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Pelicans On Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Kenya: Lake Naivasha

Today started grey and overcast with a hint of rain in the air. We were moving onto the Masai Mara, but not before a couple of activities in Lake Naivasha. So, after breakfast, we headed out for a boat safari.

We donned our life jackets and climbed aboard our small boat, which was essentially a small fishing boat. Our captain was a young man called Kennedy. The recent history of the lake is interesting. Back in 2020 the level of Lake Naivasha, along with all the other lakes in the Rift Valley. This was nothing to do with heavy rains but was as a result of tectonic activity pushing water from the subterranean aquafers to the surface. The flooding happened quickly, and the waters are just beginning to recede. The consequences of the higher water levels are that many lakeside properties were inundated, and trees were left underwater and subsequently died. As you travel on the lake you see the signs of devastation everywhere, from abandoned buildings to dead trees protruding from the water (which are excellent perches for the waterfowl).

Lake Naivasha - the devastation of the rising water

Our journey started around the shoreline where yellow-beaked storks and herons were wading, searching out their prey. A little further on was a small colony of great white pelicans and flamingos. We continued following the banks, where there was a wide assortment of birdlife on show, from African jacanas, spoonbills, egrets, ibis, cormorants, ducks, geese and African fish eagles (which have white heads like bald eagles). We also checked into a couple of hippo groups, who were just chilling out.

Yellow-billed stork on the shores of Lake Naivasha
Greater flamingos arriving at Lake Naivasha
Flying flamingos at Lake Naivasha
Pelicans on the lake
Little egret
A giant kingfisher

From the banks of the lake, we motored out to the interior. This is a big lake, hundreds of square miles in area. Its average depth is 7 metres, but it goes up to 24 meters. A group of men had waded out waist-deep in the lake’s waters and were fishing for tilapia with a net strung between them. This is a dangerous way to earn a living as the lake is full of hippos. Raphe later told us that a few years earlier a group of men fishing with one of them acting as spotter. When a hippo suddenly surfaced near to the spotter, he shat himself (you can hardly blame – hippos are the deadliest animals in Africa) and legged without warning the others. The hippo went on a killed one of the fisherman. We left the men to their hazardous task and travelled up to the skeletons of tented rooms that were once part of the country club. Kennedy steered us towards a fishing boat which we pulled up alongside. After a bit of chit chat, they gave him a tilapia and we headed off. Nearing the shore, we pulled to, and Kennedy pointed out two fish eagles in the trees. He told us to get our cameras ready and he lobbed the tilapia into the water. A few seconds later the eagles left their roost and were circling where the fish had landed. In a flash the eagle swooped down a plucked the fish from the water. Whilst we enjoyed seeing this it is not a good practice for the locals to build a dependence for food from humans with wild animals. Potentially, they could lose their hunting skills and starve if for some reason humans couldn’t feed them.

Fishermen on Lake Naivasha
African Fish Eagles

Our time was up on the lake, and we headed back to shore. Kennedy took us to meet Nixon (an American President theme here!). If we were in England and someone told me, we were going on a nature walk I would think we’d be heading off across a field and enjoying the birdsong. Now don’t get me wrong I like doing that but that is not why we’d come to Africa. So, setting out with Nelson my expectations were low.

Nelson started to tell us about the acacia trees. The ones towards the lake were dead. These had been swallowed up by the rising lake waters. Further in land the acacia was doing better, but their trunks were scarred. Giraffes are particularly fond of acacia leaves, their long tongues navigating the long, spiny needles on the branches. Giraffes also like the bark on the acacia tree – hence the scares. Apparently, when giraffes eat the bark of an acacia tree after a while the tree emits a toxin, which is poisonous to the giraffes. So, they stop eating the bark. The acacia trees send a warning signal (not sure if this through the root systems) to the surrounding acacia trees several metres around. These too emit the toxin, warding off the giraffes, who must go further away. 3 or 4 hours later the acacia trees stop producing the toxin. Interesting stuff. Whilst we have been talking and walking, we come upon some antelope, large water bucks and delicate impalas, who seem oblivious to our presence. We were able to get very close to them. These are wild animals; this is not a zoo … they could disappear off into the distance anytime they wanted. They stay here due to plentiful food and relative safety from predators; the only predators being packs of hyenas. Wildlife has not always been here it was introduced from the Masai Mara to film sequences for the Glenn Close film, ‘Out of Africa’.

