Camping at Carnelley’s, Naivasha

‘Why don’t you stay at Carnelley’s’, my dad said. Often, a weekend retreat to Naivasha involves a night at that perennial favourite: Fisherman’s Camp. With its grazing hippos, black-and-white Colobus monkeys, and a shady canopy of acacias, it’s understandable why Fisherman’s has preserved its popularity. There is, however, an alternative, and it’s right next door.

Camp Carnelley’s is very similar to its longer established neighbour. It’s run by the same family, and although smaller than Fisherman’s, it features the same well-kept, acacia-shaded lawns. What makes it stand out, though, is its tastefully furnished restaurant. Called ‘Lazy Bones’, this ‘eco-bar’ blends in perfectly with its surroundings with a wooden platform overlooking the campsite, huge cushions covered in kangas, and a comfortable seating area around the bonfire. It offers a good selection of drinks and meals too; you can’t go wrong with bacon and camembert samosas on the menu.

Another alluring new feature of the campsite are the bandas, built with a rustic, eco-friendly style that mimics the restaurant. Their walls are clad with Kitengela-esque coloured glass shards which provide a colourful backdrop at night. They are en-suite and sleep up to six people, while the cottages are perfect for two. Both the bandas and cottages aren’t too pricey either. A banda for four, including breakfast, is Kshs 12,000; while a cottage for two would only set you back Kshs 2,500 for the night. And for those who’d rather sleep under canvas – it only costs Kshs 600 per person to pitch your own tent.

The long rains have raised Lake Naivasha’s water level considerably, and it now laps the shore very close to the electric fence that stops the resident hippos from grazing in the campsite. Because of the high shoreline the hippos come right up to the fence at night and can be watched from a distance.

We were passing through as part of a planned week-long trip to Lake Nakuru and then Bogoria, so we had a few days to play with in Naivasha. Before setting up at Carnelley’s for the night we spent an afternoon climbing up the dusty slopes of Mount Longonot. It was never a particularly demanding climb, and now it has been made easier with concrete steps at the steepest points and thatched huts along the well-trodden route. It’s worth trekking around the rim and, if you have the time, following the few tracks into the crater to have a look at the steaming vents protruding out of the crater walls. Although the crater forest looks desolate, apparently it is full of wildlife trapped there by a bush fire up the side of the mountain in 2009.

Naivasha’s other main attraction, of course, is Hell’s Gate National Park, which we accessed through the Elsa Gate only a kilometre or so from Carnelley’s. Though the wildlife in the park is relatively sparse, its stunning landscape makes up for it. According to the Rough Guide, the area was once an outlet for a vast prehistoric lake that stretched from what is now Naivasha to Nakuru. And as you drive past Fischer’s Tower surrounded by tall cliffs, it’s easy to imagine you are traversing an ancient riverbed. Hell’s Gate is unique in that you can cycle through the park, and it is undoubtedly best experienced on the saddle of a bike rather than in the back of a car.

The one downside is that the park is small, and the encroaching geothermal plant at Olkaria seems to be constricting it further. Most of the roads in the west of the park, in fact, have now been tarmacked, including the stretch to the Ol Njorowa Gorge.

A visit to Hell’s Gate isn’t complete without a walk through the gorge, which includes two routes. They take either one hour, or two and a half, and attractions include hot water springs and ‘Devil’s Bedroom’ at the end of a slippery climb down the gorge’s steep ravine. A guide is now recommended; according to ours, Hassan, six people were killed in the gorge last year from a flash flood. These floods are a common occurrence as a result of the rains – he claimed. The route is therefore lined with escape routes up the gorge’s steep walls.

The rains have also shortened Crescent Island; one of Naivasha’s other highlights. It is still worth the walk to the island’s edge though, past grazing animals such as wildebeest, waterbuck, giraffe, Thomson’s gazelle and now buffalo.

Naivasha, then, still offers a very eventful weekend retreat. And whether you need a scenic spot to pitch your tent, or a relaxing place for lunch and a drink, try Camp Carnelley’s and its ‘Lazy Bones’ restaurant.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation