We badly needed to find a break from all the admin and rushing about in Nairobi. We thus headed for the fairly nearby Lake Naivasha and Hells Gate NP.
Not that staying at Jungle Junction in the lovely suburbs of Nairobi is unpleasant at all. The traditional Eurocentric suburb of Karen is just next door to JJs and thanks to excellent pointers from our mentor, who knows Nairobi backwards and specifically Karen, we still have much on our list to tick off. It has been of great interest to us to gain some sort of insight into the type of lifestyle enjoyed by our equivalents in Nairobi. Let me tell you it is not too shabby at all. All the first world requirements are at hand, the suburbs are lovely and leafy and there are plenty of grand homes on huge pieces of ground and it is a common sight to see the ponies stabled on these properties being taken for a trot by the owners or often by the hired help. Still all very colonial in flavor. There are even bales of horse fodder on sale on the side of the road. I think that we and many South Africans, would be very happy living in Nairobi. Like the SA city centers the Karen crowd manage life very well without venturing into the central city too often. It seems that many of the amenities have moved out to the suburbs. The many attractions of Kenya are readily accessible from Nairobi and it seems that visits to the countryside, game reserves and the coast are regular occurrences. The climate in Nairobi is superb. We could easily have made a life for ourselves here. Unlike in SA much of the bitterness of a colonial past seems to be dead and buried (I may be wrong and really have not been here long enough to be qualified to comment, but this is my impression). Kenyans of indigenous and European origin alike, have been exceptionally friendly and interested in us as wazungu Africans and what we have experienced during this trip.
We left for Carnelley’s Camp at Lake Naivasha on Friday mid-morning to avoid some of the traffic. I am not going to publish our detailed route as T4A badly misled us, taking us right through the busy center of town before heading for the Naivasha area. There is a far better route directly from Karen avoiding the city center altogether. We took this on the way back on Sunday afternoon and it is a couple of hours shorter. There are also some new faster highways back into Nairobi which we have not mastered completely, they are not on our out of date T4A edition. Suffice to say that our return journey was more than an hour shorter than the 4hr30min that it took us going out via the city. I really do not have the routes organized enough yet to publish them but if you take the trouble to ask around a bit more than we did, I think you can count on covering the 100 odd km to Lake Naivasha in less than 3 hrs.
The approach to this lovely area is surprisingly unimpressive. We had already traversed the Rift Valley Escarpment when travelling from Narok to Nairobi from the Mara. There should have been a wonderful opportunity to stop at view sites on the pass and gaze down into the Rift Valley far below. However the few places there are, are full of curio stalls and tourist vultures and we really did not want to tarry there. Lake Naivasha is not a particularly wild place and the approach is through a series of typically crowded East African villages. The final approach has Mt Logonot and the eponymous National Park in view but thereafter one passes through an area of intensive horticultural activity with many plastic tunnels for flowers, all very tame and not very scenic. These flower farms apparently do very well with an extensive export market.
Lake Naivasha has a wide variety of accommodation options, ranging from expensive lodges to community campsites. We chose the traditional independent traveler option of Carnelley’s Camp and were not sorry. Next door is Fisherman’s Camp, which was once part of the same property, now owned by a half-brother. We have been filled in on the background to this division from at least 2 independent reliable sources and decided that Carnelly’s warranted our support. The facilities seem much the same but Fisherman’s is apparently busier and less strictly run as far as noise control and general camp discipline is concerned. This is perhaps why it is busier with locals, but we prefer peace and quiet. Over this weekend for instance it was taken over by a local revivalist-type church group with accompanying loud songs of praise and far more people than our camp next door. That situation would not have suited us at all.
Carnelly’s Camp has plenty of bandas, tastefully set up, but not luxurious and a large camping area right on the lakeshore on lovely lawns. This is one of the few camps I have been in where the campsite commands the best site. One camps under a large stand of huge, beautiful fever trees and although the sites filled up over the weekend there was plenty of privacy. The hot showers are powered by a donkey boiler, the fire being lit in the mid-afternoon and the water pressure was great. There are plenty of clean flush toilets as well and although rustic, these ablutions were better than many other camps we have been in. There are places for fires, garbage bins and there are also convenient taps and washing-up areas. We were extremely comfortable there and the break from suburbia was a tonic. The lakeshore is about 50m away. Unfortunately it has become necessary for a low electric fence to keep people away from the resident hippos that come out each night to browse on the grass. These are readily seen at fairly close quarters from the campsites. The resident birds are also a treat, including a pair of crested eagles and many fish eagles. The popular bar and excellent restaurant were full of locals, mainly expats. The camp is very popular with Kenyans looking for a weekend getaway. We met Mr Carnelly who now takes a back seat as his son very capably runs the resort. Boating and fishing trips are available and firewood can be bought just up the road. We felt very at home here and thoroughly enjoyed our weekend. Camping cost us KSh 600 (US$5 pppn). Although hippos and birds are there to be enjoyed this camp is not wild in the sense of many others we have stayed in. It is a great getaway with excellent facilities and should probably be on every independent traveler’s itinerary, for at least a couple of nights.
Naivasha also gives great access to Hells Gate National Park which is only 5 km from Carnelley’s. Three km before Carnelly’s one drives past the well signposted entrance and the gate is only 2 km from there. This is a small park, but with a difference. One is allowed to hike and cycle in the park as there are no dangerous animals (other than buffalo). We did not partake of these activities but I gather these can only be done with a guide. Guides and off-road bikes are hired at the entrance gate. We spent much of Saturday there and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There are animals in the park and we saw zebra, buffalo, Thomsons and Grants gazelles, eland and warthog. However the difference here is that this park is more about the scenery, specifically the geological and geothermal features. Hells Gate is a series of towering cliff faces and there is much geothermal activity with hot springs, geysers and lava formations. A feature is the so-called volcanic plugs such as Fisher’s Column. The hot geothermal water is harnessed for electricity and produces about 15% of Kenya’s requirements.
We drove the circuits within the park and it was refreshing to see the number of people making use of the facilities, many hiking or cycling. Wayne discharged some of his pent-up energy by scaling to the top of the 45m Fisher’s Tower, done with ropes and other rock climbing equipment and with guides. Even whilst flushed with youth I might have baulked at this technically demanding rock-face climb. There are easier routes for beginners. We visited one of the 2 campsites and the view was commanding. Facilities appeared rustic but adequate. Perhaps one night on Lake Naivasha and another at Hells Gate would appeal. Entrance was US$30 pppd, vehicle entry fee, KSh 350.
We decided to do the short walk down the gorge within the park with its interesting geological formations. This was not too strenuous but wear decent footwear and watch your step as it is a little precarious and slippery in places, we managed easily. In the rain season this ramble is often closed because of the danger of flash floods. The sculptured-out gorge is quite spectacular and it was not surprising to learn that parts of the Tomb Raider movies were filmed here. The walk takes a couple of hours and was worthwhile. You have to have a guide from the local community and the short walk (which includes all the areas of interest) takes about 2 hr, longer walks can be done. The fee for the gorge was US$5 pp. The guide is given a suitable gratuity.
That night we were able to watch our first Rugby World Cup match at Carnelly’s and I am pleased I had not thrown away my Springbok rugby jersey from the last world cup. Wales also did me a favour!
Main. Entrance to Hells Gate National Park.
1 - 3, Lake Naivasha and Carnelly's Camp.
4. Hells Gate.
5. Fischer's Column, that Wayne later rock-climbed.
7 Naiburta Campsite Hells Gate.
8 and 9. The gorge.
10. Another pic Fishers Column.
11 - 13. Wayne rock climbing the 45m Fisher's Column.