Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site – Dark Star Safari

It’s easy to discount the familiar; thats why those who live near Mount Kenya have never climbed it and why not everyone at the coast goes to the beach on a daily. I say this because just as I have never written an article on how to camp neither have I written about Olorgesailie. This is strange because I visit here so often I guess it became too familiar to me hence the laxity in writing about it. However I thought I’d share my special spot and made a call out for any Instagramers who wanted to head out for a night and get their astrophotography on and this lit the fire that finally led to this article getting done.

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Mount Olorgesailie. Photo: Irungu

Background

Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site has excellently preserved biological and cultural evidence about man’s evolution made possible by heavy falls of alkaline volcanic ash all the way from Mt. Suswa and Mt. Longonot. The site is located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley between two extinct volcanoes, Mt. Olorgesailie and the Oloroka Range in a lake basin that existed during the latter part of the middle Pleistocene period, probably between 1.2 million years to 400,000 ago. The large large shallow lake that attracted wild animals like extinct forms of hippo, elephant, zebra, giraffe, and baboon .

The site is world renown as the “factory of stone tools” and has highest number of hand axes anywhere in the world representing some of the first camping places of early man.

Getting There

This is going to be short as its only 70km down the Magadi Road of about 1hr 30min from Nairobi CBD.

The road to Magadi has recently been redone so 4WD not necessary. However be warned your choices to access Magadi Road are still between Ongata Rongai where Nairobi’s traffic jams are brought into this world kicking and screaming, or the Ngong Town – Kiserian road that eats shocks for breakfast.

The Trip

So after my Instagram (IG) request I heard from Solo and Irungu and we made plans. Strange how you always kind of ‘know’ someone from seeing their work on IG but its still slightly nerve-wracking meeting them in person for the first time. It was quite funny when we finally met and on of the first things said was ‘You’re so tall!’ and the other was ‘You’re so much shorter than I imagined.’ Introductions complete, trip was on.

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Photo: Solo

What I love about heading down this road is immediately after Olepolos Country Club (great lunch stop) you are in a totally different world and so close to Nairobi!

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Photo: Irungu

We get to Olorgesailie at midday. Below is the reception and entrance to the museum and the excavations.

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Exterior of the bandas, nice view.

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I check into the only available banda (the other 2 are being renovated and should be done soon). I really like these rooms, simple but obviously someone put some thinking into them. They’re just perfect for a place like this.

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The guys are camping out tonight. There is limited shade here so if you’re in a larger group camping out arrive late afternoon.

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Photo: Irungu

As we plan to shoot later in the evening we spend the afternoon lazing around, talking photography and scouting for shooting locations (sounds fancy but it ain’t, just involves walking around).

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Photo: Solo

Evening

As evening comes our witching hour has arrived so things quickly become helter-skelter as we rush from spot to spot taking shots in the evening light.

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It’s very interesting seeing guys who’s work I admire create their shots. Everything is so meticulously planned and thought out, a far cry from my own ‘pray and spray’ methodology.

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But what fun getting a behind-the-scenes look at how different photographers create different shots.

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My own attempts are not too shabby either.

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Night

Night falls and the work begins. I love this area specifically as the skies are clear for many months of the year.

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Getting the correct focus in the dark is 90% of the game, so many times I’ve gotten back home, looked at my photos on a computer and gone ‘F**k’.

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The background glow is from Oltepesi town with Mount Oloroka in the background. Clouds can add to your image if they behave.

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Stars, stars,stars. I would really like to see more Kenyan photographers get into astrophotography, you don’t know how lucky we are here to have dark skies.

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Morning

After a great nights sleep I’m up at 5:30 to get some morning shots. I find the guys at the same spot I left them last night, the were up shooting timelapses most of the night and someone mumbles ‘we only got 2hrs sleep’. I need to be more dedicated.

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Photo: Solo

Round 3 of shooting begins.

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Always crazy colours in the morning here.

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I always prefer my shots to have people in them so I’m shooting around them.

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The sun here is so hard, 5min after it comes up it’s too bright to continue. Timing is key.

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My favourite photo from the trip, sleep catches up with Solo after that sleepless night. Its time to head home.

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Photo: Irungu

Should be quickly noted that if you’re into birds and bird photography mornings here are great for that as well.

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Snapshot

  • Great base for climbing Mount Olorgesailie or Esakut; spend the night to get an early start before the sun cranks to max. Why suffer if you don’t have to?
  • This area gets VERY hot during the day, I’m talking close-to-40-degrees-hot so carry lots of drinking water.
  • There is nowhere to buy supplies along this entire road or at the site itself, last proper shopping is at Kiserian town.
  • The museum itself is pretty cool, don’t give it a miss. Also support the Olorgesailie Womens Group who have some pretty cool curios.
  • 3 double bandas available, campsite and picnic area. Non-potable water available for washing up and showers, long-drop toilet (clean). There is firewood available at Ksh 400 per bundle.
  • Camping: Citizens-300, Res-500. Bandas: Citizen-1500, Res – 1800. Contact Gichuru – 0720-409293.
  • For info on hiking Mount Olorgesailie click here. For Oloroka/Esakut fellow adventurer Munyaka Njiru wrote a nice article here.
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View from campsite

Final thoughts.

