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A Surprise Lunch in the Ngorongoro Crater

A Surprise Lunch in the Ngorongoro Crater


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“I think we’re lost,” our guide Hamis Nyati says, as the Toyota Land Cruiser he’s driving bumps and spurts down a rocky road off the beaten path in Tanzania’s Ngorngoro Crater. “I’m going to ask these guys for directions,” he says, turning the vehicle toward a small clearing.

As we get closer, it becomes clear we aren’t lost, but rather, subjects of a delightful hoax. The other vehicle is a Sanctuary Retreats jeep, and the men are staff from the camp on the rim of the crater where a few journalists and I have been staying. They’ve set up a buffet and a table for four. It’s time for lunch.

Fanuel Michael, the camp’s head chef, invites us over to where he’s keeping meat and vegetable skewers hot on the grill. On an adjacent table, there are trays of beets, avocados, red and green peppers, and rice with corn. I fill my plate and head back to the table, where a waiter arrives to pour a glass of a lovely South African Chenin Blanc.

Eating a surprise tablecloth lunch and drinking a cold Chenin Blanc in the middle of the Ngorongoro Crater is pretty surreal, but then again there’s hardly anything about one’s experience in the crater — a 2,000-foot deep, 12-mile-wide cavity that formed when a massive volcano exploded and caved in on itself several million years ago — that isn’t surreal. With more than 30,000 animals — including lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalos and elephants — and a truly epic, almost fantastical topography, the vibe here is distinctly Narnian. It’s the sort of place where you half expect one of the animals to approach you and ask for your help combating the forces of darkness. In this context, a gourmet lunch, as strange as it seems, actually kind of makes sense.

We dine surrounded by acacia trees and papyrus grass, superb starlings skirt around us, their iridescent backs shimmering in the light. As I get up for seconds, I notice a family of vervet monkeys looking on enviously. Can you blame them?


African Safari: Part 2 Ngorongoro Crater

If you started following my African adventures then you’ve already read Part 1 on the Northern Serengeti, Tanzania. Quite the experience and one that if you haven’t had the opportunity to read, and view my photos, I hope you’ll do it now.

After visiting the Northern Serengeti we hopped on a commuter plane and headed about 1.5 hours out to stay at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in the Northern Serengeti, home of Ngorongoro Crater.

Once a gigantic volcano, it is now the largest intact caldera in the world. Some maintain that before it erupted, it was higher than Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Today, long since having collapsed and eroded, it is an extensive highland area with the famous 600 meters deep (1968 feet), Ngorongoro Crater as its focal point.

Nearly three million years old, the ancient caldera shelters one of the most beautiful wildlife havens on earth. Endangered black rhino are protected within its rim, giant tusked elephants wander the forests, black-maned lions stalk the grasslands, and flamingos crowd the soda lakes.

An estimated 25,000 large mammals are resident in this bowl of plenty, including a population of approximately 6,000 resident wild beast, 16 highly endangered black rhino, and around 70 lions. Cheetah move in and out of the Crater, while leopard are most often encountered in the spectacular Lerai Forest.

Since our trip was arranged through &Beyond Travel we stayed at their luxury accommodations, the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. The lodge sits right on the edge of the Crater, offering spectacular views of one of the natural travel wonders of the world.

Upon our arrival flying from Lobo to Manyara airstrip we were greeted by our private guide Peter, who drove us to the andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.

The ride was about an hour along a bumpy dirt road. Winding up into the mountains surrounded by lush forest trees, and vines. I immediately looked to see if any monkeys were swinging like Tarzan from tree to tree.

Along the way we had to stop to register at the visitors center. While our guide got out to sign us in, we were advised to keep the windows closed since Baboons love to ransack cars and run off with whatever they can grab.

Although we were in the dead of summer in Africa the weather was quite mild. I often wore long sleeves or a light jacket, and mosquitoes we never an issue.

We continued our journey to the lodge with a sightseeing stop to view the Ngorongoro Crater. OMG it was stunning! It was hard to imagine the scope of the crater. It looked empty from our vantage point high up in the mountains, but obviously home to 1000s of wild animals.

I tried taking a panoramic shot with my iPhone, but it still didn’t capture its beauty.

Once arriving at our destination we were greeted by the staff singing just as we were at Klein’s Camp. Once out of the Land Rover we were served a tropical beverage. We were formerly introduced to our guide, butler, and then taken to our room.

