Nairobi is home to a number of beautiful, well-kept nature trails where you can while away a weekend in and the Oloolua Nature Trail in Karen is one of them. Part of the Oloolua Forest, this little-known paradise of rich vegetation offers the traveller a place that is away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi city yet near enough to afford a spontaneous decision to visit.
In the 1980s about 200HA of the 662HA Oloolua Forest were allocated to the National Museums of Kenya to establish the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) as well as conserving the forest. The National Museums of Kenya later set aside 100 acres of the forest for the Oloolua Nature Trail.
Whether you are looking to picnic (a site has been provided complete with benches, drop toilets and trash bins), walk your dog, take a brisk stroll under the shadow of giant trees or even camp for a night or 2 (a secure campsite has been provided complete with tap water, drop toilets and firewood for lighting a bonfire. You will have to bring your own tent, food and cooking utensils though), Oloolua has a way of appealing to all these desires but a trip to this forest is never complete without experiencing these big 5 attractions:
Mau Mau Cave
The 37M long natural cave stretching deep into the forest surface is a labyrinth of numerous tunnels and caverns. It is believed they served as a hideout for the Mau Mau freedom fighters as they engaged the British colonial government in gorilla warfare. Today it is home to a cloud of bats and a host of small mammals. The bats can be easily spotted hanging in the upper walls. Approach quietly to avoid startling them.
Crowned Eagle Watch Tower
Some time ago a tall peculiar wooden structure built like a watchtower was put up in Oloolua by scientists to provide a nesting ground for the Crowned Eagle that lived nearby. The idea was that this tower would make it easier to study this eagle’s behaviour in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, the crowned eagles finally left. Human activity and settlements close to the forest have been blamed for their migration away from this haven.
Dropping about 6M (20FT) to the ground before draining into the Mbagathi River which winds its way through the forest, the Oloolua waterfall provides a fantastic backdrop for a casual or professional photoshoot.
Downstream, you might fancy pausing to listen to the rhythmic, almost musical puffing sound from a set of old colonial water pumps. The rhythmic sound is very reminiscent of the Lunatic Express days. The legendary steam locomotive that, for a century, plied the Nairobi-Mombasa route was known to puff as it snaked its ways across Kenya’s breathtaking countryside.
Bamboo Rest Point
The Bamboo Rest Point is a sheer gathering of this fascinating grass. Here, it has managed to thrive well, providing a beautiful (and romantic) atmosphere accentuated by the slow-flowing Mbagathi river which emerges once more at this point before disappearing again into the trees. The location offers a quiet spot for relaxation and meditation as the soothing sounds of the choir of birds chirping away and the trickling river water provides background effect.
It is not every day you see Papyrus, let alone a swamp of it hence the reason this is a must-visit. Papyrus Swamps are only found in wetlands and are rare to find because of their specialised needs required to sustain them. If that will not entice a visit then surely memories of an ancient Egyptian practice of making paper out of this plant will. The swamp offers a glimpse into the rich biodiversity of this indigenous forest.
Getting to the Oloolua Nature Trail is quite straight forward. If you are using public means, take matatu or bus number 24 at the KenCom Bus Terminus and come through Ngong Road. Alight at the junction of Bogani Road and Karen Road near the Karen Blixen Museum. Move straight on leaving the diverting route. Follow the signboard and about 500 M ahead, you will come to the entrance to the Institute for Primate Research. That should be about 20KM from Nairobi. The trail is open daily on weekdays, weekends and public holidays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
These days the place gets quite crowded even on weekdays – perhaps Oloolua is no longer that little-known. This human traffic is beginning to take its toll on the trail. There seems to be some bit of neglect as well with most picnic benches needing urgent repair. Hopefully, something will be done soon.