An enjoyable holiday or business trip experience in Arusha, at an affordable price.
A Safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater
Our safari wagon.
We started our journey at about 08:30 from Adia's Place. Our vehicle was a typical safari wagon - a Toyota Land Cruiser with seating for 5/6 and some luggage space at the back. Our driver was called Steve.
We took a packed lunch, and not needing to buy anything in town, we took a bypass route around the city centre to avoid the morning rush hour traffic. That took us to the Dodoma road going out of the city to the west. The Dodoma road goes through a busy commercial/industrial area for about 4km before that thins out and we entered an area of coffee plantations. That was in turn superseded by very over-grazed grassland that stretches for maybe 15km before it turns into scrub woodland or rather better pasture. From that point on if you look carefully you might spot the odd zebra or giraffe.
About 60km out of Arusha we reached the village of Makuyuni, where the road to Dodoma goes off to the south, and we turned right on the road to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.
That road continued west over undulating countryside of similar scrub woodland for another 20km at which point it became clear that we were gradually descending, and the escarpment that is the west wall of the Rift Valley grew larger to our west.
The Rift Valley.
At the small town of Mto Wa Mbu we eventually reached it. Lake Manyara was then to our south on the left, and we were in the flat bottom of the Rift Valley. After the town there's a steep winding road up the escarpment, where we encountered a pack of baboons on the road who were intent on scrounging food from passing vehicles. Steve told us that in the national parks and conservation areas feeding the animals is a strict no-no, and even throwing things like banana skins out of the window is bad.
The Ngorongoro Gate.
We stopped at an overlook point that allowed us to look south along the west wall of the Rift Valley, and out over Lake Manyara, and then we continued to the west. The road now went through increasingly hilly but distinctly inhabited countryside with bright red soil and rocks until after another 20km we reached the town of Karatu, where we would later spend a night. More similar countryside followed, with more wooded and rising ground ahead until after another 10km we reached the gate of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There we had to stop for about 20 minutes while Steve did the paperwork to get us in.
There were two conservation areas to our west now. First the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and after that the Serengeti National Park. The primary difference between the two is that humans are not allowed to live in the National Park, but the Masai are permitted to live and keep their cattle in the Conservation Area. They or other tribes used to live also on the Serengeti plain for maybe 3M years, but they were removed to create the park. Consequently it can be argued that of the two areas, Ngorongoro - where the wild animals are intermingled with the Masai and their cattle - represents the natural state more accurately than the Serengeti.
The primary feature of the Ngorongoro area is the crater
- a large unflooded volcanic caldera.
View from the overlook.
This was formed when a large volcano - maybe the size of Kilimanjaro - associated with the Rift Valley formation, collapsed on itself 2 to 3 million years ago, having first blown out the masses of volcanic ash that now form the Serengeti Plain. After our brief half, we went through the magic gate, where the road changes from tarmac to dirt, and began to climb up the steep road winding through rain forest up to the crater rim. At the top there was an overlook point where we could look down into the crater.
Buffaloes at the crater rim.
Descent from the crater.
There's a road that runs round the rim of the crater, and we now followed this to the west, the precipitous drop through the rain forest on our left, and the drop to the crater floor on our right. Part of the way around there were a couple of Buffaloes grazing on a small patch of grassland to our right.
Our first Giraffe.
After maybe 15km, we left the rim and started to descend through grassland down toward the plain to our right front, with a fairly large mountain to our front right. At a point where there was a Masai village on our left, we got a flat tyre, and Steve had to spend a quarter of an hour changing the wheel. Masai boys and men watched with interest. Once we got going again we soon we encountered our first sizeable group of Zebra and Wildebeest grazing on pasture land shared with Masai cattle to our left, and a little later, as we entered some scrub woodland, our first Giraffe. It stood and looked at us for a while, then trotted gently away - such a strange and beautiful creature.
Hordes of Wildebeest.
As we descended further, the scrub gave way to flat grassland, and Zebra and Wildebeest appeared in ever increasing numbers, and birds like guinea fowls and Egyptian geese. Both the Zebra and the Wildebeest live a migratory life, and in January and February they move to the eastern edge of the plain where the females give birth to their young. It is safer for them there where the Masai discourage the big cats from entering to protect their cattle. Soon we were among the "hordes of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain". To be fair, the hordes were fairly small clumps or herds, but there were many of these groups stretching as far as the eye could see, so overall it was a horde.
After a time we'd passed through the migration, and moved through the marker gate into the Serengeti National Park. All that remained were small groups of zebra interspersed with 'tommies' (Thompson's Gazelles), and Grants Gazelles. Then there was excitement, with a group of safari wagons parked watching something. It was a male lion eating a zebra it had caught, maybe 50m from the road - just a little too low in the grass and distant for a good picture.
The endless plain.
A colourful lizard.
A short distance after the lion, we came to the official Segengeti entrance point and guard station, where Naabi hill juts up out of the plain - another break for documentation. There we saw interestingly coloured lizards, and took each other's pictures against the background of the endless plain. That's what the name means that was taken into Swahili from Masai. As we left there, we saw Hyenas, a pair of Hartebeest, and very distant group of Elephants marching to the north.
A pair of Hartebeest.
Then for miles and miles as we drove west, nothing. It was not until we got closer to the hills on the western side of the plain, and the country became more wooded that we started to see animals again. Now there were more Gazelles, and there were Impala, and Waterbuck, as well as many more Giraffes.
We reached the Serengeti Sopa Lodge just before sunset. It is built quite unobtrusively into the side of the Nyarboro hills, in the south west of the Serengeti, facing east, and we had booked a double and a triple room. I found the descriptions of the rooms a bit strange, and it's information worth having if you are booking. The double room had two beds, each of a comfortable size for a couple, so I'm guessing that a single room would have one double bed. The triple room was just a double room with an extra bed put in there. The rooms were spacious, and pleasantly decorated, though showing some signs of age. The showers were like water canon - I love powerful showers, but you can't please everybody, Leo didn't like them.
The food was pretty good, but the things that weren't included in the price (dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch were included) were very expensive e.g. beer and wine.
A point that I found interesting was that Adia was the only African guest in the dining room at dinner. The vast majority of ordinary Tanzanian people are excluded from the place by the price barrier.
Red Billed Hornbill.
The view to the east.
The view from our bedroom window was to the east, across bush to the grassland plain. In the morning there were Red Billed Hornbills eating fruit from a tree outside our window, but no other creatures in sight.
Black Faced Monkey.
A big group of Buffaloes.
We got away again in the morning by about 09:00. The first thing we came across was a sizeable group of Black Faced Monkeys, then a big group of Buffaloes, several Giraffes, and more Impala. We were heading for a place called Seronera that is more or less in the centre of the Serengeti, where there is a visitor centre, and Steve could get the flat tyre fixed.
On the way there we got lucky. There was a group of vehicles, which we joined, and they were watching a Leopard stalking two Reboks in long grass. It eventually made its run, but the Reboks spotted it and were off like a shot, leaving the Leopard sitting upright to see where they had gone. When the excitement was over, further along the way we passed several pools along a small river where there were numerous Hippos, some in and some out of the water.
When we reached the visitor centre there were Hyrax and Mongooses in the garden surrounding it. We stayed there a while until we had a full set of tyres again.
A heap of Lions.
Others in the grass behind.
Then we were off again into a section of the plain similar to the long empty stretch we had passed through the day before. Steve was on a Lion hunt, so we drove by many outcrops of rock - the Simba Kopjes - where the Lions like to bask in the sun, to no avail. We finally found one female basking on a rock some distance away, but then we found lots of them by a water hole. A great heap of females lying on the dirt track, with a bunch of young males in the grass behind them. There were about twelve in the group, with the nearest no more that three metres away.
Golden Crested Cranes.
