Makueni County

Discover Makueni County

View of the rolling Chyulu Hill in Chyulu Hills National Reserve.  Photo Courtesy
The rippling Chyulu Hill in Chyulu Hills National Reserve. Image Courtesy

Brief Overview of Makueni County

The arid Makueni County 8,034 km2 in area remains untravelled, the good and rare surprises it has in store for the intrepid an experiment yet to determine. 87 kms from Nairobi, via A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road, you reach Salama Town, the northeast gateway town into Makueni County which outstretches east of the busy A109 Mombasa-Nairobi through Emali, Kibwezi and Mtito Andei, for 205 kms, until the Tsavo Gate into Tsavo East National Park. Keen motorists who decide to drive through Makueni from Machakos – it is 141 kms from Machakos to Makindu through Wote – now travel on tarmac all the way through some of the most unfamiliar and off-the-cuff scenery of Ukambani. The country is least populated, the entire county by only one million inhabitants, with a population density of 125 people per km2. Their sustenance is typically small scale farming.

Fairly good linkages are one of the pertinent features of Makueni. The Nairobi-Uganda Railway has three stations in Makueni County: at Emali, at Kibwezi and at Mtito Andei. The A109 Mombasa-Nairobi Road virtually straddles its entire length from the northwest to southeast as the key line of communication, and which gives it a vantage position to exploit tourism. Or if you are in a hurry, you can fly on a small chartered plane from Mombasa or Nairobi to Makindu. The other main impression on the visitor is how poised the landscape is. Travelling southerly from Nairobi, the scenery ranges from sbrubland, picturesque hills, rolling savanna, and the much more open country near Mtito Andei. Makueni County is widely known for co-hosting three of Kenya’s most treasured wildlife habitats: Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks, and Chyulu National Park.​

On the western side of the county there is an explosion of impressive hills. The scenic hillocks, major and minor scarps for which Makueni is famous for are predominantly found in the western region.  Generally speaking, the land rises from 600 ms in the south close to Tsavos, to almost 1,900 ms at the uplands of Mbooni and Kilungu Hills in the northern area close to Machakos County. The monotony of the undulating plains set at 900 ms is decorously broken only by batteries of inselberg and the tops of hills such as Makueni, Katambua, Kianga, Thabu, Poi, Mandoi and Mubau. The form of these hills varies, though generally they are narrow rounded stumps and occasionally flat-topped. The eastern area of Makueni County is gently sloping but as one moves westwards, the angle of slope increases as a result of residual hills on the western and northern regions.

Salient Features of Makueni County

  • County Number 17
  • Area – 8034 km2
  • Altitude – 3734 ft
  • Major Towns – Kibwezi, Emali, Mtito Andei
  • Borders – Kajiado, Taita Taveta, Kitui, Machakos

Brief History of Makueni County

Between 1925-1936, the colonial government declared as Crown Land the areas settled by the Kamba around Ngulia Hills (present day Ngulia Lodge) in Tsavo. Although European farms had little impact on the Kamba, they did attract a few industries like Kenya Meat Corporation at Athi River and East African Portland Cement Company.  Makueni District was hived-off Machakos District, in 1922, as one of the 13 districts forming Eastern Province.  Much of Makueni County was not inhabited until the 1930’s due to low agricultural productivity. Owing to semi-aridity to arid with low and erratic rainfall, hence highly prone to frequent drought, severe food shortages and scarcity of water, it was of little interest to early settlers but surprisingly of much interest to the early missioners in Kenya.

Beautiful scene of Mbooni Hills.  Photo Courtesy of Fly Shots
Beautiful scene of Mbooni Hills near Machakos. Image Courtesy of Fly Shots

Places of Interest in Makueni County

1. Mbooni Hills

These are situated in the northern quarter of Makuenu County, 40 kms south of Machakos Town along C97 Machakos-Tawa Road. Mbooni Hills march on the hilly landscape found in the eastern and southern areas of Machakos County – comprised of Kanzalu Hill, Mua-Mitaboni-Iveti Range and Kiima Kimwe Hill. Like Kiima Kimwe closest to them, Mbooni Hills are marked by rounded spurs with steep often deeply dissected margins, separated from nearby Kilingu Hills by extensive areas of ridges and valleys with a dendritic drainage pattern. The spectral difference between the two – Kiima Kimwe and Mbooni – is that the first shows up in a brown colour hue and the latter a darker red hue. This subtle differences is due to lack of cultivated forests at Kiima Kimwe. Mbooni Hills are easily recognized by a medley of coniferous trees at the peak and bushland with stony sandy soils at the slopes have in present-day come under serious threat of intrusion by illegal loggers, forest blazes, debarking charcoal burning and human encroachment – all degrading its fragile biosphere. The summit levels of Mbooni and Kilungu Hills, at between 1700 ms to 2100 ms above sea level, both present a lekker driving experience and a laudable trekking adventure. Mbooni Hills are also an important cultural place for the community living around. As legend goes, these hills are the epicenter of Kamba Community (also known as Akamba) who first settled at Mbooni Hills and close-by Ulu in the 18th Century.

