Camping on the Banks of the Ewaso Nyiro

A couple of weeks ago I covered a recent trip to the Shaba National Reserve, and a night at the Sarova Shaba Game Lodge. As part of that trip, my fiancée and I also camped along the Ewaso Nyiro River, at one of the reserve’s many campsites. Accommodation options are limited in Shaba, but I would highly recommend camping anyway.

The reserve forms part of a much larger ecosystem that includes Samburu and Buffalo Springs on the opposite side of the A2 highway, and is about 314km from Nairobi. Although it took us five hours to get there, the reserve is quite small and easy to explore, so it’s worth travelling up for the weekend. It’s a very scenic drive, with Mount Kenya for company in the right conditions, and great views out towards northern Kenya beyond the wheat fields of Timau. The temperature soared, too, as we approached Isiolo, and had even crept up to 33°C by the time we reached Shaba.

There are four main campsites in Shaba: Dudubatu, Dakadima, Robin Hurt’s and Funan. The first three are all on the southern bank of the Ewaso Nyiro, while Funan is by a spring in the centre of the reserve. We preferred a spot by the river, and opted to camp at Robin Hurt’s after it was recommended to us by a few wise Shaba regulars.

Once you’re familiar with Shaba’s topography, it isn’t too difficult to navigate. From the Natorbe Gate, the main road heads straight through the middle of the reserve to its eastern boundary. A big stretch of the Ewaso runs parallel to the main road, and there are lots of circuits that skirt the river. Just before the Robin Hurst’s campsite, the river winds beneath the imposing Mount Bodich, which we found was a popular nesting site for Rüppell’s griffon vultures.

In the south of the reserve is the equally impressive Mount Shaba. I quickly got my bearings once I’d identified these two landmarks, but I was assisted by the very useful offline mobile application MAPS.ME. You can use the app to log the routes you’ve taken, so that these tracks are visible to future park visitors. In the case of Shaba, many of the dirt tracks off the main road had been ‘drawn’ on the app by fellow writer ‘The Kenyan Camper’ – so I should remember to thank him for that. (On that note, Shaba management should consider producing a detailed map to sell at the main gate.)

Using the app, we eventually found the spot we were looking for. The Robin Hurt’s campsite really ticks all the boxes, and makes good use of Shaba’s defining features. It’s situated on a broad bend of the Ewaso, in between two gentle sets of rapids, and opposite a small rocky outcrop. The main camping ground is shaded by doum palms, and the low canopies of drooping acacia tortilis trees. The spiral seeds from these acacias coated the riverbank, giving off their very distinctive sickly-sweet scent.

There was also plenty of wildlife around the campsite when we arrived. A troop of baboons made mischief on the rocks on the opposite bank, and a large crocodile sunned himself on a distant beach (a clear reminder not to swim in the river). In front of us a pair of Egyptian geese waddled along the river’s edge, and above us orange-bellied parrots squawked within the palm fronds.

Once we’d set up camp, we clambered over the rocks downstream, and found an ideal spot for a sundowner. At this point our rangers had arrived from the main gate, and started to build a campfire. All campers in Shaba are required to be accompanied by two armed rangers, in case of any encounters with elephants or other wild animals. The campsites aren’t fenced and there are no facilities at all, so campers also have to be completely self-sufficient.

Our experience in Shaba was generally very positive, but there are areas where I think some improvements have to be made. I was surprised at how ill-equipped the rangers were for a night in the bush – campers shouldn’t be expected to provide tents, bedding, food and water for them.

Another issue is the price. There’s a one-off Kshs 7,500 booking fee for the campsites, regardless of how long you stay for. This is a reflection of the fact that the reserve favours mobile safari operators over private individuals or groups camping for the weekend. There can easily be options for both types of visitors.

In addition to the booking fee, the conservation fee per day is Kshs 500 for citizens, Kshs 1,000 for residents, and USD 70 for non-residents. Camping fees on top of that are Kshs 200 for citizens, Kshs 500 for residents and USD 30 for non-residents. For more information, or to book a campsite, contact Jane Nairoti on 0725985790.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation

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