“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.” ― Jimmy Carter.
We had thus far been exceptionally lucky with the unseasonably heavy rains, except for a couple of days in Nairobi. The rain seemed to fall all around us and when we did have some rain, it was either far less than had been the case, or it fell at night after we had gone to bed. We had minimal if any disruption, camping in the wild in very wet conditions is not the best of fun. We had steady rain during the night clearing by morning and not significantly affecting the roads which drained well.
We left just before 8H00, having set Tsavo Gate on the GPS as our exit to the east, wanting just to drive a new route. However I was fast asleep and before I realized it we were near Mtito Andei Gate, T4A having directed us (as set), on the quickest route to Tsavo Gate but via the Mombasa Road and we now had to travel some 100km on the this very busy road which we had hoped to do for a much shorter distance. Here again we experienced long lines of trucks and some hair raising overtaking maneuvers. This road splits the Tsavos into East and West as does the railway line. It was during the construction of this line that the tales of the “Man-eating Lions of Tsavo” arose. Still within the park near the Komboyo camp turnoff, we saw the fresh tracks and dung of a very large herd of buffalo where they had crossed the road. In the thick bush we had no sight of them. I was very distressed by the sight of large groups of Chinese workers busy building a new railway line and feared that this did not bode well for conservation. The camp attendant at our next camp shared these fears, saying already there were reports of missing domestic dogs, eating of tortoises and bush meat in any form and voiced his opinion that the orientals were after the elephants. In the town of Voi we refueled and turned off to the nearby of Voi Gate of Tsavo East National Park. The turnoff is in town at S02 23,377 E38 34,191 and the gate is at S03 21,786 E38 35,705 only 4km out of town.
COSTS: Foreign, non-resident.
Entry US$75 pppd (adult).
Camping, public campsite US$20 pppn.
Vehicle entry (foreign registration, seating less than 6 persons) KSh350 pd (US$3,5).
Map at the safari shop KSh500. Rule of 24hr clock applies, have to be out of the park before your check-in time or pay for an extra day.
They accepted both Mastercard and Visa credit cards.
We planned to exit at the Sala Gate about 80km away, on the road to Malindi. Here they have no pay point and can only swipe safari cards preloaded with points paid for elsewhere (KWS pay points anywhere). If we had decided to stay an extra day we would have to return to Voi Gate to pay and not on exiting. Likewise if you incur a penalty of an extra payment due to departing after the 24hr clock, you would have to drive back to Voi Gate to pay.
We had hardly entered the park when we noticed immediate differences to Tsavo West. The terrain was far more open and there was quite a bit more game visible. Immediately apparent were the frequent elephants coloured red by the reddish soil here. There is nothing more they like than spraying themselves with the mud. There were frequent herds of impala, zebra and Grants gazelle. We were in fact later to find that at this time game concentrations were best in the central portion of the park, between Voi Gate and Aruba Dam due west. Our campsite at Ndololo was thus ideally placed. The park was as green as bonnie Ireland with evidence of plenty of recent rain and plenty of standing water. This probably resulted in significant dispersal of the animals. Tsavo East has more popular appeal than its sister in the west because of the better game viewing and there are more visitors here, many of them day trippers in game viewing vehicles. Nonetheless this park is large and there is no overcrowding. In our 2 days in the park we spotted a lioness (lying up in dense acacia bush lees than a km from our camp and apparently with 2 small cubs which we did not see); we also saw plenty of red elephant, buffalo, eland, Cokes hartebeest, zebra, Grants gazelle, dik dik, waterbuck, warthog, olive baboons, vervet monkeys and ostrich.
Ndololo Public Campsite is 7km from Voi Gate at S03 21,645 E38 38,730. It has a very friendly and diligent camp attendant, Clement, who assiduously kept the baboons and monkeys at bay and provided firewood and spent considerable time fussing around the fire before departing for the night. Without fail (almost), the staff of KWS in the parks were great. The cold showers and flush toilets were kept very clean. There is good borehole water and the camp is large with lovely shady trees habituated by noisy greater galagos (bush babies) and owls at night. There is a shed-like wooden cooking and washing up area. There is really no need to fork out the extra dollars for a special campsite as the public ones are fine. I must mention though that Ndololo is visited by day trippers for picnic lunches, but they are few in numbers and not an intrusion. The only downfall was the presence of a slightly down-market lodge next door, with a generator at night until 22H30 which was rather intrusive. During our 2 nights we shared the camp with 2 other occupants and I managed to entertain Alan with the presence of a pearl-spotted owlet I called up on my bird caller. Bernie had his 2 young children with him and on the second evening was pleased with our company when a lion roared his way past the camp not 500m away.
