Aberdare National Park holds the record as the highest game park in the world. The park is also home to Karuru and Gura, two of Kenya’s tallest waterfalls, each plunging down the Aberdares in three stages. Karuru drops 272 M (894 FT). Gura, also known as Magura, is 305 M (1,000 FT) tall. Near the waterfalls is an extraordinary growth of moss and giant vegetation peculiar to the East African mountains.
Established in May 1950, the approximately 189,209-acre Aberdare National Park forms part of the Aberdare Mountain Range originally known as Nyandarua. Nyandarua, in Kikuyu, means ‘the drying hide’ because the hills here resemble the folds of an unstretched hide. Joseph Thomson, in 1884 later named the range after Lord Aberdare (Bruce Henry Austin, 1815-1895). Lord Aberdare was then the first Baron of Duffryn in the County of Glamorgan in the United Kingdom. He also served as president of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Historical Society. Here are six things you can do when you visit.
1. Get a Glimpse of Gulliver’s Travels
At the Aberdares, Groundsel and Lobelias, usually small plants in Europe, reach 4.6 M (15 FT) high. It is as though one has suddenly been transported to Brobdingnag, the giants’ country of Gulliver’s Travels.
2. Take in the Rift Valley
In good weather, the park road leads to the Rift Valley’s superb views. It descends on the other side of the Aberdare Range to the Kinangop Plateau and Naivasha.
3. Go on a Wild Safari
See wildlife such as elephants, African hunting dogs, giant forest hogs, bushbuck, mountain reedbuck, waterbuck and cape buffalo. You can also catch sightings of suni, the side-striped jackal, eland, duikers olive baboon, black and white colobus monkey and sykes monkey. Leopards also show up once in a while and sightings of the black leopard have been reported in the past. There are rarer sightings of the golden cat and the elusive bongo antelope in the bamboo forest.
Nowadays the lions are few in the Aberdare National Park because most were translocated to other national parks to protect the bongo. Higher up in the moorlands, you can find animals like the eland and melanistic serval cats. Aberdare National Park also keeps a large stock of black rhinos. The park boasts an impressive collection of over 250 bird species. The endangered Aberdare cisticola is a coveted find. Others like Jackson’s francolin, sparry hawk and goshawks are easy to spot. Try also spotting species like the crowned hawk-eagle, Abyssinian long-eared owl, Malachite sunbirds, the mountain buzzard and plovers.
4. See Where Dedan Kimathi Picked His Mail
Visit the Dedan Kimathi post office, a giant tree where the Mau Mau would leave Kimathi’s attention messages.
5. Picnic in a Cave Fit for a Queen
The Queen’s Cave is a must for the ladies. The cave got its name after Queen Elizabeth of England visited and even had high tea here with its mystical grotto. The Aberdares Range was then known as the Sattima Range. The falls are also ideal for swimming.
A picnic site sits at the cave’s mouth and behind the Magura Waterfall, making it the most romantic spot in Kenya. You will find a table already set for you. The cave, also known as Kimathi’s Cave, was the home of the famous freedom fighter, Field Marshal, Dedan Kimathi. During the Mau Mau uprising in the 50s, the freedom fighters would preserve their meat here because of its coolness. Dedan Kimathi operated from here because the cave was virtually invisible from aerial patrols by the colonial government.
6. Marvel at Kenya’s Tallest Waterfalls
As mentioned earlier, Karuru and Gura Falls are the two tallest in Kenya. Karuru is second after Gura. You can see only the uppermost drop of this waterfall easily. The rest of the falls only appear to be visible from across the wide valley or from the air. According to the sign above the falls, the three drops are 116 M (383 FT), 24 M (84 FT), and 130 M (427 FT).
Fans of the film ‘Out of Africa‘ may recognise this waterfall from the scene when Robert Redford squires Meryl Streep up in a Gypsy Moth. They fly through a lush valley with two waterfalls. Jens Hessel, a white settler who lived through the Mau Mau rebellion, flew the film’s plane as Redford’s stunt double.
Located about 17 KM from Nyeri town and 170 from Nairobi, Aberdare National Park is accessible by road and air. You can use the tarmac from Nyeri and Naromoru on the eastern side. The airstrip at Mweiga provides the alternative by air. Take the Nyeri-Nyahururu road near Sasini Estate Farm from there. Next time you are in the Mount Kenya region, include Aberdare National Park in your bucket list. Remember to check the latest park entry rates at the Kenya Wildlife Service website before you go to avoid last-minute surprises.