Bale National Park
The thinly populated province of Bale lies in south-eastern Ethiopia. The focal point of travel in this region is the Bale Mountains, the second highest range in Ethiopia. Much of the Bale range is protected in an eponymous national park.
The main attractions of the park are the wild alpine scenery, particularly on the 4000m high Saneti Plateau, and the relative ease with which you can see many birds and mammals that are unique to Ethiopia.
Bale can be guide/travellers on foot (there are good facilities for hikers), on horseback or by vehicle – the road across the Saneti Plateau is reportedly the highest all-weather road in Africa. An entrance fee for the park of US$ 6 is levied per 48 hours. No fee is charged simply for using public transport on roads through the park.
How to get there
In Addis Ababa get a bus to Dodola via Asela. Then take a bus to Adaba, where you can hop on a truck to Dinsho. From here follow the main road to Goba for about 1 km until you come to a clearly signposted turn-off to your right. It’s a 30 minute walk from the turn-off to the headquarters.
If you approach Bale from the Rift Valley there are regular buses that connect Shashemene to Dodola, from where you can follow the route mentioned above.
If you have a few days, there is a more obscure route between Bale and Shashemene which passes through Dola Mena and Negele Boreana. It is well worth using, both for scenery and for wildlife.
The main habitats protected by the Bale are the juniper and hagenia woodland, Afro-alpine moorland, and Afro-montane forest. The juniper-hagenia woodland lies between 2500m and 3300m and are mostly found on the northern slopes, such as around the park headquarters at Dinsho. An unusual plant of the Dinsho area is the white-flowered Abyssinian rose, the only flowering rose that is indigenous to Africa.
The more extensive and denser forests on the southern slopes have a more varied selection of trees. The alpine moorland of the Saneti Plateau is covered in heath-like vegetation broken by heather plants and stands of giant lobelia which grow up to 6m high. The moorland, as well as the open vegetation below the forest zone, is characterised by wonderful wild-flower displays, particularly between August and November.
One of the most common and distinctive plants throughout the Bale region is the red-hot poker, an aloe which grows to shrub height and can be identified by its orange spear-shaped flowers.
The characteristic large mammals of juniper woodland include the mountain nyala and Menelik’s bushbuck, which is found only in Ethiopia. The alpine moorland of the Saneti Plateau is home to the Simien wolf (which is in fact more common and regularly seen in Bale than in the Simien Mountains, the only other place where it occurs), golden jackal, klipspringer, and a variety of endemic rodents.
Commonly seen mammals of the extensive Harena Forest, south of Saneti Plateau, include guereza monkeys and olive baboon. Large predators such as lion, leopard and African wild dog are reputedly resident in the area, but they are rarely seen by visitors.
The Bale region is undoubtedly the best part of Ethiopia for endemic birds. More than fifteen such species have been recorded, and a casual visitor could hope to see most of these. Perhaps the most peculiar bird of the alpine highlands is Rouget’s rail, a moorhen-like bird with a distinctive white rump.
There are also several non-endemic but nevertheless very localised birds to look out for on the plateau, including the wattled crane which is a striking bird found only in Ethiopia and southern Africa. Endemics to look out for in the juniper forests around Dinsho include the Abyssinian Woodpecker and white-backed black tit.
Where to stay and eat
There is an excellent resthouse at the park headquarters, costing between US$ 2.50 – US$ 6 per person with communal facilities. Bedding can be provided on request. There is also a large lounge with a log fire.
The unfacilitated campsite on a hill behind the resthouse offers panoramic views over Dinsho village and across to several peaks. The hill is covered in juniper forest and there is plenty of wildlife to be seen in the area. Camping costs US$ 2.50 per person.
If you are staying at the national park resthouse you’ll probably want to take advantage of the kitchen and cook for yourself. Basic foodstuffs such as eggs, potatoes and macaroni can be bought in Dinsho, but it’s advisable to bring most of what you need along with you. A couple of restaurants in Dinsho offer scrambled eggs, injera and chai.
There are some dollar-a-night hotels you could try in Dinsho, or if you have your own transport you will find a better selection of hotels in Goba and Robe, both of which are outside the national park but are still close to Dinsho.
Where to go from Bale
One option would be to go to Shashemene, from where you can explore the Rift Valley.
Another would be to visit the Sof Omar Caves, a 16 km network of limestone caverns which has been carved by the Web River in its descent from the Bale highlands. The caves are an important site of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Muslims, though their religious significance can be dated back to the earliest animist religions of the area.
Take a bus heading to Goba which will drop you off at Robe. You will then need to get to Goro which is about two hours drive from Robe. From there it is roughly 40 km to Sof Omar. If you are taking public transport the only day you can get from Goro to Sof Omar is Saturday, when there is a market in the village.
Note, however, that the area around Sof Omar is reportedly prone to outbreaks of fighting between the local Oromo and Somali people so it is advisable to enquire about security at the Bale National Park headquarters before heading out this way.
Source: Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel Guide – third edition by Philip Briggs http://www.bradt-travelguides.com