Scotsman Joseph Thomson saw from the depths of the Great Rift Valley and decided to explore the area in 1883. He became the first outside explorer to tell the world about this magnificent range – which today is one of the five water-towers in Kenya – and without which Nairobi would be starved of drinking water.

The game drive is fun with buffaloes popping in and out of the bushes and monkeys like the playful Guereza colobus foraging high in the trees.

The plan is to explore the waterfalls in the park. A thin river – the Chania – courses its way through the high mountain grasslands and reveals a waterfall with a spray of ice-cold water that tingles the skin. A few kilometres away on a higher ridge, we’re at Magura Waterfall and it’s a short walk to the Queen’s Cave – where the British Queen Elizabeth enjoyed a picnic in 1952. At the foot of the crashing falls is the cave. A family enjoys a picnic as a pair of reedbucks nibble on shrubs completely at ease being so close to people.

It’s the last pair of waterfalls that makes our breath catch. A few meters walk through the forest path we’re looking at Karuru Falls crashing 273 meters down in three steps – 117 m, 26 m and 130 m. Mirroring it, is the Gura which in a single fall cuts a sliver through the thick forest, crashing into an impenetrable ravine.

In this enchanted world enveloped in a rising mist there’s just us with the world’s fastest animal – a peregrine falcon that rules the ravine flying high and diving deep into its folds. It’s impossible to move away.

The Aberdares

The 767-square-kilometre mountain park lies in the larger 2,167 square kilometre protected area that is electric fenced –to protect the last of the natural highland forest in addition to stopping the elephants straying out into the farmers’ fields. The fencing is a project of Rhino Ark rhinoark.org  in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, local communities and donors.

Take a full day to enjoy the waterfalls and the game drive. Stay at the Ark –  beautiful timber lodge with floor-to-ceiling windows and viewing decks on all floors – for great photo opportunities of the animals night and day. Surrounded by highland forest, all rooms are ensuite – warm and cosy. Book your picnic lunch and enjoy the park.

Entry to the 767-square-kilometre mountain park – kws.go.ke – with Safaricard only.

There are no lions but 10 black rhino and plenty of other wildlife. Historically, the Kikuyu called the range Nyandarua because it resembled the folds in a hide left to dry.