Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Great Rift Valley and its Great Lakes!


The Great Rift Valley is said to be visible from space!  30 million years old, the Great Rift Valley is characterised by a series of interconnecting rifts or fractures in the Earth’s crust, stretching from the Red Sea /Middle East to Nthn Mozambique.

How much do you remember about Plate Tectonics…? A ‘rift valley’ is the result of tectonic plates moving apart, in the case of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, it’s the ‘East African Rift’, made up of the larger Nubian Plate and the smaller Somali Plate, slowly pulling away from each other at an estimated 2 mm a year, eventually to split completely.

This tectonic activity causes stunning geological features, leading to the formation of hot springs, geysers, volcanoes and lakes, dotted throughout the region.

Like creases in a paper, the Great Rift Valley lakes are all formed from historic crumpling or crippling of  the plates, leaving behind a trail of troughs or basins. From Lake Turkana in the dry desert in the north, to Lake Magadi in the south and all the lakes in between, all completely unique, shaped by historical movements of the land.  

Ranging from shallow “soda” lakes, highly alkaline due to the presence of minerals like sodium carbonate, to freshwater lakes full of fish. All with diverse ecosystems and exceptional biodiversity, especially in terms of birdlife.

As the plates flatten to create lake basins, they also rise to create volcanic activity;

Central Island on Lake Turkana is an active volcano, Ol Kokwe on Lake Baringo is an extinct volcano, Lake Nakuru is overshadowed by the heights of Menengai, a shield volcano formed about 8,000 years ago. Lake Naivasha abutted by the deep gorges and geothermal hot springs at Hells Gate, with the peaks of Mt. Longonot in the background. Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano towers of Lake Natron in Tanzania.

Shores of the Soda Lakes

The shallow nature of Lake Magadi, Elementaita, Nakuru & Bogoria result in high evaporation, leaving behind a high alkaline environment, making the perfect feeding and breeding grounds for the Lesser Flamingo.

If you love pelicans, Lake Nakuru has them in the bucket-load, the lake shore providing an excellent breeding ground.

Lake Magadi, the most southern lake within Kenya’s Rift Valley. A saline lake, 80% of the lake is covered in soda, some of which can be 40m thick!

The soda flats give the lake its otherworldly appearance, resembling a lunar or Martian landscape. With the temperature reaching upwards of 40° Celsius, this harsh climate, combined with the unique geology of the area, makes it feel like you’ve stepped onto another planet.

Traveling slightly further south, across the border into Tanzania, you’ll find Lake Natron, with its extreme evaporation levels, the water is so alkaline, it can turn you into stone!

Although extreme in temperatures and pH, this great lake is a favourite of the Lesser Flamingo.

Fresh water & Fish

Dotted amongst the soda lakes are two freshwater lakes, Naivasha and Baringo. Bursting with both aquatic and birdlife, they bring with them a completely different host of geology anomalies.

Lake Naivasha, is the highest of the Rift Valley lakes, a mystery to hydrologists, as there is no obvious outlet for the lake!

Take to the waters with a boat ride, getting close to the fascinating nesting areas along the shoreline, from Goliath Herons, Egrets, Maccoa Ducks, various Spoonbills to Saddle-billed Storks, the list goes on!

Baringo, with several islands dotted all over the lake, the range of habitat is extraordinary and home to an estimated 450 species of birds, primarily egrets, herons, storks & waterfowl.

It has been suggested that 9,500 years ago, Lake Baringo made up the southern shores of Lake Turkana, and the White Nile made up the northern shores, shifts within the tectonic plates interrupted the connectivity – this is thought to be the reason why Lake Turkana both has Nile Crocodiles and Nile Perch.

A rocky outcrop of an island, known as Gibraltar, is thought to be one of the world’s largest breeding grounds for the Goliath Heron.  Stunning landscapes surround Lake Baringo, one of the several islands, Ol Kokwe is an extinct volcano and you can find hot springs in the lake!

A safari to any of these Great Lakes is an unforgettable experience, each one a different and memorable.

A chance to see firsthand the monumental results of the movement of the tectonic plates, raw and scarring, the landscape reads like a book, a story of historic proportions.

We’ve led many a safari to these Great Lakes and love to share our knowledge of the lakes and their accompanying birdlife – get in touch for more information!