As hundreds of tourists arrived at Lake Nakuru Lodge at the heart of Lake Nakuru National Park to enjoy their holidays, one of the visitor could not go unnoticed.
As he walked down the paved walkways with crutches due to reduced mobility, Mr John Hall was flanked by his wife Thelma and first born daughter Susan. The family has been living in Kenya for more than 70 years.
Not many know that Mr Hall was the manager of the 30,000-acre cattle ranch where the hotel was built.
The 188 square kilometre Lake Nakuru was gazetted as a bird sanctuary in 1960 before being elevated to a national park eight years later.
“Whenever I think of Lake Nakuru, I feel a little nostalgic…makes me think of the good old days in this great park! Also makes me realise that I am getting “younger” as the years go by,” says the 91- year-old Hall who is battling blood cancer.
The retired pilot was among the first white settlers who arrived in Kenya from England in 1951.
“Lake Nakuru was simply magical and it is still an amazing tourist destination that I would definitely recommend a visit,” says Mr Hall as his concentration is disrupted by a baboon.
“It’s gorgeous. That is what is so amazing about wildlife in Lake Nakuru National Park. It is a different experience for everyone,” he said.
He added: “I’m thankful to God that I have been blessed with long life to see the former cattle ranch transform to a beautiful lodge and national park.”
However, he said news of poachers killing white rhinos and other wildlife in the park that was home to thousands of beef cattle makes him sad. “Killing a wildlife is wicked,” he told Nation.
Mr Hall said he moved to the current site in 1957 then known as Nderit Estate and was managing it on behalf of a fellow white settler Ms Claud Hamilton.
“I was about 30 years old when I was the manager of the cattle ranch and there were a lot of cattle and small herd of buffaloes, leopards and lions,” he recalls.
He recalls how he used to fly over the lake to enjoy the panoramic view of the shores of Lake Nakuru that was always painted pink with flamingos before landing at an airstrip adjacent to Lions Hills.
“The lake was packed with flamingos and I enjoyed bird watching in the evening with my family,” he added.
Although flamingos, which had migrated from the lake due to heavy pollution are now returning, Mr Hall is disturbed by the shrinking size of the lake.
“Kenya has some of the best environmentalists and although some natural phenomena are hard to explain, they should put their heads together and find out why this beautiful lake and national park is facing challenges,” said Mr Hall.
In 1963 he moved to Laikipia County after the owner of the ranch sold it.
“I had no choice but to shift and look for an alternative place to raise my family and that is how I landed in Laikipia County,” explains Mr Hall.
His daughter Susan, 71, had fond memories of the lake.
“The overflowing water has spread to the wildlife areas and destroyed a lot of trees. Many indigenous trees surrounding the lake that formed a beautiful canopy have withered,” said Ms Susan.
The current road network and the bridges in the park were designed and constructed by Mr Hall while taking care of the more than 4,000 beef cattle in the expansive park. Ms Susan says she grew up in the house that still stands behind the hotel.
“It is amazing the house is still intact. I enjoyed living here while learning at Nakuru Primary School,” she said.
Mr Hall still remembers Elnosoloi Hill in the park. He used to visit the hill with the family to watch birds.
“The memories of that hill still linger in my mind and may be that is why when I shifted from the ranch and settled in a 10,000-acre farm in Laikipia I named my farm after that hill,” says Mr Hall.
The Hall family spends their holidays at the lodge at least twice in a year.
“There are no cattle anymore and that is the significant change that today I can pinpoint as I take a walk in the park,” says Mr Hall.
His wife Thelma, 90, says she likes visiting the lodge for game drives.
“Unlike in our current home in Laikipia where peace is disturbed anytime by cattle rustlers, I like coming here because it is peaceful. Peace in Laikipia is fragile and cannot be guaranteed,” said Ms Thelma.
She says the secret of living long is moderation in what one eats and drink.
“The secret behind our long living is avoiding over drinking and smoking,” she says.
The Marketing director of Lake Nakuru Lodge, Joseph Muya who fondly calls Mr Hall “the old Lion of Laikipia” describes him as a fearless man who loves nature.
“He is a tough man and just like the king of the jungle, he has overcome many life challenges and still lives to tell his life story. I still believe he is still the best cattle ranch manager that Kenya has ever produced,” said Mr Muya.