A Weekend at the ‘Buffalo Mountain’

The Masai call it the ‘Big Mountain’. The Kikuyu call it the ‘Buffalo Mountain’. Ol Donyo Sabuk, or Kilima Mbogo, is not particularly big by Kenyan standards, but it is full of buffaloes. I often see the mountain in a haze on the horizon from Nairobi, but it’s an area that I’ve never really explored. So that’s what I did last weekend.

Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is just a one and a half hour drive from Nairobi, about 20km east of Thika along the Garissa road, and 2km from Kilima Mbogo village. It’s one of the Kenya Wildlife Service’s ‘Scenic/Special Interest parks, and this only becomes apparent as you approach the park gate, once you’re through the dusty village streets. The park encloses the entirety of the mountain, and protects dozens of bird species and indigenous forest, as well as a surprising diversity of animals.

Park fees are relatively low, at just Ksh 300 for adult citizens, Ksh 600 for adult residents, and USD 26 for adult non-residents. There are a range of accommodation options in the park, including the Turacco campsite by the gate, the Lookout campsite 7km up the hill, and Sabuk House – a self-service guesthouse that was once the warden’s residence.

You can even camp at the top of the mountain, although you need permission from the warden, and the view is spoiled by a grove of communication towers. I would recommend the Lookout campsite, which is well situated, and where the lack of facilities is more than made up for by the wonderful view.

It’s also worth hiking the 9km up the mountain; we decided to drive to the top and immediately regretted it. Although we spotted a pair of bushbucks, and a troop of Sykes’ monkeys, all the other animals made themselves scarce in the thick vegetation. It’s a park that’s definitely best experienced on foot, with the aid of an armed ranger.

We were able, though, to park our car at the 7km mark, and explore the grave of the fat and famous settler Sir William Northrup MacMillan – whose intended burial place at the summit had to be abandoned when the tractor-hearse’s clutch burned out.

Once down from the mountain, we made our way back through Kilima Mbogo village and across the Athi River towards Fourteen Falls. As it’s the rainy season, the 14 cascades had merged into a broad, thundering cataract, plunging into a pool of chemical foam and litter. The falls are spectacular, and we had fun clambering across slippery rocks, but Thika Council can surely do more to keep it clean. Plus, tourists beware, our guides tried to charge us an eye-watering mzungu price of Ksh 7,000.

After a lengthy negotiation, we drove for 4km through pineapple fields towards the Ol Donyo Sapuk Resort, where we spent the rest of the weekend. The resort sits in a lush 50 acre plot at the base of the Ol Donyo Sabuk mountain. At its heart is a large building of blue-grey stone, with a prominent exterior chimney, and a striking stained-glass window.

In this main section is the lobby, with various buffalo paintings and sculptures – in reference to the ‘Buffalo Mountain’. Beyond this is the Kanzalu Dining Room, and the Kiboko Bar and lounge, with splashes of yellow and red ochre on the walls and ceilings. At the far end of the lounge is a log fire for chilly evenings, and a wide patio for warm afternoons.

The resort’s General Manager, Stephen Nzavi, gave us a tour of the facilities. The 20 suites are separate to the main building, and are arranged in a long arc in blocks of four. This curve, Stephen explained, gives each suite the best possible view of the mountain. The rooms are spacious, with distinct sleeping and living areas, and they maintain the earthy colours of the lounge.

A short walk from the rooms, across an expansive lawn with a volleyball court, a small football pitch and a trampoline, is the swimming pool. There’s certainly plenty for children to do, if they don’t fancy a hike up the mountain.

The resort is relatively new, having opened just two years ago, and there was evidence of further developments. The Kyanzave Conference Hall is still under construction, with a planned capacity of 200, and ceiling-to-floor windows for unbroken views of the mountain.

Having worked up an appetite exploring the national park, we settled down in the lounge for dinner. I opted for the cucumber and mint soup, followed by a hearty T-bone steak and chips, and finished with a fruit platter to alleviate my guilt.

Rates for bed and breakfast are Ksh 7,500 for a single, and Ksh 11,000 for a double, and for full board are Ksh 11,500 for a single and Ksh 18,500 for a double. For bookings email sales@oldonyosapukresort.co.ke, and for more

information have a look at their website: www.oldonyosapukresort.co.ke.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation