Namunyak Conservancy – A De Brazza Baraza

Some of you with more time on your hands than you know what to do with might stay up nights wondering how some of my travel ideas come about. Sure, sometimes it takes months of planning but sometimes things unfold in the simplest way possible; like this email I received…

Mr. T: Hi, I took a quick trip up into Namunyak last week and visited a really cool little campsite which is being developed by Museums of Kenya.  The really cool part though was their research work on the rare De Brazza monkeys which they have been studying there for a number of years. I am hoping to plan a trip up that way later this year to explore more around the Mathews/Namunyak region. It is big though so will need to give it a few days… are you keen?

KC: Yes! A thousand times yes!

I know, I really should play a bit hard to get sometimes, if I was a lady of the night I wouldn’t make enough cheese to feed a mouse. So thats how 9 explorers, 3 cars, 2 dogs and a mountain of supplies find themselves in this part of Kenya to expose sample its many secrets.

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Background Information

Namunyak Conservancy in Samburu County  is one of the ‘old boys’ in the Northern Rangeland Trust stable  formed in 1995 and covers close to 850,000 acres supporting a population of approximately 13,200 people. This conservation area completely surrounds the Mathews Range, an important water catchment and teeming with lots and flora and fauna.

The conservancy neighbours some names that hopefully by now have started sounding familiar to long time readers, the Ndoto Mountains to the north and Westgate and Kalama conservancies to the south all of which I’ve written about previously.

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Due to it’s location and altitude this ‘sky island’ forest is not only home to a huge diversity of wildlife  which include, elephant, rare monkeys, buffalo, lion, bushbuck, forest hog; but is also home to over 150 species of butterfly, over 350 species of birds, wild forest orchids, and the endemic giant cycad. This mountain range was the last habitat of the Black Rhino in Northern Kenya, the last of which was poached in the 1990’s. (They have since been re-introduced in Sera Conservancy in a bid to create a breeding population.)

 

Getting There

The journey from Isiolo to to the turn-off to Wamba is pretty straightforward on tarmac, we passed a pretty dry Ewaso Nyiro.

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Photo: Paul Kidero

This is exciting for me as I’ve passed this turn-off countless times and its the first time I’m hitting a left at Mount Ololokwe!

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-2 Below is Paul an Instagrammer (@kidero_ag) who I met for the first time a day before the trip. I love Instagram for that, making connections is dakika moja.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-4 Travelling with another photographer means lots of stops! This is just before Wamba town.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-5 Took me 2hrs just to make the below map of what the entire trip looked like ,still looks like crap. I’m a big believer in maps, they go a long way in demystifying travel especially in places like northern Kenya. Don’t you agree?

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(The yellow line is the Great North Road.)

Isiolo – Ololokwe: 57km (40min)

Ololokwe – Wamba: 53km (1hr)

Kitich Campsite

After meeting up with the rest of the convoy at Wamba we beat feet towards out first campsite. One of these cars will later need a tow, can you guess which one?

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-82Driving through stunning landscapes, as always The Big North delivers.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-11Crossing luggas, this is the life.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-12After a few hours we realize we have been heading in the totally wrong direction. We’re  supposed to be heading to the northern part of the Mathews but thanks to miscommunication with our guide we are now on the western side! On hearing this one of the dogs vomits in the car. (no photo, it was calamity)

This is just before heading down to Ngilai and the Kitich area, I marked this section ‘Heartbreak Hill’ on my map. At what seems like a 90-degree angle on a rocky and unstable surface it’s quite the trouser browner. And we have to come back up the same way tomorrow, harrowing.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-86But the views man, still worth it all.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-71In spite of the original plan going tits up, our spirits are high and we find a really cool spot to camp in the Kitich area next to a river.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-15Its an awesome spot with a nice natural swimming pool, perfect after a long dusty day of driving!

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-20We settle in for our first night under the stars, time to get dinner on!

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-14 That evening we treated to a spectacular sky, some great singing and acoustic guitar and a session of dirty dancing by the wine drinkers. You know, usual camping life.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-17Wamba – Kitich Campsite: 40km (3hrs)

On the road again.

After yesterdays navigational fiasco today we have to back track 20kms back through Oromoidei to get the road to the northern part of the Mathews and our next campsite. First we stop at the nearby Kitich Camp where every makes a new friend in this baby buffalo. Only in the North do you have this kind of experiences, sure beats being cooped up in a safari van.

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Driving back on this clear morning is not the worst thing that could happen.

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The ubiquitous kids cheering on the side of the road.

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Photo by Paul Kidero

Heartbreak Hill claims her victim; the sacrifice is accepted.

Kim is moved by the landscape and randomly breaks out a clarinet flute.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-73We finally make it to the far northern reaches of of the mountain range; isolated and remote.

De Brazza Campsite

Due to to the high altitude of the mountain range it is slightly jarring to arrive at this very green, well- shaded, river-side site high in the mountains.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-61I’ll spare you a lot of what happens over the entire 2 days here, there’s lots of games, stories hammocking, eating and everyone’s favourite, washing up.

A mzee at camp who confirmed a monitor lizard we were looking at, was in fact dying.

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Photo by Paul Kidero

You might be wondering what’s so special about these monkeys. Before 2007 the De Brazza was only thought to live on the western side of the Great Rift Valley and this particular colony was only discovered in 2007 bringing Kenya’s population up from 700 to 1000, hence the National Museums of kenya setting up a research camp here.

I’m determined to get a good look at the De Brazza’s hanging around camp which is easier said than done, they are arboreal and spend 70% of their time well camouflaged high up in the trees. Mama Billy and I head out with Adamson who has been studying these primates on a daily basis since 2011 using line transects and other methods I pretend to understand.

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Adamson explains the moneys diet.

This is an exercise in extreme patience, the monkeys can recognize strangers and we have to inch ourselves forward, pausing for absurd amounts of time to catch a glimpse of vague shapes high up in the trees.
namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-38As the monkeys get used to us we start getting regular glimpses of them and I finally get to properly see what I came all this way to experience.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-21Why is always the most beautiful animals who are most under threat?
namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-25We spend an entire afternoon tracking these rare and shy animals, watching them feed, socialize and interact with their environment. I could go on and on about the experience but that would needs another article.

On the last evening we take a short drive out of camp to look for elephants.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-41Lots of negotiation and discussion about where they were spotted yesterday.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-42No luck with the elephants in this area today but whatever…look where we are.

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So beautiful…times like this I wish I was more patient with my photography.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-46We get some great views looking north towards the Ndoto Mountains.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-51With the night still as clear as a bell on our last evening I once again try my hand at some astrophotography. I get some of the clearest shots of the Milky Way I’ve gotten to date. Why are we not selling Kenya as an astrophotography destination yet? We have some of the darkest skies anywhere in the world.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-55The next morning it’s time to pack up and go, I think Bibi’s had enough! Plus we’re out of wine.

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-60We head out on the newly cleared road through Ngilai and out through Sereolipi, but not before a cliché shot of thee lovely ladies.

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De Brazza Campsite – Sereolipi: 90km (4hrs)

Snapshot

  • A trip to the Mathews is a long haul and there’s lots to see so 3 night minimum recommended. 4WD accessible only (2 vehicles if possible), nothing too technical if you know your vehicle. Great riding for motorcycles with long-range tank or with a  support vehicle.
  • Both campsites have no facilities so you need to be entirely self sufficient. De Brazza campsite has long-drop toilets. Non-potable water available at both sites from mountain streams but could be boiled/purified in a pinch.
  • The last cellphone signal is at Wamba town so keep your convoy tight. There is intermittent signal in some places but cannot be relied upon.
  • Costs for campers Ksh2000 $(20) per person per day, this includes conservancy and camping fees. Ranger costs are Ksh 2000 per day. For bookings and further information call the NRT tourism hotline on +254 (0) 701 295 357 or email tourism@nrt-kenya.org.
  • For non-campers, accommodation options in the conservancy are Kitich Camp and Sarara Camp. Fair warning; they are both stunning camps with the price to match. If walking/camel safaris and fly camping are your thing check out Wild Frontiers.
  • I’ve mapped out all roads and campsites on the free app ‘Maps.me‘ so you can now navigate yourself around the conservancy. I cant stress this enough if you’re ever visiting any of the places on my website, download this app! Mathews-range-namunyak-map

Conclusion

In all my travel to Northern Kenya, I can’t help but think there is an amazing opportunity here for marketing adventure travel in this half of the country.  As a community conservancy or county with limited funds it’s all well and good to dream of investing in high end lodges and infinity pools but what do you do in the meantime? Just chill and twiddle your thumbs? It might come as a surprise to some but not everybody wants to shack up in a lodge and bounce around in a mini-van looking at game. There’s a whole activity based market for camping, hiking, biking, rock climbing, 4WD driving, stargazing and sunset chasing: who is speaking to us?

