Travel

One-day vacation under the radar

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One half of the Twin Ndunda Falls at Camp Ndunda in Njukiri Forest, Embu County. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Camp Ndunda  is managed by the Kenya Forest Service and the Njukiri Community Forest Association.
  • Located in Njukiri Forest in Embu County, the camp is famed for its breath-taking canopy walk on a suspended bridge and the peaceful walk through the forest.
  • The forest has become a source of income and pride for the community around it. It is a perfect example of what can happen when man and nature live together in harmony.

It has been my goal to explore destinations away from the wilderness, sand and sea. Places that offer solitude but less than three-hour’s drive from Nairobi. Where I can take a day trip and come back feeling recharged. I had heard of Camp Ndunda located in Njukiri Forest in Embu County, famed for its breath-taking canopy walk on a suspended bridge and the peaceful walk through the forest.

After a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Nairobi, I step into this 450 acres of forest. It carries within it a rich variety of flora and fauna- mainly birds — and is home to the twin falls called Ndunda, which means a large fruit. My friends and I began with a 2.1-kilometre nature trail, upon paying the entry fee of Sh350 at a modern hut thatched with grass which is the reception. A wooden gate with inspirational nature quotes ushers us in. You might want to have a pair of hiking shoes.

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The starting point of the 2.1 kilometre long Nature Trail at Camp Ndunda, Njukiri Forest Embu County. PHOTO | POOL

Francis Kabuga is the man we were to follow as we sought to unearth the treasure here. He has been doing this for the past one and a half years.

“It should be boring by now considering it’s the same route day in, day out?” I ask him as we zigzagged along pathways, gradually settling into a rhythm.

On either side are blackberry shrubs. Overshadowing them are large Meru Oaks and Eucalyptus trees. I have always heard of the mulberry shrub. But today I see one— a red mulberry shrub with clusters of red fruit. They are juicy and slightly sweet, which must delight the birds that are chirping all around us. Tea baskets are the litter collections bins. How eco-friendly!

Mr Kabuga, who is slightly taken aback by my excitement at the mulberries, responds with a question, “Do you get bored writing?”

Fair question.

Wafting through the air is the scent of nature, a mix of the slightly wet red soil, trees and berries; simple things I miss by living in a city choked with pollution.

There are pockets of resting spots for those who choose to spend their time under this man-made part of the forest. They are picnicking spots with seats.

The forest, with over 30 species of trees, is partly natural and partly man-made planted through conservation efforts. It is managed by the Kenya Forest Service and the Njukiri Community Forest Association.

The land on which it stands was almost laid bare but a concerted effort by the community and the government brought it back to life again.

It is this quiet, that courts over 3,500 visitors every year to the forest. The majority come from Embu, Meru, Kirinyaga and Nairobi. As the numbers grow, the forest has become a source of income and pride for the community around it. It is a perfect example of what can happen when man and nature live together in harmony.

Minutes later, my eyes and ears are alive to the sight and sound of gushing water of River Rupingazi. We are at the Ndunda twin falls whose waters are clear. From their source at Mt. Kenya, the cascading waters falls 12 metres down into the plunge pool below, fast in one, slow and steady in the other. These twin falls are lorded over by tall indigenous trees.

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One half of the Twin Ndunda Falls at Camp Ndunda in Njukiri Forest, Embu County. PHOTO | POOL

People are normally allowed to swim but only with a swimming instructor provided upon request. Other activities are the water up-thrust where you dive from the waterfalls, Tarzan-like wild swing, which you use to swing you from one side of the river to the other like a pendulum and zip-lining. These activities cost between Sh500 and Sh1,000.

I wondered how it would feel to do a Tarzan swing over the water. Then I thought of how I could easily break my coccyx.

I stood there instead, marvelling at the beauty, took countless photos and we moved along. Part of the nature trail traverses over the river on an exhilarating canopy walk, 30 metres from the ground. The walk on this wooden path is only for the lion-hearted.

However, you have to choose between fear or missing out on the view of the slow-moving river, forest, and falls from up here, which is gorgeous. Surprisingly, it is also calming and reassuring once you have made it to the very end. If the canopy walk does not tickle your fancy, you can spend time exploring the natural caves.

Our walk ends at the forest’s main camping site, which is ideal for hosting families, couples or solo travellers. One can choose to camp on the ground or by the river. The camp-sites were born out of a participatory management plan between the community and the KFS to cater to the growing demand of visitors who seek to stay longer in the serene, green and beautiful environment. Camping fees are Sh1,500 per person.

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The ground camping site at Camp Ndunda Falls, Njukiri Forest, Embu County. PHOTO | POOL

For those who do not like the idea of sleeping under a starry night, the place offers accommodation in cottages, huts and teepees. Prices range from between Sh4,500 to Sh10,000.

Goat eating is a favourite pastime for most people that want to eat like our forefathers albeit for a short while.

Besides the water activities, there is archery, rock climbing, and an excursion to the magnificent Mount Kenya. There is also a ground for games such as soccer

Like everyone else, the pandemic has taught me that I should live more intentionally. I reignited my desire for nature, adventure, and solitude, and a day trip to Camp Ndunda was the right place to start.

Nothing is less memorable than a trip that goes exactly as it was planned.