At almost 1,900 m above sea level, Lake Naivasha is the Rift Valley’s highest lake. The glittering shores used to be home to Joy Adamson – the author of Born Free – and the 1987 classic Out of Africa was filmed on Cresent Island in the middle of the lake. Nowadays, a short drive from Nairobi, it’s a popular and accessible wildlife watching destination for day-trippers from the city. The lake is a mecca for birdwatching and provides a home to hundreds of grumpy hippos. While the swamps, grasslands, and woodlands around the lake support giraffe, zebra, and Cape buffalo. Despite (or perhaps) its popularity, the lake faces a number of conservation challenges around fishing, water use, and pollution, and can be a busy place with lots of boats and tourists.
Most visits to the lake also include a trip to the nearby Hell’s Gate National Park, a spectacular otherworldly landscape that is home to a range of big game species. The dramatic cliffs of the park used to be a tributary to a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the Rift Valley. More recently, they have been rumoured to be the inspiration for the Lion King!
Average rating: 4.4 (very good)
Average spend per person: day trips to Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate cost around $35-40 from Nairobi or it’s around $180-350 to visit the sites as part of an inclusive package tour
Number of reports: 5
Best time to visit: wildlife watching is best during the long, cool dry season from July – October as the wildlife congregates near the remaining areas of water and the roads are in good condition
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, animal watching, bike riding, bird watching, boat trip, hiking, horse riding
WILDLIFE IN Lake Naivasha
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here include:
Cape buffalo – 40% of visitors (2/5) reported sightings
Cape buffalo can be seen year-round, spending their time grazing the floodplains around the lake. Cresent Island game sanctuary on the eastern side of the lake is a good place to see them. The terrain on the island is easy and walking safaris give you a chance to walk amongst the herds! A word of warning – Cape buffalos have a reputation for suffering a severe lack of humour, taking on anything they dislike. They can charge at great speed when they feel threatened – making them the most feared animal on any walking safari!
Giraffe – 80% of visitors (4/5) reported sightings
The world’s tallest mammal can also be found in the area. The Maasai giraffe is the tallest subspecies of giraffe – reaching up to 5.5 metres tall! The Naivasha area is home to the northernmost population of Masai giraffe in Kenya. As with Cape buffalo, you can see them ambling around Crescent Island. Giraffes are also found in and around Hell’s Gate National Park. To the south of the Lake, Hell’s Gate protects a geologically dramatic landscape. It is a great spot to take a mountain bike safari throughout the incredible landscape and look out for giraffes as you go. It’s a rough but rideable track that gives you a chance to think about the incredible history of the area and the current challenges it faces.
Hippo – 80% of visitors (4/5) reported sightings
The lake is home to a population of around 400 hippos – so if you want to see these enormous creatures you have come to the right place! Taking a boat trip is an excellent way to see them close up – wallowing, half-submerged in the water. Boat trips can be organised from many of the lakeside lodges and campsites. At night they leave the water to graze on the lakeshore. At some lodges and campsites, you can see them grazing outside your windows or tents! Care needs to be taken as hippos are dangerous animals, and there have been several deaths recorded.
zebra – 80% of visitors (4/5) reported sightings
Good grazing around the shoreline of the lake attracts large herds of zebras year-round. They are easily spotted grazing in the farms and expansive grounds of the lodges and campsites that line Moi South Lake Road. As well as Crescent Island, the mountain bike safari through Hell’s Gate provides a great opportunity for spotting Burchell’s zebras. With visitors reporting fields full of zebras standing out against the spectacular landscape.
Photo credit: McKay Savage under a Creative Commons licence from Flickr