Ngare Ndare in Maa, the language of the Maasai, means ‘goat waters’ but goats are not the only thing you will come across in this only indigenous tree forest in Kenya with an expanding canopy cover which in 2013 became part of the Mount Kenya UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In fact, Ngare Ndare, which is sandwiched between Mount Kenya to the south and Borana and Lewa conservancies to the north, has more to offer the intrepid traveller as I found out.

From my departure point at Nanyuki, Ngare Ndare is about 38 KM on a pretty good A2 road. That is roughly an hour’s drive by matatu. There are not that many direct transport options to the forest from Nanyuki so I alighted at the small town of Timau and boarded a Boda Boda for the next 10 KM into the heart of the forest.

While not the most comfortable of options, it nevertheless delivers a satisfyingly thrilling adventure experience past vast plantations of wheat, foraging game and canopies of trees interspersed with patches of savannah-type vegetation. Mount Kenya, in the morning, provides a spectacular backdrop to this unforgettable wilderness story.

Taking a motor bike to Ngare Ndare is an adventure past vast plantations of wheat, foraging game and canopies of trees interspersed by patches of savannah-type vegetation.

With Wachira as my very knowledgeable Boda Boda chauffeur, I was amazed at how short 10 KM can get when you are in a vibrant company. A proud resident of Ngare Ndare who hails from the nearby town of Ethi, Wachira spoke of the fabulous wealth that resides here among an elite select that call this wilderness home. This group owns large tracts of ranch lands whose ends can only be patrolled by helicopter and radio calls.

Wachira spoke of how the rich and mighty, both local and settler, owned large tracts of ranch lands here that could only be patrolled by helicopter and radio calls.

“Some of these ranches are self-contained recreation centres complete with exclusive member clubs, sporting grounds and airstrips,” he had exclaimed. At one point, as we traversed the rugged countryside, we came across a large plantation of a crop with yellow blooms I could not figure out.

“That is Canola,” Wachira had said. “They have a large processing plant inside the farm that produces the oil,” he had added.

Canola, I later learned, is among the oldest plants cultivated by humanity. It was used in India 4,000 years ago and 2,000 in China and Japan. There are historical accounts of its use in Northern Europe for oil lamps in the 13th century.

During the Second World War, the oil was much sought-after for use as a lubricant for the rapidly increasing number of steam engines in naval and merchant ships. Nowadays it finds its value as both cooking oil and biofuel.

After an eventful ride, which set me back KES 300, I bid Wachira farewell with the agreement he would pick me up later in the day when I completed my tour. I could not wait for more of his stories on our return trip!

You need to book at least 1 day to your visit. I have summarised the rates for both resident/citizen and non-resident/non-citizen adult and child rates in the table below.

At the forest, I finally met Jeremy, one of the rangers I had been talking to while making my booking. You must book at least a day before your visit to avoid inconvenience. I also met a few of the other rangers. Below is a summary of the rates for various categories of visitors you can work with for your planning. They include adult and child rates.

ActivityPrice
Ngare Ndare Eco-tourism Day Trip Package – Residents/CitizensGuest: KES 2,000.00
Children: KES 1,000.00
Ngare Ndare Eco-tourism Day Trip Package – Non-residentGuest: KES 4,000.00
Children: KES 2,000.00
Ngare Ndare Eco-tourism Day Trip Package – Local Group of more than 10 pax @1500 Per PersonGuest: KES 15,000.00
Ngare Ndare Eco-tourism Day Trip Package – Primary School PupilGuest: KShs500.00
Ngare Ndare Eco-tourism Day Trip Package – High School StudentGuest: KES 500.00

I started my tour in the safe company of Zablon, my personal armed Ranger. To ensure visitors’ safety, Ngare Ndare requires them to be accompanied by an armed ranger, as the reserve boasts a diverse range of game, including the Big 5, in its 13,618 acres (5,511 hectares).

We began with a 3.5 KM trek to some 2 fantastic waterfalls, one smaller the other falling about 10 M. Swimming and plunge jumping in the crystal clear waters is allowed in the taller fall.

David, an intern, joined us. He proved a valuable asset with mobile photography. I have used some of the photos on our social media pages.

