In the east, a fiery sun lit up the dawn sky as the moon set in the west. A gentle breeze swept the rising white mist off the ruffled waters of a lake that the Maasai call Enai’posha meaning “rough water”, because of the sudden storms that can arise. Its official name is Lake Naivasha, one of the lakes in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
I couldn’t have chosen a better time to be at Ziwani Island House to watch one of the biggest full moons of the year nearing the closest point to the Earth in its orbit.
The attraction is the see-through glass that allows one to view nature from inside the house. It is like being in a glass bubble as I enjoy the reflection of both the sunrise and the fading moon on the mirror in my room.
Just a two-hour drive from Nairobi, the house has been designed to capture the view of the lake and the sky on the western shores.
With a full glass frontage that brings the outside in, there’s never a dull moment here. You can go water skiing or hiking around the island, or sail to the mainland and hike Hells Gate or Mount Longonot.
The story goes that when the owners of this facility first bought the land, it wasn’t on an island but on the shore of the mainland. Then the heavy rains of the 2013-2014 season saw the rise of all the Rift Valley lakes, and suddenly the house was marooned on an island. They called the house Ziwani, Swahili for “in the lake”.
Instead of driving there now, one has to sail to it, with the resident hippos watching you with their beady eyes. To get there, you take a canoe to a pier just outside the lake.
The welcoming committee consists of Helmeted guinea fowl, which cluck around the garden filled with colourful flowers. A handsome pair of Grey crowned cranes stand by the glass door, and a stately yellow-fever acacia sits by my room.
Once inside the glass-paned house, you get a sense of floating on water.
At lunch on the deck with a large fig tree spreading its leafy crown over us, we had some organically grown food, including homemade cheese on the pizza. When the pineapple topped home-baked cake arrived with fresh cream, I was in heaven. I could smell the cinnamon wafting off it.
There are birds everywhere you look. By the window of my room a pair of Hammercops were building their nest in the fork of the acacia. It was the first time for me to see the construction work of one of the biggest nests, so strong that an adult human can stand on it without breaking it.
In the early evening we strolled up the hill by the house to see Mount Eburru in the west, followed by the Mau ranges, and then the wide sweep of the savannah plain that is home to stately giraffes, waterbuck, kongoni, baboons, and the old colobus monkey that swam across the lake to take up residence at Ziwani.
The morning sail on the lake revealed birds everywhere. Every stump of the papyrus-filled shoreline had the stately African fish eagle on it, whose piercing call rent the air. Dainty kingfishers flitted from the low reeds to dive into the water for a fish, and, with some 350 other species, it’s a beautiful world out there.
Scientists solved the mystery of how the lake waters stay fresh when they discovered subterranean outlets that are connected to other Rift Valley lakes like Magadi, Elementaita, Nakuru and Bogoria — all of which are alkaline.