Tanzanian Safari Part 3: The Edge of the Rift Valley

Ngorongoro National Park

Our Tanzanian adventure had brought us to the edge of the Rift Valley, and to the edge of the breathtaking natural wonder that is the Ngorongoro Crater. The famous mist had lifted, and the view down into this ancient volcanic crater was jaw-dropping.

‘Simba Camp’ was our home for the night, and this time I decided to get involved with tent pitching. After a half hour debate on where the tent should be pitched to give us the best view, we finally agreed on a spot away from the other campers that looked out onto the Crater. Five minutes later, the mist had rolled in, and we may as well have been pitched towards a wall!

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It’s worth remembering that the edge of the crater sits nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, and the temperature noticeably drops into single figures.  I would therefore recommend packing a few extra layers and a warm hat for the evening and early mornings, you will need it!

As we sat down to dinner, there was a buzz of excitement from the edge of the campsite as four enormous elephants had made their way up the steep slopes of the Crater to quench their thirsts from the campsite’s water tank. Completely tame, and unconcerned with the dozens of flashing cameras, they drank for around 20 minutes before disappearing once more into the dense woodland.  To be this close to a wild African elephant without the safety of the jeep separating us was a moment I will never forget.  It just shows how wildlife has intelligently adapted to benefit from human creation, and this is a regular occurrence at ‘Simba Camp’.

Elephants coming to drink water from the campsite water tanks

Simba Camp is the only public campsite at the Crater, and therefore fairly busy, with the tents tightly compacted into a small field.  As we walked back after dinner and James shone the light towards what we anticipated to be our tent, we were instead greeted by what was described at the time as a ‘f*cking great buffalo’ blocking our path. Somehow it had climbed the 2,000 feet up the hillside surrounding the crater, and had decided the best grazing spot was directly outside our tent. Excellent!  The Buffalo wasn’t bothered by us, and had no intention of moving in a hurry, but after fifteen minutes, he’d allowed us enough of a gap to sneak by. During the night the campsite was visited by a host of buffalo, bush pigs and lions looking for scraps of food around the tents, but by this time I’d got fairly used to it, and thankfully I slept like a baby.

Descending into the crater had to be the most magnificent view of the trip.   The volcanic caldera was thick with green vegetation, and the heavy ceiling of cloud had created shadows throughout the floors of this picturesque landscape.  I couldn’t help but picture Mufasa saying to Simba: “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”  Yes,  I’m quoting Disney!  Our guide reminded us that, unlike the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro authorities only allow each vehicle six hours in the park, and we would need to be out by 1pm, otherwise we’d incur a fine.

The tranquil park covers over 8,300 square kilometres, and surrounding the park are volcanic highlands which prevent the animals from moving in and out.   In 1979 the Ngorongoro Conservation area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has therefore been more thoroughly protected from poachers, so as we drove across the flattened plains there was no shortage of wildlife.  We spotted a lone wildebeest enjoying the morning dew, which may have distracted him from the two lionesses that sat patiently watching his every move.  Over half an hour later and as the sun started to rise across the park, the lionesses began to creep closer to their prey.  However, out of the blue, an enormous male lion came leaping across the land with zero finesse and ruined the lionesses’ chances of a wildebeest breakfast.

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We had seen plenty of animal action during our safari, but as yet, the gruesome sight of predators devouring their kill was something that had eluded us.  As an animal lover with a weak stomach, I wasn’t hugely fussed about seeing this, but James was desperate to see nature in its rawest form, and luckily for him that time had come! After a drive around the marshlands, we came across a pride of no less than 13 lions, lying closely together surrounding the carcass of a huge buffalo they had recently killed.  Blood-stained lions stretched nearby in the morning sun, full-bellied and content for another day.  We watched while others continued their breakfast, until there was nothing left but a shell of a former life. It was a huge reality check in terms of realising just how wild and un-tamed this world can be.

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It had been an incredible day in the Crater, and five hours had flown by in the blink of an eye. Having seen so much, the fact that we were still one short of the ‘Big Five’ had completely slipped my mind, and we only had an hour of safari time left.  We slowly made our way back across the plains, stopping briefly to stick my head out of the roof to photograph some ostriches. Suddenly, our guide yelled at us to sit down and buckle up as some rhinos had been spotted. The walkie-talkie had burst into life, and all around the crater were trails of dust as other jeeps raced to the reported sighting.  At break-neck speed, we made our way across the land, dodging potholes and narrowly missing any gazelle that dared cross our path!

Finally, we came across two small black mounds in the distance. Even with powerful binoculars, it was difficult to see these amazing creatures, and I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointment that they weren’t closer.  With time very much against us, we patiently waited to see if the rhinos would get any closer. After 20 minutes, and as if by magic, the rhinos turned to face us and began slowly wading through the long, thick grass.  Everyone watched in awe as these beautiful yet critically endangered mammals headed towards us.  As they came closer, it became apparent that one was slightly smaller than the other, and that a ‘baby’ of about four years old was diligently following his mother. It was incredible to see.

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The two rhinos fearlessly crossed the dusty path in front of our vehicle, and into the sister field.  Our search for the ‘Big Five’ was complete and it was an amazing way to end an experience that I will never ever forget.

Driving out of the Ngorongoro Crater, the realisation that our animal adventure had come to an end began to sink in, and the post-safari blues struck.  When we pulled up to the beautiful Arusha Safari Lodge three hours later, we were welcomed by an immaculately dressed butler offering us chilled tropical juice.  We said goodbye to our guide and cook, before making our way to our quaint cottage set in the charming grounds of an old coffee plantation.  Inside there was a four-poster bed beautifully decorated with multicoloured flowers, and a warm roaring fire – a far cry from a tent surrounded by buffalo!  The Arusha Safari Lodge is stunning, and for us it was the perfect way to relax after five days in the wild.  The accommodation was excellent, the food superb and the hospitality flawless.

I would not have changed anything about our camping safari, as I honestly believe that it is the only way to really experience the wilderness that is the Tanzanian National Parks.  However, the thought of a hot shower, and a good nights sleep was definitely an inviting one!

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I want to personally thank Tanzanian Experience for making our trip so memorable. Everything ran smoothly from start to finish and I would highly recommend them to anyone!

Emmanuel and Aristes from Tanzanian Experiences

Emmanuel and Aristes from Tanzanian Experiences

Liberty’s Travel Tip:

When budgeting for your trip – add an extra $300 for tipping, $15-20 for your safari guide and $10-15 for your cook per day.  Also take some smaller notes, as everyone will be looking to make a few bob out of you here and there.

Birds of Africa

The mammals of the African wilderness our something of a delight to the tourist eye, and to be honest I have never been much of a bird lover myself.  However, I found that this trip gave me a new-found respect for these beautiful creatures. And so here’s a dedication to the birds of Africa, that never failed to impress.

Woodland Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher
Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Goose
Superb Starling
Superb Starling
Kori Bustard
Kori Bustard
Guineafowl
Guineafowl
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Crowned Crane
The gigantic Ostrich
The gigantic Ostrich
Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagle
Red-billed Hornbill
Red Hornbill
Grey Heron
Grey Heron
Maribu Stalk
Maribu Stalk
Lilac-breasted Roller, my personal favourite!
Lilac-breasted Roller, my personal favourite!
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