Tanzania: On Safari
Probably best known for the vast open plains of the Serengeti with the annual great migration of over one million wildebeest, a safari in Tanzania has so much to offer with striking landscapes and ultimate game experiences.
Our adventure began on the edge of Arusha, passing the great Mount Kilimanjaro on our way to arrive at the Legendary Coffee Lodge, set in a lush tropical garden, surrounded by a working coffee farm, we were treated to an indulgent candlelit dinner under the supermoon, the perfect start to the trip. After a relaxing welcome to Africa, it was an early start to meet our guide for the next 8 days and begin our animal admiring adventure.
Tarangire National Park
Our first two days were spent exploring Tarangire National Park, named after the Tarangire river that winds its way through the highlands of central Tanzania. Herds of migrants from the parched surrounding area are lured to the river, coming in their thousands and dramatically increasing the resident population of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and elephants.
Zebra, giraffe, buffalo and elephants are dotted all over this great National Park, but we were fortunate to encounter some more unique habitants. A leopard sleeping carelessly in a tree, tail hanging down, as easy to spot as a needle in a haystack leaving us feeling like we’d won the gold trophy for the day.
Early one morning, a pack of lions were snoozing in the pathway of our car, leaving us to do an emergency stop to avoid them. They were surprisingly unbothered by us, seemingly sleepy after a morning feed so we spent some time alone watching them interact which was an incredible experience.
Our tented camp was located next to a watering hole which was visited by lions, buffalo, elephants and zebra. Watched over during the night by a Masai, there were a lot of noises in the night and a few footprints when we woke up deep in the heart of the Tanzanian National Park, we were definitely not the only ones staying!
Lake Manyara is not to be missed when continuing from Tarangire. While the game viewing isn’t quite up to that of other parks, the breathtaking scenery and glistening lake in the centre make it a worthwhile stop. Hippos wallowing in the lake, migrant flamingoes turning the water bright pink and unique tree climbing lions are all to be seen in Lake Manyara.
Gibb’s Farm breaks up the long day of driving between Lake Manayara and the Ngornongoro Crater. An oasis of green calm in a landscape that is often known for being dry and dusty. Coffee is grown, processed and roasted on the farm and a huge ten-acre fruit and organic vegetable garden provides nearly all of the fruit and vegetables for guests. Sitting on the terrace overlooking the fantastic vista with great food and a glass of wine in hand, what a way to enjoy an afternoon.
The world-renowned natural beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater is deservedly a Unesco World Heritage Site. A deep, volcanic crater and the largest unbroken caldera in the world. About 20kms across, 600m deep and 300km2 in area, it’s a breathtaking wonder from the top on the crater rim but the real magic happens here when you get down inside among the unparalleled concentration of wildlife, including the highest density of lions and overall predators in Africa.
Spending a day driving around the crater, we got up close to a pack of lazing lions, saw a pack kill and another mating. There are no giraffe, topi or impala, who probably find it too difficult to negotiate the crater rim and there isn’t enough grazing for large herds of antelope. But it is full of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, warthog and elephants. It was the rhino we were looking for, the only one left on our Big 5 list but with only 26 left in the whole park it was sadly an impossible task.
Our tented camp was up on the crater rim, and while this was the more basic of the camps that we stayed at, it was also our favourite. Buckets of water tipped over when we needed to wash and a camp fire to gather around at the end of the day, it was a more authentic camping experience.
Driving on to the Serengeti, passing Masai tribes managing their herds, the surrounding vast plains give a real sense of the scale and grandeur of this enormous country.
Between the Ngorongoro Highlands, Lake Victoria and the northern border with Kenya, sits one of the world’s last great wildlife refuges. Approaching the Serengeti National Park, the grasslands appear to stretch to the ends of the earth, which is appropriate with the name coming from the Masai siringet meaning 'endless plains’.
The Serengeti stretches 14,763 square kilometres and contains about three million large animals with most taking part in seasonal migrations. Twice a year, triggered by the rains, 1.3 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle gather to undertake the long trek to new grazing lands. We were lucky with the time of the year that we visited, to be able to spot the start of the migration, with the vast amount of dust being thrown into the air making it a really unique experience to witness the racing animals.
The park is renowned for its predators, especially its lions, along with cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and jackals also out on the hunt. Staying in the south of the Serengeti felt as though we had the whole area to ourselves, not seeing another car until we reached the more central areas. Leopards were spotted there lazing and cheetah’s hunting, with baby cheetahs waiting to see what their mother would come back with. Zebra’s and giraffe all over, and the unique sight of elephants mating, we really saw it all.
Sadly, again we were unable to spot any rhino and finding out more about the level of danger they are in was shocking. While I knew that they were endangered, finding out that their population has dropped to just 24 left in the Serengeti today is truly heartbreaking. Poaching of these incredible animals for the uneducated belief in Asian countries that their horns are able to cure illnesses is nothing short of barbaric. There is a lot of work being done to conserve and protect rhinos, more information on which can be found here.
Tucked into the natural curves of the surrounding kopjes, our secluded bush camp in a remote region of the Serengeti was the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine next to the fire as the sun set. Cheetah, elephant, lion, buffalo, giraffe and leopard are spotted around camp throughout the year, and having become experts in detecting animal sounds, we were one night tucked up in our tent with a leopard calling out on the other side of the fabric. A wonderfully petrifying experience that will stay with me forever.
Having the same guide throughout the safari along with driving between parks gives a greater insight into life in Tanzania that could be easily missed otherwise. Over eight days, we really got to know our driver, being told stories of family awaiting his return and learning more about the culture and customs of the country. On the long drives between the parks we passed through small towns, schools and countryside workers. While spotting the animals was fantastic, the insight from the drives and the stories of our guide gave a greater understanding of what a fantastic country Tanzania is and the kindness of its people living in harmony with one another.
On our last morning we were left with a note from our guide that we should set off earlier to try to see some animals in a special spot. Bleary eyed and still not used to the early bush mornings, we set off, not fully understanding where we were going. Approaching a tree in the distance we were trying to work out what was underneath it, was it a cheetah? A lion? It in fact turned out to be a bush breakfast, set up for us by our guide to enjoy a special sunrise picnic for our last day. Sitting out in the bush, slightly afraid of those lions and leopards we had been trying so hard to spot, while sharing stories with our guide was such a special moment and the perfect end to our perfect trip in Tanzania.
Taking a light aircraft from the airstrip close to our camp, I came to understand the sheer scale and size of the Serengeti, seeming to stretch forever as we soared above it. The migration throwing up dust below us displaying the huge amount of species that call this area home. A humbling experience and a small insight into a fascinating land.