Exploring Maai Mahiu in the Great Rift valley
January 1, 1970
by Antony N. Kamau
Are you wondering where to travel, hike, camp or just visit and relax? Maybe you are looking for a place that has favorable weather condition even during the cold season in June and July. You are in luck. Maai Mahiu meaning “hot water” in Kikuyu, one of the native languages in Kenya lies in the Rift Valley Province. It is a town along the Maai Mahiu – Naivasha road. It is located in Naivasha Sub-county in Nakuru County. The beauty of the town begins with a quick stop over at the escarpment viewpoint. I find it aesthetically pleasing view of the Great Rift Valley Escarpment. The viewpoint provides a wide view of the escarpment and a breathtaking view of the sunset. At the viewpoint, you will find curio shops where you can easily acquire African artifacts and souvenirs. Such include the traditional belts, ornaments, African (Masai) cloth perfect for camping, hiking, and picnic activities.
Things to do at Maai Mahiu
Visit the smallest Catholic Church in East Africa
The journey down the slope leads you to the smallest Catholic Church structure in East Africa. Records show that the Italian Prisoners of War built the church. However, the prisoners were under the supervision of the British colonialists. The church structure is approximately 15 feet by 8 feet and is pentagon-like shaped. Four small wooden pews, an altar, and a pulpit characterize it. Upon entering it, you will identify that the inside walls are covered with Latin words that translate “This is the victory that has won the world by our faith.”
Primary sources say that the church was built since the Italians were Catholics whereas the British were Anglicans. Therefore, the Italians had built a place of worship. It also provided a safe haven to the Italians who faced harsh living conditions as well as attacks from the wild animals and diseases. The church is perfect for travelers and tourists who appreciate history and architecture at the same time.
At Maai Mahiu town, I recommend visiting three tourist destinations namely hiking at Mt Longonot, hiking on the slopes of the escarpment. Mt Longonot, the extinct volcano, rises from the floor of the Great Rift Valley. The name is derived from the Masai word Oloonong’ot which when translated means “mountains of many spurs. Traveling around the park takes roughly four to five hours. Mt Longont is elevated at 2,776m above the sea level.
I recommend hiking there as opposed to the along the slopes of the escarpment if you want to have a diverse experience of the African flora and fauna. The crater rim provides a breathtaking scene including Lake Naivasha. The volcanic mountain is characterized by thick forest within the crater. Traveling here will expose you to wildlife attractions including the Grant’s gazelles, giraffes. Common zebra, bush bucks, leopards, lions, elands, and buffaloes. Poaching is highly discouraged. Policies and bodies such as the Kenya Wildlife Service protect the wildlife. You will find the animals enclosed in the park where entrance fees are as seen below:-
- Adult citizens pay 300Ksh while the children and students pay
- The adult Residents pay 600Ksh while children and students pay 300Ksh
- The Non-residents adults pay 26US$ while the children and the students pay 17US$ respectively
At Maai Mahiu you get to interact with the locals who are happy to receive visitors and make them comfortable. The main economic activity is farming particularly cereals such as maize and wheat. Most of the locals are Christians and therefore you will find various churches in town. The town is also the hub for truck drivers. The long-distance drivers tend to spend a night or two at the town before resuming their journey. During the evening you will see numerous trucks parked alongside the road while the drivers rest and merry before resuming their journeys.
See a close-up Earth station
Other outstanding features on the floor of the Great Rift Valley is the Longonot Earth Station 2010. The location has restricted access but visible from the top of Mt Longonot and from the Maai Mahiu Viewpoint.
Where to stay
I encourage considering two options, camping or considering hotels. Mt Longonot provides Oloongonot Camping site within the park. The other option entails considering the available hotels such as Saboti Hotel and GMT Guest House at Maai Mahiu town.
The hotels charge approximately 25-35$. Another alternative is to travel to Naivasha, which is the hub perfect for travelers and tourists. Naivasha town has guesthouses and hotels both inside the town and along the lake. Naivasha is located NNW of Maai Mahiu town. The distance between Maai Mahiu and Naivasha is 35.4 km or 22 miles.
What to eat
I recommend eating at MaaiMahiu town where you will find the local delicacy particularly the barbeque commonly referred to nyama choma in the local language. It is usually roasted goat meat at various joints at the heart of the town. The weather is mostly warm, therefore; a cold drink would accompany the meal just perfectly.
Things to watch out for
Maai Mahiu is located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley as noted in the beginning. Moreover, it lies on a plain. Therefore, the town is prone to strong and frequent winds blowing from the escarpment. The wind carries with it dust particles. I always carried with me sunglasses as they come in handy at Mai Mahiu.
I also traveled there without binoculars and the tour guides at Mt Longonot had a hard time showing me animals since we dwelt on his binoculars. You definitely have to come with your binoculars if you wish to view animals that are at a far distance.
Lastly, ensure you have clean water packed. Maai Mahiu is often very hot during the day. Therefore, water to quench your thirst is a necessity. If you don’t have any, you will find in the local shops at affordable rates.
Maai Mahiu is definitely worth visiting or stopping by before resuming your journey to Narok and Masaai Mara on the west or towards Naivasha on the NNW.