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Naivasha: Journeying Through History and Amazing Beauty

Naivasha (which is actually a colonial misinterpretation of the Maasai name Nai’posha, meaning “Rough Water” in reference to the afternoon storms that frequented the lake) is a small town with a population of about 400,000 people located about 70 km. North West of Nairobi, on the shores of Lake Naivasha and along the Nairobi – Nakuru highway.

The town sits on the floor of the Great Rift Valley and is a busy and popular transit point for the movement of goods and services, and a favourite stop for people to get refreshments as they head upcountry.

Besides its thriving US$ 150 million-a-year floriculture industry dominated by large multinational owned flower and horticulture farms nestled along the shores of the lake, Naivasha 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 one can see here include the majestic 11,000 ft. Mount Longonot, a volcanic mountain that is now dormant. Hells Gate National Park famously named for its pair of mammoth, red hued cliffs. The park is home to an abundance of plains game and birdlife.

Lake Naivasha itself is a site to behold with over 400 different species of bird, and a variety of wild life and marine species. The popular Fischer’s Tower that offers fantastic climbing opportunities is a worthwhile place to visit.

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 raise awareness among local community on the need to protect Naivasha’s ecosystem.

Much of the lake 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 two smaller lakes nearby; Oloidien, with its Flamingoes and Sonachi, a bright green crater lake.

History enthusiasts will find quickly that Naivasha is abundant with treasures of the past to mule over. For instance, between 1937 and 1950 the Lake Naivasha was used as Nairobi’s principle airport and landing site for the Catalina Flying Boats, used by the Overseas Airways Corporation (OAC) for a regular service from London to South Africa.

These massive amphibious aircraft 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 meanwhile transit passengers would attend a game of polo while waiting for the plane to refuel.

But Naivasha 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 Errol. These were settlers 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.

In the late 1970s to 1980s, Lake Naivasha was overrun with poachers. The migratory paths along Lake Naivasha were disappearing as fast as the local rose industry flourished and because of that some individuals like Joan Root (18 January 1936-13 January 2006), a Kenyan-born conservationist, ecological activist and Oscar-nominated film-maker, decided to fight for the protection of Naivasha’s fragile ecosystem – perhaps even to death.

Henry Kimathi Muuthia

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