I am unsure if i should share the fact I drove for 6 hrs over 400km, camped for 2 nights and walked for hours through the Taita Hills to find 3 of Kenya’s treasures that were each about 10 cm long. These are the reasons why you have to be a little bit mad to be a traveller. You need that one screw loose, that one blown fuse, the slight spark of insanity to justify some of the reasons that take you places. But thats just the way travel is, it cannot be separated from the quest of of knowledge; the answer the question “What is over that next hill?”
The Taita Hills are a large series of mountains located in Taita – Taveta County. They are the most northerly of what are known as the Eastern Arc Mountains that stretch all the way into Tanzania. They are unique in that due to to the fact that that they have not eroded as fast as the surrounding areas and as such jut out of the landscape creating a high-altitude isolated oasis filled with endemic species of both plants and animals.
However due to human settlement on the lower slopes only a few fragments on the hill tops remain, best exemplified by the image below.
Due to time constraints I was only able to visit the Ngangao portion of the forest so thats what I”ll be covering here.
Pretty straightforward up to Wundanyi, the road is all tarmac so worries there. However you will notice I did not take the more obvious C 104 (long story) but i am told it is in good condition as well. Public transport also easily available from Voi.
Stunning drive through farmland going into the highlands. watch out for the Probox’s flying down though!
From Wundanyi Town a good place to stop for a cup of tea is Lavender hotel which can also be used as a base if you are not camping. This is also where we found Crispin who showed us the way to the forest, it can be slightly tricky knowing which road to follow. We also stopped at the local market where we stocked up on some supplies, incidentally a lot of the produce consumed in the Coast region is all from this area.
This is the typical landscape in the area. Reminds me quite of my visit to bit of Nandi Hills.
The Ngaongao Forest is only 20min from town. It is the 2nd largest forest fragment in the area and covers an area of 147ha with good populations of all the Taita endemic birds, so this was the the point I chose for the bird hunt. The entire Taita hills are classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA), a nod to the rarity of the species found here.
The target was the Taita White-Eye, Taita Apalis and the Taita Thrush. Easier said than done. No one tells you how difficult it is to find a threatened bird species and how much walking it entails.
So we walked…
And waited. How does a forest ranger find something that small in such a large area? Using his mobile phone of course! The bird calls are recorded on his phone and he plays back the sound to get the birds to answer. I learn something new everyday.
Patience here is key. Birds are not something the size of an elephant you can spot from miles away, especially in a forest. My patience hadn’t been tested this much in a long while
However eventually, success!
In the end I did manage to spot all 3 birds among many others. 2 days roaming around the forest learning about the flora, fauna, conservation and community, its too much to put all here. So here are some more pictures instead.
Headed up to the top of Ngaongao.
At the top of Ngaongao.
Looking back toward Wundanyi.
One of the oldest trees in the forest.
The forest is also full of butterflies, so if you’re a fan this is the place to be.
Almost at the campsite after a long walk
A monster mushroom we found in the forest made a great meal. We we sure it would make a great meal but were not sure we would be alive 10min later. but high risk, high return, it was delicious.
We made our base of operations at the Kenya Forest Service ‘ranger post’. Jonam (a KFS officer) and Peter (guide) made us feel most welcome.
See that dark slit it the ground? Yup thats your toilet, Jonam and Peter thoughtfully put up the screening.
The campsite was right next to the one of the forest tracks with a fair bit of human traffic but we couldn’t have felt safer. Quite the norm once you get away from cities and towns. People passing through just to say hi, village dogs sniffing around for scraps just normal life happening all around you.
Oh, and this is the view from the campsite in the morning. Mount Kilimanjaro in all her glory. Kiiind of makes up for the toilet.
- When walking carry something warm even though its a sunny day. Due to the altitude the weather changes very quickly.
- Carry a bag with enough water and some snacks, the hiking can be a bit strenuous without it depending on how far you decide to walk.
- There are no large animals in the forest and as such it is safe with young children.
- Fees to the forest are Ksh 400/- and camping is Ksh 600/-.
- Call Jonam 0711-767242 (ranger) or Peter (guide) 0726-821226 preferably before you arrive.
Birds aside, this entire area is a haven for walking tourism be it hiking or backpacking. Even if using Wundanyi as a base there are miles and miles of forest trails, caves peaks and rewarding views. Even without a car all areas are accessible using boda-bodas or matatus that travel in between the villages.
Such an un-tapped tourism resource, lots of talk in offices in Nairobi about expanding Kenya’s tourism options, little to no action. Yet a place like this exists, it makes no sense. Known mostly only to researchers and locals (I was so happy to meet a church youth group hiking into the forest), Taita Hills will long remain in my memory.
What is the way forward? It begins with you, looking for your needle in a haystack.
A big thank you to Wycliff of Lavender Garden Hotel who availed information where there was none to be had. Asante sana.