Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari





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    Default Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    10-16 January 2017

    Some of the regulars on the forum might remember that we had intended driving up to Ethiopia just after Christmas and being away for five weeks. However, family commitments here in Nairobi prevented us.

    After an intense and emotional three and a half weeks, we needed to get away from Nairobi. So, we packed up the Land Rover and headed out of town.

    Day 1: Nairobi to Amboseli NP
    We elected to take the road from Karen via Ngong and Kiserian to Isinya where we joined the road to Namanga. The road from Ngong to Kiserian is not in good condition – neither is the section from Kiserian to Isinya. However, we still think that this route is better than spending any time on the Nairobi to Mombasa main road, and the road from Isinya to Namanga is excellent tar with little traffic. At Namanga, as always, we stopped for coffee at the old colonial Namanga River Lodge (marked as Hotel Namanga on T4A). It is clean, well maintained, the gardens are lovely, and it is a haven of peace in this border town.

    From Namanga it is a dirt road to Amboseli NP. The road is very corrugated in places and the going can be slow, but it is only about 50 kms from Namanga to the Mashenani Gate and you see Africa instead of a wall of trucks on the main Nairobi-Mombasa road. At the Mashenani Gate, we were issued with a gate pass by the efficient Kenya Wildlife Services staff. We were told to pay at the Kimana gate on the eastern side of the park which we later did. This time, we camped at the Kimana Community Camp outside the park on the eastern side; KWS have an arrangement with the community camp that campers there can enter the park twice per day for no extra fees. The Kimana Community Camp is rustic, but perfectly acceptable by most people’s standards: the staff are very welcoming, firewood is supplied, and there are showers and flush loos – the camp attendant even did the washing-up for us.

    Day 2: Amboseli National Park to Tsavo West National Park
    After a good night at the community camp, we were up before dawn, were rewarded with a clear view of Kilimanjaro, and were in the park by 0615. In some areas, there clearly had been some rain recently, but a lot of the park was very dry and burnt up. Of course, the swamp was green and filled with elephants and other game. Luck was with us and we saw six lions – mothers and teenagers – as they crossed the road on a mission. There was a lot of plains game, giraffe, vast herds of elephants, and many hyenas lurking in drainage ditches. Back at Kimana camp for a cooked breakfast and a shower, we packed up camp and headed to Tsavo West National Park. Kilimanjaro was visible in all its glory for the whole morning.

    We refuelled at a new Shell filling station on the Oloitokitok to Emali/Sultan Hamud road just a few 100 metres north of the Kimana junction. The road from Kimana village to Tsavo West NP is a good dirt road and had recently been graded – the journey took 2˝ hours (including a stop for coffee) from Kimana to the Chyulu Gate of Tsavo West. With Kilimanjaro to the south and the Chyulu Hills to the north, it was an enchanting drive.

    The contrast between the over-grazing in the Masailands - through which we had been travelling - and the lush thick grass in Tsavo West NP was stark. So, it was no surprise that we saw illegal grazing of cattle in the National Park. At the new Chyulu Gate to Tsavo West, we were issued with a gate pass and were told to go that day to the Mtito Andei gate to pay our park and camping fees. We set up camp at the Chyulu public campsite and were delighted to find that we were the only campers. Nicholas, the camp attendant lived nearby at the old Chyulu Gate: he was a delightful young man who cleaned the ablution block at least three times a day, collected firewood for us, and guarded our camp from baboons and monkeys when we were out. We were the only campers at Chyulu public campsite for the three nights we spent there.

    Day 3-4: Tsavo West National Park
    Whereas Amboseli had been dry and dusty, Tsavo West was green and lush: the waterholes were full, and the baobabs in full leaf. Although the bush is very thick and game viewing can be a challenge, the scenery in this fabulous park is second to none: not only Kilimanjaro to the south-west and the Chyulu Hills to the north-west, but the hills and mountains within the park itself. We have been to Tsavo West many times before, but hadn’t seen it looking so green. Early one morning, we went up to Roaring Rocks: the view from here must be up there with many top views in Africa.

    Apart from game drives, we went to Mzima Springs, and visited the lovely Kilaguni Lodge with its cool shady verandah overlooking a waterhole and Kilimanjaro as the ultimate backdrop. We hardly saw any other vehicles in the whole park.