The rooms were individual huts overlooking the Crater and huge. As unique inside as it was outside.

After unloading our luggage we went to lunch. An incredible 4 course meal with choice of wines, overlooking the Crater. I felt like I was in heaven.

After lunch we met our guide for a safari through the Crater until dinner, to see what of the Big 5 we might see, along with other animals.

Our first safari drive in the Crater seemed uneventful. We didn’t see as much as we thought we might, plus in the Crater you travel on roads. The adventure wasn’t the same as the off road safari around Klein’s Camp in the Serengeti.

Dinner was amazing and full of flavor and warm spices. After heading back to our room and crawling into bed for the night I was awakened at 3am by something walking outside on the rocks behind our cottage. Our cottage looked out over the Crater so I couldn’t imagine what that could have been. Then it sounded as though someone was trying to open our door. I totally panicked and nearly shoved my daughter out of her bed. Of course she didn’t hear anything and went back to sleep but I was up most of the night.

That morning when I mentioned that to the staff, they said it was the buffalo that swarm the property at night. They were probably rubbing up against the cottage to scratch their bodies. It made sense but truly scared me to death!

We were up bright and early the next day for another safari in the Crater. Leaving at the crack of dawn seems to be the best time to view the animals in action. There were 4 of us that loaded into the Land Rover that morning. A newlywed couple from Australia joined us. The couple had worked in New York and oddly enough worked with someone from St. Louis that was in my sons high school class. Small world!

The day was filled with excitement from the start. We saw a family of elephants, 12 lions, 3 baby cubs, zebra, and hippos wading in a large pond.

Since the animals have to catch their own food we unfortunately saw some spotted hyenas eating literally a newborn gazelle. That was so sad and to witness the mom & dad watching as their newborn was being devoured. I can’t even imagine how those parents felt. I realize it’s life in the wild but it can be sad, and exciting all at the same time.

We enjoyed another outdoor breakfast with our guide and a trainer who was kind enough to loan me his camera lens that took closer shots than my lens.

This little guy decided to join us for breakfast.

By far the best part of the day was when a lion and his lioness were approaching our direction. As we all sat in the vehicle waiting to see where they would go, they came right up to the car. With windows that slid sideways, our windows were open halfway. Large enough for a lion to get his head in and certainly their arm and claws.

Snapping pictures as quickly as I could, the lion approached the car. He got close enough to look at me in the eyes, but then turned to walk along the side of the car without stopping as he passed me by. Once at the back tire he stopped, lifted his leg and marked our tire with his urine. He then walked to the other vehicles that were stopped to gawk at the lion and his lioness and marked each vehicle. It was amazing.

The lioness however walked directly up to the side of the truck that my daughter was on. She stopped right at her window where she was taking photos, and lifted her head up looking directly in my daughters eyes. With that, my daughter sunk down onto the floor for fear the lioness would jump up and lunge at her face. Apparently the lioness is more dangerous than the lion.

We all got great shots! It was so exhilarating.

It was getting late in the day so we started to head back but not without seeing an elephant approach a lion. While the lion may be king, there’s no question who rules. All the elephant had to do was get close to the lion, and he’d start running while looking behind him. It was actually quite comical.

We headed back to the lodge only to find a bubble bath drawn with rose pedals at the base on the floor. I thought they only did that for honeymooners.

That evening was another amazing dinner, with each course better than the last. By the time we got done with dinner it was quite late. We were escorted back to our rooms since the lodge was surrounded by buffalo. We needed light and protection in the event one would start getting angry or feeling unsettled.

Our 2 days at Ngorongoro Crater had come to an end. We packed up and got ready to head out bright and early in the morning (4:30am) to catch our next flight to Rwanda to do a Gorilla trek.

My daughter and I both agreed that the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge was our most favorite place we stayed. It was magical, the staff bent over backwards to assist us, as they did at the other lodges as well. The environment was just different. While we enjoyed the excitement of the off road safaris best, the vast number of wild animals that we encountered in the Crater was remarkable, and proved to be an adventure around every turn.

Next up – Rwanda for Gorilla Trekking!

Which photo is your favorite so far from Part 1 & 2?


