Lake Victoria has a surface area of about 68,000 km2 equal to the size of Ireland and it is the largest of Africas lakes as well as the largest tropical lake in the world.
Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world if Michigan-Huron are counted as two separate lakes. In 1858, John Hanning Speke was the first European to explore the vast lake and he believed it to be the source of the White Nile. The assertion was ridiculed until Henry Morton Stanley eventually proved him right in 1875. The lake basin is not a part of Great Rift Valley and its long line of lakes such as Lake Tana, Lake Naivasha, Nakuru, Elementeita, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi and others. Therefore Lake Victoria is quite shallow with an average depth of about 30-40m and a maximum depth of 81 meters and Kenya actually owns only a tiny 3,785 sq km corner of the lake.
The ecology of lake Victoria
The ecosystems of Lake Victoria are not only challenged by decreasing water levels, the ferocious Nile Perch was set out into the lake in the 1960s and it wiped out most of the numerous endemic species of Cichlids in the lake. Until then Lake Victoria was known for its amazing biodiversity and It was inhabited by over 500 species of fish, 90% of which were Cichlids belonging to the Haplochromis genus.
Today the tilapia is caught in big numbers and it partly supports the people with protein but the Nile Perch supports a growing fishing industry around the lake with a billion dollar export. The possible effects of this is described in the controversive and award winning documentary film Darwins Nightmare by Hupert Sauper. Also the lake has suffered from an increasing number of water hyacinth some places growing a suffocating carpet of greenery, that covers huge surfaces of the lake. A remarkable phenomena is the huge swarms of lake-flies that congregate once in a while and despite sometimes being a nuisance due to their sheer numbers, they are harmless as they dont bite like mosquitos do.
Hippos are part of everyday life along the shores of many African lakes and their occassional deep series of grunts makes you realize how massive they are and they give a feel of some ancient connection to a nature that reaches long before man. Hippos are territorial animals and they always seek to the water to feel safe, but at night they venture onto land to graze and they can be very dangerous when feeling cut off from their beloved water.
There are Nile crocodiles in all sizes living in Lake Victoria as well as Monitor Lizards and spotted-necked otters and the cry from the magnificent African fish eagle can be heard along the shores. The bird list exceeds 100 species and also there are monitor lizards and sometimes Giant Otters along the lakeshore so remember to bring your camera and a pair of binoculars.
Islands in Lake Victoria
In the Kenyan part of the lake you will find Islands such as Rusinga, Mfangano, Takawiri, Ndere and the lake has a large number of smaller islands – maybe the Sese Islands being the most visited.
Takawiri island has been developed a bit towards accomodating tourists. A white sandy beach under swaying coconut palms give an impression from a tropical coral island in the sea.
Ukerewe in the Tanzanian part of the lake is the largest island in Lake Victoria and the largest inland island in all of Africa, with an area of approximately 530 km².
Another interesting island in the southern part of the lake is Rubondo Island. Rubondo Island has gained status of National Park and there are giraffes, elephants, chimpanzees as well as a wealth of other animals and birds to be seen.
Boat trips on Lake Victoria
Setting out in a canoe early in the morning is a great way to experience Lake Victoria and contrary to many other places in Kenya there are no park fees. Boats can be hired pretty much anywhere around the lake from local fishermen, but you should be warned that safety is often neglected as they usually don’t have any life wests on board.
In the morning the lake is usually very calm, but in the afternoons where the wind picks up, sailing on the lake is not without risk and fishermen drown every year because of lack of safety precautions on the lake! If you venture out onto the lake, always ensure that the boatman brings along safety vests for everyone onboard! Also it is a very good idea to bring some sunscreen and a hat because in a boat you will be relentlessly exposed to the sun (and its reflections in the surface) and there will be nowhere to find shade until you reach the shore again.