After an unforgettable day on safari with the rhinos, next on our Kenyan travels was exploring the Rift Valley and we made our way from Nyeri to Naivasha. We based ourselves at the very relaxing Fisherman’s Camp on Lake Naivasha; a lovely campsite with good facilities, a great location on the lake and a fun bar. Three of the lake’s hippos even popped in to say hi at night. It’s also incredibly handy for exploring both Mount Longonot and Hell’s Gate.
After a week climbing Mount Kenya, we thought it would be an easy day walk up this dormant volcano. We were wrong!
After jumping on two early morning matatus and enjoying a cup of tea in Longonot Village, we wandered across fields and farms climbing over cactus hedges on the unofficial route to the park headquarters. It’s fair to say that more signage is definitely required.
It was a steep hour’s walk from the gate to the crater rim and a further three-hour up-and-down walk around the rim that never quite seemed to end. The volcano’s name comes from the Maasai word ”oloonong’ot” meaning mountain of many steep ridges and they were spot on!
Walking around the rim there were lovely views into the forested crater and beautiful 360 views of the expansive Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha and various other rippled ridges. It was also really nice to meet lots of locals who were enjoying their weekend climbing the mountain.
Unlike most national parks, Hell’s Gate is unique in that you’re able to explore on two wheels. And in contrast to many activities in Africa, you can explore without taking a guide which is brilliant. The park is said to have been called ‘Hell’ by various local communities who regarded it as a place of darkness and evil spirits. Perhaps it’s the hot springs or the volcanic activity which fuelled this belief and the park feels anything but evil and dark today.
Cycling on sandy, stony dirt tracks is tough going but it’s amazing to be at the same level as the animals. We noticed behaviours we hadn’t observed before – for example warthogs eat kneeling on their front legs. We saw dazzles and dazzles of zebra (dazzle really is the collective noun!), towers of giraffe, baboons and various buck – impala, gazelle and eland. There were trotting warthogs everywhere we looked.
The park itself is very beautiful and you cycle through a valley surrounded on both sides with huge, steep rocks. The scenery feels very African, which explains why the main setting of The Lion King was modelled after the park.
We really enjoyed walking through the gorge with it’s narrow red and golden water-eroded walls and many hot springs. This underground pressurised water feeds a geothermal power plant, the first of its kind in Africa.
We ate our picnic lunch in the shade of an Acacia tree with zebras under a nearby tree and it was a really fun, and unique, day out.
Can you visit independently?
Absolutely! For Mount Longonot, you’ll need to catch a matatu back to Naivasha and another one to Longonot village. You can walk from the village to the park gate – stick to the dirt car track that leads off the highway.
For Hell’s Gate, you can rent bicycles at Fisherman’s and cycle to the park. We went in the Olkaria Gate, around 10 kms away, and out the Elsa Gate, roughly 5 kms away. While it was interesting to see the geo-thermal plant at the Olkaria Gate, and the cycle to the gorge is a fun downhill, there are more animals on the Elsa Side. It’s advisable to take a guide for the walk into the gorge.
Costs (US $)
- Mount Longonot – 26/person
- Hell’s Gate – 26/person
- Gorge Guide – 20
- Bike rental – 8/person