• Game Drive at Ngorongoro Crater
• Lunch at the Ngorongoro Crater Floor
• Game drive in Manyara National park
• Hourse Riding around the coffee estate
• Mountain Biking
• Sundowner Cocktails at the Manor
• Relaxing Massage-Deep Tissue

The Manor at Ngorongoro, located in northwest Tanzania and with its 9 luxurious cottages (18 Suites), family cottage, and magnificent main Manor House, is one of the first safari lodges of its kind to blend East African hospitality with old-world Afro-European architecture and decor. Located adjacent to the famous Ngorongoro conservation area and within a 1500-acre Arabica coffee estate, The Manor is reminiscent of an elegant up-country farm home in the Cape Dutch-style of architecture.

Why do we recommend the Manor as a Destination Spot?

Every detail of The Manor has been designed with its guests’ comfort in mind. Each of the cottages has been carefully positioned to maximise the views of the adjacent verdant hills but at the same time to maintain the intimacy and privacy of this old-world Manor home

Ngorongoro Crater is famed as being the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, and is a ‘must see’ on anyone’s itinerary. This extinct volcano – with its 18-kilometre wide crater floor – is home to an abundant and unique ecosystem that encompasses almost all of the wildlife that you would wish to see in Africa. This spectacular setting is a ‘once-in-a- lifetime’ opportunity to experience the rawness and beauty of Africa’s natural flora and fauna.

The Manor at Ngorongoro provides the perfect environment to relax and take in the outstanding natural beauty of its gardens and the coffee-bush laden hills.


ON SAFARI:IN SEARCH OF THE BIG FIVE

Being on safari is like being on a scavenger hunt. You spend your days happily tracking, racing around in your safari vehicles and observing the most magnificent animals in their natural habitat with the goal of collecting memories and photographs. You especially seek out the Big Five, which is the term created by game hunters to designate the most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt on foot: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo. The term is also widely used by enthusiastic safari-goers who are on the fun and adventurous pursuit to locate all five and take the photos to prove it.

We were fortunate to see four of the Big Five at the first stop on our safari, Lake Manyara National Park, with only the elusive rhino standing in the way of completing our list. Next up on our itinerary was the Ngorongoro Crater, and with less than thirty black rhino in residence our odds weren’t great, but we were optimistic and on a mission to find one of them.

After a brief visit at a Maasai Village, we were on our way to the Lake Manyara Airport for our transport to the Ngorongoro Crater. Because of chronic unpredictable weather conditions, the airport at the Crater is closed indefinitely, so to get from Lake Manyara to Ngorongoro you need to drive. We were only headed to the Lake Manyara Airport to meet up with our new driver and guide and to switch vehicles for the hour and a half ride to Ngorongoro.

Safari vehicles tend to vary by location and because the temperature tends to be cooler at the Crater, our new driver and guide, Twaibe, had a vehicle that was completely enclosed with large sliding windows, along with an open roof for game viewing and a canopy to protect us from the elements.

WINDING OUR WAY THROUGH A JUNGLE TO A WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Travel was mainly on a paved road until we reached the entrance of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The main feature of NCA is the Ngorongoro Crater but it also includes the important sites of Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli. The remains of the earliest humans were found in Olduvai Gorge, dubbed the “cradle of mankind”, and the oldest known human footprints dating back 3.6 million years are preserved in volcanic rock at Laetoli.

Once through the gates, the road weaves up steep hills and through jungle-like landscapes. With such interesting terrain, our ride seemed to go by quickly and before long we arrived at the entrance of the spectacular andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.

LIVING ON THE EDGE . . . OF THE CRATER

The lengthy road to the property descends gradually and transports you into a whimsical world.

Like our arrival at the andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree House Lodge, guests at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge are also greeted by chanting and clapping. We learned that this welcome is a tradition at all the andBeyond properties and that there are friendly competitions to determine which property performs this welcome best.

As is also customary, the manager of the lodge invited us into the lounge upon our arrival, offered us a beverage and made us comfortable. He then introduced us to Patrick, our butler. My husband, daughter and I were thrilled that we would have a butler at this lodge as well and learned that butler service is standard at many safari properties in Africa. Butlers make the arrangements for all your meals and activities and ensure that everything goes effortlessly during your stay. More notable to us was how kind, sincere and welcoming our butlers were, and they were so much fun to be around. It was like having a guardian angel and a best friend at each place we went.

At the lounge, there were big comfy Victorian couches and chairs, ornate, gold mirrors and African artifacts hanging from teak-paneled walls, and the focal point, a stunning chandelier with beaded swags. I was savoring my surroundings, thinking how lucky we were to be there, but was reminded by my husband and daughter that it was almost lunchtime and we needed to get settled into our room as soon as possible. Our plan was to have a quick lunch and then go on safari for a few hours before the park closed.

