The Guesthouse in Lake Nakuru National Park

In 2009, an article published by the BBC titled: ‘Kenya’s heart stops pumping’ described the staggering decline of Lake Nakuru’s water level. ‘This isn’t the lake shore’, one of the wardens said. ‘It’s the lake floor’. Today, the situation is very different, and the lake’s water level is the highest it has been for over half a century. Though these fluctuations are normal, and are commonly attributed to seasonal variations in rainfall, the main cause is actually still a mystery.

I spent a weekend in the park recently, and was intrigued to see if the water level had subsided at all since I’d last been two years ago. It hadn’t. In fact, it seems to have risen. The lake’s saline water has now flooded and dehydrated a larger portion of the acacia forest that lines its southern shore, and has swallowed up most of what used to be the park’s main gate.

Though rainfall is a key element, it only forms part of a host of potential factors affecting the level of the water. Lake Nakuru lies at the lowest point of a basin that is fed by five seasonal rivers, which flow from either the Mau Escarpment or the Aberdares. This means that the water level in the lake is influenced more by rainfall in the Mau Forest and on the Aberdare Range than by rainfall in Nakuru itself. The Mau Forest also acts as a buffer zone: rationing water during the long rains and releasing it slowly during the dry season. The rise in the lake’s water level may reflect the government’s efforts to rehabilitate 100,000 hectares of the forest, which was cleared for settlement in the early 2000s.

Deforestation within this crucial catchment area leads to siltation, which could also be contributing to the high water level. The seasonal rivers pick up loose sediment and deposit it in the lake, which raises the lake floor and causes it to flood. Another interesting theory is that the cause is geological – that an unknown flow of groundwater connects, and is feeding, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo. Considering that the fluctuations in the water level of all these lakes is synchronised, it wouldn’t be surprising if a new groundwater inlet were to be discovered.

Whatever the cause, KWS seem to have done all they can to make the park as accessible as possible. As well as the new main gate, which sits a few hundred metres back from the lake shore, they’ve built new roads linking the south of the park to the row of lodges along the northern circuit. Because a lot of the old roads are submerged, the quickest way to the south from the main gate is the very scenic route along Baboon Cliff, and the Out of Africa Hill.

We usually camp in the park, but this time opted to spend a couple of nights in the excellent Naishi Guesthouse. This self-catering bungalow was once the warden’s house, and sits in the heart of the park opposite the airstrip. With more privacy than the lodges, and more comfort than the campsites, it offers a great compromise for those looking to be immersed in the wild without having to spend a lot of money or pitch a tent.

The guesthouse sleeps eight and is divided into two – with the main house at the front and a separate annex with two rooms and a bathroom at the back. There are two spacious bedrooms in the main house, each with a double and single bed. There’s also a fully-equipped kitchen, a very cosy log-cabin-style living area with a fireplace, wood-fired hot showers, and a large veranda with a view into the park.

Electricity is supplied by a generator between 7 and 10pm, though you can negotiate with Robert, the very helpful caretaker, for an extra hour either side. There are also plenty of paraffin lamps to keep the house lit once the lights do eventually go out.

We weren’t too bothered though, as the darkness illuminated the stars above the veranda, and we tuned into the sounds of the night around us: a whooping hyena, and somewhere in the distance the faint roar of a lion. We spent two days searching every inch of the park for a pride of 16 lions, and found nine of them on our final morning lounging on the tarmac of the airstrip – just a few hundred metres from the guesthouse.

At Kshs. 16,000 a night for residents/citizens, Naishi Guesthouse is really good value if you go with a large group. For non-residents it’s $250 a night, which may seem steep on top of the $80 park fee. But, as long as KWS invest these fees wisely (and the lake doesn’t swallow it up!) the guesthouse is certainly worth it. Plus, it’s only a couple of hours from Nairobi.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation