Kenya : Rift Valley Lakes
The Rift Valley, which runs from the North to the South of Kenya, is lined with a series of freshwater and soda-based volcanic lakes, which attract different kinds of wildlife and offer a variety of activities including walking and boating. One of the most popular to visit, and only a couple of hours by road from Nairobi, is Lake Naivasha. The fresh water of the lake attracts wildlife from the surrounding hills, and is filled with hippos and over 400 species of bird, including thousands of pink flamingos. Further north, Lake Nakuru, is also a living carpet of pink flamingos whose shores provide sanctuary for rhino, lion and leopard. There are a number of lovely country houses in these areas, where you can go horse-riding, mountain biking, walking, to visit the flower farms, some of the biggest exporters in Kenya, relax by the pool or a roaring fire, and watch animals coming to the waterhole over a gin and tonic. They are the perfect place to get over your flight and ease into your holiday.
For keen birders Lake Baringo, further north again, is an interesting destination. Although there are no flamingos, this freshwater lake is home to over 500 species of bird which can be seen on foot, canoe or by boat.
Over in the west is Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile and home of the greatly prized game fish, the Nile Perch. On Rusinga Island on Lake Victoria is a great little lodge, totally off the beaten track, and ideal for those looking for something a bit different.
Kongoni Game Valley is a beautiful up-country home overlooking Lake Naivasha, which still conserves the charm and fascination of African colonial times. Only two hours' drive from Nairobi, it is surrounded by a private game sanctuary, where you can walk, ride and go on game drives. It has all the ambience of a very relaxed home with delicious food, quirky, old fashioned bedrooms and bathrooms, and a huge lawn with a swimming pool. Other activities available include boat trips on the lake, golf, fishing, mountain biking, romantic bush breakfasts and dinners, and visits to other nearby national parks.
Loldia is the colonial home of the Hopcraft family, built by Italian prisoners of war from volcanic stone. It is an idyllic setting with beautiful gardens that run down to the lakeshore and a fantastic view of the extinct Mount Longonot from the veranda. The main house has four rooms and there are two luxurious cottages in the gardens. All the rooms have en-suite bathrooms though one double room in the top cottage has an outside bathroom. Peter is a marvellous host and the staff look after you incredibly well. It's a great place to relax for a couple of days or there is plenty to do in the area with horse-riding or walking around the flower farm, boat trips and fishing on the lake and visits to the local school. The bird life is fantastic and you can always hear the haunting call of the fish eagle. You can also go further afield to Lake Nakuru National Park, climb Mt Longonot or visit the beautiful Hells Gate National Park and walk the gorge.
Kiangazi House is a very comfortable country homestead with lush, colourful gardens and rolling lawns. Set in the Oserian Game Corridor, there is great game viewing, but it is also a lovely tranquil place to relax and ease into the Kenyan pace of life. The house overlooks Oloidien Bay and the shimmering waters of Lake Naivasha, and has five bedrooms, three of which are inside the main house, including the suite with its own fireplace and bar, and there are two rooms in the garden with their own private verandas. The library in the main house beckons with its huge fireplace, or the more energetic can venture out on game walks and game drives in the local conservation area, go bass fishing, play tennis or go on cultural visits to Joy Adamson's home or the local flower farm. There is a swimming pool secreted in the garden, and in the evenings you can watch animals coming in to drink at the waterhole which is just at the bottom of the garden. The food on our last visit was wonderful.
Olerai House, owned by Oria and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who are renowned for their research into elephant behaviour, is a lovely, welcoming farmhouse set in the glorious countryside on the north shore of Lake Naivasha. With its tranquil gardens, gentle pace of life and lack of timetables, it's an ideal place to ease into your holiday. Oria's Italian heritage is evident in both the food and the interior design, with light and airy rooms which are beautifully furnished. Activities include a boat ride to Crescent Island, game drives in Lake Nakuru National Park, hikes across the back hills of the farm, or walks along the lake edge, perhaps with a picnic. Golf, fishing, croquet or just lounging around the pool at Oria and Iain's Art Deco home, Sirocco House, which is just a short walk down a stunning avenue of jacarandas, is also all on offer.
Samatian Island Lodge is a small and exclusive 12-bed lodge on a small private island on Lake Baringo. The lodge has breathtaking views across the lake and offers you the opportunity to explore the area and its birdlife on foot, canoe, bike or boat. There are five open-plan thatched cottages, each with a superb view of the lake, and the dining and living areas are next to the large infinity pool, which also has panoramic views of the lake looking over to the rugged hills of Kenya's arid Northern Frontier District. There is an incredible array of birdlife here as well as glorious sunsets. Lake Baringo is a very important wetland with over 450 species of birds, as well as resident hippo, crocodile and giant monitor lizards. You can feed and photograph the fish eagles, visit Baringo's hot springs or take a day trip to neighbouring Lake Bogoria, with its pink carpet of flamingos and the possibility of seeing the rare Greater Kudu. Kidepo Springs with their extraordinary hot waterfalls and the Rugus Wildlife Conservancy are also close by.
Island Camp is situated on a remote island on Lake Baringo. There are 23 comfortable double tents, each with an en-suite bathroom, tucked away under the shade of acacia trees and separated by green lawns and natural rockeries. The views of the surrounding Rift Valley are spectacular, not least from the swimming pool, from where winding paths lead down to the informal dining and bar areas. The Island is owned by the Ol Kokwe Self Help Group and the community derive an income and many other social and development benefits from the Camp. Electricity is supplied by generator, and water comes from the lake which is treated by Ultraviolet and Charcoal filters.
Rusinga Island Lodge is set on the world's second largest lake, the great Lake Victoria. Eight beautifully appointed en-suite cottages, surrounded by pristine lawns dotted with huge wild fig trees, look out to the lake. The cottages are made from stone, wood and grass thatching and decorated with traditional fabrics and baskets. Activities include boat trips to Bird Island, a morning in Ruma National Park (one of Kenya's most unusual and beautiful parks, and home to the endangered Roan antelope and nesting place of the Blue Swallow), fishing for the Giant Nile Perch, watersports and a walk to the prehistoric site of Mary Leakey's 1948 discovery of Proconsul Africanus (the last common ancestor of the great apes and man). Rusinga Island is off the beaten track and an unforgettable destination, ideal for those looking for something a bit different.