A mere walk on the wild side of Nature would place you in park renowned for the massive geothermal activity within its boundaries, the Hell's Gate National Park is a remarkable quarter of the Great Rift Valley. Spectacular scenery including the towering cliffs, water-gouged gouges, star rocked towers, scrub clad volcanoes, and belching plumes of geothermal steam make it one of the most outstanding parks in Africa as far as atmospherics is concerned. Hell's Gate is ideal for a day trip from Nairobi where, in addition to the bio-diversity that doesn’t limit to raptors, visitors can enjoy quite a number of activities there.
Hell's Gate National Park lies south of Lake Naivasha in Kenya, north west of Nairobi. It is named after a narrow break in the cliff, once a tributary of a historic lake that fed early humans in the Rift Valley. It was established in 1984. A small national park, it is known for its wide variety of wildlife and its scenery. This includes the Fischer's Towers and Central Tower columns and Hell's Gate Gorge. The park is equipped with few campsites and includes a Maasai Cultural Centre, providing historical information about the Masaai tribe's culture and traditions.
The name 'Hell Gate' is a corruption of the Dutch phrase Hellagat (it first appeared on a Dutch mape as Helle Gadt). Hell's Gate covers an area of 68.25 square km and it is characterized by diverse topography and geological scenery. It is an important home of, bearded Vultures, the lammergeyer. The lack of predators in the park is the park's secret advantage: you can take in savannas and come face to face with giraffes, antelopes, zebras and warthogs, on your own two feet or better yet, on bicycle wheels.
Hell's Gate is one of the places in East Africa where you can hike the serenity of the park. You can even go on a biking safari, a far cry from peeping animals through a safari's tour cruiser or van. The park is situated in the Great Rift Valley, a jagged tectonic tear that stretches from Lebanon to Mozambique and cracks the continent in two by a few millimeters about annually. This is what makes the park a geological marvel worth visiting: towers of rock that provide rock climbing opportunities for adrenaline junkies and hiking trails that wind around a gorge formed by ancient, raging waters.
Hell's Gate is smaller and less packed with animals than Kenya's other parks, but there is nothing like pedaling your bike past a heard of zebras or trying to keep pace with a galloping giraffe. The best bike rides stretches four miles from the main entrance of the park, Elsa Gate, to the picnic site and ranger station near the entrance to the Ol Njorowa Gorge. Set out on the dirt road in the early morning or late afternoon to escape the harsh equatorial; you're likely to see animals all day, such as families of warthogs dashing across the road or herds of gazelles frolicking through acacias.
The park proves a popular spot for birdwatching with more than a hundred species.
Give the water buffalo plenty of distance; they're more dangerous than they look. Keep an eye out for Fischer's Towers, a 75-foot high rock formation made from molten volcanic lava forced up through a tear in the earth, or if you prefer local lore, a rebellious girl was turned stone after defying her family before her wedding. The site is one of the several places for rock climbing in the park.
Bring in a packed lunch and a cold drink, to picnic at the Ranger's Station picnic area in the park. Be warned, verved monkeys abound and are likely to steal your food. From here, you can hire a guide, the area is community-run by Masaai people, to take you on a hike through the Ol Njorowa Gorge. The trail is not for the faint in heart; you will ford streams, scramble over boulders, and scale short rock faces, but the impressive view are well worth the effort. At times, the walls of the gorge tower so high above you, and hug so tightly together, they almost squeeze out the light out of the sky above. You can also see billowing steam from the park's geysers and dip your hands in bubbling springs that are hot enough to boil eggs.
Visit the Park's Olkaria spa and bathe in the mineral-rich waters produced from the condensed steam to get a hint of how the park is a paradise in it's own nature. The park geysers and springs are used to harvest geothermal energy. Hell's Gate is located nine miles from the turn off from the Nairobi-Naivasha highway. The two hour drive from Nairobi is a trip in itself, especially with the escarpment road's stunning views of the Great Rift Valley. Naivasha Airstrip is the nearest for those who prefer using air as a means of transport. If you are prepared to bargain you can buy Kenyan artefacts from vendors along the way. The road was constructed by Italian prisoners during the second world war, and the tiny church they built is worth a stop.
Hell's Gate has three camping sites: Endachata, Naiburta, and Oldubai, where you will fall asleep to the sound of a hyena's cackle and wake up early for a sunrise game drive. Daybreak is when you will see the most animals and when the park will be drenched in golden light. If you are looking for a romantic stay, Camp Carnelley's is a 15-minute drive from the park's entrance. There you can pitch a tent along the shores of Lake Naivasha or stay in a cabin tucked under fever trees. Next door Fisherman's Camp offers good drinks and excellent brick oven pizza.
The park entry fee ranges from USD 2 for children and USD 3 for adults, strictly for those who are Kenyan citizens. For non-residents, the entry fee is USD 20 for adults and USD 15 for children. The park is definitely a dry, dusty and dramatic though infinitely peaceful with much adventurous sovereignty.