The Aberdare Mountain ranges soar to peaks of 13,000 feet and dip into deep, V shaped valleys with streams and rivers cascading over spectacular waterfalls, including Kenya’s longest fall of approximately 1,000 feet! Located in the heart of the Kikuyu tribe highlands area, in Central Kenya, traditional folklore states that the Aberdare Mountains are one of the homes of Ngai, God.
To the east of the ranges are the fertile farming lands of the Kikuyu tribe, which were settled by the colonists in the early decades of the Twentieth century and Mount Kenya. The area between the Aberdares and Mount Kenya are part of what became known as the European highlands. To the west, the range falls steeply away into the Rift Valley and offer superb views of Lake Naivasha and the distant Mau Escarpment.
The steep hillsides of the western edges tend not be as attractive to wildlife as the gently undulating slopes of the eastern side, which, despite periods of mist, rain and cold spells, attract a wide variety and quantity of wildlife. There are three main eco-systems within the Aberdare Mountains; the rain forest, which gives way to dense bamboo forests, which itself gives way to moorland as the altitude rises.
The forest is home to a multitude of elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog and the endangered Black Rhino. The Aberdares are also an excellent area for spotting the elusive leopard and occasional sightings have been made of the Golden Cat. Black and white Colobus and Sykes Monkeys are easily seen, as are waterbuck, reedbuck, duikers, serval cats and bushbuck. Melanistic cats appear to be quite common in the high altitudes of the Aberdares and black serval cats are spotted fairly often.
The best viewing in the forest areas is in the Salient area of the park, where both Treetops and The Ark lodges provide superb nighttime viewing in this area of gentler slopes and slightly less dense forest. During the rains, the majority of the game spends its time in the forest rather than on the moorlands.
As you rise in altitude, through the bamboo belt, it is possible to spot the elusive bongo antelope and the giant forest hog, but viewing in this incredibly dense growth of bamboo is challenging to say the least! However, bird viewing is excellent, keep an eye out for the magnificent crowned eagle as it hunts for one its favourite meals, a Colobus monkey.
Once above 10,000 feet, the bamboo gives way to rolling moorlands, tumbling, crystal clear streams which are well stocked with trout and varieties of lobelia, groundsel and heather cover much of the ground. Here eland, lion, elephant and buffalo may be found in addition to the numerous birds, such as the Jackson’s francolin, sparrow hawk, African Goshawk, sunbirds and plovers.
The moorland area offers superb scenery, excellent opportunities for high altitude hiking as well as fly fishing, which is encouraged as the trout is not an indigenous species and was introduced to the area.
Far more than simply a wonderful wildlife area, the Aberdares are also a vital water catchment area, the rain forest feeding most of the local area and the city of Nairobi from its rivers and streams. Many of the mighty Tana River headsprings start in the Aberdare Mountains.
The area is also famous as the 1950s headquarters of the Mau Mau Rebellion, with ‘General’ Kimathi’s hideout still a much-visited attraction. Princess Elizabeth became Queen of the United Kingdom while staying in the Aberdares, at the now famous Treetops Lodge and the National Park is a favourite spot for a resident’s weekend getaway with its campsites, self-catering bandas and walking possibilities.
The Aberdare Range National Park is 767 square kilometers and contains the two highest peaks; Lesatima at 13,120 feet and Kinangop at 12,816 feet. The park has been a protected area since 1950. Due to its altitude, the Aberdare Park has a climate closer to that of Europe than of the tropics. Jumpers, sweaters, jackets, thick socks, waterproofs and, during the April/May rains, even thermal underwear may be needed if staying in the moorland areas overnight.
A very different landscape from the wide, open plains of the African savannah, the Aberdares have been described as ‘Scotland with lions’ and is a well worth a stop on any tour of Kenya.