Spatial Location of Mbooni Hill in Makueni County
Spatial Location of Mbooni Hill in Makueni County

2. Thwake Dam

To hear some big-name engineers talk, Thwake Dam along Makueni’s northeast boundary with Kitui County, close to where Athi and Thwake Rivers converge, is set to be a massive milestone for both these regions. “It is designed to supply 150,000 cubic metres of piped water daily for domestic use and 35,000 cubic metres for Konza Technopolis. Or again, “it will be implemented in four main phases that include construction of a 77 metre high dam, a hydro power plant, a 34,600 cubic meters of water supply, and a final phase for irrigating 40,000 hectares in Makueni and Kitui Counties”. The multi-billion 29 km2 dam project (82 Bn) was first proposed in 1953 before commencing in 2017 and getting “a lot of attention” by the Government, particularity in funding. And if everyone is right, it would be quite a turnaround in a region where residents walk close to 10 kms in search of water for both domestic use and for their livestock.  One key milestones has almost been achieved: diverting a stretch of Athi River from its natural course (via two mega tunnels as the alternative underground route for Athi before its waters are channelled to rejoin the original course to the Indian Ocean) to create a dry surface for excavating the ground. Among the places of interest near Thwake Dam include Unoa and Malivanii Hills and Nzueni Range.

3. Konza Technopolis

Conceptualized in 2009 and contiguous with the northwest border of Makueni County (60 kms southeast of Nairobi via the A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road) in what was formerly a part of Malili Ranch, the 5000-acres Konza Technopolis, more proper Konza ICT Park, is set to be Kenya’s foremost technology oriented city dubbed as Africa’s Silicon Savanna. “In 2012, the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology retained a team of consultants led by New York City based HR & A Advisors, Inc., to prepare a detailed business plan and master plan for Phase One. The Master Development Partner 1 (MDP1) team included SHoP Architects, Dalberg, Centre for Urban and Regional Planning, OZ Architecture and Tetra Tech” – Konza Technopolis. On completion, Konza is envisioned as a top-notch technology city which will comprise an electronic manufacturing plant, an international finance centre, data centres and a living and leisure residential area for up to 185,000 people.  Phase One of Konza ICT Park which primary aims to develop its utilities kicked-off in 2017. In addition, a privately-run tourism-oriented railway line from Konza ICT Park linking it to Lake Magadi and Kajiado is nearing completion. It is set to be finished in 2025.

Konza Technology City, Kenya. Published by ICT Authority Kenya

4. Kilima Kiu Manor

On any given weekend, tens of residents from Nairobi and its environs descent along the A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road for 80 kms to the Kilima Kiu Manor at Malili in search of a descent hidey-hole. In return, the manor has taken time to develop exemplary hospitality standards in the hope that travellers will find their stay here both relaxing and memorable. It’s a winning combination. Set at the slopes of Kilima Kiu Hill (that literally means that hill), the lovely boutique country-style home was originally built as a residence for Sir Frank Joyce who arrived in Kenya 1911. “The ranch grounds have lived since then and with every new owner a breath of fresh air and activity is infused. From ostrich rearing to cattle ranching and even dairy farming, Kilima Kiu Manor has been home to clotted cream, raspberry jam and warm scones. Accomodation is offered in only eight rooms – each with a deluxe king size bed and interiors well designed with comfort in mind. Off to one side, guests here can also enjoy horseback rides to the countryside, biking, birding and swimming. It’s found 3.5 kms off the A109.

5. Makongo Viewpoint

East of Konza City along C99 Machakos-Wote-Makindu Road is one the bosting launches of Makueni County. 35 kms south of Machakos Town one commences on a 30 kms long winding drive, steep and plied with twists and turns along the saddle of the hills, which offers spectacular scenes of undulating hills covered by forests and terraces. Makongo Valley’s panoramic viewing point has been well constructed with a visionary touristic focus. And at the Makue or Makongo Viewpoint there is a sheltered stopover with fine views of Makongo Valley that attracts joyriders, ornithologists and hikers. Phase 2 of the revamping project of Makongo Viewpoint project will include an eatery, tented cabanas, a water-catchment  projects, a sports facility and a jogging trails. Not far from Makue there is choice of two roads. The first (C99) through Nziu and Kalamba gets you to the A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road at Emali in about 30 kms. The other road (C109) through Wote and Kathonzweni get to the A109, at Makindu, in 98 kms.

Cinematic view of Makongo Valley. Published by Wllington Kilonzo

6. Kampi ya Mawe

If you follow the C109 after Makue towards Makindu you will find yourself in about 40 kms (shortly after passing Wote Town) on a road which switches back through a rock-hewn terrain, small settlements and patches of blue gums with strange beehives hanging on them; and all through the constantly changing scenery children wave and shout a welcome. The region is best-known for the intrusive granite. The name itself (Kampi ya Mawe) is, however, attributed to a hill in the region set at an elevation of 1,159 meters. Due to the surrounding residual mantle of soil, which extends to a considerable depth, the structural relationship of this granite hill and the surrounding granitoid landscape is undocumented and totally obscured. It is considered, however, that Kampi ya Mawe is a continuation of a ridge of non-intrusive granitoid further south-west.

