Plenty to Explore
Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
Lions Bluff’s Lodge overlooks Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary and its neighbour, Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. The privately owned 110 sq km Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary is an abandoned sisal plantation, which failed nearly four decades ago. Comprising savannah plains, a man-made reservoir and a riverine forest that follows the course of the Bura River, this unfenced wilderness has since found new life as a game reserve offering an abundance of zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, elephant, eland, waterbuck, reedbuck, giraffe, vervet monkey, lion, jackal and prolific birdlife. Good relations with this sanctuary means that our guests have the freedom to game drive within the sanctuary broadening the terrain and chances of seeing yet more african wildlife.
‘Part monastery, part Moorish fort and part hacienda it was approached via a road which snakes its way up the hill and deposited visitors at the foot of broad steps leading to an arch in which wrought-iron entrance gates were later set. Beyond the gates was a central courtyard with a fountain and flowerbeds surrounded by cloisters which contained the rooms for the students. Baths were in bedrooms, unpartitioned, as Grogan didn’t see why anyone ‘needed to hide’; beds were enclosed in cages covered with wire mosquito netting; and many of the ceilings and floors were made from sisal poles.
Edward Paice, Lost Lion of Empire
50 kms from Lions Bluff near the shores of Lake Jipe is a massive white mansion standing on an isolated hill rising abruptly from the plains. Dubbed Grogan’s Castle it was originally built, in the 1930s, as an agricultural training college for local Africans by ‘Cape to Cairo Grogan’ an influential colonial figure who walked from Cape to Cairo to prove his love of a young lady called Gertrude, whom he later married. Once finished however, the ‘college’ was rejected by the colonial administration and was finally turned into Grogan’s home. Colonel Ewart Grogan was a gentleman adventurer dubbed ‘the boldest and baddest of a bold, bad band’ of pioneering Kenyan settlers who arrived in Africa in 1900 to embark upon a lifetime of grand, if somewhat over-ambitious designs, which included founding the country’s timber industry, building Mombasa’s first deep-water port, constructing what was then reckoned to be East Africa’s finest hotel and building Kenya’s first children’s hospital, Gertrude’s Garden.
Lake Jipe and Tsavo West
Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary’s west is bordered by the southern most part of Tsavo West park in which is situated Lake Jipe. We are currently trying to set up an arrangement with KWS whereby we can access this part of the park without going onto the road and through the Mwakitau gate. This gate is 10km along the road west from Lions Bluff to Taveta.
Tsavo East National Park
Tsavo West’s sister park, Tsavo East, is divided from it by the main Nairobi Mombasa Road. From Lions Bluff it is 50km to the Voi gate. It presents both a complimentary and contrasting image to that presented by Tsavo West due to the fact that the vast reaches of Tsavo East (11,747 sq km) are mainly rolling scrub plains, roamed by vast elephant herds, dotted with monstrous baobab trees and threaded by the shimmering waters of the Athi/Galana River. Amongst the many fascinating features of the Park are the 300km Yatta Plateau, which is amongst the earth’s largest lava flows and one of its most fascinating ornithological wonders, the midnight-blue waters of Aruba dam, which is visited by thousands of animals, the spectacular torrents of Lugard’s Falls and table-topped Mudana Rock, Kenya’s answer to Ayers Rock of Australia.
As to wildlife, whilst elephant are undoubtedly the star attraction other game includes lion, leopard, duiker, gazelle, hartebeest, giraffe, zebra, rhino and a wide selection of small mammals.
The Taita Hills
Dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ by delighted Europeans, these hills are surprisingly cool and lush with panoramic views and steep winding roads. Tropical rain forests still exist at the very heights, protecting rare species of birds and butterflies. These forests can be visited with a guide and rocks at Wesu, Vuria and Eyale climbed to see yet more panoramic views over Africa.
The community has much to show you in the form of skull caves at Mwasungia, its long-ago visitors unsuccessful in their search for a longer life and a cure for their illness. The cultural centre at Njama Mzango Kitukunyi will show you how the Taita build their huts, how they live and they will tell you the stories and origins of their culture.
90 mins from Lions Bluff, north of Taveta and close to the Taveta – Oloitokitok road, shimmer the emerald-green waters of the 4sq km, said to be bottomless crater lake, Lake Chala. The Kenyan Tanzania border slices through the middle of the lake, which is fed by the melting snows of Kilimanjaro whose massive bulk also serves as a spectacular backdrop.
The Crystal Caves of Lake Chala
Missionary, Charles New, the first European to visit Lake Chala in 1871, was told by his guides to listen for the lowing of cattle, the crowing of cocks, the thudding of pestles and mortars and the grinding of flour mills which, they said, were the sounds of the people who lived in the crystal caves at the bottom of the lake. He was also warned to take care because sometimes the people at the bottom of the lake got lonely and came up to look for company.
