Lake Nakuru and Natron | The Sea of Pink Flamingos

Lake Nakuru with Rhino and Pelicans. Simon BloomhillLake Nakuru with Rhino and Pelicans

It's a wondrous sight - at least a million Flamingos gathered together to create the surging ‘pink seas' of the Great Rift Valley. Lake Nakuru and Lake Natron are members of an exclusive group of soda lakes in East Africa.

Incredible numbers of Flamingos favour the alkaline waters of Lake Nakuru in Kenya and Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. It is a wonder that these lakes support any life at all because of the very high salt content, but it's the ideal environment for Flamingos and a surprising range of species.

In the case of Lake Natron, the waters are boiling hot and caustic, which is sure to peel the skin off most creatures and many animals wouldn't dare enter.

The Great Rift Valley

The valley is a geological feature which cuts through Africa from the Middle East down as far as Mozambique with a number of associated fault lines and features extending westwards into south central Africa. Just north of Nairobi the valley is at its lowest with an amazing selection of deep freshwater lakes, soda lakes and volcanic formations. The views are breathtaking as the land seems to drop away from you into the valley.

Lake Nakuru National Park. Kenya

This beautiful park is 160km (about 100 miles) north of Nairobi and easily accessible by road on a day excursion. The park was set up to protect the massive flocks of Flamingos which come here to feed on the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and plankton. Witnessing the mass of bright pink birds moving about on the water is an unforgettable image. Top view sites include Baboon Cliff, Out of Africa Hill and Lion Hill.

Lake Nakuru actually has a lower salt concentration than other traditional soda lakes which is why the waters can also support other life including fish. Around 400 bird species including raptors, wading birds such as the Avocet and Cormorants, as well as many thousands of Pelicans moving together in a sort of dance, makes Lake Nakuru a birdwatchers paradise. The lake is a designated RAMSAR site.

Apart from excellent birding, this is a great place to see wildlife. The landscape around the lake consists of marshes, woodland, rolling grasslands, and rocky outcrops. The park is a sanctuary for Black and White Rhino and Rothschild's Giraffe, as well as Hippo, Lion, Leopard and Cheetah, Hyena, Wild Cat and many types of antelope to name just a few species.

Lake Natron. Northern Tanzania on the border with Kenya

Lake Natron - Shompole Lodge

Lake Natron is probably the most saline of the Great Rift Valley Lakes and located in a remote and desolate area, miles from anywhere and overlooked by a smoking volcano. The climate in this region is extremely hot and the shallow lake waters are fed by mineral rich hot springs, all of which contribute to the water temperatures which can soar past 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Once the water evaporates in the dry season and the salinity levels rise there is a profusion of organisms which spring to life in such conditions. The deep red colour of the open water is created by cyanobacteria. The lake is inhospitable to most species but some plants and endemic fish species can survive in the salt marshes and freshwater swamps along the edges of the lake.

This lake is the last major breeding site for millions of Flamingos on the East Coast of Africa and a designated RAMSAR site. The more cyanobacteria that proliferate in the salty conditions, the more nesting sites can be supported. The caustic conditions of the lake act as a barrier to predators that would otherwise prey on the birds and their young.

These Flamingos are endangered because they rely on Lake Natron as their main breeding site. The preservation of the lake is under pressure from logging and proposed developments in the surroundings. This region is not a safari destination as such, but offers visitors an adventure with a difference - expect incredible landscapes and scenery, some wildlife and interesting walks. Lake Natron is on a quiet connecting road between Lake Manyara and Loliondo in the Serengeti.

by Heather Willowmore

African Safaris Guide to South and East Africa
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