The next day on safari, we were awoken at 5am for an early morning start. The Serengeti was buzzing with activity, and our first sighting that morning was a family of giraffes (a mother and its two calves) gracefully walking off into the horizon. This was one of the many visions I had when I thought about Tanzania, and it was so heart-warming to finally see it with my own eyes.
This was closely followed by several sightings of hyenas and their cubs, which I have to say, are actually super cute – The Lion King has definitely given them a bad name! We waited with much anticipation as a group of hyenas walked among a herd of gazelles, in the hope we might catch a hunt in action. But neither species seemed particularly bothered by each others’ presence. So after a bit of waiting, we came to the conclusion we must have missed their morning hunt for breakfast, and continued on…
The wonders of the Ngorongoro…
After another successful day of capturing the amazing wildlife the Serengeti had to offer, we embarked on a long, but scenic drive to the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater where we would be camping for the night. From the campsite you could look into the crater itself, and the views were like nothing I had ever seen before. The ever-changing play of light across the grasslands were completely mesmerising and as I stared into the crater, I found it hard to believe there was a haven of wildlife in there somewhere!
The Ngorongoro was once a mountain as high as Kilimanjaro, however three million years ago it blew itself to bits, covering the Serengeti in ash while the crater floor sank into the mountain. It is the world’s largest complete volcanic caldera, with a rim of just over 600 metres at its highest point, meaning that it isn’t possible for the migration of animals to take place here. There are also no giraffes or impalas in the crater, as they find it hard to negotiate the cliffs, and there is insufficient grazing for large herds of antelopes.
A VERY close wildlife encounter…
As we were camping at the top of the crater, I felt pretty reassured that we wouldn’t have any more run-ins with wildlife that night. So it was quite a shock to find a great big elephant heading towards me as I was coming out of the toilet block! I could hear one of the cooks shouting at me to get out of the way, but I literally froze on the spot and watched in amazement as it casually stomped past me towards the tents. Apparently elephants are a frequent visitor to the campsite as they like to drink the water from one of the tanks….so yet again I was in for a sleepless night!
We woke again at 5am to head into the crater and catch the sun as it was rising above it. I never thought I’d say this about Africa, but it was bloody freezing!!! All wrapped up in our thermals, we headed down the windy roads into the crater, excited about the prospect of possibly completing The Big Five. By this point on our safari, we had already ticked off four – the African Elephant, the African Lion, the Buffalo, and the Leopard. The only animal we had left to find was the Black Rhino, one of the most endangered species on the planet.
A rare but amazing sighting…
We were told there was a 50/50 chance we would see one, as they can sometimes be incredibly hard to find. Unlike most of the other animals, rhinos tend to run away when they see a Jeep, as they associate them with poachers. But about fifteen minutes into the safari, after some rumblings from our guide’s radio, he suddenly put his foot down and started driving like a maniac through the grasslands.
He’d heard on the radio that a rhino had been spotted, so it suddenly became a race against time to get there before it fled. After five minutes of being jerked from side to side in the Jeep, we were unsure we would make it, but suddenly a row of several other Jeeps came into view and what appeared to be a black dot on the horizon. As we go closer and closer, sure enough it was what we’d all been hoping for….a black rhino. Totally worth getting a bruised bum for!
I didn’t think anything could top that sighting but the day just got better and better. The Ngorongoro is home to around 30,000 animals, which meant there were literally animals wherever you looked – it really did feel like you were in the real life version of The Lion King at times!
Hungry hippos or hangry birds?
To top the day off we had a packed lunch down by a hippo lake, overlooked by the vast green hill of the crater. I was a little unsure about lunching this close to one of nature’s most dangerous animals, but it soon became apparent that we needed to be more concerned about the black kites swooping around our heads! At one point one of them flew down and stole a chicken wing right from someone’s hand, so at that point we all quickly scurried to the safety of the Jeep and eat the rest of our food in peace.
After lunch we started to make our way out of the crater, not before we caught one last glimpse of African wildlife – a group of lionesses and their cute cubs! This completed the trip for me and as we left the crater, I literally couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the whole five hour journey home. It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget….and I’m not sure a visit to any zoo will be quite the same again…
Interested in doing a safari in Northern Tanzania? I can fully recommend African Scenic Safaris.
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