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.
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.
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.
“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 learn, 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 complete my tour. I could not wait for more of his stories on our return trip!
At the forest, I finally met Jeremy, one of the rangers I had been talking to while making my booking. You need to book at least 1 day to your visit to avoid inconveniences. 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.
Activities Non-residents/Non-Kenyan (USD)
Kids Above 10 Years
Adults Kids Above 10 Years Primary Secondary Tertiary Canopy walkways, Game viewing platform, hiking, bird watching, swimming in the blue pools and waterfalls 40 20 20 15 500 700 1,000 Camping (per night) 50 25 30 15 600 800 1,500 Filming (per day) 100 75 Research (per day) 40 20
I started my tour in the safe company of Zablon, my personal armed Ranger. Ngare Ndare hosts a variety of game in its 13,618 acres (5,511 hectares) including the Big 5 and as such, it is required that you be in the company of an armed Ranger for your own safety.
We were joined by David, an intern, who proved a valuable asset with mobile photos, some I have used on our social media platforms.
We began with a 3.5 KM trek to some 2 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.
Having said that, I did not try either – maybe next time I will! I had a very rewarding photo moment nonetheless which marked the end of the waterfall phase and we began the trek back, passing a fresh heap of elephant dung on our way which triggered much speculation.
We had not even gone far when upon rounding a corner, we came across a lone tusker. I could see Zablon readying his G3 rifle just in case of an unfortunate eventuality which no one was looking forward to.
“This is a troublesome one, even his collar is missing” he had whispered. The elephant, who did not seem moved by our presence, did not have tusks. This, Zablon explains, is usually an indication his tusks might have been sawed-off to limit his 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 notorious for this.
But there are peaceable ones like Lesuuda, a complete opposite, who is so fond of humans, 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 final activity of the day – it is no joke trekking 7 KM!
The canopy, stretching 450 M across the forest and towering 10 M (32 F) above ground, was built by Piers Daykin, a wheat farmer and rally driver. It is among a few of its kind in Africa with others in Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana.
From this elevated vantage point, you get 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!
With a bit of 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!
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 5 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 which was truly remarkable. You should try it.
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 been receiving quite some international attention which will be good for business. In 2014 and 2015, the forest scooped the Conservancy of The Year Award and Community Enterprise of the Year Award respectively in the annual Eco Warrior Awards.
It is at Ngare Ndare that the 10to4 race is held. This is a bicycle race which raises funds for Mount Kenya Trust’s community projects and mountain conservation and is open to both amateurs and pros. The next race will actually be taking place this month from the 15th-17th.
Next time you are in Timau, take a 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 2. Otherwise, you can make use of the camping area inside.