Amboseli National Park
3 hours from Lions Bluff, Amboseli is justly famous both for its big game and its scenic beauty. The 3,810 sq km of the park also embodies five different wildlife habitats (open plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush, swamp and marsh) plus the generally dry, Lake Amboseli, from which it takes its name. Towered over by the splendour of the snowy massif of Kilimanjaro the park also offers stunning vistas, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets and is world famous for the spectacle of its elephant set against the backdrop of Africa’s highest mountain. Other game includes hippo, buffalo, lion, cheetah, giraffe, gerenuk zebra, gazelle, wildebeest and fringe-eared oryx and there is a vibrant bird life (425 species recorded).
Wildlife rhythms: Mammals are easier to see near water during the dry season and migratory birds peak in November to March.
Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
Meaning: ‘The Mountain of Greatness’ (Swahili) or ‘Mountain of the Demon Njaro’ (Maasai) or ‘The Mountain of Caravans’. Since the time of their first mention, by Ptolemy several thousand years ago, the legendary snows of Kilimanjaro have excited the imagination of explorers, scientists adventurers, climbers and tourists alike. Rising from the surrounding plains like a massive mirage, the three snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro are three degrees south of the Equator and together comprise the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Comparatively young at 750,000 years old, (by comparison Kenya’s Mount Elgon is 24 million years old) Kilimanjaro boasts 4sq km of glaciers and one fifth of all the natural ice in Africa. Previously thought to be extinct it is now believed to be dormant and is made up of three volcanoes: Kibo, the youngest and highest, and most central point at 5,896 m, Mawenzi in the east at 5,149 m and the western Shira at 3,962 m. Kilimanjaro can be climbed all year round by anyone who is reasonably fit (the most popular route is via Marangu and usually takes five days). It lies within its own National Park and is most easily accessed from Moshi, the major Tanzanian town lying at its base.
The Taru Desert
Between Voi and the Kenyan coast lies 150 kms of seemingly never-ending, scorching, waterless scrublands, called the Maungu Plains and better known as the Taru Desert. A wilderness of ‘wait-a-bit’ thorns and occasional baobab trees, the plains form the main migratory corridor for wildlife passing from Tsavo East to the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Normally a haze of grey-green scrub and red rocky outcrops where hornbill swoop, in May and June the Taru bursts into a carpet of blue and white convolvulus flowers.
The compact and idyllically situated town of Voi is the capital of this region and the first main upcountry railhead on the Uganda Railway. It was here where the original passengers would have enjoyed the first of many overnight stops and, until recently, the original ‘dak’ bungalow built to accommodate the early passengers still provided dinner, bed and breakfast. Nowadays Voi is better known as one of the main points of entry into Tsavo East National Park and the site of Voi Safari Lodge, a beautiful lodge built into the side of Mzinga Hill. It is also the place where Denys Finch-Hatton, hero of Karen Blixen’s book ‘Out of Africa’, crashed to his death in a light aircraft. (At nearby Voi Airstrip).
The Chyulu Hills National Park
The 471sq km Chyulu Hills National Park, an extension of Tsavo West National Park, was opened in January 1983 to protect its unique habitat and vital role as a water catchment area. The narrowly arching, 80km long, Chyulus are also one of the world’s newest mountain ranges, the most recent volcanic peak having been formed only 500 years ago. They also 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. The water that percolates through these hills also forms deep and fast-flowing subterranean rivers that join up with the melt waters of Mount Kilimanjaro to create Mzima Springs whilst deep beneath the hills is a catacomb of eerie caves, mostly unexplored and some of them more than 12 km long.
Leviathan, the second largest lava cave in the world
In 1975 the Cave Exploration Group of East Africa discovered what was then thought to be the longest and deepest known lava tube cave system on earth (later superseded by Hawaii’s 61.5 km long ‘Kazumura’ lava cave). Dubbed ‘Leviathan’ after the giant serpent of Hebrew legend, the cave extends over 13 km beneath the hills and can be as wide as half a kilometre in places. Lava caves are formed when molten rivers of lava radiating out from erupting volcanoes cool and crust over on exposure to the air thus creating underground channels through which the lava continues to flow until the eruption has subsided.
Chyulu National Park
Game in the Chyulu National Park includes: buffalo, zebra, giraffe, oryx, lion, leopard and many species of birds and flora. The rich butterfly life includes endemics Pentila tropicalis chyulu, Acraea anacreon chyulu, Paplilio desmondi desmondi and the near-endemic Amauris echeria chyuluensis. The hills also support 37 species of orchids; mostly epiphytes supported by the heavy mists and the rare saprophyte Epipogium roseum.