Mwea National Reserve – A One Night Stand

There’s something  in Kenya we often forget to appreciate; wherever you live in this great country you are never more than a stones throw from wilderness and wildlife. One minute you’re in a 1 hr traffic jam the next minute you’re stopping to let a herd of elephants cross the road (I know, problems right?). So when i recently needed a short one night camping trip, Mwea National Reserve ticked the right boxes.

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Background Information

Mwea National Reserve Park is a small reserve at only 42sq km in Mbeere, Embu County. The reserve is bound by Tana river to the south while the eastern boundary conforms to Thiba river and Kamburu dam while the north boundary is marked by an electric fence that protects animals from invading nearby settlements. The reserve is  co-managed by Kenya Wildlife Service and Mbeere County Council.

Getting there

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Route from Nairobi via Thika road, turn onto  Embu Road, after 5 kms turn right (signposted) to the reserve. At 28kms turn right (a signboard is really required here), do not continue on to River Thiba. Road is graded and suitable for SUVs or 4WD. (3hrs)

For the less adventurous ( i used this route on the way out) take Thika – Garissa onto Embu – Siakago road,  good tarmac all the way with great views of the Yatta Plateau. (2hrs)

On Arrival

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I arrived at the HQ to a very quiet reception, two beeps of the horn however and a ranger finally ambled along to let me in.Despite being the only customer there that day, the ranger seemed unsure on what the charges were. After pouring through KWS brochures we finally came up with seemed to be the correct price. I paid Ksh 350 entry fee, Ksh 350 camping fee and Ksh 350 vehicle fee. A bargain by any means.

On the water surrounding the reserve there are 2 islands and KWS indicates they have a boat for hire to take onto the dam, I was determined to visit one of these islands; I soon paid the price for my gung-ho attitude. The conversation went something like this:

KC: I would also like to visit the islands

Ranger: Why?

KC: Out of curiosity

Ranger: Okay

KC: How much to hire the boat?

Ranger: Its too expensive

KC: I didn’t ask if it was expensive, i asked how much it was

Ranger: It’s too expensive

KC: H-o-w m-u-c-h?

Ranger: Ksh 1,300

KC: Oh, that’s not too bad, one ticket please

Ranger: Sorry but the trailer for the boat is in Embu being repaired

Me: Thank you, I have been very naive and foolish

Ranger: You’re welcome

One cool thing they do here is give a free map of the reserve, why don’t more places do this? Maps are invaluable for people traveling without tour guides; I thought this was a brilliant idea and i hope to see it soon replicated elsewhere in Kenya.

The Reserve

The reserve is very small, you could drive around the whole of it in less than 2hrs , so it was perfect for a one night visit. Roads are well maintained although in the further reaches of the park a few roads may be unpassable due to elephants bringing down trees.

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Wildlife

One minute into the reserve I came across this large family of Rothschild giraffes, not a bad way to start my visit.

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They seemed quite undisturbed by my presence and I was able to observe them quite closely.

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I also later ran into this large herd of two-tone elephants charging through a small tributary. The noise was unimaginable as they splashed through the water. They were easily spooked and quickly ran into cover.

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This behavior was replicated by many of the large mammals and primates I saw, probably due to low human traffic. This combined with the thick vegetation makes game spotting here a waiting game.

Bird watching

Over 200 species of birds have been recorded in the reserve and it is classified as an Important Bird Area. It is is the only protected area in which the globally threatened Hinde’s Babbler  is known to occur, it also shelters two other rare species; the Pel’s Fishing Owl  and the White-backed Night Heron.

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None of the above.

The Campsites

With no other accommodations in the reserve, it is a haven  for campers and picnickers with more than 7 sites to choose from. I did look for the main campsite Mbogo , but never came across it.  Signposts are few and far between and unfortunately the free map does not have the corresponding sign numbers.

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This kind of thing did not make the situation any better.

I did come across two other campsites: For some irrational reason, this one gave me a bad vibe, it seemed quite foreboding. I’m not down with foreboding.  YMMV

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At the waters edge I came across Hippo Point campsite. Beautiful setting, but for some reason someone who clearly hates campers decided that Mbeere needs a mini replica of Bomas Of Kenya.

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And when using the toilet, try not to think too hard about the hand that will inevitably snake out of there to grab your ankle or otherwise. However star gazers might appreciate the open roof.

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The long drop with a drop top.

Finally arrived at Mavuria Campsite recommended by the park warden, located right on the water and was well shaded. It had been well cleared and had a good supply of stacked firewood. My home for the night.

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The site is suitable for large camping groups, note there are no facilities at this campsite so you have to be entirely self sufficient.

Spent an isolated evening here, not entirely planned as my phone battery died, but I found things to keep me busy such as The Milky Way, a good book and a curious Genet cat.

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The morning views across the River Tana were no less beautiful…

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And after an early breakfast, it was time to pack up and head for home.

 Snapshot

  • The campsites next to the water are best. NO SWIMMING.
  • Call ahead for firewood.
  • The climate is hot and dry, carry enough water.
  • Insect free on my visit so ill assume its OK for kids.
  • Ensure you are totally self sufficient before entering the park.

Final verdict

Usual issues arose while planning, no practical travel advice or photos, basically an internet black hole as far as Mwea National Reserve is concerned. I had a ridiculous episode where, on discovering the park phone was out of service, I called KWS to get an alternate number and was informed ‘We do not give out personal numbers of our staff”. How is this supposed to work then??? After some pleading i finally got the number for the Head Warden, who was very helpful in planning my trip. Thank you David, hope you and your team keep up the good work.

All in all, a great little reserve even for a day trip especially for campers and for picnickers. With a little more support and infrastructure this could easily be one of the jewels in Kenya’s crown.

The contacts for the reserve  confirmed as working are +254-020-2052757 or mwea@kws.go.ke

If you want to see more photos that didn’t make it here check them out on my Instagram or Twitter.
See you next time!

 

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Mwea National Reserve – A One Night Stand

  1. Andrew Byama

    Once again KC, its how you portray the little things that matter. Awesome info on Mwea Reserve which I have always thought held much more promise than it thinks (or the managers of it). Glad to see some work was done on the tracks…my last visit was treacherous with no semblance of roads. There used to be some rouge hippos…but i am guessing you dint hang around much to be rouged. Cheers.

    Reply
  2. Emmanuel M'M

    Thanks for the information. Your story telling is really nice. loving it and now you have added one to my bucket list

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Camping At Ol Donyo Sabuk – The Instagram Amigos | The Kenyan Camper

  4. cherry

    Hi KC as i read the article i dint know how old it is, it seemed fresh to me, informative n i love it, i plan to visit the park in june n i hope some of the things have improved, where do i get more of your articles? still laughing that conversation wa aah

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      So nice to hear that, it’s a sign of a good article if it ages well! All my articles are on here, you have 38 to choose from. Hope you become a subscriber and I’d love to know how your trip to Mwea goes.

      Reply

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