Crater Lake Things to Do
Game viewing by vehicle is wonderful, but if you have a chance, it pales into insignificance compared to the delights of game viewing on foot.
In a vehicle, you are distanced from the environment by metal and glass, whereas once you walk in the bush, you're part of it, and have a chance to appreciate its intricacies. This may be as humble as watching scarab beetles rollling perfectly spherical balls of dung (see other photo), or, at the other end of the scale, as aweinspiring as being able to get exceptionally close to Africa's largest antelope, the eland.
We have eland in South Africa, but they are notoriously shy, and usually rather difficult to spot as they prefer to lurk in thickets in small family groups. It was therefore an absolute treat to see eland in much larger numbers and much closer up than we're used to - both at Crater Lake and at Hell's Gate.
Eland are beautiful animals, with their large eloquent eyes and distinctive dewlap. They are really large, heavyset animals - as large or larger than a full grown bull and weighing up to 900kg. Surprisingly, they are able to jump extraordinarily well and can clear over 3m from a standing start, which is an extraordinary feat of athleticism given their weight.
It's astounding to think that these are 'only' common eland - the rarer Giant (or Lord Derby's) Eland found in Central Africa is even bigger!
For those who are concerned about safety whilst walking in the bush, this reserve doesn't have many large predators (mostly hyaena and leopards which tend to be shy and solitary) and you are accompanied by a game ranger. Interestingly enough, he wasn't armed with anything more lethal than a short cane!
The Crater Lake reserve extends beyond the immediate crater and reaches down to the shores of Lake Naivasha beyond. Naivasha is a comparatively deep freshwater lake and is a very different ecosystem to the shallow soda lake in the crater itself, so it's nice to have two such contrasting environments so close to one another.
If you're feeling energetic, it's well worth asking your guide to incorporate a wander down to the Lake Naivasha shore into your morning game walk. We were able to get within about 10m of a pod of hippos who were squabbling loudly - there was much indignant grunting and displaying of large peglike teeth in cavernous mouths, so I'm guessing that it had something to do with establishing dominance within the group.
However much you might want the ultimate close up hippo shot, it's best to keep a sensible distance - hippos may look fairly docile, but they kill more people in Africa each year than any other animal (with the obvious exception of malarial mosquitoes)!
Flamingoes are migratory birds, and tend to move between the chain of lakes in the Rift Valley region.
In contrast to the millions (and I mean that quite literally) of flamingoes that we saw at Lake Bogoria, there were only a few at Crater Lake when we stayed there. However, they were particularly interesting, as they are relatively habituated to humans, and so will allow you to get relatively close (whereas the Bogoria birds get very unsettled once you start to approach).
The picture shows a greater flamingo (walking in front) and a lesser flamingo. As you'd expect, the greater flamingo is larger, and has paler pink plumage with a neutral coloured eye. By contrast, the less flamingo is smaller and more intensely pink, with an unnerving red eye that looks more than a little satanic.
They happily hang around in the shallow water fringing the soda lake that has established in the crater, trawling for small crustaceans with their outlandish beaks. You can't help but fall in love with their endearing mix of elegance and gawkiness, and, for me at least, are the iconic animal of the Rift Valley.
Crater Lake Restaurants
The food at Crater Lodge is good in an unspectacular 'colonial hotel' sort of way.
Breakfasts and evening meals are tasty buffet affairs with a nice selection of dishes and a good variety of local fruits and salads. It's not gourmet fare, but neither does it pretend to be, and you'd have to be very fussy indeed not to find something to your liking.
For those who are less hungry or in more of a hurry, there is also a less formal menu of light lunches, such as toasted sandwiches.
The local beers are very pleasant and affordable, and the hotel has a selection of fairly affordable (mostly South African) wines. It is, however, a pity that they do not presently stock wine from the local Leleshwa vineyard in Naivasha, which I hope is a gap that they will address in the future.
I should also add that - to the immense credit of the bewildered restaurant staff - they let me have an egg and the loan of a spoon for the day so that I could fulfil my longstanding ambition to boil an egg in a geothermal spring (see the travelogue on my Lake Bogoria page)!
Crater Lake Warnings and Dangers
As previously mentioned, the Crater Lodge is located on the shoreline of the shallow soda lake that has established in the crater itself. It is a glorious location with only one downside ... the climb to get there!
Access from the car park to the lodge is only via a long, steep staircase cut through the indigenous forest - of which the photo shows only the bottom section. The good news is that the stairs are sturdily constructed and well maintained, and there is even a resting point with a bench about two thirds of the way up. Unfortunately its scenic nature doesn't alter the fact that it is a fair trek!
Happily, porters will gladly help you with your baggage - which you'll find is well worth a hefty tip - and fortunately the view is stupendous, which gives you an excuse to catch your breath on the long haul upwards as you save face by pausing to 'admire the scenery'!
This climb means that sadly this lodge is not a good choice for people with mobility problems or those who are advised to avoid physical exertion. It also means that you would be very well advised to make sure that you have everything you need before you leave your tent or car, in order to avoid having to make a return trek to retrieve whatever you've forgotten!
The only way to avoid these stairs is if you're well heeled enough to be able to afford your own private helicopter, as we discovered when the former head of the Kenyan Reserve Bank dropped in for tea one afternoon during our stay!