The Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is a 5,115-acre mountain park that is less visited despite its beauty and rich history. The park comprises of forested slopes, ravines and Mount Ol Donyo Sabuk. At the mountain’s 2,144-metre summit, one can catch breathtaking views of Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro and the surrounding lowlands, including the city of Nairobi.
Established in 1967, Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park was once part of the expansive Juja Ranch owned by Lord William Northrop Mcmillan. The size of this ranch was so huge that today five towns occupy it. It is here in this ranch in 1930 that one of Kenya’s most colourful politicians, Tom Mboya was born and brought up when his father worked in the farm as a labourer. If you get a chance to visit, make sure these five things are in your bucket list.
1. Visit the Fourteen Falls
The famous Fourteen Falls falling a spectacular 27 metres are a sight to behold. Located about one kilometre from the highway, they originate from the equally beautiful Athi River.
2. Enjoy the Views
Catch great scenic views at the summit of Mount Ol Donyo Sabuk. It is about 5 KM further into the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park. The name of the mountain in Maa language means ‘big mountain’. The Kikuyu also call it Kirima Mbogo, the hill of the buffalo.
3. Tour the Mcmillan Castle
The 32-roomed Mcmillan Castle is a single-storied, high ceiling piece of early 20th-century architecture with underground bunkers built in the 1900s by Lord William Northrop Mcmillan. The castle played host to big names like Ewart Grogan, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Evelyn Baring and Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta. A floor door reveals a wooden ladder leading to an underground room where secret meetings took place. Down here is also Sir Evelyn Baring’s bunker. Sir Evelyn served as Governor of Kenya from 1952 to 1959 during the Mau Mau Uprising.
Did you know the Hollywood 1950s blockbuster, ‘Mogambo‘ was shot here? The film starred Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable. The Macmillan Castle is so massive that many believe it qualifies to be a fort minus the moat, watchtowers and canons. There are rumours that Lord Macmillan and his wife would spend one half of the year in one wing of the house, then migrate to the other in the second half. The home also served as a jailhouse during the Second World War.
Yet in this grand castle were also grand scandals involving affairs and wife-swapping parties. It is here that the notorious colonial maverick, Colonel Ewart Grogan, led and supervised his wine-tossing and wife-sharing orgies that attracted international media. Locals even gave it a nickname, kilavu, which means a clubhouse.
On the 19th of December 2008, the castle became a gazetted monument. There are plans to turn it into a museum. While you are here, you might wish to see the graves of Lord Mcmillan, his wife and their dog which are near the summit. An additional grave belonging to Louise, a girl who started working for the Macmillan’s only aged 13 lies here as well.
Mcmillan had wished to be buried at the top of Mount Ol Donyo Sabuk, also known as Kilimambogo, the place of the buffalo. But he was too big to be carried up there. The story goes that the vehicle carrying him up the mountain broke down and so William, his wife, servant and dog rested half-way up Ol Donyo Sabuk.
His family still desire to honour his original wish 86 years after his death in 1925 at the age of 53. At one time thieves, believing his grave carried a significant money treasure, attempted to vandalise it. They were unsuccessful, thanks to an enormous granite slab that encases it. His tombstone is now gone, but Louise’s gravestone is still intact.
4. Enjoy a Drive of Game
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, but the most dominant is the buffalo. Other wildlife includes leopard, python, colobus and vervet monkey, olive baboon, bush pig, Kirk’s dik-dik, the aardvark, among others.
5. Do Some Bird-spotting
Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park has about 45 bird species. These include the grey-headed sparrow weaver, white-browed sparrow weaver and the Mackinnon grey shrike. Others you can easily spot are the purple-breasted sunbird, mourning dove, augur buzzard and the African hawk-eagle. The yellow-vented bulbul, African pied wagtail, helmeted guinea fowl, bateleur, great sparrow-hawk, bronze sunbird, black-headed oriole and the superb starling.
So beyond the magnificent views at Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is a rich history worth preserving. Interestingly Macmillan, born in 1872, was a decorated soldier knighted by the King of England despite being American. The knighthood was for his role in helping to keep the British protectorate intact. He and his wife were great philanthropists. They established the McMillan Library in central Nairobi. It would be correct to say that this gigantic man who towered 7-feet tall lived an equally large life.
Make a point of visiting the park one of these fine days. It is accessible by road from Thika town. Drive along the main Garissa road to Makutano junction for 22 kilometres. At Makutano follow the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) sign and turn right. Proceed 3 kilometres on an all-weather murram road to Donyo town. At Donyo turn right and proceed a further 2 kilometres to the main national park gate. Check the KWS website for the latest park entry feed before you go.