A unique Kenyan park where tourists can enjoy the majestic landscapes by bicycle, foot or vehicle.
By Bob Koigi
Behind cascading waterfalls, pockets of sulfurous springs gushing hot water rhythmically, towering cliffs, and a herd of lazing big game, there is a picturesque park tucked some 90 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of Kenya’s Capital Nairobi that has caught the world’s attention.
Though small in size by Kenyan standards, Hell’s Gate National Park compensates with breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-filled activities that give its visitors a rare and surreal adventure, away from the famous Kenyan beaches.
Hell's Gate National Park. ©Kenya Wildlife Service
Hell’s Gate is the only natural park in Kenya where tourists can cycle, walk or drive without a guide. Between majestic red stone cliffs at the entrance of the park, there is a narrow gate that gave the park its name in 1883 after explorers, Fischer and Thomson, engaged in fierce war with the local Maasai. The foreign explorers surrendered and christened it the end of their journey, the entry to hell. But today, travelers get a welcoming feeling right from the entrance with an unbridled sense of adventure. Once inside they will behold natural wonders like Fischer’s Tower, the Central Tower, the park’s gorge, and the Obsidian caves.
Entrance to the Park's Gorge ©Kenya Wildlife Service
Fischer’s Tower is the most popular among tourists keen on rock climbing. Shaped by volcanic activity 35 million years ago, this 75-foot high rocky formation acquired its name from the German explorer Gustav Fischer, who spent time studying it. The local Maasai community believes the rock is a girl from their community who turned into stone after falling out with her family days before her wedding.
The Central tower that sits next to Fischer is taller and offers the perfect view of some of the most breathtaking landscapes surrounding the park, including Lake Naivasha, a UNESCO Heritage Site famed for its bright pink flamingos and as the home of some of the endangered bird species including Maasai Ostrich and Verreaux’s Eagle. From the Central tower, visitors can also witness the volcanic activity as it happens in the neighboring Mount Longonot and Suswa.
Lower Gorge at Hell's Gate National Park.
At the Gorge, the walls are so close together they obstruct the sunlight.
The Lower Gorge offers the most breathtaking scenery in the Park. ©Kenya Wildlife Service
The most breathtaking scenery can be found relatively close to the two towers: the Lower gorge—popularly known as Njorowa. The gorge—which is a two-hour walk from the towers—allows visitors to experience the magic of neatly curved water soaked walls that are—in some instances—so close to each other that they obscure the view of the sky from the ground. During the two-hour walk, visitors are treated to both cold and hot waterfalls, springs gushing hot water and artistic rock formations, the result of volcanic activity.
Inside the Obsidian Caves, travelers can marvel at the smooth feel of the rocks that have been formed out of cooling molten volcanic lava that has come into contact with water.
Because of the geothermal activity that takes place underground and pushes hot water to the surface, the park has tapped into a plant that provides Kenya with electricity, in an exciting project that combines care for nature with the country’s needs.
The trip to the park is not complete without cycling around while getting closer to a host of animals, from giraffes wrapping their tongues around tree tops, lazing lions, zebras teasing each other, and chirping birds that make up the more than 100 different bird species living in the park. While visitors can opt to drive around, the bicycle experience is enchanting and thrilling. The park management rents out the bikes. There are no tour guides meaning visitors get to choose and enjoy the kind of adventures they prefer.
A family of wild boars feeding in the Park. ©Kenya Wildlife Service
Giraffes and other big game make Hell's Gate their home. ©Maclemo
With a cocktail of welcoming flora and fauna and mesmerizing scenery at the heart of one of the largest rifts in East Africa, it is little surprise that this iconic park has produced some of the most award-winning photos including Sony’s Smile at the Heavens. ■
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