Yellow Water, Sand Dunes in Malindi

The estuary, apart from being a tourist attraction, is a research location for marine scientists and students. photo | kazungu samuel
The estuary, apart from being a tourist attraction, is a research location for marine scientists and students. photo | kazungu samuel 

Sabaki River Estuary, about five kilometres from Malindi town, is where magic happens.

The hidden destination only frequented by a few birdwatchers marks where a river pours its water into an ocean; yet the sea has rejected the water for years.

Despite nature hoping to unify the river and sea, there is a clear demarcation.

The beauty is in watching the ‘fight’ as the turbid yellow water from the river refuses to mix with the sky blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

The Sabaki estuary marks the point where the Sabaki River, Kenya’s second largest river, empties into the Indian ocean.


It is a spectacular river that meanders and covers 390 kilometres from its source to the Indian Ocean where it drains and rests.

From its source in Ngong, the river is known as River Athi. The name was derived from Athi River town where the River meanders through.

The ‘fight’ characterised by the force of the river and repulse by the high tide of the ocean is a sight to behold.

You can stand and watch this ‘fight’ for hours especially during high tides when the sea water tends to rush out and clash with the muddled yellow-like incoming river water.

Benjamin Karisa, a member of the Sabaki River Conservation and Development Organisation says the estuary is a source of livelihood for the youth living in the nearby village.

“They act as tour guides to visitors who want to see the estuary and we also plant mangroves as one of our eco-tourism and marine conservation programme,” says Benjamin.

He says that the estuary attracts tourists, university students and marine scientists who come to do research on marine ecosystem.

“We sometimes host university students and international researches who camp here for some days,” he says, adding that they hope to lure more tourists looking to travel to less-known destinations.

However, if you love to swim in the ocean, you cannot dive into this water.

The estuary is shrouded in myths and traditions and from time to time, fishermen and traditional witchdoctors perform rituals to appease a spirit that lives in the water known as Kathunusi.

“Many locals have lost their lives because the water is too deep. Early this year, a young man drowned in the estuary, but the people who live in this community believe that he was taken away by the Kathunusi. We have lived with that belief but no one has ever seen the spirit,” says Benjamin.

North of the estuary, there are sand dunes, a rare sight in Coast.

The estuary itself covers an area of about six kilometres and has sandbanks, mudbanks, dunes and seasonal and permanent freshwater pools, mangroves and scrub. 

For birdwatchers, Sabaki estuary is like walking through paradise. Sabaki River Mouth is listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International.

It hosts a number of rare beautiful birds. White-faced whistling ducks roost amongst the waders, which include dozens of pied avocets, whimbrel and their larger relatives the Eurasian curlews, as well as bar-tailed Godwits.

The tidal mudflat (a stretch of muddy land left uncovered at low tide) is home for migratory waders, gulls and terns. The coastal scrub and wetlands adjacent to the river mouth are an important habitat for shorebirds and other water birds.

If you go, visit Mida Creek, which is about half-an-hour south of Sabaki. It has this extraordinary natural labyrinth through bridges and a traditional canoe where you can watch many species of birds, including the pink flamingos.

Go to the swinging and creaking boardwalk which is long and on top of a mangrove forest, you can see tiny mangrove roots sprout.

The end of the boardwalk opens to the sea and if you carry a pair of powerful binoculars, you can spend some time watching rare birds or the other side of the lagoon.