Ever imagined a place hugged by grassy banks and interrupted with cacti and sand olive trees, with a sunlit lake tugged in between these two contrasting landscapes. A lake of unimaginable dimensions, multitude of water birds, elusive water bucks grazing by the side of the lake and pinkened ears of hippos peeking out of water like periscopes and if it is not enough, the majestic tawny eagle darting over your head. Isn’t it what dreams are made of? Walking by the turquoise blue waters, with its inhabitants exhibiting a surprising nonchalance towards the visitors and with every step you might be filled with more shock and surprise finding yourself walking by the riverfront among the wildlife so undisturbed.
Welcome to the beautiful Nakuru county of Kenya and this is the first hop – Lake Naivasha, the second largest freshwater lake of Kenya, at a comfortable distance of about 120 Kms from Nairobi. Frankly Lake Naivasha wasn’t on our bucket list, we were off to Lake Nakuru before taking a detour to Naivasha to discover that it is one of the best birding sites in whole of Africa. So what it takes to have a kaleidoscope of birds flying above you occasionally diving into the cool waters to cool off the sweltering heat or hiking among herds of zebras and wildebeests joined by occasional giraffes, impalas, gazelles, elands with mighty buffaloes also joining the chorus.
The adventure started as we entered the gates, a short ride and a group of magnificent Reticulated Giraffe greeted us. Some steps more and it was like beautiful paintings hung in the living rooms of a colonial palace coming to live. And mind you we were still to enter the famed crescent island. Well in Crescent Island on the Lake Naivasha, you can go for a good hiking and can get up, close and personal with these herbivores. If you are lucky you can even spot some jackals and occasionally hyenas as they come patrolling around. And as you reach Lake Naivasha, prepare yourself to be a guest at the natural rendezvous of hundreds of bird species. The ibis, cranes, Egyptian geese, pelicans, rollers, kingfishers, cormorants, falcons and even the graceful fish eagle to list a few.
In the recent years, Naivasha has shrunk to three-fourth of what it used to be, mainly because of over exploitation of water to feed the floriculture industry thriving on its banks. The Naivasha town, which once was home to just around 7000 people, now hosts close to half a million, all mainly depended on the floriculture industry. Infact, this meek town contributes to 80 percent of flowers produced commercially in Kenya and most of this are flown on a daily basis to be sold in the markets of Europe. But this beautiful lake is paying the price of the increasing exports. To add more, high proliferation of water hyacinth is also slowly killing the lake.
We had our plans to camp that night by the lake after our hike session. The site was guarded by an electric fence to ensure that hippos cannot come to our side of the fence. After our dinner we set off to an expedition to spot hippos grazing on the other side of the fence. And bingo! A walk of 10 minutes and we were face to face with a mom and a baby hippo mowing grass in their tranquil privacy. It is a different feeling being so close to such magnificent creatures. Excitement! As I got back to base, those enchanting eyes kept popping up repeatedly in my mind.
The next morning we were off to Lake Oleidon for boat ride (Oleidon in masai means ‘small’) supposedly a sister lake to Naivasha. Oliedon is far smaller and salty and home to lesser flamingos. Over these years the water level in the lake has receded, making it more salty. In July 2006 it crossed the magic salty level and large colonies of cyanobacteria Spirulina started growing. The food was ready and since last four years flamingos are visiting this lake. Our boat rider enthusiastically said ‘This year we expect more flamingos. Now since Nakuru has diluted due to heavy rains, Oliedon will be able to attract more flamingos.’
And I live in a perpetual flamingo hangover, this statement was enough to make me thinking. And while I was lost in thoughts and my mind rolled to plan for the flamingo breeding season, my camera kept rolling to catch some beautiful shots as cormorants dried their wings and pelicans took short flights. The game was on in the waters and in the distance a school of hippos relaxed. The banks were occupied by warthogs and the impalas for grazing.
Out in the distance was a huge huddle of lesser flamingos, heads down, busy, but still cautious. We rode towards them, practically ignoring the other natural bounties around us. You see a perpetual flamingo hangover. I redoubled my focus to capture some more shots, some raptors wheeled above us, flamingos filtering the alkaline-blue waters for algae, pelicans quietly sashaying on the water like princess, egrets taking cautious steps to find some unlucky mud-skippers, a giraffe stooping down with its legs spread apart to drink water and cormorants diving in for their unlucky preys. Everything seemed moving in a circle with no end, all in crystalline silence of the place.
Flamingos are cautious birds, no sooner we reached closer to them than they took a flight. Another marvel to watch, how these slender birds stretch their legs, flap their pinkened wings and take a flight, moving in perfect coordination, a tottering ‘V’ in the misty sky carrying a hint of pink and orange. Just then we noticed that in the flock was a family of greater flamingo, gleefully displaying their orange specks as they flew.
A fifteen minutes with these beautiful birds is like a day made for me. I know I am returning maybe in September when more than a quarter million flamingos will make this ‘little lake’ their home. I will come for my baby hippo who would have grown by that time, the masai giraffes and the warthogs who have a tendency of looking cuter everytime I see them and the camera friendly water bucks.
Lake Naivasha is a comfortable 120 Kms from Nairobi. A comfortable drive through the splendid Rift Valley will get you to Lake Naivasha. Lake Oliedon is just 4 Kms from Naivasha.
To Stay – There are many resorts and budget hotels around that area. You can opt for budget dormitories also which would cost KSH 1000 only.