My wife Francesca and I met in Diani in 2014, shortly after I had set up Quest Kiteboarding as an international IKO kitesurfing centre offering lessons, equipment rental and trips. Our mutual passion for the sport and love for Kenya’s amazing wildlife and biodiversity has subsequently led us on many unique and inspiring adventures throughout our years spent living here. These ‘Kite Surfari’ trips, as we like to term them, have taken us from the remote wind-swept sand dunes of the northern Tana Delta beaches all the way to the Funzi archipelago on the south coast.
Heading off the beaten track in search of new and exotic destinations that offer both a bush and beach experience, coupled with the opportunity to kitesurf, is often the central theme in many of our expeditions around East Africa. Having had the opportunity to kitesurf on the western shore of Lake Turkana back in 2011, I had always been keen to introduce Francesca to this remote spot in northern Kenya, and so after several months of hatching plans we decided that 2019 was the year to make that dream happen.
Lake Turkana is located in the northern frontier district of Kenya, in the Rift Valley bordering South Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia, and is famous for being the world’s largest permanent desert lake and largest alkaline lake. Archaeologically, Turkana is also renowned for its ‘Turkana Boy’ discovery and is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’.
From my previous visit in 2011, I knew that the best kitesurfing conditions were to be found at Eliye Springs Lodge which is nestled on the western shore of the lake. The wind at this spot, katabatic in nature due to the Chalbi Desert in the east, will very often arrive as a cross-shore or cross-onshore from the right-hand side and one can expect anything from 10 to 35 knots depending on the time of year.
Growing up, I would sit and be regaled by my mother’s tales of her younger days spent as a pilot in Kenya performing supply drops at the Eliye airstrip and of the ferocious winds that would sweep across the desert, sometimes causing landings and take offs to be tricky. As experienced kite surfers, my wife and I both love strong wind and I knew Turkana would tick all the right boxes.
At 4:00am on the morning of the 12th November, with a fully loaded Land Cruiser containing all our kitesurfing and camping equipment, we set off on what was to be a gruelling 2,500 Km roundtrip across some of Kenya’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape. Our itinerary was to spend the first night in Thika, on a tea plantation that borders the Aberdare National Park. The cultivated tea valleys in this region are spectacular and we decided to spend some time exploring them before heading onto Nyahururu to enjoy the Thomson’s Falls Lodge and waterfall experience.
On the third day we began our descent into the Great Rift Valley lakes and parks, stopping to drive around Lake Bogoria National Reserve. Geothermally active, Bogoria is famous for its gushing geysers and hot springs as well as its pink flamingo that feed on the blue-green algae of the lake. Our final stop for the night was to be at Robert’s Camp on Lake Baringo which is, after Lake Turkana, the most northern of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes. With over 470 different species of bird to admire, along with the resident hippo and her baby, we were thoroughly entertained well into the evening.
The final push to arrive at Turkana was a fatiguing 12 hour drive, mostly off-road through a mixture of mountainous rocky terrain that eventually flattened off into hot, barren desert conditions. The change in scenery and temperature was quickly apparent and we realized that from there on it was going to be a bit of a rough ride. Finally arriving at Eliye Springs, we were greeted by the greenish-blue haze of the ‘Jade Sea’, a welcome sight after the long, hot, arduous drive.
Accommodation at Eliye was in locally thatched Turkana ‘bomas’ that were comfortable and lake-facing. The local springs help to sustain the area and provide a constant source of water in what would otherwise be a dry and arid environment. It was amazing to step into this little oasis in the middle of the desert. You are instantly met by bright green foliage in the form of healthy doum palms that scatter the lakeside and lodge grounds, providing a wealth of much needed shade during the hotter hours of the day. The sand on the western shore is similar to what we are used to in Diani Beach; bright white and in contrast to the dark green of the palms and beige of the desert horizon.
We were not let down by the wind either, which lived up to its reputation and allowed us to kitesurf together for two of the three days that we spent at Eliye.
Awaking to the pink and red shimmers of a freshly glowing sun as it began its daily climb up through the cosmos signalling the start of a new day, we would hear the rustling of the palms and know it was time to start to pump up our equipment and get ready for the water.
Riding out away from the shoreline, the water changes from coffee brown to shades of light green and blue. Across the lake, shimmering in the morning light lies the outline of the Chalbi Desert, reminding you of where you are in the world.
The thought of crocodiles is of course always present in your mind, but it’s not common to find them so far south from Central Island and they most definitely don’t appreciate all the wind swell that gets generated every day on the beach.
It was an amazing experience to share, a way of bonding by riding in such an extremely wild and incredibly remote location.
With special thanks to ‘Kaka Shabani’ and African Bush & Beach Adventures Ltd for supporting this journey and getting us safely there and back home again.