We walked outside and Patrick showed us to our suite, which was mere steps away. The suites are in small, fantastical-looking structures that could be straight out of The Hobbit or a Dr. Seuss book.

Before we went in, Patrick told us that we would be staying in the same suite that Anthony Bourdain stayed in when he visited Ngorongoro Crater and that it was featured in his TV show. Having the wanderlust that I do, I’ve always been a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s and was deeply saddened when he passed. It was an honor to be staying in the same place as such a travel and culinary legend but so sad as well.

Be sure to check out Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Season 4 Episode 5 to see the inside of these unique suites and to learn more about Tanzania from Anthony Bourdain.

We were led through the outside door into a small vestibule and entered the suite through yet another door. To the left was a sitting area with club chairs, a fireplace, and a bar set-up. It couldn’t have been more cozy.

The bedroom area was grand, with floor to ceiling windows and doors leading to a private deck.

The bathroom area was just as grand and ornate as the bedroom, with a soaking tub, open shower and a chandelier hanging from a vaulted, banana leaf ceiling. It definitely makes you say, “Wow”!

We opened one of the large glass doors and walked out onto the deck. The property was situated on the edge of the Crater and the view was breathtaking.

We quickly dropped our bags and were off to the dining room for lunch. It had elegant brocade chairs, Persian rugs, chandeliers, polished silver, crystal glassware, and the best part, dramatic views of the crater.

Served family-style, a variety of dishes are brought to each guest’s table. Famished and excited to try everything, we devoured our lunch and were ready to go on safari.

Being at the rim of the Crater, it takes about 45 minutes to get to the floor.

DESCENDING INTO THE ONCE GIGANTIC VOLCANO

The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world and was formed 2-3 million years ago when a huge volcano erupted and collapsed on itself. It’s thought that, before the volcano collapsed, it was higher than Mount Kilimanjaro. The Crater is 2,000 feet deep, overs 100 square miles, 11 miles in diameter and is considered a utopia for animals. The environment is so perfect, in fact, that many of the 25,000 animals that call the Crater home don’t migrate and spend their days happily grazing.

Because the Crater floor is flat and doesn’t have many trees or cover, the animals are out in the open and fairly easy to spot, even from a distance.

As we drove around we saw Pumbaa, what seemingly everyone in Tanzania affectionately calls warthogs. Despite their name, the protrusions on their heads are actually not warts. They’re protective bumps that store fat and help protect them during fights.

When on safari you see such a variety of animals, some behaving in very curious ways. We were quite amused by this zebra with an apparent itch who was incessantly rubbing its leg against a rock.

We found several prides of lions, and because it was daytime, most of them were napping or lounging about in the grass.

Sometimes you are surprised by how oblivious some of the animals are to their surroundings. Someone here needed to start paying attention, and we were hoping it wasn’t the lions!

They don’t seem so ferocious and king of the jungle-ish when they’re napping, do they?

When we saw this lion, the three of us couldn’t help but draw the comparison to our beloved dog Coco who sleeps similarly, paws up in the air and always ready for a belly rub.

Some parks have much higher populations of certain animals than others. Although the Crater didn’t have the abundance of baboons that we saw at Lake Manyara, it still had a lot.

All the dots in this tree are baboons!

The park at the Ngorongoro Crater closes fairly early at 6pm, so it was already time to make the trek across the caldera and up the rim to our lodge. Usually tired, in the best way possible at the end of the day, most safari-goers look forward to returning to the lodge and resting a bit before having an early dinner.

Even though you’re in the middle of nowhere, the dining can be extraordinary. The meal we had that evening exceeded all expectations and is one we’ll always remember. I don’t think there’s anything better than a spectacular travel day topped off by a delicious dinner and a nice glass of wine all enjoyed while sitting near a roaring fire. And the bonus? Not having to get dressed up for it! Yes, everyone on safari dresses casually, even at dinner.

Be sure to check out my Do’s And Don’ts of Packing For a Safari blog post and download my free Safari Packing Checklist.

IN SEARCH OF THE ELUSIVE BLACK RHINO

Animals are unpredictable and even the best guides on safari can have difficulty locating certain animals, so it’s important to be patient. During our first day in the Crater, we were fortunate to spot many animals but not the one that would complete our sighting of the Big Five. And so our plan for day two was to spend the entire day in the Crater with the primary objective, fingers crossed, to find the very elusive black rhino.

