Hemingway's ‘Green Hills of Africa'
Chyulu Hills National Park - A magical land of black-frozen lava flows studded with blazing red-hot poker trees. Of shoals of extinct volcanoes wreathed in dense forests and hung with Spanish moss, the Chyulu Hills coil like a sleeping dragon on the lion-gold plains of his treasure. To the west the pink-haloed peak of Mount Kilimanjaro rises like a Hollywood backdrop and all around stretch the mirage miles of Maasai land, dusty, dry and stalked by scarlet herders and dust-plumed cattle.
Kenya Safari Fact File
Altitude: 1,500 - 2,160 m above sea level.
Area: 471 sq km.
Location: Makueni District, Eastern Province and Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province.
Distance from Nairobi: 190 km south-east of Nairobi.
Gazetted: The Park was gazetted in1983.
Climate: January to March is hot and dry; April to June is hot and wet; July to October is very warm and dry and November and December are warm and wet.
Vegetation: Rough grassland and thicket give way to patches of montane forest along the spine of the hills.
Fauna: A variety of large mammals includes; buffalo, common eland, bushbuck, mountain reedbuck, steinbok, bush pig, leopard and, at times, elephant.
Birds: The abundant birdlife features over 300 species.
Roads: 4WD is recommended all year round.
Activities: Camping, horse riding, walking trails, forest trails, Nature trails, forest tours, hiking
The world's youngest mountains
The narrowly arching, 80 km long, Chyulus are one of the world's newest mountain ranges, the most recent volcanic peak having been formed only 500 years ago. They offer a fascinating mix of volcanic ash cones and barren lava flows, which combine to create a landscape of almost mythical enchantment where neither dragons nor unicorns would seem out of place.
Source of Tsavo West's Mzima Springs
The Park was established to protect not only its unique habitat, but also its vital role as a water catchment area for Kenya's coastal conurbations. The forested ridges create their own rainfall, the porous rock absorbs the water like a sponge and the water percolates down into fast-flowing subterranean rivers. These eventually join with the melt waters of Mount Kilimanjaro and feed 250 million litres of water daily into the lush oasis of Tsavo West's most popular feature, Mzima Springs.
Exploring the Shetani caves and lava flows
The volcanic convulsions of Tsavo's landscape are riddled with lava flows, the most spectacular being the Shetani flow, a coalesced tide of tar-like lava that spewed down the Chyulu Hills as they burst out of the plains only a few hundred years ago. The lava flow is threaded by a series of lava tube caves, many of which can be explored, though caution is recommended.
Rare forest birds
Bird watching is best in the dense montane forests of the western sector of the Park where Hartlaub's turaco, sunbird, speckled mousebird and white-eared barbet are prevalent. Various swallows fly along the forest edges while deep in the glades you may spot stripe-cheeked greenbul, tropical boubou, white-eyed slaty flycatcher and silvery-cheeked hornbill. The hills also offer shelter to the globally-threatened Abbott's starling and hold endemic populations of Shelley's francolin, white-starred robin and orange ground thrush.
Walking the hills and forests
The gently undulating grasslands, interspersed with dense patches of primeval forest and breathtaking views, make this excellent walking country. Due to the presence of buffalo and elephant, however, a KWS ranger escort is obligatory. If possible contact the Warden in advance to book a ranger.
The Park and its environs offer a wide range of activities to include: horse riding, camping and caving.
Around and about
The Park is ideally situated for visits to the massive expanses of the neighbouring Tsavo West and East National Parks. World-renowned Amboseli National Park is also within easy reach.