Rhino walking Safaris: Through glades, caves and rhino country
There are hundreds of cones and lava flows on the exploded hills of the 100-kilometre range that is the Chyulu hills. The most recent Shetani and Chaimu, happened in the mid 1900s drawing black volcano solidified lava paths in Tsavo west. I am quite determined to find the only point in the hills which has water. It’s a slow drip that takes five minute to fill a small mug. We begin our ascent to the hills which rise to 7,178 feet in search of the water point.
It’s magical country, all green glades and flowers in bloom. We catch site of a reddish antelope in the distance which we think is the rare Chandler’s bush buck. The car winds its way slowly through the grass-filled roads and volcanic ridges and the higher we get the more impressive the vast open the lands below.
Sitting on the high glades next to the sky feels like being in heaven. We ignore the massive steel booster that stands like an intruder on a high peak. The ant-eating, earth-dwelling aardvark holes are clean and showing they are in residence. It would be easy to trip over them save for the clearing by the holes.
A team of researchers passed by in search of a rare two-honed chameleon believed to be found here and in few other forests groves. In the three days of criss-crossing the park, these are the only people we meet-that’s exclusion.
Adan, the ranger, guides us through the maze of horse-shoe shaped cones to where he thinks the water point is. We have to climb the hill to reach the top. The late afternoon sun is thankfully cool as we walk uphill past the gaze of hartebeest that stares at us and then canters further uphill. The black lava eroded path is damp and my spirit is elevated. We must be getting close to the water point.
Closing in on the brow of the hills, look up to see the most magnificent view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Kibo’s high peak floats above a thin layer of clouds while Mawenzi is cushioned in a fluff of clouds.
Wait here”, says Onyango. ”I was here a year ago and saw the water coming out of there,” he says pointing to a grove of tall trees. He walks down and reappears after a few minutes.” Its not there he announces looking a little lost. With the sun first making its way down, it’s clear we have to live this water hunting for another time.
The Chyulus are very delicate and little explored. Peter Bally,a botanist at the museum, led an expedition up there in 1938. He was married to the legendary Joy Adamson and celebrating their honeymoon and, I might add, a great place to do just that. It was here that Bally discovered his wife extraordinary painting skills. As the story goes Joy painted a plant and, frustrated in the outcome, tore it into pieces and threw it in the bin. Bally found the pieces and taped them together, giving Joy the impetus to paint the plants which still grace the walls of the museum.
“The Chyulus are volcanic rubble so are very porous. And because they are very young in terms of geological time scale, they don’t really have a great diversity of plant species, ”Quetin Luke, a botanist at the National Museums of Kenya, explained to me on my first visit there a few years ago.
With no water and volcanic ash for a ground base, the plant life that has evolved is very specialized.
On our way down, the rangers show us a rare sandal wood which could land a wood poacher behind bars for many years. “This park is very beautiful,”says Onyango the warden.” But we need money to open up the infrastructure and more rangers to patrol it. There are lots of animals here like the rare giant forest hog which is seen mostly in the Aberdares forest, greater kudus and cheetahs, and threatened species of trees like the sandal tree (Osyris lanceolata) and the Olea Africana, beautiful woods which are the carvers ‘favorite.’
“The Chyulu Hills national park is diverse with a water catchment’s area, the forest, the beautiful hills and caves. There is a breeding herd of the great kudus in the northern Chyulus at Mukururu besides the Rhino sanctuary,” Jim Simons describes some of the park inhabitants.
“A rhino sanctuary in the Chyulu hills?” I ask in surprise. Were they translocated here?” “No, these are indigenous black rhinos, “Simons explains.” Before the poaching era of the late 1970s, my greatest fear on the walking Safaris was to bump into a rhino. And I’ve been chased quite a number of times.” He says.
With that announcement, day three is arranged we drive into the Mukururu gate, 13 kilometers off the main road opposite the Makindu Sikh temple. The drive into the interior is rockier and wilder with large expanses of green glades. The staff offices lie by the base of one conical hill.
“We have about 21 black rhinos here,” the younger ranger tells us. “Can we see them?” I ask. “We’ll have to walk because they are no roads here,” he says. To look for a rhino in the hills at this late hour in the day would be like looking for a pin in the haystack. But it’s the very incentive to return for a walking safari in the near future.
The hills lie 190 kilometres southeast of Nairobi. You can only camp in the National park. The Chyulu Hills National Park is a heaven for people who love walking. Your operator will get your smart card and park tariffs for entry into the park and reserves. Stay at Umani Springs camp, a tented affair in the heart of Kibwezi forest. It’s affordable with a range of nature walks around the forest and the second largest collection of natural springs after the Mzima springs.
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About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.
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