7. Nzaui Range

Most on leaving Makongo Valley opt for the (C99) through Nziu and Kalamba to the A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road at Emali. This stretch of road cuts through Kitondu and Kitende Hills on one side and Nzaui Range on the other, that rise to an altitude of 1675-1830 ms (5500-6000 ft). On the eastern side along this route rises the 13 kms long Nzaui Range which is a fine example of the ancient granite masses containing rafts or roof pendants in Makueni County. The Nzaui itself is fashionable for the well-defined shelf (sharp nose or rock face) marking an abrupt change of topography on its southern edge. The summit is covered with pine forest and several large outcrops which double as viewing ledges. For touring, the range is a lighthouse hiking destination at Kalamba Village. The landscape around Nzaui is managed by Kenya Forest Service who also operate a guesthouse and campsite. Hikers and walkers to Nzaui Range are advised to report to Kenya Forest Service office before embarking on the hike and from where they can get assistance of expert guides. The 12 kms round trip with the Mituluni Center as a usual starting-point takes on average 6 hours (round-trip).

Spatial Location of Nzaui Range in Makueni County
Spatial Location of Nzaui Range in Makueni County

8. Mii Water Project

The community water repository at Mii, situated 15 kms south of Kalamba on the western side of Nzaui Range, is worth a look-see. Began in 2008 and funded through USAID as a sustainable-resources project to mitigate the unshakeable shortage of clean water for domestic use, Mii Water Project is a fine example of how this vital natural resource can be tapped in water-deficient regions using simple and indigenous comprehension. Here, rain water is harvested from the enormous rock outcrops before being filtered and treated for use. This is one of a slew of community led-projects working towards inventively and sustainably eliminating water shortage in the eastern region of Kenya.  The project is also a great demonstration of investing in community-led initiatives. At the very top of the large outcrop at Mii Water Project trippers can learn the local knack of this consequential repository, and also enjoy pleasant views of the Nzaui Range.

9. Makueni Cultural Centre

Makueni Cultural Centre, at Mii, is a community-based tourism organization steadfast on promoting Kenya’s cultural diversity especially on the indigenous Akamba Community. This aims to offer a lens to glimpse into the “Akamba way of life” and foster a heritage of intellect. Despite its enormous touring resource, Makueni County is often sold short, an epithet Makueni Cultural Centre aims to overturn. Eventually, it aims to be what Mogotio Equator Centre is for Baringo County; the focal tourism point. For first time trippers to Makueni, the Centre provides valuable information about places of interest, little-known places and logistical information.  From here, one may explore the close by King’angi Rock.

10. Holy Nzaui Rock

This is situated on the eastern footslopes of Nzaui Range (sometimes known as the Nzaui Hills) within the precipitous mountain country with thick pine forests in Kalamba Village. “Legend has it that the first Akamba family descended from heaven and landed on this boulder, a theory that is accentuated by impressions of human footprints on a rock on the hill overlooking AIC Kalamba.” – NMG. Call it myth, but this theory is practically irrefutable in the Kamba Community. The incised footprints said to impressed while the rock was still wet alongside the foot prints of a cow signal that their deities abundantly blessed these lands.

11. AIC Kalamba

Not far from the Nzaui Range can be found one of the venerable Churches in Kenya. Established in 1895 by Scottish missioner Rev. Peter Cameroon Scott, the small red-brick holding of AIC Kalamba Church on the foot slopes of Nzaui was the foremost African Inland Church to be founded in Kenya, and one of the oldest Churches in the interior of Kenya. On August 17th, 1895, AIM’s founding mission party set off, consisting of P. Scott, his sister Margaret, and six others. They arrived off the east African coast in October, and in little more than a year his idea was to establish a network of Churches with four stations at Kalamba, Sakai, Kilingu and Kangundo. More missioner workers came from Canada and the United States, and the small group expanded to 15. On October 21st, 1971, at a national service at Mumbuni in Machakos led by the Reverend Wellington Mulwa, AIM ceded mission stations to AIC, and AIM became a department of the AIC in all church related matters. Today, the African Inland Church (AIC) is arguably the largest protestant denomination within Kenya, with no less than 3,000 established Churches. Aside from its unique enriching history, callers to AIC Kalamba can get to learn more on the captivating history of a by-gone era in Kenya where roads, phones, towns and civilization were practically non-existence. What’s more, its well-thought location with uninterrupted views of rolling hills and valley conveys the care and attention early missioners took in selecting formidable sites despite the odds and challenges stacked against them.

Some of the earliest and leading missionary societies in Kenya were: Church Missionary Society, Mill Hill Mission, Holy Ghost Mission, Africa Inland Mission, the Church of Scotland Mission and United Methodist Society. – P. Mumo

12. Kalamba Fruit Factory

In the face of its ecological shortcomings, Makueni County is among the largest producers of fruits in Kenya; of notably mangoes. “Governor Kivutha Kibwana decided to build this processing plant after realizing that many of the 12,000 mango farmers in his county were struggling to earn a decent living because of the lack of a local buyer”. At Kalamba Fruit Factory, located in Kilili Nzaui, the potential of fruit is harnessed to further enrich the livelihood of farmers. The mega project hopes to tap an annual production of 20,000 metric tonnes of mangoes, 20,000 metric tonnes of citrus, 1,500 metric tonnes of avocado and 5,000 metric tonnes of bananas – all valued at a noteworthy Kshs. 20 billion. Kalamba Fruit Factory currently produces only pulp, but plans to install juice-making plants to add more value to its produce as well as a water bottling plant.