    Day 5: Tsavo West National Park to Tsavo East National Park
    After three nights camping on our own at Chyulu public campsite, early in the morning we packed up camp and headed towards the Tsavo Gate. Another lovely drive through the park in the early morning light. We exited Tsavo West, and turned on the main Nairobi-Mombasa road. I gasped and stretched my eyes at my first sight of the new Chinese railway which is being built alongside the main road and old “Lunatic Line”. The main road wasn’t too busy, but thankfully 13 kms later we turned in to the Manyani Gate to Tsavo East National Park. There are no payment facilities at the Manyani Gate, but we had pre-loaded our KWS Safari card with the required amount when we went to Mtito Andei to pay our Tsavo West NP park fees. We were warmly welcomed at the Manyani Gate, our KWS Safari card was swiped and we were issued with the required receipts.

    Tsavo East is much lower in altitude than most of Tsavo West and is flat plains with the occasional inselberg and, in the far distance, the Yatta Plateau. It is not nearly as scenic as Tsavo West, but the bush is not so thick so game viewing is much easier.

    From Manyani Gate, we drove down the track towards Voi, visiting Mudanda Rock en route. Near to the Park HQ is Voi Safari Lodge - the first lodge built in Tsavo East (by the famous warden David Sheldrick) in the early 1960s. We had hoped to find fuel there, but the fuel pumps have been removed. Whilst Voi Safari Lodge has seen better days, it is clean and well maintained and seems to be owned now by a local company. The view from their cool and breezy verandah is fabulous: endless plains dotted with vast and numerous herds of Tsavo’s famous red elephants. After a sandwich and cold beer, we headed into the town of Voi to refuel. Back in the park, we went and set up camp at the Ndololo public campsite.

    When we arrived at Ndololo – which is clean and well maintained with cold showers and flush toilets – we were the only campers, but later in the afternoon another vehicle arrived. The only drawback to Ndololo campsite is the generator at the nearby rather run-down budget tented camp. But it didn’t intrude too much and it was turned off at 10pm. Then it was only us and the bushbabies – who can be louder than a generator, but I love them.

    Further adventures to follow (but "don't hold your horses" I won't be able to post again for a few weeks)

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Enjoyable read as always, WW. I'm so glad you were able to enjoy your beloved African wilderness again, after those few stressful weeks in Nairobi. Those three parks (along with another visit to Masai Mara) were top three candidates on imaginary itinerary for our next visit to Kenya. Now, after your report, the itinerary is defined.

    Thanks for sharing.
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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Day 6: Ndololo Public Campsite to Ithumba in the northern sector of Tsavo East National Park

    Early in the morning, we struck camp and headed north. The first hour or so was through the flat plains until we came to the Galana River. Near to Lugard Falls is a splendid new bridge over the river which has now opened up the northern sector of Tsavo East. Previously, the vast area on the north side of the Galana River was closed to the public and was set aside as a wilderness area. Once over the bridge, the dirt road went due north through thick, thorny bush – dikdiks and hornbills predominate in this arid area – and two hours from the river, we reached Ithumba and the Northern Sector HQ.

    When we entered Tsavo East NP at Manyani Gate two days previously, we had arranged to camp near Ithumba and a delightful KWS officer at Ithumba gave us the options. We could either go back about 25 kms to the Tiva River and camp at a designated wild campsite there or we could camp beside the HQ. As we wanted to exit from the Ithumba area north through Kitui and on to the Nairobi-Garissa road – and this was an unknown route to us – we knew that this route could take some considerable time. So, we decided (much against our normal practice) and camped on a piece of ground beside the Northern Sector HQ rather than have a 50 km round trip to and from the Tiva River. There was a long drop loo nearby and water was available beside the rangers’ accommodation. Later in the afternoon, we went for a short game drive although the tracks are rough and the bush is thick and impenetrable. We did see some herds of elephant – in fact, blocking the road so we had to backtrack.

    Day 7: Ithumba, Tsavo East National Park to Nairobi

    Early the next morning, we packed up, logged our exit with the HQ and set off towards Kitui. The road was pretty rough in places – although we did see Chinese road surveyors preparing for a new road to be built from Kitui to Kibwezi – and about 4 hours later we reached Kitui. At Kitui, we joined a tarmac road up to the Garissa road where we turned west towards Nairobi. At the town of Thika, we stopped for a bite of lunch at the old Blue Posts Hotel. Thika has grown enormously over the years and is now an industrial town. Elspeth Huxley and her parents would not recognise the area. “Flame Trees of Thika” – no longer…

    We were safely back in Nairobi long before dark - with us and everything covered in the red dust of Tsavo. Another wonderful trip. Our tracks can be found here.

