West Side Lake Naivasha

Above: Ziwani House on Lake Naivasha . Copyright Rupi Mangat

Published: The East African Nation media

It’s a full ‘snow’ moon that’s travelled the sky and across the lake to sink into the horizon while on the opposite end in the east, it’s the fiery sun lighting the sky. It’s a dramatic moment to be watching two celestial bodies at the same time that control our day and night. The saffron sun tinged with a chilli red hot aura has chased the moon away.

Morning mist over Lake Naivasha from Ziwani House Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Morning mist over Lake Naivasha from Ziwani House Copyright Rupi Mangat

As the drama continues, a gentle breeze sweeps the rising white mist off the ruffled waters of a lake that the Maasai call Enai’posha meaning ‘rough water’ because of the sudden storms that can arise. It’s what we now call Lake Naivasha.

I couldn’t have chosen a better time to be at Ziwani Island House to watch one of the biggest full moons of the year nearing the closest point to the Earth in its orbit.

Stepping inside, it’s like being in a glass bobble and in awe again l catch the reflection of the sunrise in the mirror of my room.

Ziwani Island House on Lake Naivasha. Courtesy Alex Bell (800x536)
Ziwani Island House on Lake Naivasha. Courtesy Alex Bell

Ziwani Island House has been designed to capture the full drama of the lake and the sky as it ‘floats’ on its own island on the western shores of the freshwater lake in the Great Rift Valley that had the world puzzled as to why a lake without any rivers flowing out of it was so fresh.

Since the last century we now know that Lake Naivasha, the highest of the Rift Valley lakes has subterranean outlets that are connected to a string of other valley lakes like Magadi, Elmenteita, Nakuru and Bogoria – all of which are alkaline.

With a full glass frontage that brings the outside in there’s never a dull moment. Ziwani is the Kiswahili word for ‘on the water’ and when the Bell’s bought the old house at the start of the 21st century, it wasn’t on an island but on the lakeshore of the mainland.

Then came the phenomenal rains of the 2013-2014 that saw the rise of all the Rift Valley lakes. Suddenly the house that one could drive to was marooned on its personal island and instead of driving to it you now had to sail to it with the resident hippos watching with their beady eyes popping out of the water.

Sailing to Ziwani Island House on Lake Naivasha. copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Sailing to Ziwani Island House on Lake Naivasha. copyright Rupi Mangat

It’s quite a welcome to Ziwani House stepping out of the locally-made fisherman’s canoe on a pier afloat the lake. The welcoming committee consists of Helmeted gunieafowls who cluck around the garden filled with colourful flowers and a stately Yellow-fever acacia by my room.

A handsome pair of Grey crowned cranes stand by the glass door. “They were rescued and brought to us. The brother won’t leave the sister,” tells Alex Bell who redesigned the house on the ‘island’. The sister has a broken wing and will never be able to fly again. Once common in the wetlands of Africa, Kenya’s population of Grey crowned cranes has dropped by 75 per cent in the last three decades to 7,500.

Once inside the glass-paned house surrounded by the lake it really does give the illusion of floating on water.

At lunch on the deck with a gigantic fig tree spreading its leafy crown over us we’re treated to all the foods organically grown by Alex including homemade cheese on the pizza. When the pineapple topped home-baked cake arrives with fresh cream to boot l’m in heaven. I can smell the cinnamon wafting off it as l write.

Ziwani House garden overlooking Lake Naivasha . Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Ziwani House garden overlooking Lake Naivasha . Copyright Rupi Mangat

There are birds every which way you look. By the window of my room a pair of Hammercops build their nest in the fork of the acacia. It’s the first time l’m watching the construction work of the bird that builds one of the biggest nests in the bird world, so strong that an adult human can stand on it.

In the early evening we stroll up the hill by the house to swivel 360-degree around to see Mount Eburru in the west followed by the Mau ranges and then the wide sweep of the savannah plain that is home to stately giraffes now listed endangered, waterbuck, kongonis, baboons and the old colobus monkey who swam across the lake to take up residence at Ziwani.