13. Virgin Mary Rock

14 kms south of Kalamba at Katheka Village (in proximity to Maanoni Dam), the Virgin Mary Rock offers excellent facilities to round-off the perfect trip of the far-reaching history of Makueni with modern Christianity. Were it not for the undeniable resemblance to one the most recognizable emblems, this site would be difficult to equate with this back-country. Impressive for where it’s found and the mystery of the rock itself, Virgin Mary Rock discovered in 2015 has a naturally imprinted indentation bearing resemblance to the recognizable portrait of Mary Mother of Jesus clutching Baby Jesus on her laps. The site is marred by both myth and mystery which seems much more a product of the fact that the revered AIC Kalamba was established not too far north of here. So much so that there are plans to officially install this oddity as a National Shrine.

14. Emali

27 kms south of Kalamba you reach Emali and A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road. This fast-growing transit towns is technically the gateway township to Kajiado, Oloitoktok, Amboseli National Park and Namanga border to Tanzania through whooping open grassland backdropped by Chyulu Hills and lower down Mount Kilimanjaro. Emali lies on a picturesque peneplain which viewed from certain points, in pleasant weather, is attractive scenically for the keen motorist along the A109. Between the periphery area of Emali and Sultan Hamud, east and south, the landscape is dotted by a series of  low-lying cone hills spread across the plain. 50 kms north of Emali (Nairobi bound) at Salama, the views of this archaic plain strewn with ash cones, tweaked by seasonality, is equally fetching.

15. Ka Kindui Falls

Occurring along the Ka Kindui River in Kilome Hills, the 100 metres Ka Kindui Falls (in 6 steps) rushing down the high cliff of stratified rock with horizontal veneers contrasting with radiant hues of earthy shades is simply outstanding. It is almost unfathomable that the stunning sight of Ka Kindui Falls has remained only a lesser-known destination in Makueni County despite its unprecedented beauty. The Falls is situated about 7 kms from Kilome Center, which requires some asking around and which the friendly locals are all too happy to direct you to or voluntarily walk you to the site. To get to Kilome from Nairobi, you drive out along the A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road to Salama (87 kms) through Athi River and Malili. From Salama its about 14 kms to Kilome Center. From Emali, Salama is about 36 kms, northerly heading towards Nairobi, via the A109 Road.

16. Dare Devil’s Rock

Just a short walk from Ka Kindui Falls brings you to a litmus test of acrophobia, walking along a narrowed ledge at the top of a near vertical 35 ms vertical rock face eke-named the Dare Devil’s Rock. This is a treat for avid hikers who love going off the beaten path to uncover hair-raising ledges with spectacular views, and anyone hoping to conquer and overcome the fear-inducing almost vertical face. “To get to Dare Devils’ – a 30-40 metres vertical drop, you’ll definitely be on all 4’s. Followed by two others of similar vertical drop. I love heights. At this stage my legs were wobbling!” – Kilome WordPress. From A109 Mombasa Road turn left at Salama and proceed 14 kms on tarmac to Kyale. Here you’ll find a Catholic church to your right (midway between Kilome and Nunguni). Turn right onto an all weather road for about 7 kms. Ask locals how to get Ka Kindui Falls and keep at it till you get to hill’s edge. The Falls is just off the road.

Spatial Location of Kilome Center in Makueni County
Spatial Location of Kilome Center in Makueni County

17. Kyanzizi Falls

Reminiscent of Zaina Falls in Nyeri County and located within a stone’s throw of the equally remarkable Ilovoto Falls, Kyanzizi Falls on appearances alone is beautiful, even without counting up the annexing all-round wondrous views of Masembeni Hills, Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. On arrival at Kilome there will be a forest on your left with a ‘Kenya Forest Service’ signpost. Do not get to the sign post, look to the right there is a murram road; turn onto this and go about 1 km past a sign ‘Mbukuni Primary’ that’s on your right. The road then bends left then right. As it starts straightening, look on the right for 2 wooden small kiosks and thereafter a right turn with a small sign to ‘Kyakitoo Catholic Church’. Along this road, take the immediate right and proceed for about 400 metres looking out for a waterfall on your right at the valley bend. To get to the waterfall above it, seek a local to show you the way. To view waterfall below proceed by foot to the tree line 20 metres ahead and look below on your left. To turn you car and double-back, proceed ahead for 30-40 metres – Muoki Kioko.

