This is Africa: On Safari in Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha – In Search of Rhinos, Birds and Other Creatures

Flamingos in Lake Nakru

Last Updated on 08/21/18 by Rose Palmer

Our East Africa safari tour continued through the Great Rift Valley of Kenya with stops at Lake Nakuru in search of rhinos and Lake Naivasha to discover some of Africa’s many bird species.

Day 3 – In Search of Rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is dotted with many lakes, most of them with a very high mineral content due to the lack of sources of continuous fresh water. Lake Nakuru is one of those alkaline lakes and until recently, was known for its huge population of flamingos. The water level throughout the valley has risen in the past few years though, which has made the lake much less alkaline, and has resulted in less blue-green algae which is the staple food for the flamingos. Apparently, the flamingos have just migrated to other, more hospitable nearby lakes.

The now flooded main entrance gates to Lake Nakuru National park

The area is part of Lake Nakuru National Park and is also part of a designated UNESCO site. The park is a completely fenced in habitat that is known for its rhino population and acts as a protected rhino sanctuary. A large number of both black and white rhinos have been introduced into the 73 sq. mile protected habitat.

Our small group tour through Kenya continued as we left the Maasai Mara Reserve right after breakfast, and drove through the Great Rift Valley to Lake Nakuru National Park. Keeping us on schedule and providing expert commentary was our local guide, Benjamin from Pollman’s tours.

We reached the Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge in time for a late lunch. The property was situated high up in the hills and had a commanding view looking down toward Lake Nakuru. After our lunch with a view on the terrace, our guide Benjamin drove us down into the park for an afternoon game drive in search of rhinos.

Upon entry into the park, we were greeted with a close up view of one of the most colorful birds we saw during our two week trip – a lilac breasted roller. These birds are called rollers because of their tumbling courtship display in which they roll through the sky.

A] lilac breasted roller
A] lilac breasted roller

Of course, we also encountered other large mammals that call this park home…..

….Like cape buffalo cooling off in a mud puddle. Why just lay in the cooling mud if you can roll in it to cool off even better?

Or how about playing peek-a-boo in a meadow of flowers? Cape buffalo have a reputation for being fierce and unpredictable in their behavior, but this guy looked quite gentle in this setting. Didn’t want to test that theory out though.

Cape buffalo

It wasn’t long before our guide Benjamin heard about a rhino sighting over his radio, and we sped to that location in the park. We were able to catch a few quick glimpses of three southern white rhinos quietly grazing in a field before they moved on. Knowing how endangered these rhinos are, this was a very special experience. We learned that on average three rhinos are poached each day in Africa, and two of the existing rhino species have less than 80 animals still living in the wild.

In the grassy meadows on the edge of the forest, we also observed a variety of other wildlife, including a waterbuck, which was a new sighting for us.

Waterbuck at Lake Nakuru
Waterbuck at Lake Nakuru
A herd of female impala
A herd of female impala
bachelor impala
Bachelor impala
Zebras and impalas
Zebras and impalas

I loved watching a gray crowned crane as he strutted through the grass. The way he walked and the way he carried himself seemed to say ” Look at me – I know I am the best looking bird in Africa”.

We drove closer toward the lake to see if we could get a glimpse of flamingos. Even though Lake Nakuru is no longer a consistent home to the millions of flamingos like it once was, some still hang out along the shore and call these waters home.

Title Flamingos on Lake Nakuru
A few flamingos still make Lake Nakuru home

The many dead tree trunks along the lake shore are evidence of the rising water levels in recent years.

Sunset over Lake Nakuru
Sunset over Lake Nakuru

As the light faded on the way back up the hill to our lodge, we had another first sighting – a spotted hyena. This guy (or gal} just ran right past our vehicle (hence the fuzzy photo), completely oblivious and undisturbed by our presence.

Our final close encounter on this day was with one of the highly endangered Rothschild’s  giraffes, which is also protected by the fenced in habitat of Lake Nakuru National Park. Gotta love giraffe faces and their expressions.

Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge

I considered our accommodations at the Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge to be outstanding, even by western standards. Located high in the hills overlooking Lake Nakuru, the lodge has commanding views of the lake and the national park surrounding the lake.

Pool with a view of Lake Nakuru

The lodge looked to be relatively new. Rooms were located in two unit roundhouses with traditional peaked thatched roofs. Our room and bathroom was huge and had a balcony looking out over the lake.

The food was buffet style with many fresh choices including a variety of salads, fruits, breads, soups, vegetable dishes, meat dishes and desserts. The only thing not included were the beverages, which we put on a tab and then paid at checkout. Service was very attentive by all the staff, from the porters to the wait staff to the front reception.

Sadly, we only spent one night here. I could have appreciated a second night just for the view – especially at sunrise.

Lake Nakuru sunrise
Lake Nakuru sunrise

Day 4 – A Boat Ride on Lake Naivasha

Monday, July 9, 2018

After another early morning departure from Lake Nakuru, and a two and a half hour drive through the Rift Valley, we reached Lake Naivasha. Lake Naivasha is one of only two fresh water lakes in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, the other being Lake Baringo. Situated at an altitude of about 6000 ft, Lake Naivasha sits at the highest point in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The lake is home to almost 400 different species of birds as well as a large hippo population. Our little group was scheduled for a one hour boat tour of the lake in search of birds and hippos.

Boating on Lake Naivasha
Boating on Lake Naivasha

The bird population was certainly very diverse and abundant. While we did not see 400 species, we did encounter quite a variety in the water and in the trees surrounding the lake.

gray headed gulls
gray headed gulls
Great white pelican
Great white pelican

The most impressive sight had to be watching an African fish eagle as he soared above us and then went for a dive to get the piece of fish our guide threw into the water.

African fish eagle in flight
African fish eagle in flight

As we paddled closer to shore, we found a pod of hippos hanging out in the vegetation. This would be one of many hippo sightings during our trip and provided an introduction to the challenges of photographing hippos who prefer to stay mostly submerged in the water.

Like the other lakes in the Rift Valley, the water levels in Lake Naivasha have also risen, which has created a number of dead trees along the shore and a photogenic reflective setting.

Parts of the land around the lake is developed with only a small protected corridor of land at the waters edge. At one point we had a view of homes, wildebeest, zebras, an egret and power lines – this is Africa.


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