East Tsavo National Park

Tsavo is made up of 2 national parks, East and West, having being split by the railway. At nearly 22,000km, combined they are the largest national park in Kenya. They form one of the greatest wildlife conservancies on earth.

Tsavo is known for its red elephants (dust from the red earth) and is historically famous for the Maneaters of Tsavo, two maneless lions that developed a taste for people during the early 1900’s. They were eventually shot after killing 130 people who were working on the Mombasa-Nairobi railway line.

Tsavo East is the bigger of the 2 and has more wildlife, having recovered from significant ivory poaching in the 1970’s and 80’s. But the West has the better scenery, it one of the most diverse landscapes in East Africa, that includes not just mountains, but volcanic craters, lava flows and natural springs, one of which you can get out of the vehicle to visit.

Our camp was 5 minutes away from the gate of East Tsavo national park, so our plan was to spend the day there and return to the same campsite then the next day to drive through West Tsavo as that would bring us out onto a back road to Amboseli national park. These were the 3 national parks we’d picked to visit in Kenya and we’d do them in 3 days.

We were at the gate as the sun rose. There were a few other vehicles going in. The staff were super helpful and lent us a laminated map. The junctions were also numbered. We were stoked given our tendency to get lost in national parks. It help heaps but we still spent the day only roughly knowing where we were.

We did all the main areas and saw plenty, with some entirely red warthogs being the first of day (excluding the elephants wandering round before the gate, which we figured out as we left was set a little inside the park fence).

In the late morning we hit the plains. They were spectacular – red sand with grey grass and dark skies that threatened rain. We passed a couple of vehicles but after that we saw no one else for 4 hours. It felt very much like we were on our own. We stopped in an open area and had lunch (not leaving the vehicle). We hadn’t seen much on the plains apart from herds of red elephants at a distance walking to watering holes. Until we encountered a herd crossing our single lane and very bumpy track up ahead. They were a way off but it was a good sized herd and they seemed to be crossing on a diagonal route that might bring them next to us. We did a 21 point turn while we could just in case. In the end when they finally all crossed they took a path that took them farther away from us and we did another 21 point turn and carried on.

We’d seen plenty of red Zebra (dust zebra) but finding one having a dust bath was a highlight.

As we made our way back to the gate we did a couple more of the loops we’d passed on the way out (we’d decided to get distance in the morning and to come back slower) and found some waterholes with heaps of elephants and buffalo and antelope. As we left there was a huge herd coming in to drink but they were going to cross the road and after 8 hours we were done for the day so we powered though before they got there. We still passed plenty more on the way out.

Before heading to camp we decided to go into town and get a few provisions. It was busy and there was no where to park but on one of our loops looking for a park we spotted a modern hairdressers. Emma needed a haircut so we pulled in. Marie sat and waited in the vehicle and watched with amusement as they took her out of the ladies side to the men’s (they had the clippers).

After we got some tasty round balls (no idea what they are) from a street seller and then headed to camp. We got a shock as we drove through the gate, we had company! An older (but as they liked to point out not retired) Austrian couple and their overlanding truck were parked by the waterhole. They’d gone over to the side so our spot from the night before still gave us enough space from each other. We were excited to have company for a change so we talked to them for far to long when we should have been making camp. They’d also seen elephants around in the near distance so when we finally made camp we sat up at the tent opening and we could see quite a few.

We again slept with our tent door open to the watering hole, just in case. The woman joked that if we saw a lion at the watering hole in the night to wake her up. At 1am a loud roar from the other side of the watering hole had us both wide awake. We scanned the torch and briefly caught a set of eyes, though whether it was the lion we’ll never know. Excited we lay with our heads out the tent watching, but we followed it’s roaring move away up into the hills. We tucked back in and went back to sleep.


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