From flower farms and paragliding to scenic drives and incredible restaurants, Naivasha resident Joanne Ndirangu gives recommendations of things to do away from the typical Naivasha experience.
PHOTOGRAPHS: BRIAN SIAMBI
I have lived in Naivasha for over six years now and I’m still always discovering hidden gems. For a town one and a half hours away from Nairobi by road, Naivasha is never short of tourists, but Kenyans are notorious for frequenting the same old spots when there is just so much more to this place. It is the ideal town to drive to for a weekend getaway that doesn’t break the bank and still does the trick. Whether you are a solo traveler, avid bird-lover, group looking to party or a parent with kids, there is so much more to see here than you likely know. With only two days to spare, I took the Nomad team around to share some of my favourite jaunts with them.
Flower farm visits
Kenya is one of the two major flower exporters in Africa, and Naivasha’s altitude and proximity to a large body of water makes it the perfect town for horticulture. Of all the flower farms in Naivasha, my favourite one is DeRuiters in Oserian. They are breeders and do a lot of experiments with various breeds of roses, and the results are stunning. They have a designated showroom where visitors can view the flowers on display and get to learn more about their processes. When we got there, we were given white coats to wear and had to sanitise our hands before our guide, Abraham, could take us around the hot showroom.
There are rows upon rows of brightly coloured roses with the most creative names, and should one catch your fancy, you’re welcome to buy. In this section, the roses on display have been grafted for a mixed-colour effect. Some are heavily scented and therefore have a shorter vase life in comparison to the flowers that have the scent bred out of them and can then last upwards of two weeks in a vase. Here is where potential investors choose a rose they would like to grow for commercial purposes and then purchase it.
We then proceeded to a bigger greenhouse where the purchased roses are now grown in high production to meet the clients’ demands. They are finally moved to the cold room where the cut flowers are stored for up to eight hours in a 4 degrees celsius room to stop the growing process. They are then cut and packaged ready for shipment to European markets. Kenya’s biggest markets are Amsterdam and the UK, and for that reason, most of these farms observe these countries’ calendars to mark their high holidays.
Note: DeRuiters charges Ksh 1,000 per car as entry fees.
I have driven around Lake Naivasha on two separate occasions and yet I’m still always keen to seek out this experience with every return. The fresh air and serenity of the drive makes it great for relaxing, the perfect way to wind down after a stressful work week. The properties lined along this route are beautifully maintained and some have been left untouched over the years so you feel like you are driving into the past. Another scenic drive to consider is through Olkaria Power Station. You will pay a park fee of Ksh 400 for citizens. During our visit, we drove up for over 20km through the gorges and power installations, and the vistas were breathtaking. The road ends at the top of a view-point that offers the most incredible panoramic views of the Mau hills.
Sundowners and night drives
Imagine sitting by a fire in an open field with buffaloes grazing a few feet away from you. You are sipping your chardonnay as you watch the sun set. Now imagine experiencing this with that special someone or a group of friends you made on your solo trip. As the darkness sets in, it’s now time to find the night time wonders when all the nocturnal animals are just starting to rouse. I played ‘spotter’ on my most recent night drive and saw the ever elusive bush baby, long tailed fox (…or mongoose. They all look the same in the dark to the untrained eye), wild hare and a golden orb spider. I tried looking for the aardvark but I wasn’t so lucky. I can’t even begin to describe what a treat that was. Somewhere between the sunset and watching a baby hippo come out of water to feed, I was at peace with the world. If you are not a night person but enjoy early mornings, plan for a morning drive before the hyenas are back in their holes and out for the day.
Fun fact: Dik-diks mate for life and are always in pairs. Whenever you spot one on your drive, look for the partner close by. If you see a lone dik-dik, chances are their partner just died and they will die too, of a broken heart
For philanthropic travellers
What if I told you that you could have the relaxing weekend you deserve and still give back? Elsamere and Mundui House are two places that let you do just that. Elsamere is part of the Elsa Conservation Trust that was left behind by Joy and George Adamson who spent their lives dedicated to the conservation of wild animals. For history buffs, you can spend the night in Joy Adamson’s bedroom and all the proceeds will go back into the trust which seeks to sustain education in their surrounding community. If you are only in Naivasha for the day, you can do the museum tour and visit the Birds of Prey Sanctuary and leave having done your part for the community.
For a more secluded and tranquil stay, I’d highly recommend Mundui house. Richard and Hellen, the two managers will make you feel decadently spoilt and cared for. They will come out to answer any questions you may have on the history of the property and to offer their infallible advice on where to look for certain elusive animals.
I had the grandest time at their cottage; there was so much to experience. I went bird watching on the ‘secret lake’ with Mohammed, their resident guide. The waters were so still and calm, a haven for numerous birds. Then breakfast was served on the shores of the lake affording breathtaking views of the Mau Hills. In addition to the seasonal-fresh-fruit-and-prosecco-breakfast, Purity, the chef came to take my order and proceed to prepare a phenomenal omelet as I watched. After the hearty meal, we proceeded to their Animal Rights Reserve Unit (ARR) where they protect and rehabilitate orphaned animals.
Hellen explained to us that the income they get from staying guests goes back to protect and treat animals ensnared by poachers and afflicted by fellow prey. Their efforts are very necessary to the preservation of wildlife in Naivasha and its environs and they make animals feel safe, so much so that they walk around grazing comfortably among humans. Imagine waking up to a huge giraffe strolling casually outside your door. It is because they know no harm will come to them. Being a private unit, the funding needed is more urgent and necessary to ensure our future children will find these animals alive and well.
DO NOT MISS:
Have bespoke pieces made to your exact liking at Elementaita Weavers. Choose the colours you want on your rugs, placemats and other woven pieces and watch as they make them on their huge looms. Collectible tchotchkes are also available for sale. For adrenaline junkies, paragliding is just the fix. Jump from Mt. Margaret near Ubuntu Kenya and soar over Mt. Longonot and Lake Naivasha. You can carry your own equipment or hire from the trainer. This activity is also wheelchair friendly.
WHERE TO EAT
Sawela Lodge’s all glass restaurant. You can enjoy your meal indoors with sweeping views of their lush, green gardens dotted with yellow fever acacia trees.
Ranch House Bistro where you can have raspberry fresh juice with berries grown in their own garden. Their helpings are massive and the warthogs grazing nearby will pay you no mind. Take your time as you watch fishermen offload their haul on the shores of Lake Oloiden.
Afterwards, you can stop by La Pieve and pick up some roses and sunflowers that come in daily from DeRuiters.
Matteo’s: For authentic Italian feast, you can never go wrong with this restaurant. It is situated close enough to an array of family friendly activities, and their menu is kid friendly too. There is a nice spot in the middle of the restaurant where you can buy any of the ingredients you would like to have added to your selected dish.
After a long drive, you can make one final stop at Enashipai’s Coffee Lounge for their boozy coffees (don’t drink and drive, though) for an afternoon buzz that will make the traffic back to the city bearable. A personal recommendation would be the Amarula coffee. Thank me later.