The Aberdare National Park, created in 1948, is a 492 sq Km fairytale paradise of dense highland forest and misty spaces of Afro-alpine moorland, deep gorges, and ravines where icy rivers plunge in glorious cascades and waterfalls such as the Gura (791ft) or Karura Falls (894ft).
The Kikuyu name for the mountains is Nyandarua (drying hide), due to its distinctive outline, yet the range retains the name of Aberdare, given in honor of the Lord Aberdare, who was president of the Royal Geographical Society at the time the range was discovered by the geologist Joseph Thomson. The Aberdare National Park is the highest national park in the world.
The entry into this National Park is truly spectacular. We make our way into an authentic jungle right at the heart of Africa, a tropical forest mostly shrouded in dense fog. The salient stretching out towards the nearby town of Nyeri, was once an elephant migration route. These great animals remain within the park together with buffalo, a wide variety of antelope, giant forest hog, the elusive bongo antelope, black rhino, lions, leopards, and hyenas.
We are accustomed to seeing them on the savannahs, but encountering a group of elephants at a narrow bend in the road, in the middle of this thick luxuriant vegetation is a completely new sensation. If we ascend the heights of the Aberdare even further, we will note the dramatic changes in the vegetation. At 2000m, the forest gives way to dense clusters of bamboo. At 3500m, the vegetation is already scarce and is mostly composed of tracts of heather.
Yet even in this zone, where the climatic conditions are harsh and extreme, some plants display an unusual capacity to survive. There are also Giant Lobelias and Giant Senecio, which grow to heights of 5m. The highest point is Ol Doinyo Lesatima, at 3999m. A visit to either of these areas provides an opportunity for bird-watching in three distinctive vegetation zones. These are thick highland forest, bamboo forest, Afro-alpine moorland, and no less than 13 species of sunbirds; including the northern double-collared, golden-winged, tacazze, green-headed, variable, and scarlet-tufted malachite, along with the larger birds of prey such as the Mountain Buzzard and African Goshawk.