Tsavo West National Park – Article by Gareth Jones
TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARK – BRAVO IT’S TSAVO!!! – By GARETH JONES
The alarm clock buzzed at 04h00, we rapidly awoke and packed a few remaining items into our car and left Nairobi just after 05H00. After weeks of waiting, we were actually on our way. It is best to try and plan safari trips out of Nairobi, to be leaving very early in the morning to avoid the early morning traffic “jam”. We progressed quite well, and after leaving Athi river, soon, we began to feel that we were actually on leave. Our family was excited to be on our way to the Tsavo West National Park. Slowly it began to get light, as we travelled along the Mombasa highway.
It is advisable to not be in a hurry when driving on the Mombasa highway, there is a lot of big truck activity so it is best to allow time for a slightly slower journey. About 160km from Nairobi we stopped at Kiboko managed by Mada Hotels for a quick break and some coffee. It is a delightful stopover, with a dammed river, huge trees and many birds and monkeys. The hotel has really improved in recent years due to the change of ownership.
We continued driving for just over another hour and thankfully reached Mtito Andei, about 240km from Nairobi. Phew!! no more trucks for a while, as we turned right at the signpost clearly marked TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARK. We presented our bookings at the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) main gate, paid entrance fees, and entered the park. We only drove a very short distance as we turned into the picnic area near the main gate and ate a packed breakfast. It was just after 09h00 by then and there was still plenty of birdlife activity. As it was quite dry many species were drinking from a small stone pond below one of the water taps. A troop of Olive baboons suddenly arrived and were advancing menacingly towards our breakfast layout. Thankfully we had just finished eating and hurriedly packed the leftovers into the vehicle to avoid any possible unneeded confrontation with the baboons. At the same place, there is also an interesting information display in a thatched building for those who could be interested in some natural facts about Tsavo West. The Tsavo West national park covers an area of over 9000 square kilometres and was officially established in 1948. The construction of the Uganda Railway in 1898 through the Tsavo area has a notorious history, as many employees were killed and eaten by two man-eating lions. There are many documented articles on this, plus a few books and movies.
Soon we continued deeper into the park along the red sandy roads, the drive to our accommodation was very scenic but we did not see that much wildlife as it the day was getting quite hot. After a while, we arrived at Rhino Valley Lodge (previously known as Ngulia bandas – about 45km from Mtito Andei). We received a warm welcome from the staff, with a cold refreshing juice and a cool towel to wipe off the dust. Soon we settled into our rooms, the panoramic views are simply stunning from this elevated hillside location and there is a waterhole just below that allows for excellent game viewing. After lunch we observed a large herd of buffalo advancing rapidly in a massive red dust cloud towards the water hole. There was no need to drive anywhere, we simply sat and enjoyed the magnificent sight of the view with the buffalo and elephants. In the late afternoon, we decided to go for a short game drive and had only driven a few kilometres when a beautiful leopard walked into the road. The leopard was very calm and behaved naturally sniffing around and being very alert as it appeared to be hunting. On arrival back at the lodge, my daughter was looking out from the verandah and suddenly said: “ look there is another leopard!” WOW!! what a “Bravo Tsavo” moment. The leopard walked below towards the watering hole and disappeared into the thick bush as the light faded into evening.
The next morning we went out early and enjoyed watching a breeding herd of elephants as they came and drank in front of us. After breakfast, we decided to take a drive to Mzima Springs. As it was a long drive, we packed a lunch and plenty of drinks (especially water – rule #101 -never travel without extra water when on safari). The drive to Mzima Springs is quite scenic and different in that there is quite a bit of volcanic rock and a few ancient cones in the area. As we approached the springs we were surprised to see a pride of lions and watched them for a while. The Mzima Springs is a series of natural springs sourced from a natural reservoir under the Chyulu Hills to the north. The filtration process of percolating through the porous volcanic rock over a long distance of about 50km results in crystal clear water. The pools are frequented by hippos and crocodiles. Plus many species of the game come there to drink, a herd of eland were nearby as we arrived, and a troop of sykes monkeys were watching us from the trees as we walking under huge trees along the path on the edge of the springs. There is also an interesting semi underwater viewing hide, inside there is a clear view of the many fish as they swim by, and the hope of seeing a hippo walking along the bottom. We really enjoyed the day and returned back to the lodge, just in time for dinner. As we prepared to walk back to our lodge, the Masai askari cautioned us to follow him closely, as a herd of elephants were moving through the lodge (there are no fences). We walked forward slowly and suddenly the Askari stopped, we saw a moving wall of huge grey bodies crossing our path and move up the hill. Soon we had the “all clear” and returned to our accommodation only to find fresh elephant dung within meters of our door.
The next morning we had an early breakfast as we watched a mesmerizing sunrise as the colours changed. All to soon we had to leave this wonderful wilderness, as we continued to eventually drive out of the gate at the Tsavo river, suddenly my wife said “stop”. We looked and there was a majestic male leopard in his prime, initially, he was quite far away and the walked towards the river. I drove around the bend and sure enough, he turned and walked directly towards us. We sat very still as the leopard came very close and walked past our vehicle, across the road, and went onto the rocks to drink in the river, WOW, another “Bravo Tsavo” moment and what a wonderful way to leave this incredible place.
The park is open daily from 08h00 to 22h00.