Naivasha is a small town that sits on the floor of the Great Rift Valley. A busy place, it is a popular transit point for the movement of goods and services. It is also a favourite stop for people wishing to get refreshments as they head upcountry.
The town’s name was initially Nai’posha, a Maasai name meaning ‘Rough Water’ in reference to the afternoon storms that frequented the lake. The British misinterpretation finally stuck and has since been the name of the town.
Besides its thriving USD 150 million-a-year floriculture industry dominated by large multinationals, the town is also a popular tourist destination, especially, for Nairobi residents seeking to run away from the hustle of city life.
Some of the main attractions not to miss here include the majestic 11,000 FT Mount Longonot, a volcanic mountain that is now dormant. Hell’s Gate National Park famously named for its pair of mammoth, red hued cliffs, is another interesting spot. The park is home to an abundance of plains game and bird life.
Lake Naivasha itself is a site to behold with over 400 different species of bird and a variety of wildlife and marine species. The popular Fischer’s Tower that offers fantastic climbing opportunities, is an interesting place to visit, especially if you are just starting out in mountain climbing and fancy developing your skills further.
Actually if you start your trip right now, you might just be in time to catch the greatest wheelbarrow race in the world – To Hell’s Gate on a wheelbarrow – held each year to raise funds and awareness among local community on the need to protect Naivasha’s ecosystem.
Much of Lake Naivasha is surrounded by forests of the yellow barked Acacia Xanthophlea, known locally as the yellow fever tree, that flourish with bird life, making Naivasha a world class birding destination.
The shores of the lake draw a wide array of game including Maasai Giraffes, Cape Buffalo and Colobus Monkeys with numerous hefty Hippos lazing around in the lake. The borough enclosing the lake is well worth exploring, giving way to 2 smaller lakes nearby; Oloidien, with its Flamingoes and Sonachi, a bright green crater lake.
History enthusiasts will be pleased to note that Naivasha is abundant with treasures of the past to mull over. For instance, between 1937 and 1950 Lake Naivasha was used as Nairobi’s principle airport and landing site for the Catalina Flying Boats. These were used by the Overseas Airways Corporation (OAC) for a regular service from London to South Africa.
The flying boats were massive amphibious aircrafts which were luxuriously fitted and considered the ultimate in elite air travel. On arrival in Naivasha, near the Naivasha Country Club, passengers would alight and take buses to Nairobi. Transit passengers would meanwhile attend a game of polo while waiting for the plane to refuel.
Naivasha also has its share of a dark past that began in the 1930s and 40s with the birth of the infamous happy valley elite. Championed by one Lord Erroll these settlers were known for their care-free lives. Their story is well captured in James Fox’s novel, White Mischief, which later was made into a film by the same name.
After the happy valley saga, Naivasha entered into a period between the late 1970s and 1980s when most of the wildlife areas were overrun by poachers. Meanwhile the migratory paths along Lake Naivasha were disappearing as fast as the local flower industry flourished.
This triggered some individuals like Joan Root (18 January 1936 – 13 January 2006) to take radical action to fight for the protection of Naivasha’s fragile ecosystem – perhaps even to death.
A Kenyan-born conservationist, ecological activist and Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Joan fought vehemently until her untimely death in 2006.