Lake Naivasha, Rift Valley, Kenya

Lake Locations:

Kenya - Rift Valley -

Rare in Kenya’s east Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha is the country’s second largest freshwater lake. Long the traditional territory of the Maasai people, Lake Naivasha became popular in the colonial era as the playground of the English. Agreements with the native people gave colonial ranchers rights to most of the shoreline of the 32,000-acre lake, and the surface served as a landing field for the ‘flying boats’ operated by Imperial Airways for passenger and mail routes until the 1950s. The history of the lake goes far back into the past when it was part of a much larger lake with outlet waters rushing through the Njorowa Gorge. Now, the gorge lies high above the lake and serves as the entrance to popular Hells Gate National Park.

Water is gained from rainfall, underground seepage and incoming flow from the Malewa and Gilgil Rivers. Unusual for a freshwater lake, there is no out-flowing stream, although recent studies have shown some of its water travels underground as far as Lake Elementaita. Lake Naivasha is also the highest elevation lake in this part of Kenya at 6,180 feet. Only 60 miles north of Nairobi, the lake makes a convenient stop-over for visitors on their way to the ‘soda lakes’ farther north.

As a welcoming source of fresh water, Lake Navasha is noted for the variety of birds seen here. Flocks of flamingos often are seen, although their preferred food sources are farther north. A full 350 species of birds grace the Lake Naivasha bird list and proliferate in the lush shoreline vegetation and the papyrus swamps. One of the more interesting birds here is the black heron, which forms a tent above its head with its wings while feeding. Bird experts disagree why these heron perform this ritual; perhaps it is to reduce glare from the water to better see their prey or to provide an artificial shady spot to attract small fish and insects. Other birds seen here are red-billed firefinch, spectacled weaver, malachite kingfisher, grey-capped warbler, brimstone canary, long-tailed cormorant, fish eagles and many, many more.

Birds here have increased after early settlers introduced game fish such as black bass, tilapia, Nile perch, the North American red swamp crayfish, and various aquatic plants to the lake to promote sport fishing. Unfortunately, the introduced species quickly unbalanced the natural ecosystem; sport and commercial fishing has since declined. The lake also supports hippo families, while giraffe, buffalo, colobus monkeys, hartebeest, lion, leopard and cheetah can all be viewed at Crescent Island Wildlife Sanctuary on an island in the lake. The best way to see most of the native animals and birds is from the water. Luckily, boat tours are available for a fee.

Lake Naivasha’s name comes from the Maasai word for ‘rough water’, and high waves can appear quickly when the wind kicks up. The lake is great for sailing, and some of the lodges along the lakeshore offer sailboats for rental. Canoeing and kayaking are also quite popular near the shoreline, but there is little public access to the lake. Several lodges and camping facilities offer private access, often to day visitors for a small charge. One shady and attractive camp facility advertises that they provide an electric fence which keep rhino from entering the tent area at night-no doubt to the relief of visitors.

Lodgings are varied, from rustic to elegant, with meals and restaurants to match. There are many European residents in the area, particularly at nearby Crater Lake where nightlife is available. Lake Naivasha makes a fine home base from which to explore the immediate surroundings. Hells Gate National Park offers one of the few walking facilities among African wildlife. Visitors enjoy rock climbing on the escarpment and horseback riding through the park’s brush land. Nearby Mt. Longonot National Park encompasses the extinct volcano and surrounding ravines, savannahs, and forested crater. Great views of the Great Rift Valley can be seen from the lookout points on the mountain.

The once vast ranch holdings near Lake Naivasha have been converted primarily to floriculture farms. A full 70% of Kenya’s famous rose crop is grown here, benefiting from the fresh waters of the lake. This business activity has caused the small market town of Naivasha to explode in population. The number of people living in the area of the lake is now about 300,000, and infrastructure has not kept up with the boom. Fresh water is difficult for many of the poorer residents to obtain and must be purchased. Sewage systems are limited and in disrepair. And the massive amounts of water drawn from the lake to water the rose crop has been detrimental to lake levels. Although geothermal facilities at the lake produce 15% of Kenya’s electricity, many local people cannot access the power.

There have been strong international attempts to solve these problems and protect the lake, with some success. In 1999 the Lake Naivasha Riparian Association, made up primarily of the large flower growers, received the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award for its conservation efforts regarding the Lake Naivasha Ramsar site. Determining exactly what constitutes over-use of the water resources is difficult because lake levels at Lake Naivasha naturally fluctuate. The massive lake dried up completely around 1900 for several years, with locals farming the former lakebed. Water levels depend to a great extent on the rainfall in the area, so blaming over-withdrawal for low water levels isn’t a simple task, particularly in drought years. Luckily, the many commercial users have been willing to change their irrigation and water disposal practices to reduce damage as far as possible and to limit run-off of fertilizers and pesticides into the lake.

As African safari destinations go, Lake Naivasha isn’t nearly as replete with the vast numbers of native animals as some of the less populous areas. But the lake can’t be beat for bird-watching. Only an hour out of Nairobi by road, there is also an airstrip at Naivasha. Several of the lodges have their own landing strips and can arrange transportation for visitors. So, stop off at Lake Naivasha and enjoy a little freshwater peace and quiet. Make sure to take time to smell the roses!

*Statistics are estimates because lake size varies.

Things to do at Lake Naivasha

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Rock Climbing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Playground

Fish species found at Lake Naivasha

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Perch
  • Tilapia

Lake Naivasha Photo Gallery

Lake Naivasha Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 32,620 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,180 feet

Average Depth: 20 feet

Maximum Depth: 100 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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