Just 5km outside Nakuru, Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the most popular in the country and a must-see for wildlife enthusiasts, offering one of the best chances in Kenya of spotting black and white rhinos. With more than 300,000 visitors each year, this is one of the Kenya Wildlife Service’s two “premier parks” (the other being Amboseli). Though not large, it’s a beautiful park, the terra firma mostly under light acacia forest, well provided with tracks to a variety of hides and lookouts; the contrast between these animated woodlands and the soda lake with its primeval birds give it a very distinctive appeal. And while there is very good accommodation within the park boundaries, it’s also one of the easiest parks to visit for the day, with or without a vehicle. The easy-to-follow topography and signposted tracks mean you really can’t get lost and it’s a pleasure to drive around, which takes about three hours.
The park has undergone some quite remarkable changes in recent years due to the significant flooding that has affected all the Rift Valley lakes. Heavy seasonal rain swelled Nakuru by, it’s estimated, at least one-third in 2012, 2013 and 2014 (the 2015 long rainy season was a relatively light one in comparison). As a result, not only has the lake’s surface area and shape changed considerably, but the park’s infrastructure has been altered too (and probably permanently): KWS lost two campsites; the Main Gate had to be moved to higher ground (you’ll see the old gate buildings being lapped by the waves); and the marshy floodplain region at the southern end of the lake is now under deep water.
KWS has undertaken a major redesign of the park’s road layout and facilities as, unlike the other lakes like Ba-ringo and Naivasha, water levels are not expected to go down at Lake Nakuru anytime soon. There are several reasons for this. First, again unlike the other lakes, Nakuru has no outlet. Additionally, as well as the unprecedented heavy rains over the last few years, some underground springs have recently been discovered on the lake bed, suggesting that the lake is also fed from beneath the ground. Finally, it’s thought that recent initiatives to stop human encroachment on the Mau Forest Complex on the western edge of the Rift Valley, from which Nakuru receives much of its rainfall, have caused significantly more water to find its way down the escarpment to the lake.
So what does all this mean for the wildlife in Lake Nakuru National Park? Not a great deal in fact: while the animals have lost much of their grazing land, they are also thriving from the constant source of fresh water and flourishing habitat – though the lake no longer supports its formerly vast population of flamingos.