Interestingly, the black rhino is not black. Despite its name, the black rhino can be brown or gray, and its distinguishing feature is its long upper lip, which is hooked and enables it to pull leaves and fruits from bushes and trees. The black rhino was given its name to simply differentiate it from the white rhino, which amusingly isn’t white. The Afrikaans word for “wide” is “wiet” and refers to its wide, flat upper lip. But long ago, English speakers mistakenly thought the Afrikaan speakers were calling the rhinos “white” and not “wide”, but the name stuck.

On our descent into the Crater, Twaibe pointed out a Maasai Village. It was laid out similarly to the Maasai Village we visited in Lake Manyara, with the enkang or livestock pen in the middle of the compound and the enkaji or hut-like homes arranged around it. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is unique in that its land is multi-use and allows human habitation and at the same time provides protection for wildlife. With the Maasai living at the Crater along with their livestock, it’s said to be the only place on earth where man, livestock and wild animals live in peace.

Further along, we came across our first hyena, skulking across the road and into a field. I was surprised to learn that hyenas, although small, are nasty, travel in packs and are capable of the most heinous assaults on larger animals. Not a pleasant thought and certainly something we didn’t want to witness.

The circle of life is definitely on display while you’re on safari, and some safari-goers want to see “kills”, as their referred to. So it’s important to let your guide know your preferences ahead of time. Although, sometimes as you’re driving along, seeing the aftermath is unavoidable.

The Crater is very rich with bird life, including flamingos. Because the lake at the Crater doesn’t have an outlet and as a result of centuries of evaporation, it has a very high salt concentration, making it a fertile breeding ground for algae and crustaceans, which is a flamingo smorgasbord! Flamingos also flock here because the temperature of the water rises to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and most predators can’t tolerate that heat. So as long as the flamingos stay in the water, they’re safe.

All the safari vehicles have radios and the guides communicate with each other throughout the day to share their sightings. It was right before lunch when a friend of Twaibe’s radioed to say there was a rhino at the far end of the caldera. We zoomed over to the specified area, and way off in the distance, barely visible and only through our binoculars, was a black rhino!

There weren’t any roads near where the rhino was and it’s forbidden to go off track, so we stayed there for quite some time, hoping that it would move closer to us. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Even though we would have liked to have seen the rhino closer and my photos are blurry, the unmistakable horn allowed us to tick off the fifth of the Big Five on our list. We were thrilled!

Completely satisfied, we made our way to the hippo pool, a favorite watering hole for safari-goers as well.

Hippopotamus are the third largest land animal, after the elephant and the white rhino. Everyone knows hippos are huge, but in person they’re absurdly huge! It was fun to watch them sun bathing and swimming around, although we were informed they can be quite dangerous and are very aggressive if they feel their territory is being threatened.

We put some space between us and them but decided it was the perfect place to set up and have our lunch.

It’s common to leave for an expedition early in the morning and return to your camp or lodge for lunch, and then go back for more exploring in the afternoon. With the long and sometimes tedious descents and ascents, it’s also a great option to have lunch at the Crater amidst such fabulous scenery and make it an all-day excursion.

You are spoiled with one spectacular view after another while on safari, and we were treated to yet another beautiful one while we enjoyed our lunch.

And we could still watch the hippos from afar. I just love this photo of these two covered in green algae, one with mouth wide open.

Since we had completed our mission of finding the black rhino, the rest of the day was spent leisurely moving around the park and Twaibe teaching us some of his safari lingo, such as Maasai 4ࡪ = donkey, bird nest = giraffe lunch box, ecological engineers = elephants, bush TV = bonfire, wildebeest = African traffic, African lawnmower and cheetah chips = mini gazelles.

Once we returned to the lodge, there was a welcome surprise waiting for us in our suite. Rose petals were everywhere and a hot bath was drawn.

We had another memorable dining experience that evening and were in no way ready to leave the next morning. The Ngorongoro Crater is worthy of any bucket list and our visit was way too short, but we were also excited for the next stop on our safari, Serengeti National Park.

As is often the case during the early morning hours at the rim of the Crater, we left in a cold shroud of mist and fog.

But we were warmed by another signature andBeyond friendly send off.

This is not a sponsored post. My family paid for our vacation in its entirety. I thought the andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge was such a unique property and I wanted to share it with you.

If you’ve been to Ngorongoro Crater, I’d love to hear about your experience. Or if have any questions about travelling there or being on safari, please reach out to me in the comments below.