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

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    It was dry in Amboseli

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    But the elephants were happy in the swamp: the classic photo of elephants and Kilimanjaro in the early morning light

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    Kilimanjaro from the road between Amboseli National Park and Tsavo West National Park
    (The angle makes Mawenzi look higher than Kibo)

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    The lovely Chyulu Hills from the Shetani lava flow

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    Tsavo West National Park: the Ngulia Hills

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    Tsavo West National Park: Mzima Springs

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    Tsavo West was very green and lush which makes a lovely contrast to the typical red soil

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    So lush that the baobabs were in full leaf

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    Tsavo West National Park: the early morning view from just outside the Chyulu public campsite with Kilimanjaro and a full moon

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    Tsavo West: Ngulia with a "tablecloth"

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    Tsavo West: the road less travelled

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

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    Tsavo East National Park: Mudanda Rock

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    Tsavo East National Park: Lugard Falls, Galana River

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    Tsavo East: heading north to Ithumba

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    A gigantic baobab near Ithumba, northern sector Tsavo East National Park

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Thanks for sharing. I need to make a plan to get there sooner rather than later.

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Great pics thanks for sharing

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Wow! what a great report and trip. I must get there- let me think how I can make this happen........................................

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Asante sana watu wote.

    Karibuni Kenya!

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Thanks for the interesting account. I must have started it (I have paid thanks) some time back but missed the ending.
    I shall be heading to Ithumba myself in early September so all your road news is good news.
    Lots of Ellies up there plus of course the DSWT orphans. Great birding too.
    No doubt you passed the abandoned VW on the road up from Lugard Falls or have they finally moved it. It was always a landmark on that stretch and a 'reminder' of bad it used to be.

    I had not heard of the proposed new road to/from Kibwezi. Who do I complain to?
    Albert

    Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long.

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Quote Originally Posted by Albert Ross View Post
    No doubt you passed the abandoned VW on the road up from Lugard Falls or have they finally moved it. It was always a landmark on that stretch and a 'reminder' of bad it used to be.
    It looks like it has been there for about 40 years!

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Wazungu Wawili,

    As already mentioned, we will "copy" your itinerary from this thread for our next trip to Kenya at the end of this year. All these three parks covered in this trip of yours have long been on our wish list and your route looks absolutely logical on the map, so we will literally follow your steps one by one. In addition, we will add six-night visit to Masai Mara as a prelude to this trip.

    Any comment/suggestion to the below itinerary from you or any other forum member will be most welcome.

    Day 1 (December 26): Early morning landing to JKIA, getting the vehicle from Jungle Junction, shopping, drive via Narok to Oldarpoi campsite just outside Sekenani gate of Mara Reserve
    Day 2 - 6: Masai Mara; two nights at Sandriver public campsite in the eastern side, three night at Oloololo public campsite in Triangle
    Day 7: Drive from Mara to Nairobi, shopping, overnight at Jungle Junction
    Day 8: Drive from Nairobi to Amboseli NP, overnight in Kimana public camp; we will probably take this route: Nairobi - Kitengele - (A104) - Isinya - Namanga - Amboseli
    Day 9: Amboseli NP, move to Tsavo West NP, Chyulu camp
    Day 10: Tsavo West NP, Chyulu camp
    Day 11-13: Tsavo East NP, two nights in Ndololo camp, last night in Ithumba camp
    Day 14: Drive from Tsavo East to Nairobi, spend the night inside Nairobi NP (Twiga campsite near East gate)
    Day 15: Nairobi NP, return car to Jungle Junction late in the afternoon
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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Ortelius

    I am so pleased that you are returning to Kenya this December - and are planning this trip so soon after your trip to Namibia.

    My comments are:

    Day 8: I don't know what map you are using, but the route to Namanga is either central Nairobi-Athi River-Isenya-Namanga OR Karen-Ngong-Kiserian-Isenya-Namanga (as noted in this thread). If you are looking at a map and see the route from Jungle Junction to the Magadi Road which goes through Ongata Rongai to Kiserian, this route is NOT recommended (although shorter) as Ongata Rongai is now a huge satellite town, is very busy and the road used to be just horrendous through the township of Ongata Rongai. I would advise either via Athi River or Ngong.

