The town of NGONG, the jumping-off point for the Ngong Hills, is 8km beyond Karen shopping centre; turn right after the police station in Ngong. If you have the chance, stop on the way at Bulbul, 4km from Karen, and take a look at the pretty mosque of this largely Muslim village. As often happened in Kenya, Islam spread here through the settlement of discharged troops from other British-ruled territories, in this case from Nubia in Sudan. Ngong itself is basically just a small junction town with limited shops and services and the rough D523 road trailing out to the west towards the Maasai Mara.
The Ngong Hills are revered by the Maasai, who have several traditional explanations of how they were formed. The best-known says that a giant, stumbling north with his head in the clouds, tripped on Kilimanjaro. Thundering to the ground, his hand squeezed the earth into the Ngongs’ familiar, knuckled outline. An even more momentous story explains the Ngongs as the bits of dirt left under God’s fingernails after he’d finished creating the earth.
The walk along the sharp spine of the Ngong Hills was once a popular weekend hike and picnic outing, easily feasible in a day, although, unfortunately, the hills got a reputation for muggings in the 1980s, curtailing independent expeditions, and KWS rangers usually now provide an escort. The views, of Nairobi on one side and the Rift Valley on the other, are magnificent, and despite the wind farm at the northern end of the hills, the forested slopes are still inhabited by buffalo and various species of antelope. With a car – and it has to be 4WD if it’s been raining – you can get to the summit, Point Lamwia (2459m), which offers a 360-degree view. If you want to walk, and are reasonably fit, allow a minimum of three hours to get to the top and back to your car. Alternatively, you could organize transport to meet you west of Kiserian, on the C58 Magadi road, and spend four to five hours traversing the length of the peaks, a walk of about 15km.
On the ridges below the summit, on privately owned land, almost due east of the highest point, is the Finch Memorial, Karen Blixen’s tribute to the man who took her flying.