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Lake Naivasha - Kenya’s Best Kept Secret

Written by  Cindy Ross

AFRICA KENYA
There is a cadence in a giraffe’s walk that makes it appear as though they are keeping time to music in their heads. They nod and lope along to a slow rhythmic beat and gently bob their long graceful necks. I think they might be the most beautiful of all the animals in Kenya. On Crescent Island in Lake Naivasha they are the stars of the show because they allow you to get very close and observe them. Walking here, unencumbered by the confines of a safari jeep, it feels as if you are on a film set for Out of Africa. Indeed, these very creatures could be the offspring of the African animals that starred in that 1985 classic movie; it was filmed right here on this 8 acre island.

Crescent Island is not really an island, it is connected by a skinny peninsula to the mainland. It was an island before the waters receded. No predators were ever brought to this historic movie set. Because of this, the giraffes, water buffalo, gazelles, waterbucks, impalas, wildebeests, monkeys and zebras, imported from nearby Maasai Mara, lived in perfect Dr. Doolittle-like harmony. Now, hyenas make nightly visits and keep the population culled and healthy.
Our adventure to Crescent Island began on the boat dock of the Enashipai Resort & Spa (www.enashipai.com). Less than a four hour drive from the capital Nairobi, Lake Naivasha is often overlooked by folks traveling to the more popular Lake Nakuru National Park, but they are missing a lot.
We quietly motor along the still swampy shoreline through water papyrus and hyacinths that look like tiny islands, making artistic reflections on the surface in the shape of snowflakes. Coots dive before our bow, cormorants dry out their massive wings on dead branches, marabou storks sit in large groups like tree ornaments, fish eagles scream their haunting, otherworldly call, and the best part -- the hippos. They rise and sink in the water, inhaling and exhaling breath, occasionally opening their pink fleshy mouths with a sleepy yawn. There are thought to be 2,000 here in the 138 square kilometer lake that sits at the highest elevation of the Rift Valley (6,181 feet). Lake Naivasha boasts over 400 species of birds and a boat ride is a great start to this exploration.
Crescent Island forms the rim of an extinct volcano. Nearby is Hell’s Gate National Park and its geo thermal activity is proof that the area is still active. The 3 square mile island is a private sanctuary, owned by a British/Kenyan family and open to visitors with a guide and a ticket, usually obtained at the handful of surrounding lodges.
A baby giraffe bounces and jumps in the bush, greeting us as we land. It is not uncommon to see three generations of giraffes all together in this idyllic spot. There are more animals here on Crescent Island than in any Kenyan park. From the top of the hill in the center of the island, you have a 360-degree view of nearby Mount Longonot, which created this fabulous spot, to the distant peaks of the Aberdares and the Mau Escarpment, home to Hell’s Gate National Park. Hell’s Gate is the only Kenyan National Park that allows visitors to leave their vehicle and walk, cycle or horseback ride amongst the game. A visit to this fascinating 68 kilometer park is next on our agenda while staying at Enashipai Resort & Spa.

HELL’S GATE
At Hell’s Gate National Park, we hop on mountain bikes and ride 8 kilometers past Fisher Tower, a jutting volcanic plug that dominates the landscape and can be climbed, even by those with no prior rock climbing experience. A massive cliff in the distance is sheathed in dazzling white, which looks like snow, but is actually bird droppings. Hell’s Gate is home to thousands of swifts, and is a breeding ground for Verreaux’s eagles, an endemic bird, as well as Augur buzzards.
After cycling past herds of zebras and gazelles, and stopping to view them from the quiet and freedom of a bike, we arrive at the ranger’s station and get ready for a hike in the dramatic Lower Gorge. Narrow slickrock sandstone canyons and hot water springs are the highlights of this quiet walk. What better way to relax after a day of outdoor adventuring than to head to the brand new Oljkaria Geothermal Spa, only minutes from the park gate.
The pool is owned by the Kenyan Electrical Generating Company and began as a research project to demonstrate the direct use of brine. The naturally occurring saline solution is channeled off and shared with visitors who enjoy a relaxing soak in warm water. Multiple pools and terraced steps lead you into the soft therapeutic water, making this the perfect way to top off an adventure at one of the best-kept secrets of wild Kenya. www.magicalkenya.com

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