    Day 11-13: A bit of advice - when you go to Mtito Andei to pay your Tsavo West NP park fees, load enough money on the KWS smart card for all your fees for Tsavo East at the same time. Then you can enter Tsavo East NP through the Manyani Gate. Also, when you enter Tsavo East, ask at the gate about camping at Ithumba (as we did). In fact, you could load the KWS smart card at Amboseli NP for all your park fees and camping fees for Amboseli NP, Tsavo West NP and Tsavo East NP. Ensure you have got it correct as there is no payment facility at the Ithumba gate for when you exit Tsavo East NP through this remote northern sector.

    Day 14: I have never heard of (or seen) a campsite near the East gate in Nairobi National Park - and I know this park very well. Even if - but I doubt there is a campsite there - I would not camp near the East gate. It is just off the Mombasa Road, on the flight path for Nairobi airport, and I would be wary about the security. I think you ought to go back to camp/stay at Jungle Junction.

    We will be in Kenya from late November, but might not be in Nairobi on the 26th December. However, if you need any help or assistance, just send me an email.

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    Hi WW,

    as always, you come with most helpful advices. I knew I can rely on you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    Day 8: I don't know what map you are using, but the route to Namanga is either central Nairobi-Athi River-Isenya-Namanga OR Karen-Ngong-Kiserian-Isenya-Namanga (as noted in this thread). If you are looking at a map and see the route from Jungle Junction to the Magadi Road which goes through Ongata Rongai to Kiserian, this route is NOT recommended (although shorter) as Ongata Rongai is now a huge satellite town, is very busy and the road used to be just horrendous through the township of Ongata Rongai. I would advise either via Athi River or Ngong.
    Yes, I've concluded from your trip report that the road you have taken from Nairobi to Amboseli via Kiserian is not suitable for us. So yes, I was planning to go via Athi River.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    Day 11-13: A bit of advice - when you go to Mtito Andei to pay your Tsavo West NP park fees, load enough money on the KWS smart card for all your fees for Tsavo East at the same time. Then you can enter Tsavo East NP through the Manyani Gate. Also, when you enter Tsavo East, ask at the gate about camping at Ithumba (as we did). In fact, you could load the KWS smart card at Amboseli NP for all your park fees and camping fees for Amboseli NP, Tsavo West NP and Tsavo East NP. Ensure you have got it correct as there is no payment facility at the Ithumba gate for when you exit Tsavo East NP through this remote northern sector.
    Again, I've duly noted from your report about preloading funds on Safari card in Mitto Andei for Tsavo East. Or even better, as you mentioned here, we could do it in Amboseli for both Tsavos.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    Day 14: I have never heard of (or seen) a campsite near the East gate in Nairobi National Park - and I know this park very well. Even if - but I doubt there is a campsite there - I would not camp near the East gate. It is just off the Mombasa Road, on the flight path for Nairobi airport, and I would be wary about the security. I think you ought to go back to camp/stay at Jungle Junction.
    I've found the mention of this camp in my edition of Rough Guide Kenya. It is also mentioned on KWS oficial site http://www.kws.go.ke/content/twiga-campsite and I have found few descriptions of persons who have actually camped there (http://www.femmehub.com/2015/01/27/a...wiga-campsite/ , http://www.potentash.com/2015/01/27/...national-park/), but they are both from 2015. I'm also suspicios of its actual current existance as one would expect many more hits on the web about this campsite. And it is not marked neither on T4A nor in google maps. Also, on google maps satelite image there is nothing to be found in the vicinity of East gate that would resemble any campsite. So yes, I'm a bit suspicious about this camp also. But in any case, if it doesn't exist, we can still overnight at Jungle Junction and drive into the Nairobi NP early next morning.
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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    I have done some more research on this supposed campsite at the East Gate to Nairobi National Park. I am still not convinced that this is a viable or a recommended place to camp. Not only is the East Gate right beside the industrial areas and on the flightpath to Nairobi Airport, but it is also close to the new Nairobi Terminus for the new Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway - and the southern by-pass. I am also not convinced that the security will be sufficient.

    My advice is to stay/camp at Jungle Junction and go into the lovely Nairobi National Park through the Main Gate early in the morning. It won't take more than 20 minutes to drive from Jungle Junction to the Main Gate. You can then spend the whole day in the park, and exit through Langata or Banda gate - and will be back at Jungle Junction within 10 minutes.

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    Default Re: Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks: A six-night safari

    You are right, will probably do exactly as you suggests.
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