The smell of fresh fish laid in the sun to dry engulfs the air as we stand near the lakeshore in Bao beach, Lake Victoria.
Women are seen moving up and down, turning the fish, which is cleaned and salted before being left to dry in the sun. Others are busy frying the fish that is already dried, awaiting market time.
To the left, bare-chested fishermen sit near the lakeshore, mending their fishing nets. Straight ahead lies Ndere Island, a tourist attraction. The island, which covers 4.2km squared, was declared a national park in November 1986.
This isle is a haven for birds. Over 100 different species can be seen here, including African fish eagles, black-headed gonoleks and grey-headed kingfishers, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.
From the mainland, the island looks serene. It’s a 10-minute motorboat ride to the place, with the air and lake breeze inducing freshness and buoyancy
When we reach our destination, tour guide Fred Lumwamu helps us out of the boat. He promises we will enjoy the nature walk through the park.
To get to the top of the island, we are led through the narrow path out of the forest. We huff and puff in a long, single line, as we gently trek the hillside for 2km. But this is too much for some of my group members, who take a brief rest before we proceed.
The area is covered by the tall grass of the species Loudentia natalensis, which takes a brown colour when flowering, hence the top of the island is brownish (“Chula rabuor” in dholou). Hundreds of birds circle above and around us.
Panting, we finally get to the hilltop, where, awaiting us are beautiful sceneries and cool breezes. Despite the sweltering heat, we still find the hike to the highest point of the island a great experience.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW
At the peak, Lumwamu points us to a distant view of Homa Hills to the south, Mageta Island to the East, and the imagination of Kampala beyond southwest horizon.
We can also see fishermen sail the waters of Lake Victoria in their wooden boats. Some are fishing, others rowing the boats, while others are helping in various ways.
The island is interspersed with indigenous tree species and shrubs, including dovyalisx, macro calyx, euclea divinorum and Carissa adulis.
Woodland and forest remnant are found on the lower rim of the island almost as extensive as the bushland. Papyrus reeds are common features along the shoreline.
KWS Kisumu/Siaya senior warden Christine Boit says species inhabiting the lakeshore include hippopotamus, monitor lizard, Nile crocodile, several fish species and snakes, especially pythons, puff adder and vipers. Butterflies and aardvark are also present.
“We also have troops of baboons, monkeys, impalas, the rare sitatunga antelopes, water bucks, zebras and warthogs,” Boit says.
The last animals introduced to the park were zebras in March 2014. The area is also good for rhino, the tour guide says.
The island attracts campers both the local and international tourists. We meet David Williams and Vera Adhiambo from Mombasa, who have come for a two-day camp at the site. They tell us how they enjoy seeing the Sitatunga early in the morning, and the flock of low-flying birds to eat the insects.
“This place is ideal. I got a recommendation from a friend and it’s worth my visit,” Williams said.
He added that the island has the best views of Lake Victoria, especially with the animals that colonise the expansive isle.
Adhiambo suggests accommodation and a good restaurant be put up nearby for the tourists who cannot carry their own food or sleep in tents.
The tour guide says at times they receive organisations that visit the area for hikes, camps and team building. They also get couples who come for honeymoon, even though the traffic of visitation is low.
“KWS offers camping items at a price. Security at the site is also guaranteed,” he adds.
Within the island, there are six campsites, namely Acacia, Impala, Director’s camp and View Point.
Despite its magnificent views of Lake Victoria and its lush forests, Ndere Island isn’t getting its fair share of tourists.
To create awareness and market the hidden treasurers, the Kenya Tourism Board has set up teams to bring together players operating in the little-known destinations from both the public and private sectors.
The board visited some of the sites in the lake region tourism circuit to identify niche segments and offer advice on provision of affordable packages and experiences that meet the needs of potential local travellers.
Some of the sites visited include Ndere Island, Thimlich Ohinga, E’l Molo Crocodile Park, Simbi Nyaima, Got Kweru and gold mining sites in Migori county.
KTB chief executive Betty Raddier noted that more efforts are required to harness domestic tourism potential and create more awareness about the country’s tourist destinations.
She said they are already working with other stakeholders, including KWS and the county governments.
“The country is blessed with many destinations that most Kenyans can visit, including little-known lakes, national museums and wild animals, among others,” she said.
How to get to Ndere Island
By road from Kisumu city: Take Kisumu-Bondo road, branching left after Holo market or left at Kombewa shopping centre to the park headquarters sandwiched between Asat and Bao beach. The park headquarters is 12km away from this tarmac road.
By water from Kisumu: It will take about 45min with a speed boat direct from Kisumu city to Ndere island national park.