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An escape that shouldn't cost you much

By Peter Muiruri | Mar 10th 2019 | 3 min read

The dusty town of Nakuru, located 150 kilometres northwest of Nairobi is full of superlatives. For a start, it is one of the richest agricultural towns in Kenya. During retired President Moi’s era, Nakuru was bedrock of Rift Valley politics and a regular haunt of the retired President. But what keeps Nakuru on the global map are the natural tourist attractions that are the envy of the rest of the world.

There is Menengai Crater, the second largest caldera in the world after Tanzania’s Ngorongoro. Scientific explanations notwithstanding, people have been mesmerised by the strong, whirling winds that emanate from the floor of the crater, some even terming them demonic.

Nakuru’s showstopper, however, is the lake by the same name. It is a lake with as much history as the area itself. Surrounded by woodlands and bushy terrain, Lake Nakuru was first a bird watching and a game hunting site before it was declared conservation area in 1957. It is home to over 400 species of birds, some of them threatened. It is also home to the two rhino species – white and black. It is one of the two premium parks in Kenya. The other is Amboseli.

I first visited Lake Nakuru around 15 years ago. As expected, I was pulled in by the majestic white and pink flamingoes in the lake. Their iridescent colours glowed by the light of the sun as the day wore on. The vast array of colours reeled in visitors from all over the world. Tourist dollars followed. The birds were constant features on almost every other postcard. These were the glorious days of Lake Nakuru.

I was back to Lake Nakuru the other day. The route from Nakuru town to the park’s main gate is still dotted with those sneering baboons that have become a menace to residents and visitors alike. During my first visit, it was common to spot the pink hue from the vantage point before the gate. Sadly, rising water levels, a phenomenon witnessed in other Rift Valley lakes as well, has diluted the lake’s alkalinity thus reducing the blue-green algae that the flamingoes feed on. Their numbers have greatly gone down.

A concentration of beasts

But Lake Nakuru National Park is more than a sea of pink. Its relatively small size in comparison with the bigger conservation areas such as Tsavo gives it an edge as far as wildlife concentration is concerned. Nakuru is perhaps the best location to spot the endangered rhinos. We had a close encounter with the massive, ancient-looking creatures soon after we entered the park.

A healthy pair of white rhinos stood their ground a few metres from us. It is one thing to watch wildlife documentaries depicting the mean-looking rhinos and quite another to come face to face with them. We froze in our small vehicle that would be no match for the horned beasts. Contemplatively, I had a good look at the horns of a dilemma, horns that are just about to condemn the rhino to extinction. Killing a rhino in the belief that the horn will provide an aphrodisiac is the most twisted tales of all time. Those impotent might as well chew their fingernails for both are made of the same material, keratin and have the same medicinal value – naught!

We had a similar experience with a vast herd of buffaloes that caused a stampede while crossing the road. Like rhinos, the herbivores too are mean creatures that need little provocation to attack. Again, we kept our cool until the beasts – more than 100 made their exit to wherever their destination was. While watching wild animals, patience is key. In all our national parks, the rule is: Animals have the right of way – a tenet we kept to the last.

Besides the animals, Lake Nakuru’s plant species – over 550 in all – provide a wide ecological diversity and varied habitats for animals. The elevated shoulders are covered with what Kenya Wildlife Service terms as the largest euphorbia forest on the African continent.

So whether looking for a day’s excursion or longer visit, Lake Nakuru should be on your radar.


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