Friday, 26 April 2013

Tanzania Photo Safari - Notes from Day Two at Ngorongoro Crater

In 1951, the Serengeti National Park was declared. It was an area encompassing the present Serengeti, plus the Ngorongoro area and surrounding Crater Highlands. However much of the southern side of this was already being used by the Maasai. It was then decided to be split into the present-day Serengeti National Park, and the current Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).The new conservation area now encompasses a large area of the short-grass plains on the southern side of the Serengeti Plain and also the Ngorongoro Highlands, a range of largely extinct ancient volcanoes on the west side of the Great Rift Valley.

The showpiece of the conservation area is the Ngorongoro Crater itself. If you are arriving
by road, as my tours do, traveling through the coffee plantations of the Ngorongoro Highlands, your first sight of the crater is from the rim, where we will stop to enjoy the incredible view. After the first glance down into the world famous Ngorongoro Crater you realize that words fail to describe the immensity of the wilderness in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The plains and woodlands stretch below for miles and miles, framed to the North by the beautiful Gol Mountains, the skyline fading in the haze and the heat.

It has been said that in the early morning, clouds peel back from the walls of the rim to reveal the lush green grasslands of the crater floor and the sparkling Lake Magadi below as if someone flipped a switch to start another day. The crater measures about 16-19km in diameter, with walls of 400-610m in height. The mineral-rich floor of this spectacular bowl is largely flat, open and covered in nutritious grasses – much to the liking of large herds of zebra and wildebeest which graze here, and the predators that they attract.

Birding here is also rewarding, with flamingos and various water birds such as waders, storks and herons often found on Lake Magadi, as well as good numbers of ostriches and the kori bustard, the world’s heaviest flying bird. With such a wealth of wildlife in a relatively small area, it’s little wonder why this is not right at the top of many safari enthusiasts’ bucket lists.

You'll also find East Africa's best population of the endangered black rhino here which are often seen in open grasslands. On rare occasions breeding herds of elephant also pass through the Ngorongoro Crater itself as they migrate at various times of year... but you will often see a scattering of old bulls, including some of the biggest tuskers left alive in Africa today.

The Crater's lion population varies significantly over time, the one constant being their complete disregard of vehicles; they will hunt within yards of a vehicle, and when exhausted even seek their shade beside it. Spotted hyena are even more common here, often competing with the lion, and there's are a small but growing number of cheetah. Leopards are around, especially in the vicinity of the Lerai Forest – a small forest of fever trees notable for their yellow bark.

Home to an incredible density of wildlife, the Ngorongoro Crater is a must-see on any safari in Northern Tanzania. Forming part of the Great Rift Valley, the landscape here is truly unique – where else can you go on a game drive in the floor of an extinct volcano?

Unfortunately the reality of safaris in the crater isn't always as amazing. At certain times of year the sheer number of vehicles in the crater, combined with its enclosed environment, can destroy any sense of wilderness that you will expect to see on an African safari. If you're lucky, this will be mitigated by amazing game sightings; if you're not, it won't be and you will be left disappointed. While the Ngorongoro's wildlife is absolutely stupendous, the Ngorongoro safari experience isn't always as good.

If you want to include the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in your Tanzania safari, talk to us and we will explain why we pick the times we go, the advantages of our safaris, and what you can expect to see on one of our workshops.

Tomorrow we are off to the Serengeti... internet and time will not be readily available for the rest of my workshop, but I will continue my entries and post them as I can...

Sorry you could not make it with us this time, but we are headed back to Africa in 2014. Please check out these workshops here...

Namibia with Denise Ippolito in April of 2014

Back to Tanzania in November 2014... contact me for details