18. Hunter’s Lodge

Judging by the growth rate of hotels on ‘Makueni stretch’ along A109 (meaning roughly the area between Salama and Mtito-Andei east of A109) it is blooming as a popular layover for travellers between the Coast and Nairobi. This was not always so, probably because communications, water and other infrastructure came late to the rural areas further from A109. One of the long-standing hotels in Makueni County that has been a treasured layover point and a great holiday-destination, found about 156 kms southeast of Nairobi through Salama, Sultan Hamud, Emali and Simba, at Kiboko, is the 62-rooms middle-budget Hunter’s Lodge. Set on 25 acres and built in 1958 by John Hunter (an avid game hunter turned wildlife conservationist) as a hunting lodge, Hunter’s Lodge at Kiboko is strategically located close to Chyulu Hills National Park, Tsavo (East and West) National Parks and South Kitui National Reserve. Then and now, this relic of the golden safari days plays host to the ever-growing number of safari fanatics visiting the region. It exudes a decorum of the glory days of big-game hunting, the Victorian-style brick holding contrasting beautifully to the sprawling arid-bushland teeming with lots of birds and wildlife. Travellers to Hunter’s Lodge can enjoy lazing around their man-made lake awash with a motley collection of birds chirping all sort of melodies, enjoy a swim at their generous outdoor pool, take boating tour of Kivoko Springs, or excursion to Chyulu Hills National Park.

19. Kiboko Handicrafts

Kiboko Handicrafts, a self help wood handicraft society set along the A109 not far from Hunter’s Lodge, is a member of the Mada Hotel who support this local industry. Kiboko Handicrafts focuses of the promotion and retail of Akamba cultural products and especially of the wooden crafts and locally knit antiques. Popular at Kiboko Handicrafts are its fancy traditionally woven baskets which are both “sustainable” and environment-friendly. It is located at Kiboko Centre.

20. Makindu Sikh Temple

Midpoint between Kiboko and the turnoff into Kibwezi sits the modest town of Makindu, 171 kms from Nairobi. The center of interest at Makindu, for many generations, is the Makindu Sikh Temple built in 1926 by Sikhs working on the Mombasa-Uganda Railway which hitherto became a popular stop for travellers wishing to pay their respects to Waheguru and as a halfway-house with kitchen facilities. One of the most endearing hallmarks about the Makindu Sikh Temple is, although donations are accepted, the average meal and accommodation for callers to the temple have always been free of charge. Quite unmistakable, just off the A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road at Makindu, the temple which spans 5000 m2 was before 1926 just a tiny tin-roof hut where the Sikhs prayed and where Guru Sahib was housed. Open to all, regardless of cast or religion, this offers a quick-look of the fine architecture of Sikh Temples. Visitors to Makindu Sikh Temple can enjoy walking its grounds and get served a hot meal. “It has a huge dining area that provides free food (Langar) round-the-clock courtesy of the founder Guru Nanak.”  It is a great rest-stop for tired and weary drivers on the busy A109. There are a few rooms at hand for its guests for up a two-nights stay.

Spatial Location of Sikh Temple, Makindu in Makueni County
Spatial Location of Sikh Temple, Makindu in Makueni County

21. Simba-Kibwezi (Mbiu Nzau) Hills

23 kms south of Makindu the appearance of part of the Simba-Kibwezi Hills before the turnoff to Kibwezi Town is well known by trippers to Mombasa as it’s traversed by Nairobi to Mombasa Railway and A109 Nairobi to Mombasa Road. Although the area, marked by rock boulders outgrown with turf, has attracted little attention with miners and adventure outfits, it is one of the memorable roadside attractions at Kibwezi. These huge volcanic rocks at Simba-Kibwezi area are of considerable importance in connection to water supply. Most of the rain falling on the rock percolates downwards through them and flows out as sizeable springs along the northern edge to replenish streams at Simba, Kiboko, Makindu and Umani Springs. “The area is most remarkable for the presence of volcanic phenomena that can be seen mainly in its western half. Lava flows of various ages are present and numerous small volcanic cones, which in part belong to the volcanic field of the Chyulu range. A wide composition of volcanic phenomena can be seen, including pit-craters, bombs, lava tubes and spatter cones. Over 350 volcanic vents have been traced in the area.” – E.P.I. Saggerson

22. Kambua Resort

From the A109 turnoff it’s a short 2 kms drive to the main Kibwezi Town and a further 1.5 kms to the Kambua Resort, one the new listings in Makueni’s fast-growing hospitality industry. The commendable 10-cottages Kambua Resort has made a name for itself as a restful and quiet layover for motorists along the A109 and those aiming to explore the Tsavo National Parks. Set in the outskirts of Kibwezi Town, this offers a much needed respite from the ever-busy Nairobi-Mombasa Highway, and, quite reasonably-priced, also serves as a satisfactory jumping-off place for trippers exploring the sights and sounds of lower Eastern Region of Kenya which include Chyulu Hills National Park and the Tsavo Parks.

23. Kivungoni Springs

For nature and outdoor lovers a day out at Kivungoni is the next best thing to a safari in almost guaranteed pleasant weather of Kibwezi. 3.4 kms northeast of Kibwezi along the dusty B7 Kibwezi-Ikutha Road at Miatini Village, standing in contrast to the perched sun beaten landscape, lies the beautiful Kivungoni Dam. A natural display of varying colour and tranquility, this is part of the Kwa Kyei Irrigation Scheme and the surrounding wetland of Kivungoni Springs created in the early 1900’s by Dwa Sisal Company. Now a liked outdoor space, its appeal has caught-on with the romantic side of the locals as a beyond-money delightful and rejuvenating spot. It has an impressive diversity of birds too. At Kivungoni, there are number of small fishing boats doubling as water taxis to explore the dam and try a hand at fly-fishing. The biggest trump-card at Kivungoni Springs are the unusually evergreen grounds which bring much delight to nature-lovers.