On Safari in Tanzania

A line of safari jeeps slowly creeps down into the crater, bouncing around the occupants as they desperately try to capture the awesome views with their cameras.

Green gives way to dry yellow and light brown, and the dust that covered the foliage of the rainforest takes on a dryer tone and texture. Small tornados of dust known as dust devils rise in the distance. A solitary warthog burrows around a green spot a hundred meters from the road.

The dusty grassland stretches out endlessly in front of us, encircled by the forest-covered slopes of the caldera. With the sporadic dust devils and the shimmering heat haze, it feels as if we are in the middle of a simmering cauldron.

As we stand taking photos, two curious zebras look on while wildebeest below in the background. The crater is home to tens of thousands of wildebeest, so their calls are the dominant sound to be heard, a distinctive “murping” that echoes across the natural amphitheater.

The wildebeest and zebras are always seen together and form a symbiotic relationship providing protection in numbers and a lack of competition for food. Zebras eat long grass while the wildebeest prefer short.


7 Tips for a Better Ngorongoro Crater Experience

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The Ngorongoro Crater was so-named by the Maasai people, the original inhabitants, to mean the gift of life. It’s so lush and green, with jungles along the crater rim and green grasses in an otherwise savannah-like Rift Valley, it’s no surprise they chose this name.

The crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera, and was named of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.

Approximately 25,000 animals live in the crater, and it is one of the best places in Tanzania to see the critically endangered black rhino.

On a personal level, after going on Safari in Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia, I have to say this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever searched for wildlife, and other than Etosha in Namibia, the only place where I’ve seen wild black rhinos. I saw four, to be exact.

The crater is also home to one of the the densest known population of Masai lions, which I saw as well, playing in the grass.

This was due to a combination of being lucky and doing a few key things right – though mostly the latter. These are my tips for seeing the best of the best in the Ngorongoro Crater:

You can see it in a day

Zebras hanging with zebras in the morning light

If you’re planning out a Tanzania trip and want to see the Serengeti too (and you should!) and are wondering where to prioritize your time, compare the size of the two.

The span of the crater as seen from above

The crater is pretty small at 8,292 km 2 (3,202 sq mi), and there aren’t a lot of places to hide, so the animals are everywhere, in plain sight. In almost any direction you look, you’ll see zebra, wildebeest, elephants, and if you’re lucky, lions and rhinos too. You can devote one full day to the crater, and save 2-3, or more, for some of the other parks which are much larger and have different animals, like giraffe and leopards.

Stay the night on the rim

At the Serena Lodge -what a view!

I suggest arriving at your lodging on the crater rim by the mid afternoon. This gives you a chance to watch as golden hour and then sunset come and paint the crater various hues of green and blue. It’s a beautiful sight.

There are campsites and hotels of varying luxury. I stayed at the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge which is within the Crater Conservancy and provides breathtaking views from the stone rooms and pictured here, from the bar and dinner area:

Tea time at the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge

The food was good and plentiful, they hire local Maasai to come dance in the evenings, which I like since they provide work opportunities for the local community, and rooms start from the low $200s per night, which is a pretty decent rate for the crater!

Go early (seriously!)

We saw these guys shortly after the sun rose

We left the hotel at 5:55am for our game drive into the Ngorongoro Crater, and it was the best decision we could have made! Later in the day three things happen: The animals get lazy and tired and try to hide from the heat, more and more cars arrive so the crater gets crowded, and the light gets quite harsh for photos.

Beautiful morning light

We got lucky with lion sightings, seeing the younger lions playing around in the reeds and the water. Later in the day, they were considerably less animated, sleeping under rocks and in the ravines, enjoying the shade.

Hello, beauties

We were also lucky enough to see four black rhinos. Two were at a distance, but the other two we saw were pretty close!

Get a good guide

Checking out the hippos and this heart-shaped tree on the nice and new African Horizons truck

We booked our guide, Francis with African Horizons, as well as our hotel and car through Perfect Africa, which organizes tours all over Africa.

Francis was essential to our trip because he knows how to spot the animals. It was also at his suggestion that we went super early in the morning. He took this very seriously, making sure that we were the very first people in the gate.

He also had a radio that allowed him to communicate with the other drivers so that if they spotted something, he would know where to go.

