On the last day of our safari we left the Serengeti and headed for Ngorongoro Crater National Park. The crater is a must stop on the northern safari circuit in Tanzania. It is a unique natural wonder and one of the few places where it is possible to see the entire Big Five in a single game drive.
Over two million years ago the crater was formed when the cone of a large volcano collapsed into itself. It left behind the world’s largest intact caldron. It’s 20 km’s across and takes up a total area of 259 square km’s. An unbroken 610 meter high wall provides the protection for a world of wildlife to thrive within it.
Many tourists stay in the lodges around the caldera. We stayed at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge that sits on the eastern rim of the crater. Vehicles descend down the steep crater wall and spend the day viewing the plains that are teaming with wildlife. The crater is left to the animals at night, all vehicles must exit by sunset.
As the crater came into view below us we looked down with a bit of disappointment. It didn’t seem like an environment that would be host to a large amount of African wildlife. It looked like a dried up desert. The view from above is deceiving, once you get down onto the crater floor the landscape is a lot more varied than it appears.
Not all the animal species remain in the crater, some of them roam the extensive conservation area surrounding the caldera. Due to the year round water supply there are over 25,000 permanent grazers and predators. This means the crater is worth a visit at any time of year.
Our safari was during December. This is not a peak month of activity but it was certainly not a disappointment. There were areas with such a variety of animals present that you would think you were in a zoo.
We spotted several giraffe grazing along the route to the crater. There are no giraffes inside it, they prefer to graze on the trees found higher up.
The Maasai have the liberty to live within the sprawling 6,480 square kilometer conservation area around the crater. The entire life of the Maasai revolves around their cattle herd. They provide everything needed for the Maasai to survive. The cow dung is used as plaster for hut walls and floors and the urine has medicinal and cleaning properties. The Maasai extract blood from the live cows and mix it with the milk to drink as an iron rich food source. In the rare incidence that cattle are slaughtered, the hide would be used for mattresses, mats and clothing.
These young Maasai boys greeted our land cruiser as we were about to descend into the crater. They proudly posed for a photograph.
Over half of the animals that inhabit the crater are zebra and wildebeest. Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle appear in good numbers as well. This makes the perfect situation for predators such as lion and hyenas. There are also leopards, cheetah, jackals and large herds of buffalo. Hundreds of species of birds live and nest here too.
During the day the hippos remain partially submerged in a lake on the crater floor. At night they graze on the surrounding grass. A hippo is one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Never get within close vicinity of a hippo, especially if they have a baby. They feel vulnerable when on land, don’t get between them and their water source.
Mature bulls are the only elephants that will be seen on the crater floor. The cows and calves prefer the forested highlands. Occasionally they can be seen around the crater rim.
You can’t help but smile when you see warthogs and their piglets. Our game driver nicknames them the ground patrol. They are always busy grazing and scurrying about. When they feel threatened they run with their tail straight up like a stiff poker. It’s thought that they do this to keep track of each other in the tall grass.
A spotted hyena lays in the mud to cool off during the heat of the day.
A large male buffalo looks at our vehicle with curiosity. He poses his head forward, perhaps for a sniff of us.
At the time of our visit there were seven black rhino living in the crater. They are the most endangered animals in Africa. These would be some of the few remaining ones left in Tanzania. The park rangers have to keep track of the location of each of the seven rhino twenty-four hours a day. This is to prevent poachers from killing them for their highly sought after tusk.
We had the opportunity to see one of the rhinos near the end of the day. They are not that exciting to watch, but a magnificent and massive animal to see nonetheless.
Our Vehicle Breaks Down In The Middle Of The Crater
As we made our way across the crater floor towards the direction of one of the exits the land cruiser suddenly wouldn’t go forward and started to make a loud clanking sound. Our driver took a look underneath to find we had lost three of the four bolts holding the drive shaft propeller together. You couldn’t help feeling a bit panicked about the possibility of being stuck in a huge desert like crater in the extreme heat.
We all got out of the vehicle to see why it had broken down. This caused immediate alarm to the park rangers in one of the crater rim watch stations. Within minutes we had a vehicle speeding towards us. We were relieved in thinking they were coming to help us. Our driver later informed us this was not the case. They had spotted us from above and wondered why we were outside or our vehicle. They take the protection of the wildlife very seriously.
Thank goodness for having an experienced driver. He was able to make do with a couple of makeshift bolts he found in a tool kit. It would at least get the vehicle to our accommodation for the night.
Jack looks out into the vastness of the crater as our driver tries to put our drive shaft back together.