As we stand on its shores, an elegant crisp white apparition slices through the waters of Lake Naivasha with a simple flash of colour for identification.
Today it’s the startling plumage of the lake’s Pelicans that recreate this enduring illusion of the Imperial Airways Flying Boats that once made the lake the first and largest International Airport in Kenya.
This beautiful freshwater lake is almost 13kms across, but with shallow waters that average only five metres in depth, it’s easy to see why it became the staging post for flying boats en route from the Cape to Nairobi.
Naivasha is fed by two perennial rivers, The Malewa and Gilgil but unusually, with no visible outlet, it’s assumed to have an underground outflow as the lake is fresh.
Whereas today, the lake is very much a tourist destination in Kenya, with abundant birdlife – not to mention its gargantuan Hippo colony – between 1937 and 1950, Naivasha was used as a landing place for flying boats on the Imperial Airways passenger and mail route from Southampton to South Africa; once linking Kisumu and Nairobi. Inaugurated in January 1932 it was originally a mail-only route but within three months was opened to passengers who took a week flying from Britain to Naivasha.
As the ‘staging post’ for Imperial Airways, the 55-acre Spark’s Hotel, now Lake Naivasha Country Club, became one of the best known premier airport hotels in Kenya.
We stop off for lunch here and the ‘country club’ homeliness still prevails with its colonial architecture and liveried waiters.
In its day, it not only offered the immigration facilities required for new entrants into the colony, but became the primary point of entry for ‘Happy Valley’ residents keen to sample some of the best scenes and scandals on the continent.
The Happy Valley ‘set’, was a group of hedonistic British and Anglo-Irish aristocrats and adventurers who became infamous for their decadent lifestyles and exploits, rife with drug use and sexual promiscuity.
Referred to as ‘Witty, attractive, well-bred, and well read’ they were perhaps better summarised with ‘Well bred, well read, well – bed’, with their exploits fictionalised in the 1987 British Film ‘White Mischief’.
The lake and its surroundings are still rich in natural life, although lions no longer roam the shores, but its fertile soils and water supply have made the area one of Kenya’s main agricultural regions. Naivasha is surrounded by forests of the yellow barked Acacia Xanthophlea, also known as Yellow Fever Tree, whilst it is also a world class birding destination with over 400 different species of birds present.
The waters of the lake draw a great range of game, with Giraffe browsing among the acacia, Buffalo wallowing in the swamps and Colobus monkeys calling from the trees while the Lake’s hippos honk and squabble in the shallows.
There are several choices of luxurious accommodation around the lake, not least of which is the old Lake Naivasha Country Club that we’ve lunched at.
We, however, have elected to stay in Naivasha Sopa Lodge, which hugs the shoreline and ensures great exposure to the local wildlife – even if you don’t want it!
We’re warned not to leave our spacious and elegant rooms at night without first checking with the security guard.
It’s at this time that Hippos, Giraffe and Zebra roam the grounds unhindered – the Hippos in particular taking great exception to disturbance by humans.
We’re late for dinner one evening as our buggy can’t get past a couple of massive hippos who insist on dining before us.
Several other hotels and lodges cater for all tastes, whether you fancy luxury tented accommodation on stilts over the water at Kiboko Luxury Camp, or the more family oriented Simba Lodge.
There’s also the almost sterile modern elegance of Enashipai, which for us is too pristine and almost pretentious to be a true reflection of life in Africa.
Wherever you stay, the lake can be troubled by afternoon wind and storms that make the surface suddenly rough with choppy waves – no wonder therefore that the local Maasai called the lake Nai’posha, meaning ‘rough water’ and little surprise that the likes of Joy Adamson, author of Born Free, also chose to live on its shores during the ‘60s.
There’s a hint of Naivasha’s history in the air when you stay here although little evidence of its chequered past exists beyond the colonial style buildings that now host travellers keen to absorb the unique atmosphere of water and wildlife that surrounds you.
More recent oddities are likely to be seen, such as complete families on a motorbike covered by a full length umbrella mounted on the frame.
We’d recommend staying at Lake Naivasha for a couple of days as part of a more extensive safari in East Africa; much as the moneyed elite did in times past.
If you’d like to know more about the Lake Naivasha accommodation we’ve mentioned in this post then click on the links that follow: Lake Naivasha Country Club Naivasha Sopa Lodge Kiboko Luxury Tented Camp Simba Lodge Enashipai but why not ask us to arrange your own tailor-made travel – to immerse yourself in the wonders of history and safari in East Africa?
Why not download the TLC World guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to submit your own personal itinerary request