Naivasha is traditionally Maasai land. The name of the lake is a colonial misinterpretation of the original Maasai name Nai'posha, meaning ''Rough Water" in reference to the afternoon storms that can produce high white capped waves across the lake.
For more information on Maasai culture, see Related Links above.
The waters of Naivasha are a traditional watering place for Maasai herds, and today many herds can still be see along the lakeside roads. There is a Maasai Manyatta within Hell's Gate National park, which can be visited by tourists. The cliffs and rock formations of Hell's Gate are considered sacred by the local Maasai. One local myth bears remarkable similarity to the Biblical story of Lot's wife.
The Maasai believe that a distraught young girl being led away for marriage from her family's Manyatta was warned not to look back. Unable to resist, she turned to see her home again, and was immediately cursed and turned to stone, forming the distinctive shape of Fischer's Tower.
This impressive rock tower was given its current name by a German explorer, Gustav Fischer who was the first European to reach this area in 1882. On his arrival at the vast cliffs of Hell's Gate, he was met by a group of Maasai warriors in full battle dress, ready to repel Fischer and his party. He promptly turned and fled, but not before christening the tower in his honour.
The British explorer Joseph Thompson (see Related Links above, for more of his exploits) received a better reception in 1884, and he paved the way for British settlement of the area.
The Lake was popular with colonial farmers, and the waters were also used from 1937-1950 as Nairobi's principle airport. The Lake was the landing strip for the Catalina Flying Boats, used by OAC for a regular service from London to South Africa. These massive amphibious aircraft were luxuriously fitted and appointed, and considered the ultimate in elite air travel. On arrival in Naivasha, near the Country Club, passengers would alight and take buses to Nairobi, while transit passengers would attend a game of polo while waiting for the plane to refuel.
Naivasha was the home of Lord Errol, the aristocrat who was the one of the best known members of the infamous Happy Valley set, a group of settlers who were known for their decadent lifestyles during the 1930's and 40's.
Errol lived in an elaborate arabesque palace on the Lakeshore called the Djinn Palace. He was murdered by an unknown assailant while driving to Nairobi. The resulting investigation exposed and unwound the complictated social web of the Happy valley set, a story retold in the book and subsequent film, White Mischief. The killer was never found, and the case remains one of the world's great unsolved mysteries. Today the Djinn Palace is privately owned, but its attractive facade is visible from the Lake.
Another historic home lakeshore home is Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson, author of Born Free. Best known for her work with lions, the Austrian born author also was a tireless conservationist who ran fund raising campaigns for African wildlife all over the world. She used Elsamere, named after the lioness Elsa, as her base up until her death in 1980. The house is now a museum, open to the public in the afternoon. For more details on her life and work and her husband George, see Related Links above.
Naivasha has now become a major centre for Kenya's agricultural industry. Those with an interest in farming in this area should go to Specialist Safari.