An Ideal East African Tourist Destination
Visible from the higher border edge of the western positioned Mau Highlands, is the attractive, sprawling Nakuru Town. It is situated on the level- central floor of the Eastern or Gregory Branch of the Great Rift Valley of the World. This is Kenya’s pioneer farmers’ capital, a phenomenon that ignited its growth in several fields even unto tourism. It is a strategic transit point that is almost mid-route between Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi and the famous gate way into East-Central Africa, Kisumu. The latter is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria which is the second largest lake in the world after U.S.A.’s Lake Superior. In other words, Nakuru is a convenient stop over for travellers in dire need of refreshments, snacks and brief relaxation before proceeding with their journey.
Graded in the 1960s as the cleanest urban centre in East Africa, a “Maliza Twende Cleanliness Trade Mark”, this town’s Municipal authorities have been struggling to maintain this ’60s “Hall Of Fame” phenomenon. ‘Maliza Twende’ is a Kiswahili saying for “finish then we go” used by the people of Kenya in reference to Nakuru’s Municipal Council Security Personnel because they often told a culprit the same in case one was caught in the act of passing water in public within the municipality.
Nakuru’s urban plan is one of the best in the country due to its simple yet executive out-look and equi-distant T-shaped streets that result in square-rectangular layout patterns. This would make one mistake it for the larger Nairobi or Kisumu which have similar ones. The only difference is that Kisumu concentrates the patterns between the residential, recreational, industrial – cum – commercial areas while Nakuru does it more within the central business district. On the other hand, Nairobi combines both. A factor which makes Nakuru special in its planning system especially as the town centre is situated in the middle while all the other facilities surround it leaving extra room for expansion. This is similar to Nairobi City but unlike Kisumu that has its centre next to the lake point while its expansion three prongs outward into an arch shape that encompasses the lake making it unique also in its own right. A stranger would be forgiven therefore, for rating Nakuru to be second in size to Nairobi, yet it is fourth after it, Mombasa and Kisumu, respectively.
Talk about tourism in East Africa and Nakuru might easily be forgotten due to various reasons which range from priority of big names like: “Kenya’s ancient Port of Mombasa – Tsavo National Game Park-Masai Mara Game Reserve- Mt. Kenya; Tanzania’s Serengeti National Game Park- Lake Manyara National Game Park -Ngorongoro Crater-Mt. Kilimanjaro; Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park-River Nile-Owen Falls Dam-Ruwenzori Block Mountains(Mts. Of The Moon)” ; to its location away from “Europe-Nairobi- Mombasa-South Central Africa Air Highway”. Meaning, that foreign tourists from the western world may easily by- pass Nakuru as this aerial route is closer to the tourist attractions next to Nairobi, Mombasa and Tanzania than it.
Yet Nakuru has world famous lake birds, an attractive national park, the unique Menengai Crater, a savannah type of climate with weather of contrasts that is welcoming and exciting.
In place are doubtless classic hotels for accommodation of visitors. For example:
“Hotel Waterbuck,Mericca Hotel,Pivot Hotel,Cathy’s Hotel,Hotel Kunste,Mbweha Camp,Stem Hotel”, that are situated within the town and in its suburbs-cum-“Lake Nakuru Lodge”- a tourist class type that is located in the national park.
Nakuru is also home to significant industries like: the “Union Carbide”-manufacturers of Eveready Batteries; the giant “Unga Limited”- millers of the first grade popular diverse X brand flour meals since 1908; the gigantic “Elianto Oil Industries”-processors of the pure fluid maize oil and the “Rift Valley Hatcheries Limited” –that is among the largest in Africa in the world of chicken. As proof of being a pioneer farmer’s capital, it hosts the giant co-operative “Kenya Farmers Association(KFA)” founded in 1923.
On miscellaneous factors, Nakuru boasts of a magnificent “Railway Station”, the first of its kind during the first “East African Community(1967 – 1977)”, an attractive “Railway Fly Way” over Nairobi Road, the architecturally splendid “Town Centre Buildings”, the good to look at “Residential Estates”, “Afraha Stadium”-that with modernization would be a wonder spectacle, the “Ever Business Minded People of Nakuru Town” and the “Seemingly Silent Hills” to the north east of this simple yet all life inclusive unique urban centre. No wonder, it attracted and became second home to Kenya’s founding President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, same to the second one, President Daniel Arap Moi.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Immediate to the south of Nakuru Town is the Great Rift valley’s Lake Nakuru National Park that is world famous and a colourful flamingo bird sanctuary. Surrounding it are numerous scattered acacia trees whose spacing with grass between them as characteristics confirm this area’s savanna type of climate.