Lake Naivasha flock of cormorants flying over. Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Lake Naivasha flock of cormorants flying over. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The morning sail on the lake has birds everywhere. Every stump of the papyrus-filled shoreline has the stately African fish eagle on it. The piercing call of this bird of Africa rents the air. Dainty kingfishers flit from the low reeds to dive into the water for a fish and with some 350 other species it’s a beautiful world out there.

Fact File

Scrap metal pelican by famous artist Kioko Mwitiki on deck of Ziwani House. Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Scrap metal pelican by famous artist Kioko Mwitiki on deck of Ziwani House. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Ziwani House https://ziwaniisland.com/ a two-hour drive from Nairobi is upmarket luxury sleeping ten. You rent the house. Meals are home-grown organic which you can work off water skiing or hiking around the estate including wandering off to Hells Gate or Mount Longonot.

Why African Fish Eagle is under threat of extinction

By Rupi Mangat

Published: East African Nation 11 July 2011

Above: Shiv Kapila releasing African Fish Eagle. Copyright Shiv Kapila

The African fish eagle is one of Africa’s most charismatic raptors. Donned in a copper-coloured mantle with a clear white collar, its very presence commends respect. Its loud and distinctive call is unmistakable – once heard, always remembered – the call of Africa. Its hunting prowess is legendary – it can spot a fish from the highest tree and swoop with talons outstretched to scoop it out of the water. Many a wildlife film has been shot on this powerful hunt.

Continue reading “Why African Fish Eagle is under threat of extinction”

A Stroll along Sabaki River Mouth: Kenya’s biggest estuary and an Important Bird Area (IBA)

Above: Sabaki Estuary. Copyright Rupi Mangat

From the archives: May 2010

On the mudflats of the Sabaki, a strong sun beats down so fierce that it makes the water over the sand sparkle. On the bridge above, cars and matatus speed over the estuary – Kenya’s biggest – unaware of the stunning vistas below and of its importance as an IBA or an Important Bird Area.

Sabaki River Mouth. Credit Cisticola Tour Ltd (800x302)
Flocks of waders at Sabaki River Mouth. Credit Cisticola Tours Ltd

Continue reading “A Stroll along Sabaki River Mouth: Kenya’s biggest estuary and an Important Bird Area (IBA)”

Scents and Sounds of South Nandi Forest

Above: Sunrise at South Nandi Forest surrounded by Nyayo Tea Zone at Kobujoi. May 2019. Copyright Rupi Mangat

It’s dawn. And magical.

In the first light, the rising sun illuminates the tea and forest-clad peaks of the South Nandi Forest as a white mist lifts languidly from the valleys. It’s so beautiful an image that we have to stop to take it all in. On the other side of the road that stretches from Kapsabet to Nandi Hills Town via Serem, the ancient rock-clad hills of Maragoli lines Lake Victoria that is Africa’s largest lake.

South Nandi Forest surrounded by Nyayo Tea Zone at Kobujoi. May 2019. Copyright Rupi Mangat. (800x450)
South Nandi Forest surrounded by Nyayo Tea Zone at Kobujoi. May 2019. Copyright Rupi Mangat.

Continue reading “Scents and Sounds of South Nandi Forest”

Camel Crazy in Maralal

Above: Maralal Camel Derby by Weldon Kennedy

Published: 2007 Saturday Magazine, Nation

Maralal’s one of those really interesting towns in the outback, a frontier perched in a valley near a great fault line that happens to be the Great Rift Valley with a stunning view of the deep gorge that on a windy day can sweep a skinny person off the edge and into the deep sink.  It’s also a town that’s the headquarters of the Samburu, cousins of the Maasai and in modern history, where Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was under restriction order after his compulsory confinement in Lodwar where he had been for two years short of elevan days.  Maralal became known as the half way house between Lodwar and Nairobi, where Kenyatta and his young family stayed from 4 April to August 14 1961 before they were flown to Nairobi.  The house is a museum, aptly called the Jomo Kenyatta House.

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Kenyatta House in Maralal

Continue reading “Camel Crazy in Maralal”