Ngong hills

Spiky Cabbage trees growing on the Ngong hills.

Take a walk along the Ngong hills and admire the montane dry forest growing around you. Look out for trees like the Cordia africana, Euphorbia candelabra, Olive trees and figs and Spiky Cabbage tree.

These interesting facts about the Ngong Hills were compiled by African Horizons safaris

Ngong Hills Forest Reserve

‘A very pretty neighbourhood on the edge of a thick wood behind which dwelt the dreaded people of the Kikuyu, while on the south stretched vast pastures tenanted by the great herds of cattle belonging to the Masai'

Lieutenant Ludwig von Hohnel, of the Ngong Hills in 1887

A famous landmark

The Ngong Hills Forest Reserve sits upon the misty blue outline of the knuckle-shaped Ngong Hills which make for a distinctive landmark, which can be seen for miles around Nairobi.

Fact File

Altitude: 2,483 meters above sea level.

Area: 21,105 sq km.

Location: southern tip of Rift Valley Province,

Ngong Division.

Distance from Nairobi: 25 km.

Gazetted: 1981 (as a forest reserve). In 1991 KWS and the Forestry Department signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly manage the Ngong Hills Forest Reserve. The Oloolua Forests were added to this in 1995.

Climate: mainly sub-humid and semi-arid with a small pocket of humid climate around the Ngong Hills themselves. Short rains occur between October and December, long rains between March and May.

Vegetation: the eastern side of the hills are covered in montane dry forest and wooded grassland. The western side is mainly bushland.

Wildlife: includes buffaloe, vervet and colobus monkey, baboon, duiker, bush pig, water buck and leopard (the latter found mostly in the remnants of indigenous forest along the river valleys).

What's in a name?

The hills get their name from the explorer, Joseph Thompson, who camped at the foot of them on his way to Uganda in 1884. The actual site was called ‘Enkong'u-e-nchorro-emuny' but Thompson was unable to correctly transcribe this, so he simply dubbed the site ‘Ngong', and the name stuck.

Hills of the Maasai

The hills are revered by the Maasai people, who know them as ‘Oldoinyio Oloolaiser' , which means ‘the mountain of the Laiser' who were one of the mightiest clans of the Maasai, from which the famous ‘laibon', Olonana (Lenana), was descended.

The imprint of a giant? Or the dirt under God's fingernails?

According to the Maasai, the hills were formed when a giant, who was stumbling north from Kilimanjaro with his head in the clouds, tripped and fell heavily to the ground, impressing the imprint of his knuckles into the earth. Another story claims that the hills are the bits of earth that were left under God's fingernails when he had finished creating the earth.

An extinct volcano

Part of the Great Rift Valley Escarpment, the Ngong Hills are actually the remains of a massive volcano, which formed from basalt lava between five and six and a half million years ago. Around two million yeas ago, it is thought that the volcano was dissected by faults, which caused its western slopes to drop into the Rift.

A halt on the slave trail

The town of Ngong came into being early in the last century, when it developed as a resting place for the slave and ivory caravans heading north. It also marked the boundary between Maasai land and Kikuyu land.

Count Teleki's campsite

In 1887 the hills offered a 2-week campsite for the 700 members of one of the most epic safaris in East African history. Led by Count Samuel Teleki von Szek and Lieutenant Ludwig von Hohnel, the safari (which lasted two years and covered 3,500 miles) resulted in the discovery of Lake Turkana and was supported by 700 men carrying two and a half tons of camping gear, one and a half tons of ammunition, one and a half tons of preserves, soap, tobacco, sugar, tea and coffee, a quarter of a ton of alcohol, ten tons of cloth, glass beads, iron wire and cowrie shells, and over three hundred guns.

Stars of ‘Out of Africa'

The hills featured in the film ‘Out of Africa', which was based on the book of the same name by Karen Blixen. The film begins with the words ‘I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills', while in the book Karen says that her love of the hills ‘had not it's like in all the world'. So fond were she and her lover, the hunter Denys Finch Hatton, of the hills, that when he was killed in a plane crash, Karen buried him on their lower slopes. Thereafter the grave became the preferred haunt of a pair of lions; and later Denys's brother erected an obelisk in his honour, inscribed with Coleridge's ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', one of Denys's favourite poems. Note: the grave, which is due east of Point Lamwia on the lower slopes of the hills, is now on private land, but can be visited in return for the payment of a small fee.

A favourite weekend retreat

The sharp spine of the Ngong Hills stretches for 20 km and takes several hours to walk from end to end. Once a popular walking and picnicking venue for Nairobi's residents, in recent years the hills acquired a notorious reputation for muggings and attacks on walkers. Thanks to the presence of armed KWS rangers who now patrol the area, security is improved and the hills are once again a popular venue for family outings.

Panoramic views from the summit

The summit of the hills is marked by Point Lamwia (2,483 m above sea level), which offers stunning 360-degree views of the Great Rift Valley to the west and the Nairobi suburbs to the east.

How to get there

By road: take the Ngong Road out of Nairobi and proceed via Karen to Ngong Town. At the T- junction in the centre of town, turn right and follow the road around to the left for 1 km (passing Ngong Police Station). Where the tarmac ends, turn right up a rough track, which leads (in 1.9 km) to the KWS barrier.

Kenya Wildlife Service information

The forest reserve is open daily 6.30am - 6.00pm (including public holidays). Entry is free. For further details contact: the warden: P.O. Box 197 Ngong Hills or call KWS HQ tel: (Nairobi)+254 (0)20 600800, 602345. Email or visit website