It’s 9am, I’ve slept fitfully on our our first night out and but we’ve had a great time on the Olgulului Group Ranch exploring Lake Amboseli . A great start to this ambitious trip of 900kms along Kenya’s Southern border and it’s time to crank out a few more miles and at this point I’m blissfully unaware that this will be one of the longest days imaginable.
Amboseli National Park
We leave the Olgulului campsite and drive into Amboseli’s Meshanani Gate. If entering through this gate and you like fun do not make the mistake of driving through on the boring main track (C103), take the desert road instead.
We stop for some tomfoolery.
Hard to describe whats happening below…you had to be there.
After this I can or cannot confirm or deny that there was a Toyota vs Landrover drag race across the desert after this. Guess who won?
Amboseli National Park
I could say a lot about this park although most of it would be anything you could look up for yourselves. I was in the area just a few weeks previously enjoying some downtime at Amboseli Bush Camp with The Muse but it’s great to be back albeit just driving through.
We get to watch some elephants feeding in the swamps, a first for me.
No surprise why Amboseli is one of Kenya’s premium parks, elephant sightings all but guaranteed.
Things start to go south after this, we lose our way in the park…then lose each other. The plan is to head for the Noomotio Observation Point to get a panoramic view of the park but somehow we all get turned around and to anyone watching we must look like something out of a Benny Hill sketch; going forwards, reversing, going round in circles…not my finest orienteering moment. But elephants…
Sham and I get to the observation point and after some time get to watch the others finally wind their way back to us. Re-united and it feels so goood!
It’s after this I realize the day is sunk, we still have a long way to go to Lake Chala and it’s creeping on 1pm already. Well there’s nothing for it. Its pedal to the metal, out the Kimana gate, hit tarmac and on the border town of Oloitoktok.
At Oloitoktok the decision has to be made, push on to the lake or find a nearby place to spend the night and head out the next day? We’re all tired, hungry, and at not at 100% efficiency. The decision is made; “forwards ever backwards never”, what a bunch of troopers!
From here on out its balls to the wall driving (so no photos) crossing over from Kajiado County into Taita Taveta County. No stops to eat, with my one hand on the wheel I’m stuffing my face with the leftovers of Mama Acacias Mince Pie™ as Sham tells me about a Safari Rally participant who was washed away by a river on this very same road. Great timing. We blow past little villages and hamlets I’ve never heard of with names like Laset, Rombo, Rekeke, Entarara and my personal fave Mahandakini.
I am unhappy to report that this road is bad, bad, bad. The stretch from Oloitoktok up until the Taita-Taveta county line is real mood killer but surprisingly once you cross counties it flattens out a treat and after 3hrs hours of rumpshaking we’ve finally made it.
We’re finally here, throughout the day we’ve been dreaming of taking a dip in the lake to wash off the heat and fatigue from the long drive. A scouting party goes off to find the way down and end up at a sheer cliff. Hmmm somethings wrong here….
With no way down to the lake we are resigned to having to leave, no feast for Kiundu. We’ve found out, horrifically so, that there is no camping anywhere along the crater of this beautiful lake, yet another one of Kenya’s ridiculous tourism idiosyncrasies. We hold another baraza, it’s late and darkness is creeping up. I’ll save you the long conversation we have about this, those long back and forths you can only achieve when everyone’s on their last legs. Its decided to backtrack to the River Lumi Resort we had passed 3kms before.
Pretty nice place, there’s no campsite per se but they are kind enough to let us pitch tents on their lawn for Ksh 300. Over the cries on ‘Sellout!’ from my fellow campers I on the other hand take a room (Ksh 1300 bed only), sorry but that day was just too long and I’m just craving a hot shower and a soft bed. The baying mob all ask to use the shower and I oblige, I’m magnanimous like that . A few minutes after dinner I’m dead to the world….
I wake a new man, greeted by the clear views of Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m glad I got the room, that mattress was so on point.
So turns out yesterday we took the wrong road up the crater, there’s a much easier way which also has a trail down to the lake. This morning the guys from the resort offer to take us there so after a quick break fast we’re off.
Lake Chala is fed by underground streams originating from the melt waters of Kilimanjaro and as the water is filtered through kilometers of porous rock the lakes waters are very clear. Depending on the time of year, it ranges in colour from deep blue to turquoise and green and is surrounded by a 100 metre high crater rim. It’s outlet is also underground and drains into Lake Jipe 20kms south.
Its a short 5min drive from the main road to the trailhead, and then another short but steep 5 walk down to the waters edge. The border between us and our friendly neighbors to the south runs through the middle of the lake.
We have an interesting debate between ourselves about the depth of the lake, I learn that some peoples sense of scale can be waaay off, you know yourselves! The lake is about 90m deep although numerous sources have differing measurements.
Similarly numerous rumors abound about crocodiles and dangerous whirlpools that will drag you down to the bottom in mere seconds.
For this merry band of travellers it means it’s time for a swim…
It becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that this is one of the highlights of the trip so far.
Acacia looks like shes having a great time right?
These fishermen are quite perplexed at our level of excitement.
I might have slightly exaggerated the danger of swimming here. The last person attacked by a croc was in 2002 and since then they are all believed to be dead. This is not to say you should not take safety precautions, when out in nature COMMON SENSE should still apply.
- Amboseli National Park charges: Citizens Ksh.860, Residents Ksh.1030, Non-res $60
- Road from Oloitoktok to Lake Chala – Recommended 4WD, intermittent mobile network the whole way.
- If coming from main Taveta Road (A23) Lake Chala is only 23km away.
- River Lumi Resort nearest accommodation to Lake Chala. Very simple but clean.
- Trailhead and lake access now updated on Maps.me.
I wasn’t exactly surprised to find that this spectacular lake had no signage to direct visitors, it would be so easy to miss the caldera as from the main road it looks like just another low-lying hill. Really how much would a wooden board and a can of paint cost? (Actually going from the tendering systems of some counties it light be quite a a lot).
It’s a travesty that while the Tanzanian side has a sweet lodge overlooking the lake the Kenyan side has nothing. There used to be one on the Kenyan side but that’s in runs now, I remember staying there on a high school trip back in the Dark Ages.
I really think it’s time for counties to up their tourism game? It starts with the tiniest things. A cleared viewpoint for photography (and selfie freaks), a sign here, a picnic bench there. Sometimes lets wachana with this high faluting ideas that require budgets of millions and international ‘bench-marking’ trips in business class. This is Management 101; if the even small things fail to be managed, the big ones have no hope either.
Rant over but the trip south with Routes Adventure continues…look out for the 3rd and last installment sooner rather than later. You can find additional (and much more professional photography) of this most magnificent of lakes by both Mwarv and Mutua.
Until then…happy camping!