A waterbuck - Lake Naivasha nature park
A small group of wildebeest

Leaving the antelope behind we come upon a mother and baby giraffe noshing on a fallen acacia tree. Giraffes are one of our favourites, so we spent quite some time here. Finally, Nixon drags us away past some wildebeest, to a large male giraffe lying by himself. Nixon explains you can tell a male giraffe because their little nobly horns are bald and that they have 5 horns – one being very small – which we could clearly see this close up. The only animal we had not got close up and personal with were the zebras. We stubble a little group of four along our path grazing. They didn’t even seem to notice we were there. I couldn’t have been more than four feet away from them. It was incredible. It was just about time to leave – in fact, we were in overtime. But we could not resist meeting the newest giraffe in the area, Wonder, who was born on May 28th, my birthday. We had an instant connection, and we are both tall, cute and bandy-legged. Nixon kindly took a picture of us with Wonder.

A female giraffe & calf
Up close and friendly to a zebra - don't go behind they have a nasty kick

In summary …

Lake Naivasha’s location close to Nairobi makes it a great place to stop at the beginning, middle or end of a tour of Kenya. 

A boat trip on the lake is wonderful, especially if you love birds – you will also undoubtedly see a hippo or two.

A visit to the nature reserve is a good way to get up close to some of Kenya’s wildlife including antelope, wildebeest and giraffes. It is a safe way for younger children to see these animals in the wild and not behind cages or from a game drive vehicle.

About Lake Naivasha

Located in Nakuru County, Lake Naivasha is a large freshwater lake which sits just outside the town of Naivasha. Situated at an elevation of 1,884m, Lake Naivasha is the highest lake within the Great Rift Valley.

With a surface area of 139km², Lake Naivasha dominates the landscape, and it is surrounded by a swamp which covers an area of around 64km². Beyond the swampland, the lake is encircled by forests of the fever tree.

Lake Naivasha’s surface area depends on rainfall and the lake dried up completely in the early 20th century.

Planning your visit to Lake Naivasha

Lake Naivasha is easily accessible from Nairobi and the 98km journey takes around 2.5 hours along the Old Naivasha Road and the C88.

Naivasha’s proximity to the capital makes it a popular day trip, and the lake can get busy at the weekend. If you want to avoid crowds, you should visit during the week or spend a few days in the area as part of a wider itinerary.

Lake Naivasha is a short distance from Hell’s Gate National Park and a taxi journey should take less than an hour.

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Best time to visit Lake Naivasha

You can explore the best of Lake Naivasha throughout the year with it pleasing climatic condition. Talking about the best time to visit Lake Naivasha, the months from June to October are considered as the best time to travel around, exploring the wildlife and the scenic beauty. These are the summer season with hot days but bearable situation for a safari.

The winters are even considered ideal for the tour of Lake Naivasha as the climate is cold and pleasing. However there may be a little rain but overall the temperature is ideal for an excursion to Lake Naivasha.

Naivasha Sopa Lodge

Lake Naivasha Sopa Lodge is a large lodge complex on the shores of Lake Naivasha.The accommodation is based around four rooms units – two on the top and two on the bottom. They have thatched roofs and in my mind would not have looked out of place on the set of ‘Lord of the Rings’.

The room itself was large and spacious and with a large comfortable bed, plenty of storage and massive bathroom. Unusally, the room had a sofa and a TV – the first time we had experience this in our tour of Kenya.

There was wi-fi in the rooms which was great. 

All the rooms overlook the grounds where there is wildlife wandering around right outside your room, including impala, zebra and a giraffe or two. During the evening hours hippos leave the lake to come and feed on the lush grass of the Resorts grounds. This presents a threat to the visitors, so after dark the Resoirt will send someone to escort you from your room to the main lodge building and back again after you have finished.

The common areas are more spectacular then the rooms, including attractive dining room, large bar area and ample comfy seating with great views from the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the grounds and wildlife. The main building where dinner is served is very impressive with huge high ceilings and a spacious feel. There are nice patio tables, a large pool area, a tennis court, and very attractively landscaped areas around the buildings.

The meals are all buffet, which also included local dishes. There were plenty of vegetarian options and the food was tasty. The service we received from the Restaurant was very good and very friendly, the chefs and waiting staff were very pleasant.

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