Anyone visiting Kibwezi Town for the first time would easily rule out the likelihood of enjoying such pastimes as fishing, swimming, boat riding and bird watching. They would be forgiven: The dusty town sits on an arid zone of Makueni County where rivers seldom last beyond the second week after it rains, and those that do, have rocky and muddy beds that discourage swimmers – Pius Maundu

24. Kibwezi Forest

This 72 km2 forest sits across from the turnoff into Kibwezi and is contiguous with Chyulu Hills National Park. It forms part of Kenya’s esoteric ground water forests valued greatly for prodigious floral biodiversity and harbouring wildlife, most exemplary of these at Kibwezi Forest beings the elephants. “Based in the luscious surrounds of an ancient 18,000-acres groundwater forest which now forms part of the Chyulu Hills National Park, the Kibwezi Forest provides a habitat for a number of species including elephants, leopards, hyenas, buffaloes and bushbucks, serval cats, civets, mongooses and duikers” – DWST. Of a more recent development, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with concomitant efforts of Kenya Forest Service have undertaken a twenty five years conservation project aimed at conserving Kibwezi Forest. And to encourage sustainable tourism in the forest, the elegant 5-rooms self-catering Umani Springs Camp operated by David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is set at the heart of forest, enjoying lovely views to include Umani Springs water-holes found at the doorstep of the property. It sleeps ten people, offering two sleek queen-size rooms and three spacious twin rooms.  Each bedroom is beautifully designed with high thatched ceilings, large netted windows, alfresco showers and a sweeping veranda looking out to the encircling forest. By visiting the Umani Springs Camp holiday-makers directly contribute to the protection of Kibwezi Forest through inclusive concession fees paid to Kenya Forest Service from the revenue generated at the Umani Springs.

25. Chyulu Hills National Park

The 741 km2 Chyulu Hills National Park forms part of the Tsavo-Amboseli Arc of the thousands of square kilometres of virtually empty bushland that harbour the world’s largest assembly of elephants, estimated at over 30,000. It was the exotic description of a series of ash cones at Chyulu Hills as the Green Hills of Africa in the selfsame titled book published in 1935 by Ernest M. Hemingway – recounting his 1933 safari experience in Kenya – that thrust this area under the international limelight. These ash hills cones, which range from 50 to 1000 feet in height, are a conspicuous features of the landscape and are usually in linear groups having a northwest to southeast strike that trends parallel to that of the main range. In many respects, the scenic crest of the hills remain its focal point, yet, there is plenty of game in the woodland savanna on the lower slopes and a wild and out floral gamut. An important aspect linked to these woodlands are its watershed services which provide water to humans and wildlife. After the rains, the sunburned hill-scape of Chyulu is transformed to a verdant scene of rolling hillocks and far-out sweeping greens. Chyulu Hills National Park is also home to Kenya’s most extensive caves. It contains the Kisula Caves widely cited as the second longest lava caves in the world. To get to Chyulu Hills National Park, drive past the turnoff to Kibwezi for 9.3 kms to Maikui and turnoff to the parkway designated with signage. From here it’s about 9 Kms to Kithasyo Gate. It is possible to explore Chyulu from Tsavo West National Park via Chyulu Gate.

26. Kisula Caves

Most travellers make Voi, 330 kms from Nairobi along A109 Mombasa Road, their jumping-off place for visiting the Tsavo Parks. There are five access gates into Tsavo West National Park – through Chyulu, Mtito-Andei (Kamboyo HQ), Maktau, Ziwani, and Lake Jipe. Those aiming to access the park using Mtito-Andei can easily combine a visit to Chyulu Hill National Park, to explore the Kisula Caves. This 11-kms-long lava-tubes, casting lengthy cylindrical passages, are thought to be the second largest lava caves in the world.  They are one of the most popular caving destination in Kenya and visited by almost 20,000 trippers each year. Here, one gets to explore the geological mystery of these caves which are also one of most recent volcanic flare-ups in Kenya. The hike or drive from the foothills of Chyulu to Kisula Caves is also wild and pleasant and its wildlife, especially antelopes, easily sighted. By road, turn right after Kibwezi, off A109 Mombasa Road onto a sign posted road that leads after 9 Kms to Kithasyo Gate.

A walk in the lava caves of the Kisula system in Chyulu hills.

27. Tsavo West National Park

The 9,065 km2 Tsavo West National Park was set-up in 1964 as Kenya’s second game park. It lies south of Chyulu Hills Park, and from Mtito Andei to Manyani runs the east side of A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road. For the most part, this is an endless sweep of grassland and acacia woodland interspersed with outcrops and volcano ash cones. Touring through the primitive Tsavo West National Park one get the feel of what the area might have looked like eons ago. On the surface of it, it lends little of its brutal past and subsequent historic beauty. Tsavo Parks, separated by the A109 Road, are popular for their sheer size but these were also the subject of perpetual calamity and trouble, plagued by wanton destruction of the ecosystem and dissipating poaching. In early 1960’s, massive anti poaching operations were launched at both parks and hunting halted. Subsequently, the thriving number of elephants in the Tsavo’s started opening up the woodlands, making poaching easier and fueling another all out stint of poaching. Moreover, the 1961 drought ravaged Tsavo’s and wildlife was wiped out in the thousands. Today both Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Parks have regenerated at an unprecedented scale, and are now globally famous as a stronghold for big game.