It therefore goes without say that to be expected within the vicinity are wild game of tropical type. Namely, “lions, warthogs, baboons and giraffes” among others. This means that no mistake was made when Lake Nakuru was declared a national park then got sealed off on the advice of President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in the 1970s.
To understand this park better, it is worth touring by vehicle clock-wise or anti-clock-wise. Morning and evening are the best times for sight-seeing because wild animals come out from their hide-outs in droves due to cool weather. For example, a “clock-wise” drive from the park’s main gate on the inside, will take one to the largest wild cacti tree plantation in the world that is a great spectacle to view.
After this point, numerous wild animals appear, disappear or remain where they are found. These include: “antelopes, monkeys, water bucks in a swampy area in which they jump in and out of water and buffaloes” among others. They are a common sight and addition to the afore-mentioned ones that are located else where within the park. In other parts of this natural habitat, one may come across “leopards, cheetahs and elephants”. In fact, the list is almost endless.
The one time populous rhino is not amiss but one should understand that if it is not seen, then it is due to an electric confinement unit put up for its rehabilitation on population increase. This measure was effected in mid 1980s due to poaching of the species but got stopped once the target was met and can be done repeatedly when their population decline again. The same may also be true for species of other animals when such a need arises.
Elsewhere, the eye can’t help being attracted to the savanna type of vegetation and Lake Nakuru with its colourful flamingo birds. Otherwise, the other parts of the national park can be viewed best from the top of Baboon cliff if one is in a hurry or else, it is recommended that one visits all parts of the park practically including the cliff. One might not find baboons on the cliff always but it is named so because they some times aboard and rest on it in the absence of visitors. Ironically, its front width edge on one side tends to resemble an animal’s head, probably that of a baboon, yet this is not the reason for it having been named so.
On the other hand, the only blame that would be heaped upon one is if a camera and a pair of binoculars or more in the case of a group are forgotten at home since sighting of animals will not be a let down. However, for the splendid largest walking birds on earth that live in the park, the ostriches, if they are not seen, then one should understand that they are some where within the park keeping to themselves. This is because they do not like to be disturbed since they get scared easily unless they are courted gently, especially during photo sessions. So, if one sees them and in this case at a close range, then thumbs-up.
Otherwise, one should not forget to call in at the tourist class Lake Nakuru Lodge that is situated within the park for refreshments, a meal and sight-seeing if not to reside. It is a wonderful joint with a warm staff that is welcoming. African traditional entertainments as tourist special are often part of the evening programme.
For students, “Wildlife Clubs of Kenya‘s (WCK) Youth Hostel” is situated within the park thus an assurance that they are not forgotten. It is sub-divided into a hall, a kitchen, female, male and teachers’ quarters. As for girl-students, one of the hostel rules is that they have to board with female teachers as care-takers in their hostel.
So, students who want to reside in the park as an organized group, attend Wild Life Club Of Kenya lectures, watch film shows on wildlife and enjoy self-prepared meals, can use the hostel as a base for study tours. To attract fee concessions on entry into the park, accommodation at the youth hostel and use of the Wild Life Clubs Of Kenya Bus, they must be registered as individual members of their school’s “Wild Life Club(WLC)” which in turn must be affiliated to the “Wild Life Clubs OF Kenya (WCK)”. In case of visiting foreign students, clarification has to be sought from the Wild Life Clubs of Kenya on the same including study tour of the park. This is because this organization acts as a buffer zone between “Schools’ Wild Life Clubs”, the “Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)” that are in charge of the park – cum - wild game and the “Ministry of Tourism & Wild Life”, an umbrella body that both the WCK and KWS fall under.
When going on tours, students should remember to close their hostels’ windows, lest monkeys or baboons visit to enjoy their snacks while they are away.
Otherwise, a safe drive back to the starting point from the opposite “anti-clock-wise park entry point” next to the main gate on the inside is not a day wasted by adventurous and game loving students, a tour group or a family. However, if the tour of the park starts ‘anti-clock-wise’, then it will end at the opposite “clock-wise park entry point” next to the main gate on the inside also. This can be done repeatedly by changing the entry points.
To the north-west of Nakuru is the world reknown Menengai Crater, a land-mark evidence for this areas’ volcanic basement rock system and related intrusive activities that is proved in some parts by under ground echo sounds when heavily loaded vehicles speed along certain roads of this beautiful town. Reportedly, in the past, certain small parts of the land sank down to some average depth, notably, the first “round- about” on the highway from Nakuru to Kisumu/ Eldoret in the west.