Once again we undertook extensive game drives. A game scout at the entrance gate had marked the best routes at this time of the year. The first afternoon we drove east to Aruba Dam, before turning due south and then west along the open plains of the southern and western borders of the park. The following day we undertook a marathon drive to the north. Firstly along the pipeline road in the central west part of the park and to the 1km long Mudando Rock, a real landmark which you can climb and hike along with a magnificent view of the park. We then swung east along the Galana River past Lugard’s Falls (in fact just rapids). This impressively large river was flowing strongly. There is now a new long bridge across this river (opened in 2014), opening up the north of the park to tourists (at S03 02,169 E38 42,247). Previously one could only cross by a causeway which was somewhat under water at that time. The north of the park had largely been out of bounds in the past because of problems with poachers and bandits, reputedly from Somali. However now the main road passing the considerable distance to the far north is open in the west. Entry to the side roads to the east is still restricted north of the Galana River. I was keen to explore this northern part but we had to turn back after about 50km as we were going to run out of daylight. Here the terrain varies between fairly open, to thickly bushed savannah and the game viewing was not fantastic. The road was good.
Again we were exceptionally fortunate with the weather. Although partly overcast there was no rain. Also the weather was unseasonably acceptably cool, apparently it can be unpleasantly hot and humid here in December. Altogether we covered 385km in the park and it can be seen that we worked hard at our, at times a little unrewarding, game viewing. However we feel very privileged to have been able to visit the block of conservation areas in the south-east of Kenya and certainly would not advise leaving them out if at all possible. There is little that makes me more content than camping in an unfenced wilderness area!
TSAVO NATIONAL PARK, WEST AND EAST.
I thought I would provide some background info on these parks.
Tsavo is the largest of Kenya's national parks, covering over 20,000 square km. Tsavo is divided in two separate parks by the Mombasa Road, East and West and is one of the earth’s biggest wildlife reserves. The east is far drier. It draws a lot of visitors as it’s only a few hour’s drive from the airport of Mombasa, Kenya’s second city located at the coast. The coastal area is popular with tourists anyway, and often they combine a stay in a beach resort with a safari here. The park is especially popular for budget camping safaris.
The Eastern and Western parks divided by the railway and road from Nairobi to Mombasa, used to be one single park, but were divided later for administrational reasons. You have to pay the entry fee separately for each park. Generally, flora is more abundant and scenery more varied in West, but East gives better options for wildlife viewing – for many the main reason to go on a safari – as the park consists mainly of flat, open savannahs without dense vegetation. Typical of the Eastern park is the magnificent red-brown color of the earth and roads, and the lonely baobab trees on the savannah plains. Other points of interest include the Yatta Plateau, with 290 kilometers the world’s longest lava flow, which runs along the western border of the park. The Lugard Falls, named after British colonial administrator Frederick Lugard, is actually a series of rapids on the Galana river. Two-thirds of the park was closed for a long time to tourists, but more recently parts in the north are open to tourists again.
In general, a lot of animals gather around the waterhole at Voi Safari Lodge, at the Kanderi Swamp and at the Aruba Dam across the Voi river. Waterbuck, kudu and dik-dik are common along the banks of the Galana river, one of Kenya’s biggest rivers which flows through the park. At Crocodile Point, you can see hippos and crocodiles. Elephants are mainly present in the southern part, and during the dry season they often gather at Mudanda Rock. Furthermore, the area is home to over 500 bird species, among which are buzzards, kestrels, weaver birds, starlings, herons, secretary birds, kingfishers and ostriches. Because the park is so big, you can spend a lot of time driving around in the bush without seeing much wildlife. There are some beautiful, uncongested attractions within the parks, however, and there's enough to keep you busy for several days.
Main. One of the red elephants typical of Tsavo.
1. Mandasa Rock.
2 and 3. Views from Mandasa Rock.
4 and 5. Lugard Falls.
6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Some of the animals.
11. The new bridge across the Galana River providing access to the north.