When an impromptu National Holiday was announced last Friday (for Idd ul Adha), for those without the wherewithal to skip town at short notice, it was important to make a plan. Please note; this info is not just for newbies. It also works for people who have lived in Nairobi for more than 10 years.
Wow, went there for the first time ever last weekend and spent the rest of the day kicking ourselves about the fact that we hadn’t been there sooner. Well organised. Very good value (entry 200/- per adult, 100/- per child – resident). I bought a map which was pricey at 500/- but didn’t begrudge them that. We used it throughout our cycle route. And an added bonus. Great restaurant The River Cafe (no obvious sign of any river though). Delicious, reasonably priced meal. Full of families, lots of babies!
The Forest: Karura forest is large, so no matter how crowded the place gets, you don’t feel like it is unpleasant. We visited last Sunday on the bank holiday weekend. A weekday morning must be blissful. The paths are wide and well laid out through the forest. Cycling or walking under the trees was cool on what was a very hot afternoon. We arrived at around 12.30 pm and I overheard somebody mention that the restaurant was full, so we headed there straight away and booked a table for 3pm (lucky we had had a late breakfast), which gave us a good hour or so to cycle and explore. We visited the waterfall, the butterfly lake, lily lake etc. The place was populated with cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, sight seers and a few push chairs. A bit dusty but all in all, a very happy experience.
The River Cafe: We were very happy with the restaurant. Service was slow but they were rammed, so no surprise there. My daughter got her kiddy burger and chips first, which was a good plan. I had delicious butternut and goats cheese ravioli, my husband had line fish and potatoes. There was lots more on the menu that I was tempted to try, particularly some of the breakfast/brunch items. Great cappuccino and milkshake to finish.
We brought our own bikes but it is possible to hire them for 500/- for two hours plus. (Note: stocks run low on weekends). There’s a kind of mini Karura Forest in Karen called The Primate Centre. There are also great wooded walks here, a river and a waterfall. Worth doing but altogether a bit more neglected than it’s smart Karura big brother.
Okay, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never hiked the entire stretch but my husband and a friend did this last weekend. My daughter and I just met them at the end with a picnic but we have walked and picnicked there lots of times before as a family and when you get home, you do feel that you have properly been out of town, albeit for a few hours.
The hike from the windmills to Kona Baridi (Baridi corner) takes around 4 hours at a leisurely pace. I’ve climbed a couple of peaks with the family before and then turned back. We’ve never bothered with a guide but I noticed this time that a new little ranger house has been constructed with entry fees painted on the wall. Apparently to hike this hills now costs one adult resident 1,000/-. A bit steep considering that it’s a bit un-cared for. There was a lot of rubbish (mainly plastic bottles) all over the hills but the Kenya Forest Reserve ranger said there is now a plan to put waste paper baskets along the route. An initial clean up might also be a good idea but when we suggested this, the ranger was defensive. We always take a dog or two with us as they love the walk. The views are breathtaking. Expect grazing animals and random kids selling beads and key rings!
The main road from Ngong Town to Kona Baridi is badly potholed at the moment, so we took the winding route that follows the base of the Ngong Hills and passes Finch Hatton’s grave. Do stop off and see the grave (marked ‘Denny’s grave’) on the way home. A slightly bizarre experience since the landowner has hedged around the plot, charges an entry fee and has a slightly odd patter about the history of the place, but still very worth doing – especially if you can still picture that bit in the movie when they are at the funeral on open plains overlooking Karen, lions roaming.
3.Picnic at The Nairobi National Park
This is a must, especially before the elevated section of SGR railway construction crossing the Nairobi National Park begins (in January 2017 if not before!). It’s dry now, so easy to drive about, but be aware that during the rainy season the roads get very rutted and can be tricky for smaller cars to navigate over. There are 3 or 4 picnic points where everyone can get out of the car and run around. You can also take a guided walk at the hippo pools at the far end of the park. (watch out for the Baboon cliffs/Mokoyeti picnic point. Baboons are cheeky beasts. We had one rampaging in our car once. Not fun).
It’s a good idea to either go for an early game drive and then bring brunch with you, or take a later evening picnic as it’s hard to spot animals during the middle of the day. People tend not to scrimp on their picnics and often bring a gas burner to cook bacon and eggs or sausages (tip: accompany picnic savvy friends and reap the benefits!). The loos (if there are any) are long drop affairs, so not much fun. We often spot lion or rhino as we drive out of the park but just driving about looking at zebra and giraffe is still very special. Again, buying a map is worthwhile. You can see the city skyline as you drive about and it looks reassuringly far away.
Nairobi National Park link: Entry for residents: adults 1,200/-, kids 600/-. There’s an additional vehicle fee of around 500/-.
Ice skating and Africa are not normally connected in the same sentence but yes, it is possible to skate in Nairobi! Fun for all of the family and now even more accessible on high days and holidays thanks to the new Southern bypass connecting to Mombasa Road. The solar ice rink is inside the Panari Sky Centre. There are little penguins and the ice skating equivalent of zimmer frames for beginners (me). And apparently Nairobi now has a pretty good ice hockey team. Remember to take warm clothes and thick socks. If skating is not your thing, why not try the Bluesky rock climbing wall at Diamond Plaza? Both of the above can be booked for kids parties.
*Note- Bluesky Climbing have also put a fun, outdoor climbing wall up The Purdy Arms, Karen, which opened in July 2016. 500/- to climb. Discovered it yesterday. Lots of fun.
Also recommended: The Giraffe Centre, Karen Blixen museum and the Sheldrick elephant orphange – but these just take an hour so are not really eligible as suggestions for a ‘day out’. Heading out of town to Hells Gate National Park in Naivasha is defintely worth a trip (hike and climb Fischer’s Tower), or even climbing Mount Longonot is fun, but that’s a post for another day. Also, do note that items one and two work really well for dogs. Have you got any suggestions for a great Nairobi family day out? Anyone been to Paradise Lost recently?
Mama Mgeni – Climb Bluesky