Besides the very popular Jomo Kenyatta public beach, Bamburi, on the north coast of Kenya has several interesting attractions that would suit a family holiday.
One of these attractions is Haller Park which has quite an old and interesting history behind it. Apparently, the story starts in 1951 when Felix Mandl founded Bamburi Cement as a partnership between Cementia Holding and Blue Circle.
Felix spotted a prime piece of land, about 12 KM north of Mombasa, to build the company’s cement factory. With an initial production of 1.2 million tons, the factory gradually increased its capacity to 25 million in the coming years.
But with this increased production followed an increased desolation of the area as it degenerated into an inhospitable arid wasteland with brackish water. That is how the rehabilitation project by the cement-making company was triggered.
In 1959, under the guidance of Rene Haller, who was hired as manager of the garden department, restoration of the quarry began and thus the famous Haller Park was born.
The park today, with its wide variety of plant and animal species, is a popular destination for many reasons but these 3 ought to convince you to give the place a try.
1. Great Place to Learn the Art of Rehabilitating Wounded Nature
The task of transforming the Bamburi wasteland into the oasis of beauty it is today was not an easy one. In fact, most thought it was an impossible venture. A total of 26 pioneer plants which could survive the limestone desert were initially identified and planted.
Only 3, the damas, coconut palm and the casuarina, survived. Today, these dominate much of the flora at the park and offer insights into what is possible with determination, patience and persistence. To date over 180 species of indigenous trees and bushes have been planted.
2. Study Animal Behaviour Including the Abnormal Ones
The first candidates to be introduced at Haller Park were a red-legged millipede also known as the Mombasa trains. Haller, having noticed the millipede was feeding on dry casuarina needles, introduced hundreds of them into the quarry forest.
The droppings of the millipede made it easier for bacteria to break down resulting in a rich layer of humus that allowed other plant species to grow.
When the bushpigs, which feed on roots, maggots, and insects arrived, they helped to aerate the trees’ root systems. The female giraffes, on the other hand, feed on leaves and disperse plant seeds while their faeces acted as fertilisers.
The dung beetles also played a role by helping bring the manure underground where it is broken down by microorganisms paving way for further plant life.
Then came the Elands and the Oryxes which were chosen for domestication at Haller Park because of their usefulness. The Eland, for instance, produces milk which is nutritious and has antibiotic properties that allow the milk to stay fresh for long. Elands are also resistant to most livestock diseases and tame easily.
The oryx, on the other hand, adapt to cope with poor grazing. They feed on dry, nutrient-poor grasses. They have a great capacity to digest fibres. During droughts and desert conditions, the oryx can survive. They are independent of permanent water sources. The oryx were the perfect candidates for the condition of the park.
The introduction of a fish farm in 1971, alongside the reforestation project, kicked off the park. Haller had established a fish tank system whose purpose was to allow the fish to swim in a constant current.
Later, in 1980, as a result of the success of the fish tank system, a tilapia farm with an annual production capacity of 30 to 35 tons per year, was established.
Crocodiles and Hippos were also later introduced at Haller Park but no introduction was as spectacular as that of Owen and Mzee. When the 2 arrived, they immediately caused a global sensation.
Owen, a hippopotamus and Mzee, an Aldabra giant tortoise, became the subject of media attention after forming an unusual bond of friendship that had not been seen in the wild before.
Owen had been separated from his herd as a juvenile following the December 2004 tsunami. Having no other hippos to interact with, Owen immediately attempted to bond with Mzee.
Most believe, Mzee’s large domed shell and brown colour that resembled an adult hippo, may have played a role. Mzee was reluctant about Owen at first but grew to like him and got used to Owen around him.
The pair were featured in a 2006 book by Isabella and Craig Hatkoff and Paula Kahumbu, Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship, as well as the 2007 sequel, Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship.
3. Improve Your Mental and Physical Fitness
At Haller Park, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to wellness. You could choose to do the fitness trails which include a jogging and cycling trail or go bird watching and explore the over 20 species of birds that reside here.
The palm and the botanical gardens are also quite refreshing and as you complete your tour at the sunset terrace, you realise you have actually rebooted.
To maximise your experience, it would be good to visit during the times they are feeding the animals so you can see the hierarchy of the wild play out before your eyes as the jungle’s rule of survival for the fittest kicks in.
Giraffes are fed between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM, The hippos, Eland and Oryx are fed at 4:00 PM while the food showdown at the crocodile section takes place at 4:30 PM. All these for only KES 500.00 for East African residents.