Spotted Wildebeest and their babies early in the morning (and all day long, they love the crater)

It was usually him letting everyone else know what we’d found, though, because we had been the first in the crater and he’s so great at his job. Ask for him when you book with Perfect Africa and you won’t be disappointed!

And let him drive

Elephants crossing in the Crater

Like the Serengeti, you can self-drive the crater if you really want to. You’re looking at a $300 vehicle fee (if it’s foreign-registered like the one we’re driving is) plus the $70 per person park fees for the privilege, though.

I’m normally not a tour person, but the downside to doing the crater on your own is you don’t have the pop-up top that allows you to stand and get a 360-degree view of the crater and animals, so you’re fighting each other for window space.

Checking out buffalo on the way into the crater

We’d read in forums that the roads are also terrible, which I can confirm are incredibly true. They might be among the worst in Tanzania, which is honestly quite a feat since many of the roads are barely even roads, so you’ll spend more time worrying about the car than enjoying what you’re seeing if you self-drive.

Talk to the guide about what you want to see the day before

A baby elephant nursing in the early morning

Let your guide know what you want to see the most so that he knows what to prioritize when you enter the crater. We wanted to see rhinos, so he made that priority number one from the get-go. He also knew that we really wanted to see hyenas, because for whatever inconceivable reason they just appear to be really cute to me.

I know one shouldn’t and can’t hug a hyena, but how can someone with a face like this really be a villain in the Lion King, I ask you?

How sweet, right? The face only a mother could love?

He was so knowledgable about the area and the animals as well, and he even brought along his own camera with a 300mm zoom lens so that we could shoot with it in case ours broke or weren’t long enough.

A jackal! (Are you sure you’re not a fox, sir?)

He had a pair of binoculars as well, which we were really excited to have along for the rhinos.

You don’t have to eat at the picnic areas

Flamingoes and white flowers

There are designated picnic areas where you can go and have your breakfast and lunch, sometimes with a little plaid table cloth over the hood of the car, if you fancy, but we had an even better breakfast view.

We stayed in the car and ate our packed breakfast while watching the rhinos. I can honestly say that’s the coolest breakfast view I’ve ever had!

A couple of bird brains

Another incentive for eating in the car is the aggressive birds. Every now and then, they make off with some of the tourist’s food and some are even brazen enough to grab your food right out of your hands! These are huge birds, and you don’t want those talons to meet your face.

I much preferred watching a rhino and all kinds of awesome hoofed animals from the car instead.

Dang he’s big

In all, we spent rougly 24 hours between the crater rim and the crater itself, arriving in the afternoon, enjoying an evening on the rim watching the stars come out, and descending into the crater early in the morning to see the best that it had to offer. It all came down to timing, having an awesome guide, and yes, there was a little bit of luck involved too.

*This post was brought to you in collaboration with Perfect Africa, all thoughts on the safari and the awesome rhinos are sincere and my own, as always.


Gibb's Farm

Previously voted the Best Safari Hotel in Africa, Gibb's Farm is a working farm located on the forested slopes of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The farm lies half way between Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater making it an ideal base from which to enjoy either park. Built in 1929, the farmhouse has hardly changed, retaining the charm of a well looked-after private house and providing a welcome respite for an active safari.

  • Flexible booking terms
  • Secured deposit
  • 100% financial protection
  • Stringent safety & hygiene standards
  • Tried & trusted by our clients
  • Emergency medical care

Gibbs Farm offers 17 en suite farm cottages each with a unique theme and beautifully appointed with hand-crafted furniture, 2 queen-size beds, indoor and outdoor showers, a fireplace and private veranda.

The main farmhouse, reminiscent of an old English country home, contains a charming living room, 2 dining rooms, outside verandahs, a gazebo and gift boutique. Outside there is spacious patio and pool area surrounded by lush, soothing gardens and sweeping views of the valley. A unique feature is the traditional Massai style spa using traditional healing methods.

Getting There

Approximately 2 hour's drive from Arusha, 25 min drive from the Manyara airstrip, 1 hour drive to Crater floor, 30 min drive to Lake Manyara and approximately 3 hours to the Naabi gate of the Serengeti.

Activities

Farm walks, garden tours, Ngorongoro Forest walks, hikes to the waterfall and Elephant Caves, birding, coffee roasting, school visits, Karatuu town tours, indigenous medicine walks, mountain biking, canoeing and night drives at Lake Manyara.


