Hells Gate National Park

Hell’s Gate National Park lies south of Lake Naivasha in Kenya, North West of Nairobi. Hell’s Gate National Park is named after a narrow break in the cliffs, once a tributary of a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the rift Valley. A small national park, it is known for its wide variety of wildlife and for its scenery.

Hell’s Gate National Park covers an area of 68.25 square kilometres (26 sq. mi), relatively small by African standards. The park is at 1,900 metres (6,200 ft.) above sea level. It is within Nakuru County, near Lake Naivasha and approximately 90 kilometres (56 mi) from Nairobi.  The park is located 14 kilometres (9 mi) after the turnoff from the old Nairobi-Naivasha highway, and has a warm and dry climate. Olkaria and Hobley’s, two extinct volcanoes located in the park, can be seen as well as obsidian forms from the cool molten lava. Within Hell’s Gate is the Hells Gate Gorge, lined with red cliffs, which contain two volcanic plugs: Fischer’s Tower and Central Tower. Off of Central Tower is a smaller gorge, which extends to the south, with a path that descends into hot springs that have rocks hot enough to cause burns, and sulphuric water.

Hell’s Gate National Park has a variety of wildlife, the lime-streaked cliffs, impressive gorge and gently undulating grasslands provide one of the few remaining places in Kenya where you are allowed to walk alongside herds of buffalo (with extreme caution), zebra, eland, hartebeest, Thomson’s gazelle and impala. Warthog are plentiful throughout the Park, which also plays host to a breeding herd of Masai giraffe and herds of Defassa waterbuck, which can often be seen grazing at the neck of the gorge.

Scores of rock hyrax bask on the rock ledges of Fischer’s Tower while troops of olive baboon lounge at its foot. Pairs of delicate Kirk’s dik-dik find shelter among the dense bushes while the sure-footed steenbok prefer the grassy slopes and cliff tops. Klipspringer can also sometimes be spotted high on the cliffs near Elsa Gate while Chandler’s mountain reedbuck often graze the Park’s slopes in the late afternoon. As for lion, leopard and the elusive cheetah, they are all in residence, but very difficult to spot.

There are 103 different bird species recorded in the Park, you can reasonably expect to spot at least 25-30 species during a one-day visit; easiest to identify are the secretary bird and common ostrich, which patrol the valley floor. Augur buzzard are also easily seen, perched on top of volcanic plug of Fischer’s Tower. The 120m-high cliffs, (white-streaked by colonies of nesting Egyptian and Ruppel’s griffon vultures) also provide a nesting site for thousands of Nyanza and mottled swifts; and a unique breeding ground for the elusive Verreaux’s eagle and the rare lammergeier eagle; Cape eagle owls also nest in the gorge.

The park was established in 1984 and explorers Fisher and Thompson named after it in 1883. The park also boats with Africa first geothermal station established in 1981, the other two stations were put up recently, the break on the cliffs is said to have been a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the valley.

What to do in Hells Gate National Park

The spectacular scenery that includes towering cliffs, water-gouged gorges, stark rock towers, volcanoes and wildlife and plant life in the park make Hell’s Gate National Park a wonderful place to do a number of activities. Below we share with you the several activities you can indulge in at this scenic park.

 

Game Drives/Viewing

Despite it being a small size park, Hell’s Gate national park has a wide variety of wildlife; some of the animals in the park include African buffalo, Zebra, hartebeest, hyenas and Klipspringer antelopes in the thinned out bushes where they graze among others. Game drives in the park can be done in the morning or in the evening following some of the best routes. A drive through the park rewards with sights of different wildlife, a view of the valley on either side of which are red rocks cliffs where Klipspringers and rock hyraxes can be sighted.

 

Cultural Encounters

There is a Maasai cultural centre in the park that provides education about the Maasai tribe’s culture and traditions. The Maasai people also serve as guides in the park. Cultural encounters in Hell’s Gate national park enable one to learn about the Maasai people with their unique culture and ways of life, they offer entertainment like cultural dances. Travellers can also buy gifts from the craft shops during their visit to Masai cultural center.

 

Hike, Climb, or Walk the Canyons

This park may have fewer animals to watch than some of Kenya’s other parks, but it makes up for it with activities like mountain climbing, camping, hiking, and canyon walking. Visitors can do a bit of hiking while walking around the canyon. In some places, sandy rock walls stand 30 meters tall. As you can imagine, the views of the gorge from these high vantage points are wondrous, but hiking there is tricky and risky. The descents are slippery and steep, and hikers require an expert guide.

There are some good places for mountain climbing. Fischer’s Tower is a great site for the mountain climber. It is not too difficult to climb, though one needs to be fit and experienced enough to take on the challenge. Climber with moderate skills will love climbing this cliff. They will, of course, require proper equipment and guidance.

 

Bird Watching

With over 100 species of birds in Hell’s Gate National Park, bird watching is surely an activity that travellers will enjoy and get to see a number of different birds including vultures. Expect to spot at least 25-30 species during a one-day visit; easiest to identify are the secretary bird and common ostrich, which patrol the valley floor. Augur buzzard are also easily seen, perched on top of volcanic plug of Fischer’s Tower. The 120m-high cliffs, (white-streaked by colonies of nesting Egyptian and Ruppel’s Griffon Vultures) also provide the perfect nesting site for thousands of Nyanza and mottled swifts; and a unique breeding ground for the elusive Verreaux’s eagle; Cape eagle owls also nest in the gorge.

There is also a hide in the park, The Mervyn Carnelley Raptor Hide. This unique hide incorporates a one-way window, which allows visitors to view and photograph many of the Hell Gate’s raptors at exceptionally close range. Carrying binoculars could come in handy, as well as having a bird guide knowledgeable of the park.

WhEN TO VISIT Hells Gate National Park

The park can be visited throughout the year, though there are a few considerations.

Wildlife viewing is supposedly best in the dry season of June – October, when animals gather at fewer water sources and the grass is short. Hiking is best done during the dry season of June – October if you want to hike in the gorge, as flash floods are a real risk during the rainy season.

Scenery is at its greenest during the rainy season of March – May (though it’s still beautiful any time of year).

HOW TO GET To Hells Gate National Park

Hell’s Gate is located 100km northwest of Nairobi and 18km west of Naivasha. As there is no accommodation in the park, most people visit as a day trip from Lake Naivasha. Naivasha is easily reached by car via a tar road from Nairobi. Alternatively, there are daily flights to Loldia airstrip on the western side of Naivasha.

Getting to Nairobi is easy as this is one of the biggest transport hubs on the continent. International flights arrive in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport15km southeast of Nairobi.

Naivasha is a convenient stopover between Nairobi and the Masai Mara. The distance from Naivasha to the Masai Mara is 170km/105mi and the driving time is about 3½ hours.

Charter flights between parks can be an efficient way to travel. Most domestic flights, including flights to Naivasha, leave from Wilson Airport (WIL), 6km south of Nairobi. Domestic flights to Naivasha can be booked with Safarilink.