A Guide To Ngong Hills

Ngong Hills are in a ridge along the Great Rift Valley in southern Kenya. The word ‘Ngong’ is Maasai meaning ‘knuckles due to the four-hill peaks of the ridge. The Ngong Hills overlook the Nairobi National Park.From the west side slopes, they overlook the Great Rift Valley, dropping more than 4,000 feet where Maasai villages have been developed.

The peak of the Ngong Hills is 8070 feet above sea level. During British colonial rule, the surrounding area was a settler farming region, and colonial houses still exist. In the 1985 film Out of Africa, the four peaks of the Hills appear in the back-ground of several scenes near Karen Blixen’s house.

In the 1990s, residents reported seeing lions in the hills. The solitary grave of Denys Finch Hatton, marked by an obelisk and garden, is located on the eastern slopes of the Ngong Hills, overlooking the vast game reserve.

The Ngong Hills’ proximity to Nairobi, about 22km southwest of the city, makes it a very popular weekend destination for visitors from all over the country. Some come for walks while others picnic or worship on the hills. Professional and amateur runners will also be found in the morning jogging up and down the steep slopes.

The whole mountain range is a gazetted forest reserve covering an area of over 21,000 sq km, with the highest peak on the knuckle-shaped Ngong hills at 2460m above sea level.

Ngong Hills history

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.

Ngong Hills – Hills of the Maasai

Ngong 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.

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.

Ngong Hills – 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.

Ngong Town

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.

Route description to Ngong Hills

The hike up Ngong Hills starts from Ngong town at the northern foot of the hills 1961m above sea level, and traverses the whole range to the southern end at Kona Baridi. This takes about 4 to 5 hour to complete, depending on fitness levels. The first 2 kilometers from Ngong Police Station are a gradual ascent through human settlements until you get to a Kenya Forest Service (KFS) barrier indicating the start of the Ngong Hills forest reserve. From here on, you go past a wind farm, before climbing the first steep hill leading to an area populated with Radio repeater station masts.

Ngong Hills
Ngong Hills

The trail thins out and descents into a trough before you climb the next steep hill. Just when you think the worst is over, the rolling hills seem to keep popping up, with each taking its toll on you. Thankfully, the views all round are magnificent, making the effort worthwhile. On a lucky day, you are likely to encounter buffalos around the fourth hill, on account of the abundant bushes at these higher altitudes on the range. To your right is a fantastic view of the Great Rift Valley, while on the far left is a view of the City of Nairobi.

Getting to Ngong Hills

If using public means from Nairobi, take matatu number 111 from the Railway Station terminus. You can then walk or hire a boda boda (motorbike) to Ngong Police Station, the starting point for this hike. The fare to Ngong Town is about Ksh 70 one way. You’ll then return to Nairobi using matatus from Kiserian.

If driving, take Ngong Road and go past Dagoretti Corner, Karen and Ngong Town till Ngong Police Station. You may then park at the station, or arrange for someone to drive your car to Kona Baridi.

Entry Rrequirements at Ngong Hills

On reaching the gate to the hills, a fee is charged ranging from KES 200 for locals to around KES 600 for foreigners. It is recommended by the Kenya Wildlife Service to go with an armed guard due to the muggings and thefts often reported in the area.

There have also been sightings of wild animals such as lions, buffaloes and naughty chimpanzees in the past, usually on the higher up hills. Although such sightings today are rare, it is still recommended to go with a trained guard just in case one of the nastier ones like the buffaloes comes out to play.

The cost of hiring a guard is around KES 1500. However, if one is not planning to hike very far, say to the first two hills or so, then the guards can be left out.

During holidays and weekends, there are also several students, church groups and friends who visit the hills for picnics and various other activities which helps to raise the security.

What to do at Ngong Hills

  1. Hiking
  2. Picnics/bashes
  3. Wedding ground for hire
  4. Team building

Things to bring along to Ngong Hills

  1. Hat
  2. Wear a good fitting trouser
  3. Carry, comfortable walking shoes
  4. It is chilly up there, so it is wise to wear layers – climbing up of course breaks a sweat, but the wind on top as you marvel the view cuts right through you.
  5. It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks and water before you get into the reserve as there is nowhere to purchase food up there

The Ngong Hills are famous!

The Ngong Hills are famous! They appeared in the 1986 Academy Award winning movie Out of Africa which starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford as early settlers Karen Blixen and her lover Denys Finch Hatton.

Based on Karen Blixen’s memoirs of the same name, the Ngong Hills appeared in the backdrop of several scenes. In the book itself, Blixen fondly remembers the hills writing of it, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” Karen Blixen’s happy memories of living in Kenya are still held up as the ideal African experience by foreigners who wish to visit, and indeed, those who have visited and fallen as much in love with the country as she did.

Watch a tour video of the  Ngong Hills