In closing I just have 3 quick observations:

  1. From a marketing standpoint the National Museums of Kenya needs to create a connection between ‘man lived here a million years ago and the stars you are looking at are millions of years old’. In all honesty, there is nowhere else around Nairobi you can get to dark skies this easily (if I’m wrong correct me in the comments). I think star-gazing should one of the things this site really shouts about, plus you earn more per visitor by enticing them to stay overnight. Just a thought.
  2. Social media like Instagram is only as good as the connections and friendships it helps you form. I keep meeting so many cool people through it and it really shows it’s worth when you finally meet in person and share whatever commonalities brought you together on the platform. Get out of your comfort zone, reach out and touch someone. Haha.
  3. If you love to travel there’s really no need to look for the farthest point or some fancy joint to to quench your wanderlust. The question should be; are you travelling to sleep in a massive  bed or are you travelling to satisfy your curiosity about a destination? Even on a very tight budget there are so many places within reach that are affordable, you just have to look for them.

Make sure to check out Solo (@rootsofafrika) and (@irungu_) on Instagram to see more shots from this trip. Oh yeah, and of course mine @thekenyancamper.

Until next time…I’m out.

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30 thoughts on “Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site – Dark Star Safari

  1. Paul Taylor

    Funny thing is this place gets a mention in the guidebooks. Even I knew about it. But there isn’t really a sense of what to do there if you Are not a fan of museums in 40 C heat. Somehow that never appealed to me but this does. Some really good photos – but that is it for the night shots? Really?

    Well done again.

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      If I’ll be honest I haven’t been to the museum part in years, for me it’s the least interesting thing there. Yeah I feel you on the night shots I probably should have added a few more on there, can’t win em all.

      Reply
  2. Anneli

    Hello there,
    Reading about your adventures is filling me with excitement – what a beautiful country! I’m planning a trip to Kenya this summer, I was just wondering if it’s possible to do camping trips like the ones you describe on your blog without having your own transport? Is it possible/not astronomically expensive to hire transport? Thank you so much, and sorry to bombard you with questions!

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Anneli, you’re coming to Kenya? Lucky you! It is possible to do camping trips without transport, totally depends on where you want to go. Some of my trips are a bit out of the way so those would not be possible to do. However there are budget tour operators who do group camping trips so you could join one of those. Hiring a car is also possible depending on where you want to go an your budget although I don’t have lots of info on that. When you have your itinerary ask your (detailed) questions on The FB groups ‘ Nairobi Expats Travel’ or ‘Camping in Kenya’ and you might get more info. Be clear on what you require otherwise you’ll get all manner of responses that won’t assist you.

      Reply
  3. mjmacnair

    We love Olorgesaille. It is so close to Nairobi, but a different world. We camp there when we want to go to Lake Magadi and/or Bird Rock. Did you get my email about Sera? Keep on trucking (and camping and blogging)…

    Reply
  4. Tamara Britten

    Hi Mark,

    Can I reply to these emails? Not sure… testing!

    If you get this – I’m doing a piece for The Link, Safarilink’s inflight magazine, about campsites around Kenya. I’d like to include an interview with you on your favourite places etc. Would that be ok? I’m in the UK until 20th April, so depending on when they want it, it might have to be an email interview.

    Hope that’s ok with you?

    Take care,

    Tamara

    Author: Karibu Kenya Accommodation Guide

    http://www.karibukenya.co.uk

    ________________________________

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Tamara,
      What emails? This is the comment section! Really cool you’re doing a piece on camping, it doesn’t get enough airtime considering Kenya’s perfect for it.
      I don’t give interviews solely for the reason that I’m not that interesting, your readers will thank you. Check out what the ‘Routes’ crew are up to, doing some really interesting stuff with travel and camping in our fair country.
      KC

      Reply
  5. MamaMgeni

    Enquiring minds want to know – how do you pronounce Olorgesailie? I’m sure pronouncing it completely wrong in my mind. But, having only ever read the name, I’m not sure what is right! Hard “G?” Soft “G?” Are all the letters at the end pronounced separately and distinctly? Or is there a diphthong in there?

    Reply
  6. Nico

    KC,
    I’ve taken a couple of days to go through all of your posts before commenting. The last post I read was the one on Ngare Ndare forest two years ago. Beats logic where I’ve been all this time!
    Must commend you for the great work you are doing in highlighting the hidden gems of this magnificently beautiful country we call home. I totally agree with you; you don’t have to pay top bucks to enjoy your travels. More Kenyans need to take keen interest in domestic tourism and disabuse the notion that travel is expensive. We need to have a more open and curious mind and shun the mundane stuff that we repetitively do.
    The virgin North stays on my mind and if its half what you describe it to be; it will be worth it when it comes to fruition. I’ll definitely be using your blog as my reference point for my future wanderlust excursions. Keep doing what you do, more will be encouraged to “fuata your nyayo.”

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Yeah, where have you been? Thanks so much for checking out my scribbling, I hope now you are better armed to take some of these trips yourself. Northern Kenya is especially rewarding .

      Reply
  7. BONNITA

    I read about Olorgesailie in school. I had no idea where exactly it was till I read this post. This is well written just like the rest of the posts.

    Reply
  8. Lucy

    Hi Kenyan camper!
    Have you already camp at the shore of the lake Magadi or at the Nguruman escarpment? I am looking for relevant tips…
    I love your blog, please keep on posting!
    Thank you!
    Lucy

    Reply
  9. lucieviews

    Hi Kenyan camper!
    Have you already camp at the shore of the lake Magadi or at the Nguruman escarpment? I am looking for relevant tips…
    I love your blog, please keep on posting! 😀
    Thank you!
    Lucy

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi, no I have not but I think someone posted about their experience on the FB group ‘Camping in Kenya’. Thank you so much for the kind words, keep reading!

      Reply

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