Only ten years ago, a drive to Naivasha would mean miles and miles of pine woods and grand eucalyptus trees. Today it is a wilderness full of wonder, and we’ve got just the list of the things to do in Naivasha for your adventure.
Indeed there is one particular area of Nairobi, Naivasha Road, which for me stirs my imagination towards a fairy tale or children’s book. The grass is always a vibrant green, no matter what kind of weather, with herders napping whilst their sheep graze. For me, I imagine it as the path Little Red Riding Hood took before she made her way into the deep dark forest.
Today, on the drive to Naivasha, the forces of urbanisation are only too apparent with the highway expanded and even a few fast food restaurants emerging at pit stops overlooking the Great Rift Valley. Through the naked eye, as you look down at the Great Rift Valley from any of the few viewing points, you can see homes rapidly sprouting which will inevitably become villages and so on. Increasingly, Naivasha no longer seems like a distant town for a getaway but more like an easily reachable town from Nairobi. I wouldn’t be surprised if in years to come it merely becomes an extension of Nairobi.
Nevertheless, no amount of urbanisation can take away from the splendour of the Great Rift Valley. An early morning hot drink overlooking the Valley awakens the soul with its sheer magnanimity and the realisation that this is the terrain where paleontologists only recently found the earliest known ancestor of human beings.
Hell’s Gate National Park – The Hike
We set off from Nairobi at 7:00am to arrive at Hell’s Gate National Park by 8:30 am. This is only one of two national parks in Kenya where you can disembark from your vehicle and engage in some outdoor activity such as cycling and hiking. Cycles are available for hire as you approach the main Elsa Gate. Unsurprisingly the National Park has been chosen by UNESCO making it a world heritage site due to its incredible and unusual geological landscape and the hot springs that are more apparent in the gorge. The vegetation that grows around the hot springs is quite remarkable.
It’s an early start, and about time for breakfast. We stopped at Fishers Tower which is only one kilometre from the main gate and easily visible once you enter the park. There are a few benches behind the tower to have a quick break and an early morning breakfast which we took with us. Fishers Tower (and Central Tower which is visible from the Lower Gorge walk) are formed of semi molten rock which was forced to the surface through cracks in the earth and eventually solidified to form these towers, a well known spot for rock climbers too.
Before the sun really began to beat down, we made our way to hike the lower gorge (Ol Njorowa). Our guide changed into his Maasai uniform and off we went. Despite the sun, as the gorge is so low down, it is very cool and wet because of the natural springs which flow through. There are hot springs as well as waterfalls. If you bring an egg it would boil in no time in the hot springs. The natural beauty of this gorge is jaw dropping with its different coloured stones and the various rock formations. My hiking companions who had recently been to some of Jordan’s wadis were equally impressed not only with the dramatic scenery but also with the lack of queues and throngs of people. It is really just you and the elements here.
It is entirely comprehensible why some of Hollywood’s top films have been shot here or indeed used as inspiration for their cinematic vision. Some of Angelina Jolie’s scenes were shot in the Lower Gorge for Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (ironically and aptly the Great Rift Valley is often known as the cradle of life) and the visual backdrop of the Lion King (2004) film was heavily based around the Hell’s Gate National Park.
There is an option to do a long hike or a short hike. We chose to do the long one which took us approximately three hours though we did it very leisurely. There is also a slight price difference for the hike depending on which one you chose to do.
The original plan had been to visit the Elsamere Museum which was the home of Joy Adamson, the renowned conservationist who raised orphan lions with her husband George Adamson and eventually released them into the wild. If time permits, its worth a visit.
The Sanctuary Farm
The farm is set on 500 acres overlooking Lake Naivasha. Lunch is produced with fresh produce grown on the farm. We had called ahead and requested vegetarian dishes based on our dietary requirements, and they had organised a very healthy and tasty Ottolenghi stylee of lunch. Soups, four kinds of salads, a cheese board, quinoa cutlets, roasted aubergines with a tahini dressing, freshly pressed coffee and a lush carrot cake to end with. For the non-vegetarians there is all of the above and the option of a chicken or fish dish.
For the active travellers, book in for horse riding available at the farm. And for those who want to stay overnight, camping and nearby accommodation is also available.