An African Safari Experience
If there is a great place for an African Safari Experience then it must be the Aberdares. The Aberdares are a mountain range located North of Nairobi the capital city of Kenya. All 483 km² of the Aberdares National Park is located in the ranges and it's approximately 180 km North of Nairobi. The park, overwhelming in its beauty, is a total delight to savor. A three hour safari through the undulating Kenyan countryside will get you to the Aberdares National Park. Our tour guide informed me that the Aberdare Mountain Range was named after Lord Aberdare, who was President of the Royal Geographical Society in the late 1800's.
Driving up to the Aberdares was truly refreshing and breathtaking. One minute the rain was pounding heavily and suddenly the weather eased us into a sunny and fresh atmosphere as we approached the National park itself. The rain in the Aberdare region is intermittent and heavy especially within the park itself. Occasionally the roads in the park are closed off when the rain in the park gets too heavy. The raindrops were the largest I have ever seen and they made a light thumping sound as they pounded the tour vehicle like petite arrows.
How I now understand why the band TOTO lamented that they missed the rains in Africa in their 1980's hit AFRICA. When the expansive African sky decides to let loose it does so with fervor and elegance. The perfect ambiance for kissing in the rain ... ... ... .but I digress. I was temped to pelt out of the car and let myself loose in the rain.
The Aberdares National Park was established in 1950 with the intention of protecting the Aberdare flora and fauna. Apart from other hotels, there are two game-viewing lodges. Game-viewing because a guest at these two hotels is able to view wildlife at night as they sneak in to lick some minerals and satiate their thirst at waterholes near the lodges.
The two lodges are the Treetops Lodge and The Ark. Apart from cosy accommodation and game viewing, Treetops Lodge is historically famous as the place where in February, 1952, a young English girl while on an African Safari descended the tree house lodges as Queen Elizabeth II. Her father the King had died during the night. Nonetheless, this review focuses on the Ark Lodge.
The Aberdares National Park boasts of flourishing dense forests that cover the slopes of the enormous ranges and provide a fitting backdrop for an extensive range of flora and fauna. The Ark shares the nestle of the Aberdares with diverse game, misty moorlands, lush forests and chilled rivers that cascade gloriously down the landscape. Game safaris into the depths of the Aberdares can also be arranged although those are a different itinerary form the game viewing trip to the Ark.
Opened in November 1969, The Ark is chiefly meant for the close range viewing of wildlife. Guests to The Ark are first chauffeured to Aberdare Country club which is the base hotel of the Ark Lodge. The Aberdare Country Club is located a short distance past the entrance to the Aberdares National Park. The Country Club is fine-looking and set on lavish manicured lawns and gardens. After a sumptuous meal the guests are driven into the heart of the Aberdares National Park to the Ark Lodge. Most of the luggage is left at the Country Club for safe keeping and guests are only allowed small hand luggage for the overnight stay at the Ark. It's advisable to carry personal effects like medicine/toiletries/wallets that are essential for an overnight stay at the Ark.
The Ark is a tree lodge constructed in the shape of Noah's Ark and built to blend into the Aberdare vegetation and not to disturb the animals that come to the waterhole. The Ark has three terraces or 'decks' overlooking the Yasabara waterhole and salt lick. The decks which have balconies offer a terrific close-up view point. Photographs of sterling clarity can be taken from the various view points. Though, at night, guests are not allowed to use photographic flashlights because the flash unsettles the animals. A non-smoking ground-level bunker for more game viewing provides excellent photographic opportunities.
This bunker has no glass barrier and there's nothing between you, your camera lens and the animals! As if that is not enough, there's another glassed-off, non-smoking lounge on the ground floor level. This glass enclave viewing area gives guests a life-size experience of the game. At 18.00hrs the crimson floodlights are turned on so that viewing goes on uninterrupted.
Expect to see various animals within a few metres like the elephant, buffalo, rhino, bush bucks, giant forest hogs and Sykes monkey. It was interesting to see the elephant scratch the saltlick rock with its massive tusks and then proceed to crunch and munch the salt. When the Jumbo licked the salt to its liking it then proceeded to quench its thirst. I wonder how many litres of water it took for it seemed to stay a while at the waterhole.
We were extremely fortunate to see a Rhino lick the salt with its lugubrious mouth. Some genets (small wild cats) played without a care around the waterhole and fed on moths and insects attracted by the lodge lights.
The Ark is not a place to sleep because the animals keep arriving. An endless parade of elegance. There are bells in the cosy self contained rooms that chime softly to alert you when the big game appear. The number of rings lets you know exactly which animal has arrived since each animal is assigned a different number of rings. This allows one to choose whether to go and view the latest arrival.
One can turn the bell off completely in case the urge to sleep overwhelms. The lodge staff provide hot water bottles which will usually be found snuggled between the beddings. The hot water bottles are especially inviting because the nights get really, really chilly. Some rooms have windows that overlook the waterhole but I was not fortunate enough to have a room with such a window.
Earlier during the day lots of unusual birds frequented the waterhole. They include Egyptian geese which cackled loudly, various species of ducks, herons and birds of prey. Other birds present in the park are the Scarlet tufted Malachite Sunbird which is mostly found in the moor lands, green Malachite Sunbird, the violet Tacazze, Silvery-cheeked hornbill, heron, kestrel, bee-eater, black African duck, doves, sacred ibis and the crowned eagle which feeds on monkeys. I never for a moment imagined that the dexterous monkey can fall prey to a bird. The monkeys that are present are the black and white colobus monkey, Sykes' monkey and the black faced vervet all swinging wildly in the thick foliage.
Carnivores are represented by the Hyena, the elusive leopard and the lion. The Lions of the Aberdares have a more hairy mane that would put the manes of the lions in the savannah plains to shame. Other animals include reedbuck, dikdik, suni, waterbuck, bongo and duiker. Rarer animals like the Golden Cat and the forest antelopes can only be viewed by taking a safari into the Aberdares Park.
When I eventually decided to go to bed I placed the hot water bottle between my thankful feet. The Ark Lodge is the best place to relish undisturbed views of wildlife that visit the waterhole. Meals are included in your stay and all were excellent, bar service is available as well.
Dinner and breakfast are served in the main dining room, and on one of the viewing decks is a lounge and bar which remains open all night for tea and coffee. The Ark Lodge is wheelchair accessible. Children under the age of 7 are not permitted on The Ark unless on special 'Children's nights'. The experience of game viewing is a unique and exclusive experience not to be missed.
About the author:
Jerry Wanga is editor of Naady. You can find more information about African Safari, as well as hotels and lodge bookings, on the website. (Submitted links deceased)