When we went on from the Lions, we came across a couple of bull Elephants close to the road, once again within spitting distance. Close by there were Crested Cranes. We headed back to the main entrance centre, timed out by our schedule, once again across a deserted stretch of the plain. When we got there, there were more Elephants nearby. We had partially covered an area which was perhaps one quarter of the park.
Coming back out of the National Park, and across the Ngorongoro Reserve we passed the herds of Zebra and Wildebeest again and saw more Giraffes than you could shake a stick at. Pretty soon we passed out of the magic gate, and then it was just about 10km to our hotel in Karatu.
Once again the hotel - the Bougainvillea - was pleasant, but also again I was perplexed by the bed arrangements. Our double room had two single four poster beds, albeit about seven feet long - so I would not recommend it as a honeymoon destination. It would have been fine for two long basketball players travelling together.
There were however some Lovebirds in the garden to console the separated honeymooners.
The food was good, we got dinner in the evening, breakfast, and another packed lunch included in the price. But once again the beer was expensive, though not nearly so much so as on the previous night.
Each of the hotels we stayed at made some provision for the driver. At the Sopa Lodge there was a separate compound for drivers and guides that presumably is built in to the price. At the Bougainvillea I think Steve had to stay somewhere in the town, but he got a packed lunch.
I don't think anyone had any difficulty sleeping. Even though you are confined to a vehicle, the constant watch for animals seems to be quite tiring.
In the morning we had to backtrack to the crater rim to make our descent to the crater floor. Just as we got down, there was a group of vehicles that we joined, and got a very distant view of a Cheetah in the grass - binoculars required. I don't know what it was after. There were Buffaloes nearby, but it would not have gone for one of them.
Distant Black Rhinos.
The next stop was at a seasonal salt lake at the south side of the crater, where there were a mass of white and pink Flamingoes. Beyond that, we got lucky again and saw two Black Rhinos at a moderate distance. There are only 40 of them left in the crater as a result of poaching for their horns, so they get closely watched by rangers. There are only about 80 left in the whole country. These and the Cheetah completed our 'big five'.
The Jackal with its Rabbit.
The approaching Hyena.
Carrying on from there we had a brief excitement when we came across a Jackal chasing a Rabbit along the road. The Jackal won - poor Rabbit. But then a Hyena on the other side of the road got wind of the kill somehow, and was moving toward the Jackal which couldn't see it because of our vehicle. At the last minute it took a wrong turn around a clump of long grass just as the Jackal spotted it. The grass gave the Jackal cover, and it made off at speed carrying its Rabbit. The Hyena was unlucky.
A sleepy Lion.
We were now seeking Lions again, and after a while Steve spotted one basking on a rocky outcrop. Then almost immediately after, we came across a group of them near to the road. The vehicles were giving cover to a safari wagon that had some sort of problem, and the Lions watched with interest but did not offer any aggression. Finally the vehicle got started, which was probably just as well since almost immediately after, a large male wandered down the space between two rows of vehicles, and finally settled down to sleep behind one of them. When it woke up again 20 minutes later, it wandered off right past us.
The picnic site.
Black Kites and a Guinea Fowl.
We in turn wandered off to an official picnic place next to a pool with more Hippos. There were numerous rather handsome Black Kites there waiting to steal peoples food, and Guinea Fowl trying to beg it. The Hippos were hull down, with only their nostrils above water.
The ascent road.
After lunch there were more Lions with watching vehicles. As we approached we got another flat - the same tyre as had gone before. So Steve had to brave the not-too-close Lions to change it. They must have been preoccupied with something else, as they never looked in our direction. The puncture left us running late, so after it we had to head straight for the ascent road leading back to the crater rim.
We wound our way down from the rim, through the rain forest for the last time, and out of the magic gate. There were Baboons there again, and another brief halt to check out, and then the rather dull ride back to Arusha, though I did see a few Zebra, and possibly a Giraffe in woodland along the way now I had trained myself to look for things.