At one stage the late David Sheldrick estimated that there were more that 1,300 men in the Tsavo Parks illegally hunting. Because the elephants had done away with the woodlands, both they and the rhinos were easy game. Ultimately both became so few that it was worth spending time at risk chasing them – particularly as, after 1978, the Government intensified its efforts to stop illegal poaching.

28. Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo East, on the other side of Mombasa Road, is the larger of the two Tsavo Parks and at nearly 14,000 km2 is the largest protected area in Kenya. Famous for its size and as the dais for big-game, Tsavo East National Park christened the “Theatre of the Wild” has larger elephant herds and its landscape wilder than in Tsavo West. This wondrous park, where the endless bushland is only transmuted by ancient hillocks, is shared by four counties – Kitui, Taita Taveta, Tana River, and a small portion in Makueni. Although only a small area sits in Makueni, its southeastern boundary from Athi to Tsavo (about 80 kms) aligns with Tsavo East. Between Mtito-Andei and Manyani the Tsavo’s are separated by Ngai Ndeithya National Reserves and Kilalinda Conservancy. Tsavo East National Park is patrolled by almost 60 species of mammals and 400 species of birdlife.  To the west, it’s guarded by the imperial lava marches of Yatta Plateau.

29. Yatta Plateau

Rising 150 ms over the surrounding landscape for 300 kms, commencing at Ol Doinyo Sabuk National Park in Machakos County southerly trending along the western bounds of Tsavo East National Park, Yatta Plateau is best-known as the world’s longest lava flow. It is marked by a narrowed flat to gently undulating bush-covered ridge with a maximum altitude 450 ms above sea level. Along the A109 Mombasa-Nairobi Road, shortly after the turnoff to Kibwezi, the striking upland of Yatta Plateau can be easily seen – to the left if heading to Mombasa and to the right if heading to Nairobi – first appearing as a perfectly sketched line in the distance and as a wooded range as you near Voi. Athi River skirts the western side of the Yatta Plateau while River Tiva flows on its eastern side. The plateau is rarely inspected at close quarters mainly because it occurs in the less developed northern area of Tsavo East that is less accessible but can be toured by crossing Galana River on a causeway at the Lugard’s Falls where the routes extends via Mopea Gap north to Tiva River near Wathoni, and east of Lali Hills. Rising to an average elevation of 1,170 ms and 150 ms over the bushland plain, the plateau forms the unofficial boundary between Makueni and Kitui Counties.

30. Ngai Ndeithia National Reserve

The scarcely cited 202 km2 Ngai-Ndeithia National Reserve – forming a finger-like blind-ended tube in the southern tip of Makueni between the Tsavos – has very little to distinguish it from its surrounding landscape, aside from it being an occasional migratory corridor for elephants and some plains game. Like the Malaba Sanctuary in Busia County which is cultivated from end to end, the Ngai Ndeithia National Reserve manifests itself more as a paper exercise. There is little to differentiate it as a national reserve. It was gazetted as a reserve in 1976.

Spatial Location of Ngai Ndeithia National Reserve in Makueni County
Spatial Location of Ngai Ndeithia National Reserve in Makueni County

31. Kilalinda Conservancy

The 8,000-acres privately operated Kilalinda Conservancy situated between Ngai Ndeithya National Reserve and the eastern border of Tsavo East National Park is an inviting safari destination. The cozy 6-cottages Kilalinda Lodge looks out to Galana River, the pitted Tsavo Plains and Yatta Plateau, which compose a bonny landscape. “The lodge is designed to take its guest as far as urban life as possible to give them a home from home in the middle of the bush”. Kilalinda Conservancy offers an intimate experience of the region that’s best experienced on walking safari and open-top safari. It hosts a sizeable collection of wildlife to include herds of elephants, waterbucks, leopards and over 200 species of birds. Guests at Kilalinda Conservancy can also enjoy fishing and a swim at their pool.

32. Tsavo Safari Camp

Established in 1963 on a tract of land originally known as “Kitaani kya Ndundu” translating to “where owls nest”, the snuggly Tsavo Safari Camp is lionized as one of the earliest permanent tented tourist camp set-up in Kenya. First known as the Cottar’s Camp, Tsavo Safari Camp helped define the ‘spirit of safaris in Kenya’ and opened up safaris in Tsavo East National Park for game enthusiasts eager to explore the beauty of these fabled region. Unique to Tsavo Safari Camp is that is has retained its no-frills time-honoured African inspired tented camp element, with minimal alterations to the original layout amongst the oasis trees along the bank of River Galana. “The view was stunning: a flat green sea of tree tops, cut only by the brown strip of the Athi River, and leading far to the misty shapes of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chyulus and the Ngulia Hills. We sat on a rocky outcrop and had our drink till the sun went down right behind Mount Kilimanjaro” – John Fox. Popular at the Tsavo Safari Camp are walking tours and game drives at Kilalinda Wildlife Conservancy or at the Tsavo East National Park. It is located 31 kms into Tsavo East National Park using Mtito Andei Gate.

