We left from our campsite in Arusha the next morning around three. It was an unusually early start but our next destination Ngorongoro Conservation Area was quite far from there. The stars still shone brightly in the sky, as our truck rumbled over the roads of Tanzania, and we dozed in the snug, warm comfort until the crater’s main entrance arrived. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ngorongoro Crater was formed some millions of years ago, when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself. A gorgeous natural wonder, Ngorongoro is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world and due to its enclosed nature, the crater has its own mini ecosystem. An incredible variety and concentration of flora and fauna thrive within the caldera.
Begin with the flamingos of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
It is undoubtedly, Tanzania’s biggest drawcard and one of the most popular wildlife safari destinations in the world. The crater has the gorgeous Lerai Forest located in the southwest corner and it is comprised of yellow fever trees. A member of the acacia family, the clump of yellow fever trees have the reputation of being a leopard lair and they provide the perfect camouflage for the spotted felines. To the north of the forest lies the shallow lake Lake Magadi and it is a vast waterbody, full of hot pink flamingos and other aquatic birds. The Gorigor Swamp and the Ngoitokitok Spring are in the east of the crater, and pods of submerged hippos are easily spotted there.
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Keep an eye on the Masais herders at the Ngorongoro Crater
Named by the Masais as El-Nkoronkoro meaning Gift of Life, Ngorongoro Conservation Area has nurtured hominid existence at its Olduvai Gorge since three million years. Mostly occupied by the Masai people, the crater is home to pastoralists for thousands of years. The bowl-like depressed land in the conservation area is very unique since it protects the wildlife while simultaneously allowing human habitation. It is Tanzania’s only conservation area which allows Masais to live and graze their livestock inside the crater and use of land for cultivation is strictly restricted. The crater supports a rich array of wildlife and the spectacular flat bowl is covered with huge tracts of nutritious grass. This is the favourite haunt of large herds of zebras, wildebeest, buffaloes, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, and topi. Black rhino, elephants, lions, hyenas, jackals, and leopards also call it home and the site stretches into adjoining Serengeti National Park.
See the ancient land of Ngorongoro Crater from the top of the caldera
It was all too exciting and we were brimming with eagerness by the time our group got into the safari jeeps of the conservation area. All traces of sleep or drowsiness vanished as we drove along bad roads towards the crater. The morning was still very young and a silvery dawn stained the ancient sky. Wispy mists hung from short scrubby trees and chattering of birds and monkeys had filled the air. It became quite cold as we got closer to the rim of the caldera and soon full-blooded sun made its presence felt in the sky. From the vantage point at the rim of the caldera, we watched in awe as veils of mist lifted from the ancient land. The placid sheet-like like Lake Magadi could be seen in the center of the crater and the sky reflected on its surface. It was a shallow lake, which attracted huge herds of animals and from a distance, they appeared as small black dots. Ringed by a pink fringe of flamingo colonies, Lake Magadi was quite a sight and our first glimpse of Ngorongoro took our breaths away.
Waking up near Lake Magadi
After the sunrise, we descended into the caldera, where our safari officially began. The air became warm as we went inside the ancient collapsed caldera and the sun drew out the animals in hordes. Wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, and lions nonchalantly went about their daily rituals of feeding, grazing, playing, lazing, strolling, and mating, as we gaped at them from the safety of our safari jeeps. All around us, the huge and beautiful Ngorongoro Crater expanded like a circle of life and the vast rolling meadows were filled with short grass, wildflowers, and thorny bushes.
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Ngoitokitok spring is a famous watering hole at the Ngorongoro Crater
Our first stop was the Ngoitokitok spring where submerged purple hippos resembled large waterlilies from a distance. The tall sappy aquatic reeds growing on the spring’s edges attracted old toothless tuskers and Kigelia trees dropped their bizarre sausage-shaped fruits on the busy water. A mild breeze swung the colony of lantern shaped weaver birds’ nests and we observed them all from a distance, under the watchful red eyes of the territorial hippos. Unknown to most, the herbivorous hippos accounted for the largest number of wildlife-related deaths in Africa and their cavernous mouths spat out chomped up enemies in seconds.
Next stop is the wild savannah of Serengeti
We spent half a day at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and post lunch, our guide headed towards the famous Serengeti National Park. A drier, savanna grassland, Serengeti is one of the greatest wildlife-watching destinations in the world. It’s vast plains hosts one of nature’s most impressive exodus and for thousands of years, millions of hoofed animals have participated in a migration to adjoining areas in search for grassland. This primeval rhythm and fight for survival are most commonly seen among the wildebeest population and though, the annual migration is Serengeti’s calling card, the stunning national park has much more to offer. With so much in store, it was no surprise that none of us wanted to linger at Ngorongoro longer than scheduled and we headed towards the vast grassland with the intent to camp there. We were going to camp in the open that night and at that moment, nothing in the world seemed more exciting than roughing out in the wild side of Africa.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE