Ngorongoro - February 29th to March 2nd by Paul
The road to the entrance of Ngorongoro was very busy and very dusty. There were a lot of safari vehicles racing along. We eventually got to the offices to move into the Ngorongoro which was quite busy with a lot of safari vehicles signing in and out. We had a quick break, cold drink from the fridge and a chat with a couple of the other drivers, who were all quite interested in Kal and got the usual questions about the engine and economy.
We continued into the Ngorongoro area, the first part much the same as what we had come through, dusty roads and a fair bit of game with large groups of gazelles (Thomsons and Grants), wildebeest and zebras. At one point we stopped to watch a hyena that was carrying some sort of kill. He was obviously struggling with it as it seemed quite big and in the heat of the day seemed like hard work for him.
As we continued on the scenery changed slightly with more trees, there were also Masai with their herds of cattle and goats. Ngorongoro is a conservation area as opposed to Serengeti which is a National Park. It's a conversation area as the Masai are allowed to live there and keep their livestock there as well.
Eventually the road started to climb and wound through more hilly terrain which was the start of the volcanic mountains that Ngorongoro is famous for. The wildlife was thinning out and we came to the edge of the Malanga depression, which is a sunken volcano. There we several Masai villages but it was open and green and quite impressive. We kept climbing and eventually came to what's known as the crater rim. The Ngorongoro crater was made from a massive Volcano, whose peaks were once higher than Mt Kilimanjaro, but millions of years ago it sunk and was eroded. It's now the largest complete crater in the world. The view was fantastic, much large than I had expected and a large lake in the middle shimmering in the sun.
There were some rain clouds gathering as we headed to one of the lodges. It would be very expensive to take Kal onto the crater floor so thought we would find out if we could organise a safari with one of the lodges. The rain came as we pulled into the first lodge, who weren't particularly helpful with providing information on safari's so we soon gave that idea away. We went onto park headquarters to find out about going into the crater the next day, this turned out not to be a problem, so paid the fee ($200 on top of the $400 we'd paid to come into the conservation area for the 2 nights!!) and organised a guide to come with us. All cars going into the crater need a guide with them, it doesn't cost anything other than a tip, so we organised to pick him up at 7.30 the next morning and headed off to check out the camp site.
Luckily the rain had stopped but it was still chilly. The campsite is on the crater rim with a great view of the crater floor. There were already quite a few other people there but we found a nice spot near the front of the camp area away from everyone else and soon set-up camp. The rain started again so we had the awning out, we decided to cook some pasta for lunch but as we pulled out the gas cooker we found that we had lost the rubber seal so it was useless. We settled for something a bit easier and would have to make a fire to cook dinner. We relaxed for the afternoon enjoying the view as the rains moved on again. There was also a very friendly zebra in camp that we just assumed was a local resident because it wasn't worried about all the people around.
We made a nice big fire, as the sun set the temperatures dropped dramatically so we crowded around it as we cooked a nice meal. We spoke to a couple of the guards around the camp, who told us that Elephants and Buffalos come into the camp at night! After dinner we called it a night, ready for the crater floor the next day. There were several noises in the night from the wildlife, at one point we could hear something munching on the grass around the car and just assumed it was the zebra that we had seen earlier, we soon found out that there were about 10 of them around us as they were playing around making all sorts of noise.
The next morning we were up early and cooked a quick breakfast on the fire from the pervious night. There were some other campers that we had spoken to the night before who were having trouble with their car as it wouldn't start. They were 3 American girls one of who worked for one of the other National parks in Tanzania and could speak a good bit of Swahili. They had some of the guys that ran the campsite helping them out. They came and asked if we had jumper leads, which we did so I headed over to try and help, but it was no good, the car just wouldn't start. There were plenty of people around trying to help and I think everyone who came along suggested the same thing, just push start it, and they would just smile and say it's an automatic, obviously they had been saying this all day. It soon became clear that it wasn't just the battery that had a problem and so we headed off, one of the guys running the camp would organise a mechanic to come and help them out. We were an hour late for meeting our guide and getting into the park but he was still there when we got to the headquarters.
