Hell’s Gate National Park Area (68 sq km – 26 sq miles)
Approximately 120 Km (about 2 hr 35 minutes) from Nairobi via old Naivasha road, not nearly so sinister as its name might imply, Hell’s Gate — with its spectacular scenery of cliffs and gorges — is an exciting park to visit because, while plenty of wildlife and bird life can be seen there, and some unusual and unique flora and succulents, it is still possible to walk, as well as drive and picnic there if exercising reasonable caution. There are five in-park camp sites.
Its real name is the Ol Njorowa Gorge, a setting of once intense volcanic activity creating the dramatic cleft through which Lake Naivasha once flowed. The park has three gates, the Elsa Gate and the Ol Karia Gate, both reached from Naivasha’s South Lake Road. The Narasha Gate is south of 0l Karia from the Narok-Mahiu road, which proves a scenic short cut to the Masai Mara.
Walking, camping, cycling, rock-climbing and horse-riding are all permitted. This is a ‘walk-in’ park in which a vehicle is not essential, but which is an unquestionable advantage for exploring its several routes. All worthy of a visit are the Obsidian Caves; the extinct Hobley’s and Ol Karia volcanos where natural steam vents rise from fissures in the rock and can be seen for miles around; the Ol Karia geothermal project where steam from groundwaters at 304 degrees C (579 degrees F) is harnessed to produce ..% of the country’s electricity; and the view-points from where decisions can be reached as to where to go on foot.
A small explanatory booklet with maps showing routes and what to look for is well worth its modest price and can be purchased at the gates. Spending a few minutes at the Information Centre at the Elsa Gate is also recommended, for a briefing on both the Hell’s Gate and adjacent Mount Longonot National Parks.
It is the spectacular scenery at Hell’s Gate which has made the park a favourite location of film-makers for the past fifty or more years. Among the more memorable have been Where No Vultures Fly (a film about Kenya’s national parks); King Solomon’s Mines (a romanticised version of the Rider Haggard book); Mogambo (with Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner); Joy Adamson’s Born Free; Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and, in 1994, Elephant Boy.
A walk up any of the higher cliffs, especially those to the west of Fischer’s Tower, give tremendous panoramic views down onto Lake Naivasha. From the in-park Twiga and Buffalo Circuits there are magnificent views of the Kedong Valley, of the great extinct volcano Suswa, and down the Hell’s Gate Gorge. Smaller animals to be seen include klipspringer on the plains, Kirk’s dik dik, steinbok, rock hyrax round Fischer’s Tower, wart hogs, baboons, impala, golden- and silver-backed jackal, bat-eared foxes, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles. Larger ones, often in the vicinity of the park’s several waterholes, will be Defassa waterbuck, Coke’s hartebeest, Masai giraffe, zebra, eland, buffalo and, not so easily met, but they are there, cheetah and leopard.
Binoculars will not be needed to see Masai ostrich and Secretary birds on the plains, but are essential to identify smaller species and birds in flight: Ruppell’s griffon vultures, tawny and Bateleur eagles, francolins, doves, hoopoes, cisticolas, starlings (blue-eared, red-winged, wattled and superb) shrikes, oxpeckers, sparrows, sunbirds, yellow bishop, purple grenadier, and the yellow-rumped seed-eater.
Watch the weather if exploring the Lower Gorge. Heavy rainfall on the hills and cliffs sends angry torrents of water racing down, sweeping all before it including gravel, vegetation and huge boulders. And watch for the large black python which sometimes guards the deep pool at the head of a sprintawi-lodge.