Nature & Trekking
BALE MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Kibran – Nature & Trekking
Introduction to Bale Mountain National Park
The park also features several other habitats, including a massive indigenous forest. Given the rich biodiversity and spectacular scenery, the park is currently on UNESCO’s tentative list.
With all-year-round birding and 310 recorded bird species in the park, birding is a key attraction. There are 17 enemic species, 11 of which also occur in neighbouring Eritrea. Palearctic migrants make the period from November to March even more exciting.
Two major highlights of the park are the Harenna Forest and Sanetti Plateau. The Sanetti Plateau is situated 4,000 meters above sea level and characterized by its striking Afroalpine flora, such as the giant lobelia and red hot poker. This is the best place in Ethiopia to see the simien wolf, the rarest canid in the world. The huge rodent population, including the endemic giant mole rat, supports not only the simien wolf, but also a variety of raptors. Other birdlife includes the rare wattled crane and spot-breasted plover.
The Harenna Forest is one of the last remaining natural forests in Ethiopia. Hugging the southern escarpment, which falls rapidly in altitude (3,200 meters to 2,000 meters, over a distance of 8 kilometres), the Harenna Forest presents a diverse abundance of flora, fauna and avifauna. Look out for black-and-white colobus monkey and the elusive bale monkey, as well as Menelik’s bushbuck. Birds in the area include the grey cuckoo shrike, Abyssinian catbird, Ruppell’s robin-chat, Abyssinian ground thrush, white-cheeked turaco and many more. Ethiopia is one of the only, if not the only, country where coffee still grows wild. Ask your guide to show you some of these wild coffee plants, which flourish in the shade of the tall trees. For thousands of years families have harvested the coffee berries, many depending on the sale of coffee as their sole income. Organic wild honey is another delicious offering of the Harenna Forest; extracted from hand-carved beehives that are perched high in the trees on the southern slopes.
The closest airport is located at Bale Robe, Goba, and receives scheduled flights from Addis Ababa on certain days of the week. The park’s headquearters are located at Dinsho, a 30-minute drive from the Bale Robe airport.
Good to Know
The Bale Mountains National Park spans over 2,200km²
Recommended length of stay: 2-3 nights
Elevation: 1,500 to 4,377 meters (4,920 to 14,357 feet) above sea level
Major Religion: Muslim
Protected area that is currently on UNESCO’s tentative list
Where to Stay when in Bale Mountain National Park, Ethiopia
Bale Mountain Lodge
Bale Mountain Lodge is a splendid boutique forest lodge, tucked away in a large clearing in the magnificent Heranna Forest, deep within in the Bale Mountain National Park. Accommodation comprises 11 stylishly furnished bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms and wood-burning fireplaces; as well as a rustic three-bedroom house, perfect for families and small groups. The restaurant is housed in a traditional-style „tukul“ – a thatched, rondavel-shaped rock building. A sunken fireplace adds a welcome dimension of coziness. The lodge, designed to blend into the natural environment, is built using local grey stone. In keeping with the lodge’s core values, the furniture and decor is locally crafted, using sustainable materials.
Good to Know
- The time zone in Ethiopia is East Africa Time (EAT), GMT +3.
- The Bale Mountain National Park is open all year round.
- The best time to visit Bale Mountain National Park for trekking is from November to February, during the dry months.
When visiting Bale Mountain National Park
FLORA, FAUNA & AVIFAUNA
Five major vegetation zones occur in The Bale Mountains National Park:
- Northern grasslands (Gaysay Grasslands)
- Juniper Woodlands
- Afroalpine Meadows (Sanetti Plateau & Upper Web Valley)
- Erica belt (Moorlands & Forest)
- Harenna Forest
Northwest of Dinsho (where the park’s headquarters is based), and stretching between the Web and Danka rivers, lie the northern grasslands known as the Gaysay grasslands. The landscape here is flat, carpeted with sedges and swamp grasses that become sodden during the rainy season. At 3,000 to 3,500 meters above sea level, there is not much tree growth here, although you can look forward to seeing the beautiful African redwood (Hagenia abyssinica).
Shrubs that grow on the higher parts of the grassland include the Cape gold (Helichrysum splendidum) – one of ten species of everlasting flower occuring in the park; and fragrant silver-leafed African wormwood (Artemesia afra), which can be added to the long list of medicinal plants found in the park. Wild fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is also abundant.
