86km (53 miles) NW of Nairobi
Its proximity to Nairobi means that Naivasha has long been a popular getaway destination, whether for weekend jaunts or long-term colonial-era soirees. Naivasha's most tantalizing associations are probably with its sordid social goings-on -- the area around salubrious Lake Naivasha was once a playground for the rich and famous who lived out a debauched and scandalous existence based in their ranches and lakeshore mansions. Notoriously known as the "Happy Valley" set, their antics were sufficiently attention-grabbing to inspire a blushing page-turner of White Mischief, a racy novel about a 1940s criminal investigation, during which Sir Henry "Jock" Delves Broughton was tried for the murder of the Earl of Erroll, exposing all kinds of social shenanigans in the process. The book went on to become a mildly erotic late-'80s movie starring Greta Scacchi, Charles Dance, and a young, innocent Hugh Grant.
The lake was also, at the time, Kenya's busiest "airport" and served as a touch-down point for flying boats from the U.K. and South Africa. The region remains renowned for its huge private ranches, some of them still functioning farms -- with names such as Delamere still turning a profit in dairy -- and others now converted to guesthouses for well-to-do travelers. However, Naivasha today stands out as the center of Kenya's massive flower industry, which has deflated the visual appeal of the area considerably -- rather than spotting herds of game around the lake's shores, you're likely to blanch at the rather unromantic evidence of the sizeable flower industry that flourishes here. With millions of blooms finding their way from here to European markets every day, Naivasha's horticultural output means big business, but the downside is that the area is inundated with ugly hothouses and appalling concrete living quarters hastily erected for the large migrant labor force that's arrived to serve the industry. Unfortunately, although the flower farms make extensive use of Naivasha's fresh water, it's been something of a controversial issue that, in return, they are feeding the lake with enough toxic effluent to impact the ecology negatively.
On a local level, the flower farms are a lucrative source of jobs for laborers, meaning that this is a pretty populous area, with many workers filling the compounds you'll pass as you drive around the lake. This, in turn, does not bode well for resident wildlife -- there are fewer and fewer wild-roaming species to be seen around the lake, with most game viewing happening within protected private sanctuaries.
Still, there are pockets of civility and beauty, mostly evident when you're sequestered at any of the upmarket ranches and lodges that continue to work for the preservation of wildlife numbers. Aside from enjoying the easy life on the lake and checking out some of the protected wilderness areas for their game, Naivasha has two worthy outings close at hand. The gorge that rips through Hell's Gate National Park is one of the most interesting places in the country to explore on foot, and views from the volcanic rim of adjacent Mount Longonot are unbeatable.
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