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Swimming with hippos at Masinga Dam

The lake is infested with crocs and other ‘bad boys’ but the hotel pool offers a place to relax after a game drive or an exerting tour of the nearby hydroelectric power station          

Mwangi Mumero @mwangimumero

top the hill where the Masinga Dam Resort straddles, the last rays of the sun shine over the expansive Masinga Lake to the east, as dusk finally accosts the visitor.

Rugged hills that form the borderline to the water mass form dark shadows, like long gone dominos. A lone fisherman waits patiently for his hooks to rattle even as darkness envelops this get-away located within Mwea Game Reserve 160 kilometres from Nairobi.

Game Reserve

Welcome to Masinga Dam Resort – a facility that overlooks the scenic beaches on the shores of Masinga Lake—the largest man-made dam in the region. Masinga Hydroelectric Power Station is an embankment dam on the Tana River, the longest river in Kenya. It straddles the border of Embu and Machakos counties and is located about 160 kilometres, by road, northeast of Nairobi.

The neighbourhood—punctuated by short patched savanna vegetation—creates an aura of an African outback away from the hustles and bustles of major cities such as Nairobi and Thika. A weekend get-way will take you to the facility, over 160km from Nairobi via Thika-Garissa road, a turnoff towards Embu and then another 12 km road from Kaewa township to the dam and the resort.

Run by the Tana and Athi River Development Authority (Tarda), the hotel boasts of beautiful landscapes and breathtaking scenery. Opened in 1981, the 120sqkm reservoir is a multipurpose man-made lake meant for irrigation, electricity generation and tourism development. It is surrounded by picturesque mountains, with the sprawling Mwea Game Reserve on its eastern fringes.

The dam holds plenty of wildlife that also includes fish and hippos. Most of the fish is supplied to Thika, Embu, Matuu and Nairobi towns. Major wildlife attractions at the reserve include elephants, giraffes, antelopes, buffalos, monkeys and yellow baboons. And with over 200 species of birds, Mwea is renowned for its water birds and waders.

The hotel offers airport transfers via Masinga airstrip for visitors coming in by air.  Game drives to the reserve are also available for an additional fee. Self-contained rooms, dining facilities, free Wi-Fi and boat rides are available. Conference rooms, a swimming pool, poolside bar, pool table, a volleyball and badminton court are also available for parties interested in team building.

“We had developed new accommodation facilities in anticipation for the festive season last year. This resort is available to visitors –individuals, corporate event and even social occasions,” said Charles Charo, the resort’s general manager. He spoke while welcoming visiting members of a Nairobi-based investment group.

Sites for camping, hiking and nature trails are also available. “Security is assured with a full police station in the neighbourhood,” added Charo. Parties and late night meeting can be held under the moonlight as cool air blows from nearby lake.  Swimmers are free to try the pool, which is warm even at night— but the croc’ infested lake is out of bounds.

Power Station

Generating about 40MW of power, Masinga Dam is the largest of the Seven Forks dams project that include Kindaruma, Kiambere, Gitaru and Kamburu.

Guests at the resort are encouraged to go on a guided tour of the power station located a few minutes’ walk from the hotel to learn how electricity is generated.  Visitors tour the rumbling generator room located underneath power station and then climb a heart-wrenching 200 stairs to reach the top of the dam wall –straining the bones and muscles to the core.

The tourists are allowed to field questions to the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) officials who run the power stations–for free. At the top of the dam wall, which forms the most downstream part of the 42km-Masinga Lake, visitors will view the shoreline of the crocodile-infested waters. 

“This place is exciting for family and conference outings. A place to relax and unwind away from the hustles and bustles of the city. And it is accessible,” observed Mwangi Kanyi, a Nairobi-based accountant visiting Masinga for the  first time.

Geography lessons

Masinga Dam Resort is safe for children, but there are some restricted areas  by the  lake where crocodiles and hippos roam. Otherwise, family boat rides and other attractions are available to all, including children.

According to officials, the main purpose of Masinga Lake is to regulate the flow of water downstream. As the main upstream reservoir of the Seven Forks dams, Masinga receives water from the Aberdare and Mt Kenya Water towers for storage before discharging it to the downstream dams. This helps ensure that Kenyans receive power with few incidences of outage.

The dam, which has positively impacted on the local climate through conservation efforts, afforestation, cooling the air and boosting relief rainfall conservation efforts on the lake, offers multiple benefits to the local communities.  There is even a floating Kitui Water intake point. 

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