Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tanzania Photo Safari - Notes from Day One in Lake Manyara


Photo taken with a Nikon D7000 and Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3
 
It was our first full day on our safari, and our first destination...  Lake Manyara.
 
I read a description of the park before I left home, and in that description they asked the following question..."Why do we go to  a 7-eleven?"
 
I laughed at the time... what does an urban convenience store have to do with a Tanzania conservation area? But now that I am here, I understand why they asked that question. They asked because the answer to the question is the same whether you stopping by the corner store or arrive at Lake Manyara... "We go because it is right down the street and has everything you need"

Lake Manyara is conveniently located National Park just outside of Arusha that has everything you need in a National Park in Tanzania... and so much more... its a unique experience.
 
For years Lake Manyara has been tacked onto the beginning of a lot of safari packages available today. While people assume that is a cash grab or an area to use to tune up before the iconic Serengeti or the infamous Ngorongoro Crater, both of which are just a short drive from Manyara, do not sell this National Park short. Ernest Hemingway once said, "Lake Manyara was the loveliest in Africa” and after experiencing it for myself, I have to agree with Mr. Hemmingway.
 
As you enter through the gates, huge and impressive mahogany trees greet you. These magnificent trees draw nourishment from underground springs from the crater highlands directly above the Manyara basin... and the nourishment that powers the growth of the trees, also creates a special environment I am about to introduce you to.  And If that doesn't paint a picture and set the stage for an adventure you will never forget, the heard of elephants that strolled in front of us and posed for us for 30 minutes should.
 
As you drive deeper into the park, the forest thins out and you are introduced to expansive flood plains filled with birds and the first sounds of a safari. Hippos camouflage themselves in large mud pools dotted along the flood plain, and in the lake, can be seen wandering the shores and peeking above the waterline... two eyes, their forehead and those cute, twitching, little round ears sit atop the waterline... much like an iceberg, just a small portion of such a huge animal that churns below the surface.

Then there are the famous tree climbing lions. They lounge in the canopies above, staring over the plain as if they were marking their prey for the hunt that is to come at dusk. But one cannot forget the giraffe, one of my favourite animals. Known as the "danger alarm" because they can spot trouble coming long before smaller animals can, these majestic animals make themselves at home in the open areas, grazing on the long grasses and tree limbs, necks contorted in ways that you just can't help but laugh at.
 
The deeper you drive along the shore the road winds in and out of the various environments, but to our right the incredible Rift Valley escarpment that guides us through our route. The escarpment's face, covered by brush and baobab trees, it is divided by spectacular gorges carved by rivers that flow almost the entire year.... and at the end of the long rains season when I was there... just begging to be photographed because of the heavy flow, emptying into the Manyara basin. The Rift Valley is an area where some of the oldest human ancestor remains have been found... its almost a little surreal to be here in the dark continent, standing where long forgotten ancestors hunted for survival.
 
A relatively small National Park, Lake Manyara covers only 329km2, with the lake covering an incredible 231km2 of the park. While inundated with large troops of baboons, the lake and local environment host a number of herbivores such as hippos, impala, elephants, wildebeest, buffalo, warthogs and giraffes. The Park also provides exciting opportunities for the photographer keen on viewing and observing over 300 migratory birds species, including flamingo, long-crested eagle and grey-headed kingfisher, the white pelicans, yellow-billed storks, and white-necked cormorants. At least 44 species of birds of prey call the area home, including the palm-nut vulture and the photogenic Ayre's hawk .
 
What I found most impressive, and inevitably draws your lens, are the pink patches that are scattered along the shoreline separating lush green grass from the lake’s blue grey waters. Thousands of flamingos have come to Lake Manyara to feed off its alkaline waters. Without a word spoken of this beautiful site, we turn off the safari vehicle engine to listen to the flamingo’s muffled babble with occasional high-pitched whistles soaring from the distance.
 
One day near Lake Manyara has taught me that an African Photo Safari is not just about going to Africa to get the shots of a lifetime. It has shown me that an African Photo Safari is also about taking the time to cherish the sites with the naked eye... creating memories that will always stay with you.
 

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