Travel: The Majestic Vuria Hills

A guide leads the hike up Vuria Hills. PHOTO| WENDY WATTA

What you need to know:

  •  Although, you may still be in a coastal area, this is the highest point in the region so you should carry a light jacket.
  • You can see Mt Kilimanjaro’s peak on a clear day.

Visiting Wundanyi for the first time, I marvel at the landscape, rich and green after the recent bouts of rain.

Our plan is to drive up to Mwanda where we will pack our car and begin the hike up Vuria Hills. At 2,228m, it is the highest peak of the Taita Hills, Eastern Arc Mountains that stretch all the way to Tanzania. The roads wind around the hills with bends so sharp that sometimes you have to honk to alert any oncoming vehicles.

But, it is a sight to behold since a lot of the homes and farms are on the hills and valleys, and are inaccessible by car.

Narrow Roads

Imagine having a house so high up that you have to hike back to it every time you return from the neighbourhood kiosk.

Some of the roads are narrow with sheer drops, and should you veer off them, you would tumble down to the bottom of the hill. Tall, thin trees grew out of rocks.

When we get to the leeward side, the landscape dramatically gets drier.

The hike takes about 45 minutes and it’s a very steep ascent. The trees that drape the area provided a canopy, so it was not hot.

Although, you may still be in a coastal area, this is the highest point in the region so you should carry a light jacket.

Local Guides

Our guides are a former local chief, Iphrahim Mwaruta, and a jovial mzee who says he is 75 years old, but looks 50. They regale us with historical stories about the Taita people, pointing out endemic plants in this magical forest as we trudge on. While it is an important birding area, there are no wild animals here, so it is very safe to walk through without a ranger.

We walk past towering tree ferns to a point which offers panoramic views of the valley and the settlements below. A huge boulder obstructs the view on the other end.

In the distance, you can see Mt Kilimanjaro’s peak on a clear day. Past the viewpoint, there’s a strip covered with safari ants, yet it is likely the steepest part of the hill. It’s almost as though they were strategically placed so that rather than taking many stops or complaining about how difficult the climb is, you find yourself at the top in under a minute if you don’t want to contend with ants climbing up your pants.

We check out four caves during our hike. One is a huge gaping rock interface, about 150m wide and 30m deep, with smaller rocks and flat ground inside where you can sit. The front is covered by foliage and it is very cool and clean. For adventure enthusiasts, this would be a great spot for camping...just make sure to bring some meat so you can do a barbecue up there.

Here, we catch our breath and Mwaruta tells us about the history of the place. It’s centred around Mwangeka wa Malowa, a heroic Taita chief who was at the helm of the community’s fight against the British colony. He commanded a large troop that used to train and live in these caves. They also controlled an important long distance trading route from Mombasa to Kilimanjaro via Taru, Voi, Mwatate and Taveta.

Business Community

The coastal business community, including the ruling Sultan’s family, were required to pay taxes to him to ensure safe passage.

The British tried to invade them, but were defeated by Mwangeka’s soldiers at first attempt. They later sent spies who they bribed to provide information about the chief’s fighting antics, and that later led to Mwangeka’s murder. When you visit the Coast, be sure to stop by these hills. It’s fascinating how you can be on the beach one day and at the peak in the clouds the next.

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