The Tsavo West National Park; Most maps claim it’s only 240km from Nairobi, but this is only true if you use the Mtito Andei gate. Due to its sheer size Tsavo National park spreads across both sides of the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway (Tsavo East and Tsavo West) and because of this there’s at least 6 gates (that I know of, probably more) spread across different locations.
Our plan was to camp at the Lake Jipe Campsite, which is at the Lake Jipe Gate. To get there, the road takes you via the sleepy town of Emali (on the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway), the snow-cap peaking Oloitoktok and the sparse but friendly Taveta. There’s a host of other little shopping centers and towns along the way, most of which make for very pleasant watering and fueling points as well. By my account, this is the more scenic route, shorter but by no means the more comfortable one. Here’s what it might look like on your way there:
It is advisable to use printed maps or GPS, Google Maps is too dependent on a working data connection that would probably render us stranded in the event of no network signal.
Having left the last trace of tarmac about 20km ago (last sighting, Oloitoktok), the road from Illasit to Taveta is dotted with countless seasonal rivers. The road is not tarmacked, and in some cases shares the same path with rivers – a situation which inadvertently leaves the road in terrible condition.
That pocket of magnificence nestled atop that hill is The Lord Grogan Castle in Taveta. It has a whole romantic tale about how a lovelorn Lord Grogan (yes, Grogan in Ngara is named for him) made this his fortress of solitude after the heartbreak of unrequited love from one lass named Gertrude (you guessed it, Gertrude Children’s Hospital). Gladly, it was converted to a lodge after a period of neglect. They also have a campsite if you fancy a night out with bonfires, fire flies and other flying things.
Now to the right of the picture lies Lake Jipe, this explains all the gullies, because the entire “road” from this point happened to run along the flood plain of the lake. Those electricity poles were our only saving grace because that’s what we used to “find” the road. The views of Pare and Usambara mountains in neighboring Tanzania though, amazing distraction!
And our awesome driver Chris who was unwavering in his goal to get us to our destination, though no one knew what lay more than 30 meters ahead of us at any one time.
Two hours. That’s what it took us to get through the last 1.3km of the trip (4 hours for the first 300km, just for comparison), seeing as we were driving in what was essentially a river. The sunset that awaited us just before pitching camp though, made it all worth it.
Of course that inspired us to wait up for the lilac-orange union of light at sunrise the next day:
Campsite was right on the shore of the lake. Therefore those visits from the hippos were numerous, bird life aplenty.
However tempting it may be though, swimming in the lake is not a very smart idea. If the amazingly muddy shore doesn’t dissuade you from taking a dip however, the hippos that hang around here will entirely wipe that idea out of your mind.
Camping – KES 150 Citizens/Residents USD 10 for other nationals. Carry your own camping gear if you intend to camp.
Bandas – KES 3,000 a night each for Citizens/Residents USD 50 for other nationals. Three bandas, sleep two people each, self-catering.