The Great Rift Valley - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to The Great Rift Valley

The Great Rift Valley

Millions of years ago the earth's crust was weakened and it tore apart, creating a split thousands of kilometres long down the continent of Africa up to 62 miles (100km) wide in places. Volcanic eruptions on either side caused the floor to sink into a flat plain creating the Great Rift Valley. It is one of Kenya's characteristic features and divides the country in half, from north to south, with stunning panoramas and beautiful escarpment backdrops. The wide valley is scattered with a few volcanoes and several lakes; it is inhabited by grazing animals, Masai herders and small-town dwellers.

The string of alkaline lakes known for their stunning scenery and variety of bird life include Lakes Naivasha, Elementeita, Nakuru, Bogoria and Baringo. The uniqueness of these lakes lies in their high concentration of sodium carbonate from the surrounding volcanic rocks. This creates an ideal breeding ground for algae and a thriving environment for fish, which in turn attracts millions of birds to feed on the abundant food supply. Each of the lakes has a different water composition ranging from freshwater to very saline and brackish, with different bird life attracted to each.

The freshwater ecosystems at Lake Naivasha and Baringo, the nature reserve at Lake Bogoria, and the Nakuru National Park are a source of endless fascination, teeming with an incredible diversity of birds and large concentrations of animals. Hell's Gate National Park allows visitors to walk or cycle among the wildlife, and nearby Elsamere Conservation Centre provides a look at the life of Joy Adamson and the lioness Elsa, of 'Born Free' fame.

Information & Facts

English is the official language but Swahili is the national language, with 42 ethnic languages spoken.

The unit of currency is the Kenyan Shilling (KES), divided into 100 cents. It is not advisable to take Kenyan Shillings out of the country, as they are difficult to exchange elsewhere. Travellers cheques in Sterling or US Dollars are recommended for your trip to Kenya. US Dollars in particular have become commonly used in many of the country's main hotels and safari lodges. Foreign currency can be changed at banks, bureaux de change and hotels; easiest to exchange are US dollars, pounds sterling or Euros. Street exchange merchants should be avoided as they are operating illegally. Banks open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm and on the first and last Saturday of the month. Banks and bureaux de change at the international airport stay open 24 hours. Credit Cards (American Express, Visa and MasterCard) are accepted in the larger hotels and stores, and some camps and lodges. ATMs are widely available in Nairobi and the major towns.

Along the southern shore of Lake Naivasha is the former home of naturalist and painter Joy Adamson, author of 'Born Free', and now the Elsamere Conservation Centre, incorporating a guesthouse and a small museum. Visitors are invited to join the guests daily at 4pm for a sumptuous tea on the lawns of the beautifully peaceful lakeside setting, occasionally joined by the mischievous Colobus monkeys with a taste for cheesecake. The museum has displays portraying the true story of Joy and the lioness Elsa that she raised from birth, and her attempts to return her to the wild, as well as her paintings and personal artefacts. There is also a video shown about the story of Elsa the lioness.

Named for the pair of massive red cliffs of the Njorowa Gorge that encloses a geothermic area of hot springs and steam vents, Hell's Gate is one of the two parks in Kenya that allows visitors to explore on foot, making it an ideal place for hiking, cycling, camping and rock climbing. It is famous for its natural steaming geysers, and the towering cliffs provide an eagle and vulture breeding ground. The wide plains are home to numerous animals, such as zebra, buffalo, eland, gazelle and hartebeest and the experience of walking alongside a giraffe or past a herd of zebra is a memorable one. Lion, leopard and cheetah are also present but hardly ever seen.

Recognised for its abundance of birdlife and beautiful scenery, and with the nearby attractions of Elsamere and Hell's Gate National Park, Lake Naivasha is a popular destination and a place of pilgrimage for bird fanatics. The lake is a shimmering waterscape of floating hyacinth surrounded by mountains, and the skies above are pierced by the distinctive cries of the fish eagle. Brightly coloured kingfishers dart into the waters from their papyrus perches and ugly Marabou storks strut along the shoreline like cantankerous sergeant majors. The trees are home to Colobus monkeys and at night the earth shudders with the movement of grazing hippos. The fertile soils and fresh water supply have made this one of the major agricultural regions in Kenya and farmlands surround the lake giving way to forests of acacia on the mountain slopes. The southern shore of the lake is lined with hotels, campsites and guesthouses, prettily situated either on the shore or higher up on the slopes of the mountain with fantastic views over the lake. Boat trips are a popular way to explore the lake and also the private Crescent Island Game Sanctuary.

Although tiny, this park has huge concentrations of game with everything except elephant, and is one of Kenya's important rhino sanctuaries. Apart from the rhino, there are several prides of lion and it is the best place to spot leopard. The surface of the shallow alkaline lake covers about a third of the park and the saline concentration supports a blue-green algae that attracts thousands of flamingos. This pulsating pink carpet covering the fringes of the lake is a breathtaking sight and at any disturbance the air above becomes a noisy confusion of long pink legs and reddish wings in flight. Large flocks of pelicans are also attracted to the rich food source in the lake and waterbuck and the rare Rothschild giraffe are common sights along the shores. The park has several high points with good lookouts and waterfalls, and monkeys and baboon frequent the rocky cliffs.

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