A few antelope species roam these grasslands. These include large herds of endemic mountain nyala as well as bohor reedbuck and grey duiker. Other animals such as warthog, serval, golden jackal and the spotted hyena are also local residents.
Endemic birds include the Abyssinian longclaw, spot-breasted plover and Abyssinian catbird. Roget’s rail and wattled ibis are also endemic, but to Eritrea as well as Ethiopia. You can also aim to check the following birds on your checklist: The Abyssinian ground hornbill, winding cisticola, marsh harrier, to mention a few.
Along the northern slopes, at the entrance to the park, the aptly-named juniper woodlands are characterized by trees such as the African juniper (Juniperus procera) and gigantic African Redwood (Hagenia abyssinica). Shrubs include St. John’s wort (Hypericum revolutum), famous for its medicinal value as a natural antidepressant.
Endemic species of antelope that can be found here are Melelik’s bushbuck and mountain nyala. Other animal species to look out for are warthog, olive baboon and colobus monkey.
Birdlife is abundant in these woodlands, and specials include the endemic Abyssinian catbird and white-backed black tit. Also endemic to Ethiopia (and Eritrea), you can look out for wattled ibis, gold-mantled woodpecker and thick-billed raven.
Located on the Sanetti plateau, the second tallest mountain in Ethiopia, Tulu Dimtu, disappears into the mist at 4,377 meters above sea level. Vegetation is sparse at this altitude. Among the few species that are found here, the most noteworthy one is the giant lobelia, which only grows in Afroaline conditions, and reaches a maximum height of 6 meters.
Afroalpine rodents flourish here, with the giant molerat being endemic specifically to the Bale Mountains. Also endemic to Ethiopia, Starck’s hare is another local resident. Several other rodents species can be spotted here, as well as the rock hyrax. The Ethiopian wolf, the rarest canid in the world, is more at-home here than anywhere else on the planet. One is almost guaranteed a sighting when visiting this plateau.
Birds of prey, which feed on the massive rodent population, are abundant here. Augur buzzard, bearded vulture, lammergeyer, tawny eagle, steppe eagle, lanner falcon and golden eagle are frequently spotted. Endemic to Ethiopia, Palearctic waders including the spot-breasted plover and blue-winged goose, draw a great deal of attention among birders, especially the latter, as it is the rarest goose on the planet. Other birding specials include the wattled crane and red-billed chough.
THE ERICA BELT: MOORLANDS & FOREST
A spectacular belt of heather runs directly above the tree line, at an altitude of between 3,400 and 3,800 meters above sea level. As indicated by its name, the belt is characterized by rare and highly-endangered trees, of the Erica and Phillipia genera. Erica arborea (tree heath) is abundant.
Draped in lichen (old man’s beard) and moss, the giant heather seems to have an almost magical quality. These forests, expecially when shrouded in mist, appear to belong on the pages of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
Antelope species occurring here are mountain nyala, Menelik’s bushbuck, grey duiker and klipspringer – the first two listed being endemic. Rock hyrax is also found here.
Rouget’s rail (endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea), chestnut-naped francolins and Alpine chat can be added to the list of birding specials to look out for.
The Harenna forest, the second largest forest in Ethiopia, makes up the largest area of the park. The massive forest extends beyond the park boundary, encompassing community- and state-run forests, to cover an area of 4,200 square kilometres. Within the wet cloud belt, the steep slopes covered with Mountain bamboo, mainly East African bamboo (Arundinaria). At a lower altitude, from about 2,200 metres above sea level, the slopes are more gentle, with giant trees of up to 30 metres tall rising from the forest floor. Massive ficus trees and Fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior) create a thick canopy of leaves, dimming out the sunlight. In lower areas, wild Arabica coffee flourishes.
Wildlife is abundant here, but not easily spotted in the dense forest growth. Endemic species include the Menelik bushbuck and Bale monkey. Other species include giant forest hog, bush pig, warthog, black-and-white colubus monkey, olive baboon, African wild dog, leopard and even lion. Nocturnal species such as the porcupine, civet, genet and hyena also occur.
Endemic birds include the the yellow-fronted parrot, Abyssinian oriole and black-winged lovebird, of which the latter two also occur in Eritrea. Forest birds inclue the Abyssiian hill babbler, Abyssinian crimson-wing, silvery-cheeked hornbill and Ayre’s hawk eagle.
Local Attractions – Bale Mountain National Park
Bale Mountain National Park Photo Gallery
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