Safari Day 5: Into The Crater

Thurs. 11th July 2013

Overlooking Ngorongoro craterI could not believe my ears when I was woken by a mobile phone ringing in the next tent at 4;45am and the chap answered it and proceeded to have a chat! Our alarm was set for 5:30am and after a quick breakfast we packed up and heading off to descend into the crater. We reach the gate at sunrise and the immense crater slowly came into view. The road winds its way down to the crater floor and we head off in search of rhino. The track wends its way through trees and we sit or stand in silence looking left and right, but no rhinos are to be found. We see two lions out for a stroll and they are not afraid to walk along the track close to our vehicles.

Two rhinos not a rock!We head out of the trees and across the savannah still looking for the illusive rhinos, slowing to check out any small grey rocklike shapes in case they may be a rhino. Some were so far away it was hard to tell even with my binoculars. Finally two rocks turned out to be rhinos but they were too far away to see anything with the naked eye and even the Nikons could not get a photo but trust me we did see them! As the vehicles have to stay on the tracks there was no way we could get any closer. Other vehicles joined us but this was the best view of rhinos to be had today.

Dangerous kickThe migration was very early this year and we were lucky to see the first animals arriving in Kenya. Normally at this time of year the crater would be full of wildebeest. Even two weeks earlier when Liz, who was with us from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, was too late too see them. There was still a great deal of action and animals here. We saw two zebras fighting and I would not like to have been on the receiving end of one of their vicious kicks. We also saw two Thompson gazelles fighting but every so often they would stop to graze before getting back to the fight.

A chase in progressLions were almost a common a sight as the zebras and we stayed a while watching one stalking after a warthog. It was surprising how fast the warthogs ran as they were too quick for this lion who had to find something else for dinner. Chris was relieved as his nickname at Uni was Pumba from the Lion King and so he had a soft spot the the warthogs.The birds were also out and about with this graceful flyby, which Chris managed to capture with the superior Nikon but I was pleased to catch the lion and warthogs at full speed.

Graceful in flightI was asked which was my favourite park I had visited in Africa and that is a very difficult question to answer as I enjoyed all of them for different reasons. For rhinos, it had to be Etosha in Namibia, especially the one we saw in a watering hole dwarfed by an elephant. Thinking back to Hwange in Zimbabwe we really enjoyed the safari experience there (and the luxury of the whole experience) even though we did not see any lions, but will always remember the walking to see elephants very close up. If I had to recommend just one to visit I think it would be Serengeti as that has the most variety of species, and if it could be combined with Ngorogoro like this trip, even better.

Any shade will doI was amazed by the sheer number of lions we saw and many were happy to grab any shade they could find. Although they are not afraid to come close to the safari vehicles the animals look content and certainly are not tame. The more safaris I go on, the more I am against seeing animals cages up in zoos. The great expanse here gives the animals the space to live as nature intends and on the whole the animals we have seen are content with their lot in life.

Jackal looking for his next mealThe morning wizzes by and all too soon we are heading out of the park to our lunch stop. On the way the other vehicle starts billowing smoke and the driver spends most of his lunch break tinkering under the bonnet of his vehicle. We land up heading slowly in convoy back to the nearest town to a garage and get the vehicle checked over. Our guide is very apologetic as we are late back to Arusha but at least this happened on our way home and not interfering with any of our game viewing.

Luckily the swimming pool was not required to douce the flamesIt was time to say goodbye to our guides and have a final farewell meal which we agreed would be a buffet of local dishes at the Outpost Hotel where we were staying again. The surprise over dinner was a group of local acrobats and fire eaters put on a show for us. Luckily it was more professional than the one in Zambia where we had nervously been too close to the flames.

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