Closer view of smaller waterfall at Ngare Ndare

We began with a 3.5 KM trek to two fantastic waterfalls, one smaller and the other much larger, falling about 10 M. Swimming in the crystal clear waters is possible in both, but only the larger fall is suitable for plunge jumping.

Bigger waterfall at Ngare Ndare which is also ideal for a plunge.

Having said that, I did not try either – maybe next time I will! I had a very rewarding photo moment that marked the end of the waterfall phase. Afterwards, we started our long trek back. Along the way, we passed a fresh heap of elephant dung, which triggered much speculation. We had barely left the fresh dung when we encountered a lone tusker upon rounding a corner. I could see Zablon readying his G3 rifle in case of an unfortunate eventuality, which no one looked forward to.

The topic of the fresh dung had not left our mouths when upon rounding a corner, we came across a lone tusker.

“This is a troublesome one; even his collar is missing”, he had whispered, not removing his gaze from the beast. The elephant did not seem moved by our presence and did not have tusks. According to Zablon, rangers might have sawed off the elephant’s tusks to limit its destructive ability.

Some elephants have learnt to use their tusks to cut the electric perimeter fence to invade the neighbouring wheat farms. Zablon tells me of a bull called Destroyer, who was particularly notorious for this. But there are peaceable ones like Lesuuda, the complete opposite of Destroyer. She is so fond of humans that she curiously seeks and follows them around the forest but from a safe distance.

After recovering from the unnerving tusker encounter, we continued on to the famous canopy walk for the day’s final activity. It is no mean task to trek 7 KM for a Nairobian used to long hours of sitting!

Piers Daykin, a wheat farmer and rally driver, built the canopy across the forest, stretching 450 meters and towering 10 meters (32 feet) above the ground. It is among a few of its kind in Africa, with others in Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana.

Stretching 450 M across the forest and towering 10 M (32 F) above ground, the canopy, built by Piers Daykin, a wheat farmer and rally driver.

This elevated vantage point gives you a panoramic view of the thick forest below. At some locations along the walk, you can even catch glimpses of the brown Lewa Conservancy in the distance. Otherwise, you will notice most trees will tower above you!

At some locations along the walk, you can even catch glimpses of the brown Lewa Conservancy in the distance. Otherwise you will notice most trees will tower above you!

With some luck, the canopy offers a chance to spot elephants as they cross below. If you are even luckier, you might reach the tail-end of the canopy, a wooden platform 9 M (30 FT) high, just in time to see the herds arriving to quench their big thirst. Camping is also possible on this platform, but no bonfires!

With a bit of luck, the canopy offers a chance to spot elephants as they cross below.

Ngare Ndare Forest is home to over 100 medicinal tree species, including some famous types like the Red Cedar, Olea Africana, the Podo, the East African Yellow Wood, Cape Mahogany, and the Brown Olive, believed to be over 200 years old.

The podo is an especially massive tree that grows to gigantic proportions. Besides the wildlife, it is the other big attraction here. Zablon tells me this tree gets so huge that its trunk takes five people holding hands to go around it.

I seized a rare opportunity to capture silhouettes of our shadows cast on the greenery 10 M below as we walked on the canopy. A truly remarkable sight. You should try it.

One cool thing I tried was capture the silhouettes of our shadows as we walked on the canopy cast in the greenery below. It was awesome!

Besides the fascination of the trees, Ngare Ndare, which is a migratory corridor for elephants and other wild animals to and from Mount Kenya and the Northern Rangelands, is the place where the elephant, rhino and buffalo come to give birth, nurse their injuries and recuperate or die – almost like a hospital and retirement home combined!

Lately, Ngare Ndare has received international attention, which will benefit business. In 2014 and 2015, the forest scooped two prestigious awards in the annual Eco Warrior Awards. The Conservancy of The Year Award and Community Enterprise of the Year Award.

It is at Ngare Ndare that the 10to4 race is held. This bicycle race raises funds for Mount Kenya Trust’s community projects. The money also supports mountain conservation. Both amateurs and pros can participate. The next race will actually be taking place this month from the 15th-17th.

Next time you are in Timau, detour to Ngare Ndare and enjoy this fascinating forest. Some good accommodation is also coming up in the area, just in case you plan to spend a night or two. Otherwise, you can make use of the camping area inside.