The region around Lake Turkana has become famous as one of the great sources of evidence of modern man’s earliest existence. It attracts the adventurous and the inquiring, many also have heard of its fearsome terrain. Windswept and very hot, the lake lies in desert or semi-desert about 650 kilometers, by road, north of Nairobi. Just a fraction under 300 kilometers long and 60 kilometer across at its widest point, this desert ocean has become known as the Jade Sea.
Named Lake Rudolf by the first Europeans who set eyes on it Count Teleki and Lieut.von Hohnel, who reached its shores in 1888, it was renamed Lake Turkana in 1975.
The eastern shore of Lake Turkana is reached from Maralal along a road requiring time, patience and skill to negotiate. In places not much more than a track and in places a lava field, this road is strictly for the adventurous and for four-wheel drive vehicles. 225 kilometers after leaving Maralal Town, you reach Loiyangalani, the only settlement of any size along the eastern shore. A welcome sight is the Oasis Lodge, a simple place but seemingly the height of luxury in its austere surroundings.
The first sight of the vast expanse of the Jade Sea is certainly awesome. This African lake in a desert is itself amazing but this one with its dramatic scenery even more so. Less than 30 kilometers east of Loiyangalani Mount Kulal towers almost precipitously to 2164 meters from the lake level of 370 meters. Kulal is one of three International Biosphere Reserves in Kenya. The location is always windy but from time to time, sudden gales whip down from Kulal to the lake turning its placid waters into a tempest in minutes. The track passes Loiyangalani and leads to the headquarters of Kenya’s most remote National Park, Sibiloi, at AIia Bay.
There are three islands in Lake Turkana, prosaically named North, Central and South Islands. Central Island is a separate national park and is so designated, as it is the main breeding place of the Nile crocodile. Big game fishing is a spectacular sport on the lake and Nile perch have been landed exceeding 100 kilos. Sport fishing for the ferocious tiger fish is also available and a quieter time can be had fishing for tilapia, the best fish for eating in Kenya. Lake Turkana is renowned for its impressive variety of birdlife. Ferguson’s Gulf is a wonderful place, in March and April, to view the northward flight of European passage migrants. Resident waterbirds are plentiful and many nest on Central Island. Flamingoes can be seen in many parts of Lake Turkana. There is no road connection between the east and western shores of the lake as the southern end is a tumult left by previous volcanic activity. A little south of Turkana is a seasonal lake, Logipi, situated in the Suguta valley, reckoned to be one of the hottest places on earth. Noon temperatures average 72-75 degrees Celsius.
Volcanic eruptions have taken place in this area in living memory and there was a severe earthquake in 1928. The western shore is more easily reached, by tarmac road from Kitale, via Lodwar to Kalokol, just west of Central Island. The Turkana people, strong, silent, resigned and bellicose, much like the land they live in, inhabit the western side of the lake. Although thousands of years ago Lake Turkana fed the White Nile, it now has no outlet and the shoreline of this inland sea is slowly receding in the face of the harsh sun and ever less water reaching the lake from the seasonal floods of the Omo and Turkwell rivers. The fascination of Turkana is partly its remoteness and partly its savage terrain.