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.
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.
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)
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
KC: Out of curiosity
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 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.
One minute into the reserve I came across this large family of Rothschild giraffes, not a bad way to start my visit.
They seemed quite undisturbed by my presence and I was able to observe them quite closely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The morning views across the River Tana were no less beautiful…
And after an early breakfast, it was time to pack up and head for home.
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org