HELL’S GATE NATIONAL PARK
Hell’s Gate National Park is named after a narrow break in the cliffs, once a tributary of a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the Rift Valley. It received the name “Hell’s Gate” by explorers Fisher and Thomson in 1883. In the early 1900s, Mount Longonot erupted, and ash can still be felt around Hell’s Gate. The park was officially established in 1984.
Hell’s Gate National Park covers an area of 68.25 square kilometers (26 sq. mi), relatively small by African standards. The park is at 1,900 meters (6,200 ft.) above sea level. It is within Nakuru County, near Lake Naivasha and approximately 90 kilometers (56 mi) from Nairobi. The park is located 14 kilometers (9 mi) after the turnoff from the old Nairobi-Naivasha highway, and has a warm and dry climate. Olkaria and Hobley’s, two extinct volcanoes located in the park, can be seen as well as obsidian forms from the cool molten lava. Within Hell’s Gate is the Hells Gate Gorge, lined with red cliffs which contain two volcanic plugs: Fischer’s Tower and Central Tower. Off of Central Tower is a smaller gorge which extends to the south, with a path that descends into hot springs that have rocks hot enough to cause burns, and sulfuric water.
There is a wide variety of wildlife in the national park, though few in number. Examples of little seen wildlife include lions, leopards, and cheetahs. However, the park has historically been an important home for the rare lammergeyer vultures. There are over 103 species of birds in the park, including vultures, Verreaux’s eagles, augur buzzard, and swifts, Hyraxes, African buffalo, zebra, eland, hartebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, hyena, and baboons are also common. The park is also home to serval and small numbers of klipspringer antelope and Chanler’s mountain reedbuck .
The park is popular due to its close proximity to Nairobi and lowered park fees compared to other National Parks. Hiking, bicycling, motorcycling and even camping are encouraged within the park, one of only two Kenyan national parks where this is allowed. The Daily Nation praised the mountain climbing in Hell’s Gate as “thrilling.” It also recommended the Joy Adamson’s Centre and boating on Lake Naivasha. A Maasai Cultural Center provides education about the Maasai tribe’s culture and traditions
The comprehensive Olkaria Geothermal Station, the first of its kind in Africa, was established in 1981 and generates geothermal power underneath Hell’s Gate from the area’s hot springs and geysers. Three more geothermal stations were added after 2000: Olkaria II, Olkaria III and Olkaria IV. Construction of the 140MW Olkaria V commenced in 2017 and the plant came online in 2019. As of 2019, a significant part of the Hell’s Gate National Park has turned into an industrial area, with many pipelines, power plants and busy tarmac roads.
The park’s temperature ranges from 20-300 Celsius and rain fall varies from 200melimeters to 700 millimeters. Note there are two rain seasons, the long rains start in March to April and the short rains from November to December. The best time to visit Hell’s gate national park is dry seasons when wildlife viewing is more rewarding due to little rain fall which can be received in this periodic months of the year from June to October and December to March.