Hell’s Gate National Park & Naivasha Captivations….
Running north to south of Kenya, the panoramic Great Rift Valley rises and falls – stretching endlessly. Many of the enchanting attractions the rift valley bears – the hills, mountains, lakes, and amazing wildlife can be found in Naivasha – just a stone throw away from Nairobi.
In spite of its somewhat alarming name, the Hell’s Gate National Park is infact one of the most serene attractions in Naivasha. It is one of the few Kenya national parks where apart from driving around, visitors can walk or cycle side by side with the wildlife – exploring without official escort. There are bicycles for hire at the park.
Hell’s Gate National Park is spectacularly scenic with interesting features – grasslands with cliffs, gorges, and rock towers. The lower/Ol Njorowa gorge is said to be the park’s main attraction offering unique gorge walk experiences although cautiously in the rainy season as there is risk of flooding. The 25m tall Fischer’s tower is a notched volcanic rock suitable for climbing. It is a spot favored by the rock hyrax. Masai legend tells that the rock was once a girl – the chief’s daughter, who disobeyed tradition and took a forbidden last look at her home as she was led away in marriage. The central tower, a volcanic plug, is larger than the Fischer’s tower. Visitors can go about the park following the twiga circuit, buffalo circuit and the walking nature trails.
The private Crescent Island located on Lake Naivasha is another park where visitors explore on foot. Surrounded by water, there are boat services to the Crescent Island particularly from the hotels and lodges located close to the lake. Those not keen on taking a boat ride can reach the sanctuary by road.
The tranquil Lake Naivasha spreads coolness to its environs – to the elegant neighbouring hotels and lodges. Sudden storms used to occur in the lake years ago – the reason why the local Masai community originally named it Nai’posha – meaning rough waters. Lake Naivasha and Lake Baringo are the only two fresh water lakes in Kenya’s rift valley. A few minutes from Lake Naivasha are two smaller lesser known but equally intriguing lakes – Lake Oloiden and the Crater Lake. The Crater Lake occupies most part of the Crater Lake Game Sanctuary.
Between the Hell’s Gate National Park, the Crescent Island “game park”, and the Crater Lake Game Sanctuary, visitors to Naivasha get to mingle with many of the plains game. It is one of the destinations where the wildlife finds you anywhere and gets excitingly close. Carnivores have been spotted occasionally in the parks – they are known to go hunting there by night but are not resident in the parks. There are also buffaloes from time to time hence the need for caution and guided tours. Hippos graze in Crescent Island at night, disappearing back to Lake Naivasha during the day. They do the same at the nearby hotels grounds.
Naivasha has both invigorating and relaxing qualities. There are picnic sites and camping sites set on the most scenic locations. You will for example have magnificent area views from the Hell’s Gate’s Nairbuta, Ol Dubai and Endachata public camp sites. Safari groups do have picnics and sleepovers at the Crescent Island also. There are safari packages offering day trips, picnics, and overnight stays in Naivasha locations. The wildlife surprise visitors even around the hotels where suddenly giraffes, zebras, antelopes, monkeys – go to “meet the people”. Naivasha is one of the best birding destinations in Kenya with about 400 bird species. Flamingos grace the alkaline Lake Oloiden waters seasonally. They visit the Crater Lake as well. Pelicans, cormorants, fish-eagles are some of the birds that thrive around the lakes. The Hell’s Gate National Park’s large cliffs are breeding ground and home to many birds. The Mervyns Carnelley Raptor Hide at Hell’s Gate is a highly unusual hideout – a one way window – a place where visitors and photographers can view and take pictures of birds of prey.
Having done some boating, birding and fishing in Lakes Naivasha and Oloiden, visitors can step-up the vigour by hiking along the steep (although small) Crater Lake rim. A bigger crater rim to conquer in Naivasha is the Mount Longonot crater rim. Mount Longonot covers most of the 52km Mount Longonot National Park. Going up the mountain is estimated to take about 1 hour with a maximum of 2 hours to go around the crater rim. While there is little vegetation around the dry mountain environs, the crater contains dense vegetation. The dormant Mount Longonot is estimated to have been formed during the eruptions that created the Great Rift Valley and is referred to by the Masai community as Oloonong’ot – mountain of spurs or steep ridges. At the mountain top, one gets beautiful views of Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate National Park, Mount Suswa, the Mau Escarpment, the Aberdare Ranges and Ngong Hills.
One of Naivasha’s newest secrets is the Olkaria Geothermal Spa. The 3,600 square meters spa is located within the Hell’s Gate National Park. The spa’s extremely large pool – the only one of its kind in this region of Africa is fed by underground water – steamy, warm, and therapeutic water rich in minerals. The historical Elsamere is another unique place to visit in Naivasha. It was the home of the famous conservationists George and Joy Adamson whose story of raising Elsa the lioness is told in the book and later film:- Born Free. Film makers have made use of many locations in Naivasha. The Hell’s Gate National Park has been the background of several famous films such as: – The Tomb Raider and Lion King. Crescent Island was featured in the movie: – Out of Africa.
Naivasha is an ideal escape from the bustle of the city. While traversing Kenya, it is always a refreshing stopover. Naivasha works its magic on visitors no matter the duration of stay.
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