Named from the Maasai word Nai’posha mean ‘rough water’, Lake Naivasha is also part of the Great Rift Valley and sits at it’s highest elevation (1,884m). Once used as a landing place for Imperial Airways seaplanes flying from London to Durban SA, the lake is now a popular tourist destination due to its population of hippos and bird life. In fact the hippo population is so great here that our campsite came with it’s own electric fence and the gate was closed every evening to keep them out and pen us in.
The best time to capture the bird life by the lake is at first light, so we woke early and took a walk by the lake shore, admiring some species and cringing at the creepy looking Marabou storks. Just watch you keep on the worn paths or you’ll end up in an acacia thorn minefield, where inch long spikes with piece even the toughest of havianas. With the rest of the group heading off to cycle through Hells Gate National Park, we’d opted to visit another nearby attraction. A short minivan ride from the campsite is Elsamere, where author Joy Adamson and her husband George lived while she wrote the book Born Free, Sarah’s favourite book from when she was a child.
Flagging down a minivan was easy, spending the ride sat on a wooden slat placed across the aisle with five people crammed onto a seat made for three was not. As was being dropped 2km short of our destination so the driver could pick up other passengers and make more money. Eventually finding our way there we really enjoyed the afternoon, watching a short video on Joy’s life and time in Africa, and exploring the small museum. We had no idea she was such a talented painter, and her book Peoples of Kenya was actually instrumental in recording the disappearing tribes of the country. She also painted the local plants and flowers, most of which had never been painted or photographed in colour before.
Helping ourselves to afternoon tea we pulled up a seat on the back lawn and watched the black and white Colobus monkeys playing in a large tree, the same tree they used to play in as Joy sat here and wrote her book in the 1950’s. Watch your food, they’re sneaky and will eat it right off your plate. Sadly Joy was murdered in 1980 and her husband was killed by poachers in 1989, though their legacy of wildlife conservation lives on in the Born Free Foundation, founded by the actors who played Joy and George in Born Free the movie.
Flagging down a minivan back to the campsite, one drives past empty before pulling a u-turn and picking us up. 100 shillings each saw us score the front seat where we spent the 20 minute trip back chatting with the friendly driver. Passing through a small town on the way, we spot a young male giraffe just hanging in the street, apparently he doesn’t mind the odd pat from the school kids. All in all if cycling Hells Gate isn’t for you, this was a great way to get away from the package tour and spend some time with the locals.
Starting the morning off right with bacon for breakfast, we arrived at our next camp, Punda Milias near Lake Nakuru, in time to enjoy the small swimming pool, which was refreshing if you ignored the fact that the black mass in the bottom was not fallen leaves, but a huge pile of dead flies. The follow morning we were picked up while it was still dark and arrived at the gates of the National Park right on sunrise. Our guide Gary* had a great sense of humour and spent the day joking around with Matt in the front seat all day.
Passing a small herd of beady eyed Cape Buffalo with red ox-pecker birds climbing all over their face, Gary informs us that the park is a tiny 188 sqkm, with the lake at it’s centre, and it was created to provide protection for the population of giraffe and black and white rhino. Our first big spot for the day was a lone lioness, seemingly injured, just taking a stroll along the road.
Passing a herd of impala, we stop to learn about the dynamics of the groups. First you’ve got the bachelor herd, consisting of males of all ages who practice fighting and rely on each other for protection from predators. Secondly you’ve got the females, ruled by one dominant male who managed to beat the old male leader. He’ll rule his roost of up to 30 females, shagging as much as he can until he’s too tired and is beaten by a rival male. He’ll then spend up to three months alone recovering before rejoining the bachelor group to brag about his escapades.
Lake Nakuru was once famous for it’s huge population of flamingos, which used to crowd the shore in their millions. However pollution and fluctuating water levels have seen most of them head to surrounding lakes in search of food. The lake has a history of fluctuating water levels, in 2009 is was bone dry, however now water levels are so high they’ve flooded an additional 1km of lake shore, and even made a new five month old gate redundant and unusable. Flamingo numbers are beginning to increase, however a lake of the food which causes their pink hue means they now appear whiter in colour.
With only one of the Big Five left to tick off, we were pretty excited when Gary spotted a lone white rhino off in the distance. We were even more excited when later in the day we spotted a group of six white rhino just chilling in the distance. Whilst technically the black rhino completes group, we were happy to keep this is a back up. Turning onto a narrow dirt track, we bump and grind along the rough bush track, following several other trucks who’d had a tip off about a pride of lions nearby. A pride of 10 are lounging under a tree, avoiding the midday sun, and we quickly snap a few pics before Gary and the rest of the cars are racing off with the park rangers in hot pursuit.
Turns out the track we were on wasn’t exactly legal, and the fact that the ranger spots almost every truck in the park leaving the same road, sees us all pulled over with the drivers receiving a stern talking to. An apology and a small fine (bribe) sees us on our way, with Gary laughing that it’s all part of the job. Stopping for an afternoon rest at Lake Nakuru Resort, we lounge by the pool and enjoy a steak and onion sandwich with legit HP sauce, before continuing the loop around the lake in the cooler afternoon.
An early night and a full day driving the next day saw us spend our last night in Kenya at Crazy Raj’s campsite. A sprawling campsite that winds it’s way down a forested hillside to a lush landscaped pool, we could easily have spent another day here. A cave like corridor leads down to a quirky, tented feeling bar/restaurant, with a large square fire pit taking centre stage. Joining a few crew from an Intrepid overland truck, we enjoy a couple of fireside beers before calling it a night.
Tomorrow we head into Uganda in search of the mountain gorillas.
For more pics of Kenya check out our Flickr page.
*Gary’s name has been changed to protect his job, as we’re pretty sure paying bribes in not exactly legal!