Kenya’s Great Rift Valley offers some of the most breath-taking natural scenery in a diverse mix of dramatic escarpments, mountain highlands, indigenous forests, gorges, beautiful lakes and savannah. In geographical terms, the Great Rift is a 6,000km geological fault line, stretching around one sixth of the earth’s circumference! The area is an absolute birdwatcher’s paradise, as well as being home to some of the country’s rarest mammals – the rhino and mountain bongo.
Vehicle transfer from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha with Governors’.
A day spent at Lake Nakuru National Park, in pursuit of the star attraction – millions of brightly coloured pink flamingos – is probably the most sought after experience of the Great Rift Valley ‘to do list’. Depending on where you are staying, we recommend heading off super early in the morning, with a packed breakfast (and/or lunch) in order to avoid the midday heat. Your park entry can be paid for directly at the main gate and from here you can meander through 80sq. miles of euphorbia forest, acacia woodland and rocky escarpment, seeking out both black and white rhino as well some of the rare Rothschild’s giraffe. Other wildlife that you can expect to see includes lion, leopard, hippo, hyena and both Bohor and Defassa waterbuck.
Lake Nakuru National Park offers excellent rhino sightings – photo credit Will Fortescue
Lioness in Lake Nakuru National Park – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Lake Nakuru is of course, one of the Rift Valley’s soda lakes, sitting at an elevation of 1,754 meters above sea level. Its alkaline-rich water nurtures the growth of blue-green algae, attracting immense flocks of greater and lesser flamingos, which can be seen in huge concentrations, hugging the shoreline. It is quite a sight to behold and makes for some truly spectacular photography: imagine a sea of bright pink feathers against a backdrop of green scrubland and blue sky! If birding is your thing, you will be pleased to know that the park is home to a multitude of other bird species – over 400 in fact!
Flamingos on Lake Nakuru – photo credit Will Fortescue
You simply can’t visit the Lake Naivasha region without actually getting in a boat and heading out across, or around the lake! At over 6,000 ft, Lake Naivasha is the highest lake in the Rift Valley and definitely one of the most scenic. Almost completely fringed by thick papyrus and tall acacia trees, this freshwater lake is a bird lover’s paradise, offering delightful sightings of African Fish Eagles, pelicans, cormorants, colourful kingfishers, herons and egrets.
Watch African fish eagles swoop for their prey – photo credit Will Fortescue
From the comfort of a boat, you can get within a safe distance of hippos wallowing in the shallow waters and spy plenty of other wildlife along the shoreline such as giraffes, zebra and wildebeest. Boat safaris on Lake Naivasha are widely available through independent operators, or your choice of accommodation should be able to arrange this excursion for you.
Get close-up to the lake’s wildlife!
So you’ve done the game driving, you’ve been on a boat and now you fancy stretching your legs. Crescent Island is a private game sanctuary located on the eastern side of Lake Naivasha, and is one of just a few places that you can walk alongside totally wild animals such as zebra, giraffe and antelope. Buffalo are sometimes present on the island but can be avoided by keeping a safe distance and following your guide’s direction.
Take in the view from Crescent Island – photo credit Will Fortescue
Walking along or around the island can take anywhere between 90 minutes to three hours, depending on your preferred pace, and whether you find a shady spot to enjoy a picnic lunch. Take note, it does get very hot here and with limited tree cover on most parts of the island, make sure you have plenty of drinking water, a wide-brimmed hat and some strong sun cream.
A chance to walk alongside the wildlife – photo credit Will Fortescue
‘Not another lake’, we can hear you say! But between Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha, you will find Lake Elmenteita – which is an incredibly important feeding ground for flamingos and a major nesting and breeding area for Great White Pelicans. Don’t expect to always find the flamingos here though: Due to the small size of this soda lake, the water levels can fluctuate greatly which in turn alters the alkalinity and algae food source – therefore flamingo sightings cannot be guaranteed throughout the year.
Flamingos on Lake Elmenteita – photo credit Will Fortescue
Pelicans at Lake Elmenteita – photo credit Alisa Karstad
It’s a very pretty place to stop off and have a little walk, either on your way to or back from, Lake Nakuru National Park – even if the flamingos have relocated. The surrounding landscape is incredibly dynamic; past volcanic activity, rocky outcrops, fever trees, candelabras and grassy plains is worthy of photographing in its own right. In fact, it’s so picturesque and steeped in tectonic history, that the area is recognised and protected under the UNESCO Kenya Lake System World Heritage Site.
Giraffe on Lake Elmenteita’s shoreline – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Eburu Forest is one of 22 gazetted forest blocks that falls under the Mau Forests Complex, which is fully managed by the Kenya Forestry Services. At 8,715 hectares of pristine and indigenous mountain forest ecosystem, it’s small in size, but plays home to the critically endangered mountain bongo. Never heard of it? We’re not surprised; this incredibly rare and shy mammal is only found within a few mountain regions of Central Kenya. There are only about 12 individuals thought to exist in the Eburu Forest, which represents 10% of its overall population in the wild! To further put this in perspective for you, there are thought to be just 140 eastern bongos left living in the wild and 420 in zoos across the world!
Mountain Bongo caught on a camera trap in Eburu Forest – photo credit Rhino Ark and The Calgary Zoo
Keeping all that in mind, your chances of seeing a bongo are not very high – but that’s not to say that you won’t see one. You can visit the forest either on foot for a pleasant walk below the impressive tree canopy, knotted vines, swinging Colobus monkeys, a plethora of bird species and carpets of wildflowers – or head off for a slow drive along thick moss and fern-lined tracks.
Colobus Monkey – photo credit Alisa Karstad
There are forty other species of mammals here as well as a remarkable diversity of birds and butterflies – so be sure to bring a good pair of binoculars and a picnic – so that you can spend as long as you want!
Explore the forest on foot or from the comfort of your car
Loldia House is an original Kenyan farm house, tucked away amongst giant fig trees on Lake Naivasha, offering a choice of accommodation either in the original family home or in cottages in the grounds. Idyllically situated on the quiet north-western end of the lake, this is the perfect base from which to explore the wonders of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.
Loldia House is part of the Governors’ Camp Collection of properties in Kenya and Rwanda.
The Governors’ Camp Collection comprises seven award winning luxury safari camps and lodges. We are in the heart of the best wildlife viewing areas of Kenya and Rwanda, set in some of East Africa’s most spectacular scenery.
By Jessica Savage, Governors’ Camp Collection