Aberdare National Park

The Kikuyu people called the mountains Nyandarua, meaning “the drying hide” as they resemble an animal skin pegged out to dry. This was also the alternative resting place of Ngai, their God, who also lived on nearby Mt Kenya. Adjacent to the Aberdares is the legendary Kikuyu Garden of Eden, where the original man and woman, Gikuyu and Mumbi, father and mother to all Kikuyu people, lived.

The Aberdares are a 70-km (43-mile) long massif with a huge mass of high rolling moorland between the Kinangop peak in the south (3,903 m, 12,802 ft) and Ol Doinyo Satima (4,001 m, 13,123 ft) in the north. They also include much of the surrounding forest including the eastern salient area.

As well as being a beautiful area to visit, the Aberdares are also vitally important. Their streams feed two of Kenya’s major rivers: the Tana – with its Hydro-electric schemes - and Sabaki, as well as being the source of 5 of Kenya’s 7 largest rivers. The forests provide vital water catchment for most of Nairobi’s water supply, as well as that of 7 major towns. Farmers depend on the surrounding area’s rainfall and rich soil for food and cash crops, including pyrethrum, tea and coffee. Overall 1 in 3 Kenyans depend on the rainfall, rivers, forests, and wildlife of the Aberdares for a living!

The moorlands are hauntingly beautiful with their giant heath and tussock grass, lichen covered rocky outcrops, and sub-Alpine plant species including Helichrysum (everlasting flowers), Lobelia, Giant Senecio, and patches of Hagenia forest with their moss-lined branches and mantles of dangling ‘old man’s beard’. It is dramatic scenery with its deep ravines, clear streams, waterfalls, and swamps with great tussocks of grass that can make walking off the paths quite a challenge! The crystal clear, ice-cold streams offer the fly fisherman excellent opportunities to compete with the Clawless Otter for Brown and Rainbow Trout, and records stand at approximately 6 kg for Brown and 7 kg for Rainbow, although the higher up you go, the smaller the fish tend to be! Fishing licenses are cheap and available at Park Gates. The most spectacular of the many waterfalls is perhaps the Karura with its three steps of totaling 275 m (902 ft). Opposite the Gura River plunges 300 m (984 ft) down the massive valley.

Below the moorland the Bamboo forest is latticed with paths made by forest animals. Game-viewing in these thickets is challenging, but highly rewarding. Below the bamboo belt is beautiful, dense forest, mainly cedar and podocarpus lined with ferns – a highly important area of bio-diversity. Luckily Kenyans are gradually becoming aware of the importance of protecting their national heritage – as well as being vital water catchment areas, these forests provide valuable timbers, herbs and barks useful in traditional medicine, and homes for so many increasingly rare species of animals, birds, insects, reptiles and plants.

Aberdare National Park