Lake Nakuru National Park is 188 square kilometres in size; a mere speck on the floor of the vast Great Rift Valley, but still home to a wide diversity of wildlife which thrives in the multiple habitats that are concentrated within this small but perfectly formed national park. The “National Park” designation means that it is controlled by the national government and no human activity is allowed within it. This is different from a “Game Reserve”, such as the Masai Mara, which is locally owned and managed, and allows human activity within it. In Kenya, the wildlife within these reserves falls under the jurisdiction of the Kenyan Wildlife Service.
Entering through one of the three gates, the last of the buildings and human habitation are still in sight when the wildlife makes itself known. Zebras, storks and warthogs wander close to the buildings, and our truck draws to a halt by a herd of female impala. It is the first official sighting of the holiday and our reaction is proportionately enthusiastic; the impalas oblige; their sand brown and white coats bedecked sometimes with distinctive spiral horns shown to their best advantage in the brilliant sunshine. Our guide tells us that this herd are all female; claimed along with the territory by one male, destined through many stressful mating seasons ahead to challenge or be challenged to retain his “harem”.
The zebras start to appear in ever increasing numbers dominating the views from the truck window. All are well- built: the physical evidence for the power of their defensive kicks handed out to predators to protect their family members. Their coats are stunning, and deeper into the park as we drive through trees and scrubland their defensive purpose becomes clear, as the camouflage deceives the eye making actual numbers and distances difficult to discern.
Fortunate to have an ornithologist in the group we did not miss many of the species that make Nakuru their home. There was the Hammerkop wading bird, its name comes from a distinctive hammer shaped head, which we saw standing next to a flock of Egyptian Geese that were to become a regular sight throughout all our game drives. Stopping for lunch we saw a Hammerkop nest; a massive disproportionate construction that takes weeks to build and is designed to impress. Its huge size seemed to suggest that the Hammerkop may be trying to compensate for something.
We climbed the uneven and bone shaking track to Baboon Cliff, and gasped as we looked down on Lake Nakuru stretching away beneath us. It is a soda lake, and famous for the flamingos that line its shores in pink paperchains that blur in the heat of the day. Although the lake had shrunk back, 2013 saw a rapid rise in water levels that smothered many of the trees. Their branches haphazardly reach up out of the blue, and are set in lines like the gravestones of victims of some natural disaster.
Baboon Cliff is aptly named, and signs warn visitors to keep the windows and doors tightly secured against these intelligent and opportunistic creatures. Although all our game drives included tracks and water holes lined with troops of baboons, we soon discovered that they were also to be the animals we would the most up close and personal with.
We stopped for lunch in the park on a manicured area of grass bordered on one side by the Makalia Waterfall, and on the other with no fence in sight by a sign telling us that beyond it there were wild animals. Our preparations for lunch soon attracted the baboons who arranged themselves in an apparently casual but surprisingly complete circle around us. Their manoeuvres were well practiced and all about the distraction. A run for food at one end of the table created a predictable flurry of frantic shouts and waves that were the perfect cover for the rapid and unnoticed snatch of food from the other now deserted end. Cleverly the baboons remained unfazed by the brandishing of a broom; knowing it could only be thrown once and easily dodged they stood defiantly only retreating briefly when the shouts, claps and stamps got too close.
Nakuru is home to the endangered Rothschild Giraffe which can be identified by its white stockinged legs that distinguished it from the Masai giraffes we were to see later. The giraffes were mesmerising, not just because of their stature but also their movement; deliberate and graceful despite their disproportions. Giraffes are a lesson in life; moving slowly and relaxed unless challenged they can be watched all day. They ran past the truck holding their necks high despite their straight legs and the forward motion. There was a collective shudder from the truck as their mouths happily engulfed the fearsome thorn bedecked branches of the acacia tree, which was followed by a murmur of delight as a close- up photograph shared with the group revealed the giraffe’s luxuriantly long eyelashes in all their glory.
Fortune was on our side that afternoon as our sharp- sighted guide Erellah spotted both white and black rhino. It was clear by these sightings and our existing knowledge of rhinos that these names were not literal or descriptive of the rhinos which were clearly neither white or black. Erellah explained that white comes from the Afrikaans word “weit” for wide and refers to the shape of the rhino’s muzzle adapted to allow it to graze. The Black Rhino is so named to distinguish it from the White and has a different shaped muzzle which allows it to browse, especially on the acacia that grows abundantly in Africa.
We were allowed out of the truck on the white encrusted shores of Lake Nakuru; the shimmering crystals beneath our feet and the blinding light creating a brilliant white backdrop to the creatures that slowly became visible around us. At a distance, the last of the flamingos yet to leave made a series of white dots tinged with pink that turned to vivid salmon when your binoculars focused, and at a distance a gloomy pelican kept company with two spoon bills. Out of scale with the other birds secure out on the flooded jetty was the huge black form of the Marabou Stork; known as the “undertaker bird” due to the resemblance of the long black wings down its black to the coat of an undertaker its hunched form spoke volumes.
There were plenty of water buffalo lining the road as we headed for the exit. Stopping to observe them besides some very playful vervet monkey we learnt why the water buffalo is a member of Africa’s famous “Big 5”. Africa’s “Big 5” of lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros were chosen not because of size, popularity or prestige, but rather because the big game hunters considered them the five most dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Today safari companies employ the phrase for marketing purposes, and it has become the challenge for every group embarking on their first safari.
At the campsite tents were soon up, with a break to chat to local children who left carrying pens, pencils and notepads, and dinner was served. There was the welcome Tusker or Serengeti beer, and in the dining room the local women had set up shop. This was the second time in only two days that we had encountered these groups set up by women to market their hand made goods and empower themselves in the process. On the many long road journeys made throughout the holiday the sign “Women’s Cooperative Group” was often seen outside shops full of food or handmade goods for sale, and occasionally buildings were acknowledged as funded by women’s groups. It is a positive initiative and we were pleased to support it.
A surprise announcement was made that after dinner entertainment was to be provided by a local magic act. We had learnt on our first night the darkness that engulfed when the lights turned off, and without warning the building went dark, a voice cried “Jambo-Photo, Photo” and the entertainment began. Urging one of our group to take pictures with the words,” photo Papa” the gentlemen performed a series of risky moves before his fire eating finale. The flaming torch was whisked around the room dangerously close to our faces, before being thrown around his body, held in his mouth, and finally, to the horror of the men in the party, extinguished down his trousers. Shocked silence and then clapping followed his last bow; relieved that the act was over and not escalating to maybe the more dangerous level of knife throwing or swallowing ,we wished him well and retired to bed after a long look at the huge dome of stars above our heads.
The holiday featured is with Exodus Travels-Kenya and Tanzania Adventure