The 16,865-acre Hell’s Gate National Park gets its name from a narrow break in the cliffs which once was a tributary of a prehistoric lake that flowed in the Rift Valley. Long before its establishment in 1984 early European explorers like German explorer, Gustav Fischer knew of it. Gustav had traversed the park area in 1882 on assignment by the Hamburg Geographical Society to find a route going from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. The Maasai stopped him and almost wiped out his entire party. Besides its famous natural geysers, eagle and vulture breeding grounds, Hell’s Gate National Park has these nine other exciting things you can explore on foot or bicycle (or on a wheelbarrow!).
1. Visit Two Extinct Volcanoes
Olkaria and Hobley’s are extinct volcanoes where natural steam vents rise from fissures in the volcanic rock. Obsidian, a striking black glassy rock formed from cooled molten lava is a feature of this landscape. The flora is mainly grasslands and shrublands with the latter dominated by Leleshwa and several species of acacia.
2. Climb the Fischer’s Tower
The Fischer’s Tower is a 25 M (75 FT) high rocky tower named after the German explorer, Gustav Fischer, who reached it in 1882. The tower is formed by semi-molten rocks which were forced through a fissure, cooling and solidifying as they extrude. The Maasai have their theory of origin regarding the tower. The legend says that a troubled young girl who was being led away for marriage was warned not to look back. Unfortunately, curiosity took the best of her, and she disobeyed and turned around to catch one last glimpse of her beloved home. She was immediately cursed and turned to stone hence forming the distinctive feminine shape of the Fischer’s Tower. The story sounds very similar to the biblical account of Lot and his wife when they were fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah at the height of God’s wrath upon the two cities. Fischer’s Tower is shorter than the Central Tower. Around its base, you will come across rock hyraxes that have established a home here. They are also called the dassies. The tower offers a fantastic picnic site as well.
3. Scale the Central Tower
Further into the park, is the Central Tower which is larger than the more popular Fischer’s Tower. The locals also know it as ‘Embarta‘ or ‘the horse’. You can hardly see the Central Tower along the road unless you are walking along the Buffalo Circuit.
4. View a Variety of Game
Hell’s Gate National Park does not have all the famous Big Five, and that is what makes it such a perfect park for a walking safari. You will however still see large mammals like the buffalo, eland, plains zebra, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle, reedbuck, impala, Coke’s hartebeest, Maasai giraffe, lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyaena.
5. Spot an assortment of birdlife
Over 103 birds call the national park home. The gorge and cliffs are breeding sites for several species of raptors and swifts.
6. Visit the Olkaria Geothermal Station.
Known as the Olkaria II Geothermal Power Station or Olkaria II Geothermal Power Plant, the plant has an electric generating capacity of 105 MW. The plant became operational in 2003 when the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN), which owns it, commissioned 2 35 MW units. Seven years later, a third 35 MW unit was installed, bringing the total capacity at Olkaria to 105 MW.
7. Visit the Obsidian Caves
The Obsidian caves lie on the Buffalo Circuit. The Iron and magnesium in the obsidian give it a dark green to black colour. When small air bubbles are present in the rock, they produce interesting effects such as a golden sheen, known as Sheen Obsidian or a rainbow sheen called Rainbow Obsidian. Did you know those small nuggets of obsidian that have been naturally rounded and smoothed by wind and water are called Apache Tears?
8. Descend into the Spectacular Ol Njorowa Gorge
Besides the walks among wildlife and the Fischer’s Tower, this is the next big attraction at Hell’s Gate National Park. Walking in the gorge takes about 2 hours through astonishing beauty. You will see water-eroded walls so narrow that they almost touch at the top. There are also several hot and cold waterfalls, hot water springs and colourful strata and rock formations. Ol Njorowa Gorge is so popular with Hollywood. Several blockbuster films have used it as a backdrop including Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, King Solomon’s Mines and Mountains of the Moon.
9. Stand on Pride Rock
Stand at the edge of this iconic rock and meditate on the great circle of life. Pride Rock provides the backdrop to Disney’s epic animation, Lion King. It is at this rock that King Mufasa tells his son, Simba, how we are all connected in the great circle of life.
Next time you are in Naivasha, try out Hell’s Gate National Park. Check current park entry rates at the Kenya Wildlife Service website.