We’re out there and we’re listening. Talk to us!

namunyak-mathews-range-samburu-kenya-85*** A big thanks to NRT, all rangers and NMK staff at the camp, my fellow travellers and The Muse who was fine not hearing from me for 4 days. ***

Further reading (for nerds like me):
Magical Mathews – Sophie Harrison

A New Population of De Brazza’s Monkey in Kenya – Iregi Mwenja

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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27 thoughts on “Namunyak Conservancy – A De Brazza Baraza

  1. Anonymous

    Awesome write up buddy, such an epic trip – makes me want to do it all over again! It was such a pleasure to share it with you.

    Reply
  2. mjmacnair

    Thank you for another excellent post. We are very curious about the newly refurbished track from Kitich to Sereolipi. We will have to go and check it out.

    By the way, we have just spent a night in Sera Conservancy and went tracking rhinos. What a fabulous place. All thanks to your blog! Asante sana.

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi guys, good to hear you’re still on the road and can’t wait to hear all about your Sera trip.
      The ‘new’ road has that fine talcum like dust on it all the way, it’s almost like someone dumped it all over the road! But I think it might now be the quickest way to Kitich.

      Reply
  3. Soso

    You were right Kenyan Camper, I hate you! I mean… I envy you so much for your great travels! Still another great adventure, thanks for sharing and showing me the places I could have never seen by myself. I’ve heard that travelling in a convoy was highly recommended when heading to the Great North. You just convinced me ! (was that an armed ranger travelling with you?)
    Hope I can come back one day and continue to discover these isolated but still awesome regions of northern Kenya. Wish you great travels !

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Yeah travelling in a convoy is always a good idea in case you have a breakdown, some areas are quite remote.Yeah we did travel with rangers but they are more for navigation and in case of wildlife encounters (insurance issues?) more than anything else.
      Hope you do get the chance to come back, there’s so much waiting for you!

      Reply
  4. Paul Taylor

    Well I thought I had posted this, but it obviously didn’t work (or you deleted it because you founf out something terrible about me and don’t want me associated with your pages).
    Anyway, I said something like…..

    Great update! Lovely photos as always, but even more lovely because this is clearly a fabulous area. This is the trip I was waiting to hear about, although I had no idea you were going to look for monkeys. That was a (nice) surprise.

    Theoretically, if I were coming from Ololokwe, traveling to the Kitich area with my mother, who would be terrified of anything like Heartbreak Hill (and insist we went back immediately) would the best route in be via Wamba or on that new road you marked.?

    And Wamba to Kitich campsite, time-wise (roiughy)?

    Thanks for this and (hopefully) thanks for your replies.

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Paul, nothing gets deleted from here not even the most scathing of criticisms so your comment must have disappeared somewhere in the ether.Right, so ‘best’ route here is quite subjective.
      Wamba route – long , great sweeping views, good murram surface.
      Sereolipi route – much shorter, no views, tight switchbacks up the mountain, finest dust that will cover EVERYTHING.
      So I think the choice comes to how much time you have/what you want to see/how you travel. Wamba – Kitich: I want to say 4hrs?
      Oh, and tell your mum a total stranger said not to worry too much about Heartbreak Hill.

      Reply
      1. Paul Taylor

        Haha… Mum will be very relieved. I’ll offer her the alernative of being left in Wamba for the day and that should seal it. Thanks – that’s excellent information.

  5. OC

    Hello! I had downloaded maps.me as per your recommendation and have tried to look up some of the places in Samburu you mention but it does not recognize them! Any advice? Heading this weekend and would love to know that it works!

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Olivia. Check that:
      1. You have downloaded the ‘Kenya’ map.
      2. That you have the latest map update (the app should prompt you if you don’t).
      All the places and roads I have talked about show on my end so let me know what you’re searching for and is not showing up. I’ll walk you through it.

      Reply
  6. jaynamumo

    Thank you for sharing this. This is extremely useful. 4 of us will be heading up there for the labour day weekend and can’t find much else online on camping in the Mathews range. We’ll leave Friday afternoon, camp somewhere en route and return on Monday.

    Did you require armed escorts anywhere? Also are there any other useful telephone numbers you can provide? Local guides etc. Any final tips?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. I believe conservancy rules are that you must be accompanied by 2 rangers but don’t quote me on that. If you call the number provided all these questions and more will be answered in great detail. Have a good trip and let me know how it went.

      Reply

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