We were soon on the way to the crater floor, a quick stop at the gates and we were heading down the steep road, a lot of wildlife could be seen feeding on the grasses. We stopped and got out of our car to enjoy the view at one of only a few places in the crater where you are allowed to get out, and saw the girls who we had been trying to help back at camp. The guys at the camp had organised for them someone to take them into the park and a mechanic to look at the car while they were away.
We started our drive and soon headed through large numbers of wildebeest and zebra, it was quickly apparent that they were very used to cars driving close by and just ambled across the road as if we weren't there. We also saw large numbers of buffalo. There was plenty of grass for the animals to feed on and there were also a large number of small wildebeest calves. Apparently wildebeest give birth at the same time and in a 2 week period all babies are born, plenty of food for the predators….
As we kept driving we could see a large number of other cars stopped up ahead, we continued toward them and soon saw a large number of vultures and jackals and it was obvious that there had been a kill there and they were raking over the remains. We guessed that all the cars were trying to get a look at what had done the killing. We reached where all the other vehicles were and found that there were some lions, they were mostly lying in some thick bushes so couldn't really get a good look, buy now we were stuck in a traffic jam!
We continued on, with our guide suggesting where we go, we saw some elephants and some other game. After a couple of hours we were heading toward a picnic spot to stretch our legs, when again we say other cars stopped at a particular point, we headed that way and found a lone male lion right by the road, lazing in the grass. He got up and wondered off as more cars came to see what everyone was looking at, and again we were stuck in a traffic jam.
We eventually made it to the picnic spot, and had a bit of a rest. Our guide wondered off and found some friends to chat to while we dug some food and drinks out. There were a lot of eagles circling overhead and it soon became apparent that they knew the schedule and that there could be some easy pickings from the tourists. Luckily we didn't get hassled by them, but some people literally had food taken out of their hands.
We headed off again, and came across some hyena. We headed back to where the lions had been earlier in the day and found a large male and 2 lionesses wondering about. We stopped and watched them for awhile and then the rain came, quite heavily. The lions weren't doing much so we decided to continue on, but the rain had made the tracks on the black cotton soil very slippery. Not a big problem for Kal, but still a bit of slipping around. Susan and I had pretty much had enough and so suggest we start heading out, the rain had mostly stopped and we saw some more hyenas, they seemed to have just woken for a nap and were heading out to find some food. We also passed the lake that contained hundreds of flamingos.
As we headed out there is a different road that takes you up to the rim and out of the crater, again quite steep with some great views. We both really enjoyed being on the crater floor, the scenery is amazing and the amount of wildlife is fantastic. The only thing that we didn't really like was the number of other vehicles in crater at the same time, it gave it almost the feeling that you were driving around a large zoo and had none of the sense of wilderness and luck of seeing animals that other parks have. It was still great to see and we'd seen lions, the last pickings of a lion kill, a cheetah, a far off glimpse of a rhino munching in the long grasses, elephant and lots of zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and there calves and all with the magnificent back-drop of the crater!!
That night we made another big fire to cook dinner, another really cold night. We also experienced a lot more wildlife around the camp that night. Just as were about to head to bed I walked around the side of the car and a noise in the bushes gave me a bit of a start, I turned around and there was a buffalo looking straight at me not more than 10 meters away, who I had obviously scared as well. We looked at each other for awhile then he went back to his dinner of grass and I went on my way.
While we were sleeping, something bumped into the car, which woke us both up, but we just assumed it was a buffalo or zebra walking into the spare wheels. We later heard some further noises and using the maglite found that an elephant was feeding not far from us, we watched him for a while then he retreated into the bushes. Later we heard some sniffing noises, not long after we had dashed out of the tent to relive ourselves. This made Susan very nervous with thoughts of hyenas or lions in the night. We soon headed what ever was sniffing about bang into our table that we had left out beside the car. With the torch we could make out that it was an Aardvark. A new sighting for both of us and we watched as it sniffed its way out of sight looking for ants. It turned out to be a fairly restless night with all the disturbances but, as with the Serengeti, seeing these animals so close to camp at night was quite fun and looked forward to more of it in other national parks we visit.