Day 37 to 38 -6th to 7th December - Ngorongoro Crater
Point of departure : Arusha
Point of arrival : Ngorongoro Crater
Accommodation: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (www.andbeyondafrica.com)
Km travelled today 0 kmCum: 8 478km (gravel 0km cum 2 117km)
Countries so far: 5/16
Where to next? Lake Manyara Tree Lodge (www.andbeyondafrica.com)
Total number of photos taken: 256 (cum 2 046)
A nice start at the Moivairo Coffee Plantation - crisp and clear after overnight rain. However, arriving at the Arusha airport (10h00) anticipating an 11h30 flight through to Lake Manyara, our good mood evaporated when we discovered our flight had been cancelled and we would now only be leaving at 15h00.After some quick re-organisation by the Arusha office of & Beyond, we were on the 13h00 flight with a different airline - a 4 hour wait at the airport would not have been welcomed.
After a 20 minute flight, our transport at Lake Manyara airstrip was however still waiting for us, having anticipated the earlier arrival and we were whisked through to the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge without further delay, getting in at about 14h30.
A warm reception from half a dozen members of staff (a cool towel and drink, singing and clapping) welcoming us back for the second time.
After a restful afternoon, enjoying the view of the crater, a rain storm and then a rainbow across the crater we had a delightful dinner.Back to our "manyatta" to find a fire in the grate, sherry in the decanter and everything set for a peaceful night.
The lodge is perched on the rim of the Crater.The architecture is inspired by the Maasai mud and stick manyatta (homestead). Our room (and all the others) is a stilted, handcrafted mud and thatch suite.The bedroom. bathroom and loo have floor-to-ceiling glass windows to maximise the view over the Crater below.The bathroom has a centrepiece with red roses and a chandelier-lit bathtub and large shower.The bedroom area has a king-size bed as well as a lounge area with fireplace and leather wing backed chairs.To quote & Beyond "described as Maasai meets Versailles".
The 8 300 sqkm Ngorongoro Conversation Area is named after its most famous central feature - the Ngorongoro Crater - the world's largest intact volcanic caldera with some of Africa's most densest populations of large mammals.When Ngorongoro peaked in size 2/3 million years ago it was a similar height to Kilimanjaro today.At 264sqkm the extinct crater is the largest complete crater in the world.
Day 38 - today was Crater day!We opted for an early start with breakfast in the Crater.Joining us and Silindion (our guide) was Andrew Bogart and Elsa Butler (from New York) - a great couple - and Mark (an & Beyond ranger who was on holiday in East Africa).The roads in and out of the Crater are themselves part of the interest and excitement as we drop 600m from the Crater rim to the Crater floor.
The antlike formations that one sees from the rim gradually emerge from the grasslands as large herds of zebra, white bearded wildebeest and buffalo (a mini migration in the Crater).The large concentration of game is awe inspiring especially against the striking backdrop of the 600m high crater wall.
The Lerai Forest, with its canopy of yellow fever trees, to the north, Lake Magadi (shallow soda lake) with its flamingos, to the south and east, the Gorigor Swamp and the open grasslands seems a bit much to take it all in BUT it's just so beautiful!
All the resident elephants in the crater are old males (females and families pass through from time to time) and some of them are big tuskers.Absentee from the crater is giraffe and impala.Some researchers attribute the lack of giraffe due to a lack of suitable browsing fodder and others to their presumed inability to descend the steep crater walls.
We had a really rewarding day with sightings of cheetah (giving chase but unsuccessful), hyena, hippo, golden jackal, warthogs, big tuskers (that frequent the Lerai Forest), lions (and a mating pair) and black rhino.
The bird life is prolific; from the flamingos to crown cranes, saddle bill storks, raptors and our first sighting of a superb starling.
The remains of the earliest humans, including the legendary 2 million year old Homo habilis were found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
We returned to the lodge in time for a late lunch and eventually returned to our room to find a bath run, rose petals sprinkled around and some champagne on ice - very romantic!
At this point we must thank Danel, Irene, Silindion, Nemes (our butler), Karonga (our valet) and ALL the staff at the Crater for their unfailing service, friendliness and professionalism in making our stay at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge a most memorable one.
Now another poem from our resident poet - John:
Day 39 is now upon us
Dawned cool and crisp and clear
The Crater stretches out below us
No sounds assault the ear
Dew drops left in night's dark hours
Like diamonds in the grass
The lake below so still and clear
Clouds reflected in the glass
This Maasai "mud and stick manyatta"
Of Africa, yet Arab too
Eclectic, rich, luxurious
Subtly blends into the view
Cool in the outdoors, warm inside
The people, and the fire burns
The service is exceptional
Inspiring thoughts we'll again return