If one has visited Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater or a similar one, then the expectation that a section of Menengai’s side might have been totally blown off, is indented and has a depression while the other part stands up high as a top most tip, the summit, would not be far from the truth because this is exactly how it looks like in comparison to enclosed ones of certain volcanic mountains.
Viewing Menengai Crater from the south-facing depression side while standing on the Rift Valley floor as one faces north can be a good experience but the presence of an average forest like vegetation, the possibility of meeting a serpent in it or the fear of unexpected occurrence of volcanic explosion due to long time dormancy, can scare one. Meaning that, direct inaccessibility is enough reason why viewing it from this end is rarely done though an all weather road passes close by.
So, a gradual drive from its foot along the seasonal road on the north-facing side up-hill to the tip-top summit during dry weather is advisable as a wet one might make it slippery and risky.
This is adventurous and can be a hair-raising experience. For example, in April 1985 in the afternoon at about 3pm, as Mr. Wambua, a Kenya Wild Life Clubs’ Bus Driver who was conversant with Menengai Crater transported Wild Life Club students from Kisumu’s mixed “Muslim Secondary School” en tour up the summit, he first drove slowly then, as land on both sides narrowed, he increased the speed thus the bus made a fast approach to the summit’s tip-top.
As this took place, the student/teacher passengers got thrilled as they resoundingly expressed this experience in a combination of shouts, screams and yells while others took to the bus’ floor due to fear for the imagined imminent loss of their lives. Mean-while, the driver negotiated the summit’s round-about to an abrupt halt. On realization of being alive, they all broke into laughter as tears of wonder and confusion rolled down the cheeks of others thus the climax of a great tour.
On alighting, the cloudy, chilly and windy weather sent these domestic study tourists into serious shivers as this was in contrast to Kisumu’s heat that they were used to. This added to the shocking experience that they had just undergone at 3p.m.
All the same, they were on the summit of the world famous Menengai Crater that most people only hear from stories told and retold by those who have managed to reach up there. Immediately, the WCK tour guides embarked on teaching and showing the students the visible phsyical features-cum-settlements including those where families of Kenya’s Freedom Fighters, the MAU-MAU, reside. Then they viewed on their own the splendid scenery of the expansive Great Rift Valley Of the World far below, all round, Nakuru Town inclusive, to the farthest points that their naked eyes could see before each used a binocular to view the same.
A name and distance “metal post-direction pointer” of selected world cities that is cemented at the centre of the summit’s round-about added flavour to their Menengai Crater tour experience. At this point, snap shots were unavoidable thus they took many individual and group photographs. As they did this, one of the male students of Indian descent dared stray towards an east-facing summit’s edge as the strong westerly wind from behind almost pushed him over. Thanks to an alert-shout from one of the hawk-eyed teachers that made him retreat. So, visitors must stand at the summit’s centre and keep an eye on the elderly youth while hold hands of the younger ones.
To sum it up, a horizontal stone-throw from the summit’s tip-point with a beyond target results in a surprise as it flies in the air towards the intended destination but it sooner than later diverts its flight vertically downwards-cum- backwards at an acute angle plummeting into the dark interior of the depression that is the crater. This proves a strong presence of the intensity of the force of gravity at this point despite the summit’s great height due to the exposed earth’s crust in the deep interior.
In conclusion, after exhausting the tour of ‘Nakuru Town’, ‘Lake Nakuru National Game Park’ and ‘Menengai Crater’, one should not forget that while at this place, Nakuru, he or she is in the ‘Great Rift Valley of the World’, that is a home to many geormorphologically unique natural physical features besides wild life as tourist attractions. So, one can continue and make excursions to such venues that are situated away but within reach from Nakuru in the Rift Valley. For example: Kariandusi- a Prehistoric Site situated to the west; Mt. Longonot – an enclosed volcanic crater; Lake Naivasha-that hosts Hell’s Gate among other great phenomena within its environs; the Rift Valley Escarpment-a wonder spectacle, all the three situated to the east and Lake Bogoria- a host to fountains of hot springs that are comparable to the great ones of New Zealand, situated to the north. These may be followed by tours southward to far-away Tanzania’s part and Uganda’s Western Branch of the Great Rift Valley Of The World which will not be a waste of time but worth the money spent. If followed down to the letter as has been exposed from the issue of Nakuru, this act qualifies it more as an ideal East African tourist destination because it causes thirst for Rift Valley tourism that can only be quenched by making a go for it.
Credit: INTERNETCredit: INTERNET
©WILFRED OTIENO 2011