Lake Naivasha has a large population of hippos which the ancient Greeks believed to be related to the horse, with the name hippopotamus meaning ”river horse”, but it is actually closer to whales and dolphins. Baby hippos can suckle their mother’s milk underwater without breathing or accidentally drinking water.
Kenya – Been There

Meeting paradise – and angry hippos – on an African lake

Photo by Thierry Grun

Kenya – Been There Meeting paradise – and angry hippos – on an African lake

Lake Naivasha looks its best from the former home of Joy Adamson, the author of “Born Free”, who lived on the shore until her death in 1980.

Julio Etchart
Julio Etchart

Joy Adamson’s life has been an inspiration to those who love animals and an onsite museum at Elsamere, named for the lioness Adamson raised, tells her story. I watch a faded documentary and read yellowing newspaper clippings, then wander through the house where her paintings decorate the walls and her spirit fills the rooms, cool with ceiling fans and mosquito netting. Taking tea under a shady tree, while mischievous black and white colobus monkeys frolic overhead and hippos submarine in the lake with eyes like twin periscopes, I experience the beauty of Kenya through her eyes. Dramatic rain sweeps in for a sudden afternoon shower, first raising that characteristic African smell of wet dust and then whipping the lake into choppy waves that give Naivasha its Maasai name: Nai’posha, or “rough water”.

Even more magical is a visit the next day to the game reserve at Crescent Island, now linked to land with a causeway since the lake level fell but still a serene oasis of animal life. Unusually for a game park, you can walk through it with a guide, who points out to me the different species of antelope, from dik-dik and impala to bushbuck and Thompson’s gazelle. A large herd of wildebeest and zebra roam the typical African landscape of grassland and thorn trees, behind which a few giraffe contemplate me from on high. Clouds of steam from the volcanic landscape in the distance give the view an even more primeval appearance. Walking it, my imagination takes me back to time when our human ancestors first walked through Africa. A Garden of Eden indeed.

Out on the lake to get close to the birdlife, I am jerked back to the present when a series of hippo bulls give chase to our boat, seemingly running along the lake bottom – an indication of how shallow it is. My boatman tells me they are fiercely territorial and the biggest killers in Africa. “I thought that was the mosquito,” says my South African friend Hannes. “Or is it the matatu?” His joke about the notorious minibus taxis whose wrecks litter Kenya’s roads brings a broad laugh from our guide.

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Crescent Island is formed from the collapsed rim of an extinct volcano and was an island until falling water levels in Lake Naivasha connected it to the mainland. Now a private wildlife sanctuary, it is home to giraffe, zebra, gazelle, waterbuck, monkeys and many other species as well as countless birds but no predators apart from a resident python named Priscilla. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon F5

Aperture
ƒ/4.5
Exposure
1/2000
ISO
50
Focal
35 mm

Crescent Island is formed from the collapsed rim of an extinct volcano and was an island until falling water levels in Lake Naivasha connected it to the mainland. Now a private wildlife sanctuary, it is home to giraffe, zebra, gazelle, waterbuck, monkeys and many other species as well as countless birds but no predators apart from a resident python named Priscilla.

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