Nature’s waterpark around Ndoto hills

There’s no health and safety, no lifeguards and no one collecting entrance fees

In Summary

• This is some of the finest nature has to offer

One of the kids waterslides by the river
One of the kids waterslides by the river

I had to think hard whether to write this article about such a little-known gem, but its only one for the adventurous and resourceful, so mass tourism seems unlikely.

From Nairobi, you go north, a long way north, past Nanyuki, Isiolo and Archers Post, headed towards Marsabit on the excellent and quiet road, with occasional sightings of impassive camels. After the town of Laisamis is the turning on the left towards South Horr, mostly good, though with a few points where flooding has caused damage. This for another 70km, until reaching the village of Ngurunit, a combination of brick-built and traditional Samburu homes located by a river running down from the Ndoto hills.

It is the river that is the draw here. Originating at a spring, it permeates its way through a valley strewn with rocks. These create a vast array of small waterfalls, beautiful pools and the main event itself, a number of places where fit and able swimmers can send themselves hurling down the rocks in a manner reminiscent of a waterpark.

Depending on budget and self-sufficiency, there are a few options for where to stay. However, essentially, it’s a camping trip. There are a few locally owned and managed community campsites in the village with some basic ablution facilities and nearby shops for essential goods. For a more adventurous option, it will be necessary to identify a campsite.

We stayed about 10km out of the village along the river, where we had plenty of access to water and even a couple of cheeky natural waterslides right next to our camp. It will be necessary to pay some fees to the community to use the land as well as for some rangers from the conservancy who will safeguard the camp.

It may be necessary to also hire a local guide and all of whom will need the facilities to sleep, eat and drink, so bring a spare tent, sleeping bags, rice, tea and sugar. Who said camping was cheap after all! If you choose to find your own campsite, also ensure the car is robust with good tyres and plenty of clearance as there are some big rocks.

We decided to try and find the source of the river. After quite a lot of fighting through thick bush, waiting a bit for thorns to become disentangled from clothes and flesh, and seeing evidence that elephants definitely frequent the area, we found the actual path. This is a pretty easily navigable track for the fit and agile, though there are periods where a bit of scrambling is required. Although there is limited vision of the river, it is possible to scramble down to it from time to time.

Another option is to bring some water shoes and scramble up along the river, but before jumping off or sliding down anything, do check for rocks below the surface; you’re a long way from serious medical assistance here.

We got as far as where the river meanders into the pass through the hills. Subsequently, we were told by a local Moran that it’s a six-hour walk to the source, and that’s at the pace of the Samburu! But it’s not necessary to stray far from camp, our nine- and 11-year-olds had one plan, and it involved sliding down the rocks as many times as possible.

We counted that no less than six pairs of shorts were worn through over the three days. A solution for this might be fashioning some sort of mat or platform on which to sit. The standard model is for someone to splash onto the rocks, the slider then jumps on and if the timing is right and you keep the line, a natural ramp sends the rider up into the sky, landing smartly in the cool pool at the bottom. Any deviation on this can leave one sheepishly pushing themselves along the reminder, or landing in the halfway pool and having to inelegantly realign oneself before taking the second chute.

This is some of the finest nature has to offer, there’s no health and safety, no lifeguards and no one collecting entrance fees. It's quite possible some of the local kids will come and show you how it’s done without a stitch of clothing on. For our children, it’s their idea of heaven and I’m very happy about it. No electronics, growing up in fresh air and playing in rivers exactly how it used to be. We’ve been twice now, and I strongly suspect it won't be the last.

Panoramic view of Ndoto hills
Panoramic view of Ndoto hills