33. Peterson Camp Ruins

Africa Inland Church founded by Africa Inland missionaries from 1895 grew as one of the largest denomination in Kenya with over 2.4 million followers. Peter Cameron Scott the founder of AIM was born on March 7th, 1867, in Glasgow Scotland of pious evangelical parents and got introduced to the gospel at early age. In 1879, Peter Scott and his family migrated from Scotland and settled in Philadelphia, USA, where he enrolled in York Missionary Training College. In November 1890, through the International Missionary Alliance, Scott made his first attempt at missionary work in the West Coast of Africa. An endeavor cut short with death of his brother. Scott himself was not spared. Repeated attacks of fever made his stay in Congo impossible. On October 17th, 1895, Scott, his sister Margaret and six others arrived off the East African Coast. On arrival at Mombasa the eight A.I.M missionaries found out that the Coastal region had been occupied by the Church Missionary Society, the German Lutheran Mission and the Methodist Mission. In little more than a year his idea was to establish a network of Churches with four initial stations at Kalamba, Sakai, Kilingu and Kangundo. Famously known as Ikulu, the Peterson Camp Ruins at Mtito Andei close to A109 Nairobi-Mombasa Road was a halfway house for AIM missioners. It also used to be a resting place for the former president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

View of Ka-Kindui Falls in Kilome.  Photo Courtesy of Kilome Press
View of Ka-Kindui Falls in Kilome. Image Courtesy of Kilome Press

Geography of Makueni County

Makueni County lies within the arid and semi arid zones of the eastern region of Kenya. The major physical features in Makueni County include the volcanic Chyulu Hills along the southwest boundary in Kibwezi West, Mbooni Hills in Mbooni and Kilungu Hills in Kaiti. Makueni County’s terrain is generally low-lying, from 600 ms near Tsavo at the southern end of the county.  The county has three permanent rivers: Athi, Kambu and Kiboko. Major seasonal rivers include: Thwake, Tawa, Kiboko, Makindu, Muooni, Kaiti, Usi Unene, Kasikeu, Kiangini, Kambu, Mtito Andei/Mangelete, Kibwezi and Thange. Most of these rivers and springs have been fast receding owing to environmental degradation.

Land Use in Makueni County

Makueni is within the ASAL areas with limited unreliable rainfall, relatively elevated temperatures and high levels of evaporation. As a result, vegetation is generally withered though soils are reported to be fertile. Generally speaking, most parts of Makueni County lie within a water scarce zone with very limited water resources. Kaiti, Thwake, Thange, Umani, Muoni, Tawa, Kiboko and Kiangini contain rivers with very low flows that traverse the area with mainly seasonal tributaries. Suitable sites for earth dams are few and far apart with inadequate catchments, while groundwater potential is generally poor in most locations due to poor recharge except for low lying areas and river flood plains.

Highlights in Makueni County

Tsavo West National Park which lies in the southern part of the Makueni in Kibwezi West, considered as one of the world’s biodiversity strongholds, is the most outstanding area in Makueni. It is home to diverse wildlife species which include the iconic big-five. Tsavo East Park also has a great diversity of bird life.

Population in Makueni County

In 2012 the projected population in Makueni County was 922,183 consisting of 449,036 males and 473,147 females.  The annual population growth rate stands at 1.4%.  Makueni County is generally sparsely populated with a density of 296 / km2.  Mtito Andei holds the highest population in Makueni County attributed to the fact that the town is a major transit centre for long distance tracks and for buses plying Mombasa-Nairobi Highway and is also a gateway into Tsavo West.

View of Kivungoni Dam.  Photo Courtesy of Mercy Njeru
View of the reposeful Kivungoni Dam. Image Courtesy of Mercy Njeru

Airports in Machakos County

Makueni County has one airstrip situated at Makindu and it is operational.

Roads in Makueni County

Makueni County has a total road network of 3,203 kms of which 453 kms is bitumen, 555 kms gravel, and 2,198 kms earth surface roads. The main roads in Makueni County are Katumani-Wote-Makindu Road, Masii-Mbumbuni Road, Salama-Kikoko Road and Nairobi-Mombasa Road; all in fairly good condition.

Climate in Makueni County

Climate around Makueni County varies based on altitude.  The area to the north around the Kilungu and Mbooni Hills are relatively cooler, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 24 degrees C, while the low-lying areas such as Kitise and Kibwezi are usually hot.  During the dry periods, between May and October, the lower parts of the Makeuni County experience severe heat. The annual rainfall in Makueni County ranges from about 411 mm at Tsavo to 1,314 mm at Kitondo.

Makueni County Distance Chart
Makueni County Distance Chart

View of the Umani Springs Camp in kibwezi Forest.  Photo Courtesy of Extraordinary Journeys
Umani Springs Camp. Image Courtesy of Extraordinary Journeys

National Monuments in Makueni County

There are no designated national monuments in Makueni County

Makueni County Map

Makueni County Map