Exploring Crater Lake

“If you want to see the old buffalo close up, you will have to stop talking” warned Elijah Tanui, our guide. Our small group of eight took a well-deserved break from workshop sessions in the canvas meeting room at Crater Lake Permanent Tented Camp and Sanctuary. Elijah walked us round the rim of the lake – which is at 6300 feet at the bottom of an extinct volcano – and up to the area overlooking neighbouring Lake Naivasha , where we spotted groups of zebra, thompson gazelle, impala – and a small herd of buffalo. We had close encounters with a group of maasai giraffes, and observed the tumbling of several troupes of colobus monkeys in the trees above us.

Our path followed the droppings and mud rubbings on the trees left by the resident male hippo, a four year old who was ostracized, in June, from his pod in Lake Naivasha. He somehow found his way – several kilometers away – to a drinking trough with sweet water on the shore of the saline Crater Lake. Ever since, he is trying to lure a mate to his new territory, day after day. Elijah is confident that he will succeed soon!

This must be one of the few places not far from Nairobi were you can walk and be so close to game. The area seems to have its own micro climate: it often rains on Lake Naivasha, while Crater Lake Sanctuary remains dry. Not that the place is dry – the vegetation is very lush. And, at the moment, the level of the lake which is fed from underground sources is record high. So high in fact, that the camp staff is hacking a new path through the vegetation to allow the walks to continue.

The plank to the “floating dining room” is on the verge of being submerged. But we did not mind risking wet shoes. Lunch on the lake is a great experience, especially when you can watch the flamingoes swim by or listen to their grunting when they are feeding on the lake’s edge. The buffet style food is varied and caters for all tastes. If you come for the day, it is worth calling beforehand and book for lunch. The entrance fee will then be waved.

Our family has visited Crater Lake several times in the past, but, somehow we did not manage to explore its surroundings with wildlife to the full, as I discovered last week.  The reception area is on the crater rim, and I remembered the 101 steps down. Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful staff members around willing to carry your luggage and there is a resting place halfway (which is actually more important when you have to climb up!). But the first view of the lake, at the bottom of the stairs, is worth the effort!

The area is a haven for birdwatchers and we encountered quite a number of them, attracted by the unique and quiet surroundings. The camp has eleven spacious tents with built-on bathrooms in local stone, named after the birds you can see and hear around them: babbler, bulbul, oriole… At the end of the path that leads to the rooms is a secluded honeymoon tent with its own whirlpool bath. No honeymoon room for our team though: each of us had to be content with a hot water bottle to snuggle up to, at night.

Our team spent three inspiring days at Crater Lake camp and we managed to balance work with relaxation. Next time we might forget about the work… and go looking for the old bull buffalo.

Crater Lake makes a great destination, even for a day or a week-end, 125 km from Nairobi city centre. If you take the scenic escarpment route, through Mai Mahiu, you will need less than two hours to get there. The sanctuary is 35 km from the turnoff left onto the South Lake Road, which takes you past flower farms, various lodgings and camp sites, the entrance of Hell’s Gate National Park, Olkaria power generation site… The many “sleeping policemen” slow down the traffic on the tarmac road and the last five kilometers, after reaching Kongoni police station, are a rough stretch, but still passable for saloon cars.

The sanctuary also has a campsite and dormitories (for groups) and offers team building activities, nature walks, night drives for all its guests.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation