Published Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 1st April 2017

Above: The gorge with Ewaso Nyiro river flowing from the wetland at Nyahururu via Thomson’s Falls to Lorian swamp in the arid lands – copyright Rupi Mangat

Thomson’s Falls in Nyahururu reveals more in its ravine flowing in the depths of South Marmanet Forest

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Elephants deep in the gorge – need a zoom lens to capture them – copyright Rupi Mangat

“The elephants have been spotted,” announces Walter Muriithi of Panari Resort Nyahururu sandwiched between the rocky gorge of Thomson’s Falls and South Marmanet Forest. We rush out to drive the few kilometres around the forest bordered by local farms and stop at the electric fence. It’s a deterrent to keep the elephants from raiding the farms.

Peter Karani has been on the hunt for the mammoths since early morn and meets us at the fence. “The elephants are deep in the gorge,” he says. “Follow me.”

We keep pace with him through the grass glade ignoring the many birds for later. Karani is the community guide at the forest and has been monitoring the elephants since 2006. A few meters from the fence the land gives away. Standing on the edge of the plateau, the view is dramatic.

It’s of the Ewaso Nyiro River flowing deep in the gorge – at least 200 feet deep. It’s a thin thread edged between the steep cliff-face and the forest. We take in the enormity of the view.

For a moment we forget about the elephants till Karani states, “Look there.” At first all our eyes can see is the forest deep in the gorge with its gigantic fig trees and other indigenous ones. Then as the eye adjusts to the colours and shapes within the forest grove, we see brown shapes moving between the trees. It’s a family of elephants.

It’s surreal watching the elephants from atop a plateau and them totally unaware of us. They are tiny figures from this height but still in full view. The little ones in the family run around the fig tree always close to the elders. There are 19 in the family and making their way to the river for a drink.

“These are the Laikipia elephants,” continues Karani. “They move all over reaching the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and the conservancies.”

I could spend hours just sitting on the rim of the plateau watching the world’s largest land animal but as the light fades Karani suggest we leave the forest.

“We work closely with the community guides,” tells Muriithi. It’s a great idea for it takes a local to know what’s around.

Until now, Nyahururu’s most famous hotspot was the thunderous Thomson Falls so close to the Equator.  Cascading 243 feet down the rocky chasm, it flows from the picturesque hippo pool fed by the massifs of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya. Then as the mighty Ewaso Nyiro it continues through the drylands of the north and finally vanishes into another amazing wetland, the Lorian Swamp.

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Long-tailed widow bird – the male in full breeding plumage by the hippo pools – Rupi Mangat

With the last light left, George Ndung’u, founder of the Nyahururu Bird Club and Olbolossat Biodiversity Conservation Group and l opt to walk to the hippo pool walking over the metal bridge past the locals living within earshot of the hippos. In the eventide, the Aberdares are a soft hue against the skyline and looking down my eye catches sight of the gorgeous Long-tailed widow bird – a male in full breeding plumage. It’s so close l don’t even need a zoom lens to photograph its colours. And then it flies off to the long reeds in the pool with other males showing off their beautiful black tails flitting like ribbons amongst flocks of the less glamorous females.

The drought has been biting – the evidence lies in the cracked dry earth of the wetland with gigantic footprints of the hippos that we step over.

The pod of hippos is closely huddled in the deeper pool, the water turquoise blue. Children play by the edge of the pool near the settlement. A baby hippo follows its mother around.

It’s an enchanting evening with hundreds of water birds in so many colours – Red knobbed coots, Yellow-billed ducks, Egyptian geese, Great white egrets, jacanas, and suddenly they are a-flutter.

“It must be a raptor,” states Ndung’u and sure enough a Great sparrowhawk flies across the pool. It’s on the hunt.

Nyahururu on the Map

Panari Resort Nyahururu by the gorge near Thomson's Falls - copyright Rupi Mangat
Panari Resort Nyahururu by the gorge near Thomson’s Falls – copyright Rupi Mangat

Panari Resort Nyahururu 200kms comfortable drive through Njabini. It’s a beautiful road driving along the wide stretch of the Aberdares crossing the Equator near Nyahururu.

For the outdoor, hike South Marmanet forest in search of elephants, Rumuruti forest or the hippo pools or down Thomson Falls. Contact George Ndung’u or Panari. Drive further to Aberdare National Park, Sweetwaters, or take a different direction to Nakuru.