Some years ago, I found myself bobbing on my back in dark brown water, a pair of unwieldy skis attached to my feet, nursing the faintest of hangovers. I couldn’t see what lay below the surface and was feeling distinctly nervous about hippos.
“Oh, we ski in the middle of the lake, there are no hippos there. They prefer to hang about at the edge,” our host assured me.
It was our first family trip to Lake Naivasha. We were staying with friends on the shores of South Lake, where we were told waterskiing was perfectly “safe.” I gamely said I would give it a go.
After repeated attempts at getting up, I found my feet, and the boat skirted perilously close to the lake’s edge. “Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.” I repeated in my head.
Fifteen minutes later, having hauled myself shakily back into the boat with an overwhelming sense of relief at escaping the hippos, it was the turn of our host. He skied like a pro, criss-crossing the wake and showing us all how it’s done. At one point though, he wobbled. As he climbed back into the boat, he told us he’d skied right over a hippo’s back.
“Bugger started surfacing just as I was skiing over. Nearly lost my balance but kept standing, thank goodness.”
Years later, we rented a house north of the lake with friends and hatched a brilliant plan. We would take a picnic lunch with us to the sailing club at the south of the lake. Lake Naivasha is huge, however, and Juma, our boatman was not happy. He mumbled about unpredictable weather and the size of our party but did not refuse.
The outbound trip went well. Crossing the lake took longer than anticipated but, at the club, we had our picnic. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I saw Juma pacing the lake banks, casting fretful glances at the sky.
As we set off, the sky clouded over ominously. Halfway across the lake and with no option but to keep going, we found ourselves in the midst of a terrifying afternoon squall. The sky was dark, there were rolls of thunder, the wind blew and the water had turned choppy. The boat rocked from side to side.
I suddenly saw the situation with painful clarity. We were in the middle of the lake in an underpowered and overloaded boat designed to carry eight, not eleven, people.
For the kids, this was the greatest adventure ever. The six children screamed in delight as waves broke over the prow of the boat and I clung on to their ankles in rain-lashed terror. We made it back, docking as night fell. Juma’s relief was palpable. “I didn’t think we were going to make it,” he said.
Since then, I have enjoyed many incident-free boat trips on Lake Naivasha. But much as I love getting out onto the water, I will never underestimate the lake’s perils.
- The name Naivasha derives from the local Maasai name Nai’posha, meaning “rough water” because of the sudden storms which can arise.
- Ideally, take your boat trip in the morning.
- At 140km², Lake Naivasha is way bigger than you think.
- Water ski at your own risk.
- Oh, and #bringyourownkiddielifejacket.