Two days in Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Crater is on the site of an imploded volcano and forms a large caldera. No one is allowed to live within the caldera so our hotel is on the upper edge but still within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

A half hour drive took us down a steep slope into the caldera. There are two main lakes within – one is a salt lake, dry in this season, and the other is a fresh water lake. In the photo to the left, the white patch is the bed of the salt lake. The header photo features wildebeests in front of the fresh water lake, and in back a flock of flamingoes my telephoto lens was not powerful enough to capture clearly.

We went on an afternoon game drive when we arrived at the Crater and a full day drive the following day. Our hotel was the lovely Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. The lodge spreads out along the lip of the crater which itself is somewhat downward sloping. My room was 62 stairs from reception, relieved every 10 stairs with flat walk before the next flight. It was good to get some exercise after all the sitting (and mostly bouncing) we do in the land cruisers.

On our full day drive the Lodge provided us with a very civilized lunch in the bush, complete with bar, barbeque and tented portable toilet. We were expecting a box lunch so this was a pleasant surprise.

Bar on the left, bbq and buffet table in centre, our seating on the right

Our seating in front, the guides’ table behind. Click on the photo to see exactly how pleased we are.

I believed that Tarangire National Park was as full of wildlife as a park could be but that was before my introduction to the Ngorongoro Crater. The diversity and quantity of wildlife is breathtaking. Again, none of the animals or birds pay any attention to us unless they are standing in the middle of the road when we approach. This makes for fabulous photo opportunities. You can see below, the wildebeests are not at all bothered by the male lion passing by as the females are the hunters of the family.

Male lion passing up wildebeests

And a bachelor herd of three lions was not worried about us, casually walking by our many trucks and continuing on their way.

Male lions emerging from the bush and walking right past our trucks

We visited a hippopotamus pool full of hippos and birds that feed on marine life the hippos dig up. The hippos cannot swim so their pools must be shallow yet deep enough for them to submerge and escape the sun. As they (generally very slowly) change position they disturb the bottom of the pond and drive edibles to the surface for the birds.

Lazing around the pool makes a guy sleepy. The egrets are waiting for action.

Thomson gazelles are plentiful, looking too fragile to survive in this harsh environment. Indeed they frequently find themselves dinner for other animals.

We spotted a group of warthogs foraging for food. They get down on their knees and use their large front snout to search for roots, fungi, insect eggs and other delicacies.

Warthog on her front knees foraging for food

There are 30 rhinoceros in the Crater and we were determined to see one. If you squint and use your imagination, you may find yourself agreeing that it was indeed a rhino I captured with my camera. He was way in the distance and we were not able to get closer to him.

Is this a rhino? Click on the photo for a larger version.

My kindred spirit bird-lover and I went in search of birds one morning. I hope you enjoy these!

Secretary bird. Most often you see this bird taking long strides across a field.

Three grey crowned cranes in flight

I hope you are still with me after this lengthy post as I am going to leave you with one of my favourite photos of the Ngorongoro Crater. Kwenye Serengeti.


Ngorongoro Crater

Hello: If this is the first time you have come to my blog on my trip to Tanzania, you might find it more enjoyable if you scrolled down to the bottom of the blogs. That way you will read the material (and/or just look at the photos) in the time sequence in which the trip occurred. Just a thought.

The primary reason for my trip to Tanzania was to attend the wedding of Martin and Grace Maliyamkono. I met Martin several years ago when he was a student in one of my classes. He and some members of his family became good friends. He returned to Dar es Salaam four years ago where met the lady of his life. The family invited me to the wedding.

We had no idea how spectacular this day was going to be. Our experience, yesterday, in the Manyara Lake National Park was so exciting, we couldn’t imagine how it could be bettered. And, in way, it wasbecause the first day of being introduced to so many beautiful animals in a natural pristine environment was both heart opening and spectacular.

However, the Ngorongoro Crater itself is so dramatic that the collection of amazing animals and Crater match each other’s intensity. We were up at 5 am. Our hotel gave us breakfast at 5:30 am and had a box lunch ready for us. We set off in our jeep. The early morning in Karartu (altitude approximately 5,000 ft) began with this amazing sunrise.

The road continued to climb up the outside of the Crater. The journey to the entrance was a brief twenty minutes.

We waitied for the paper work to be completed

There were several jeeps already at the gates to national park that surounds the Crater. Frustratingly, it took the park officials 3/4 of an hour to process us before we could gain entrance to the Park. Baboons were everywhere. They are not shy. We were told to make sure we kept the jeep doors closed. They love to go after food.

Baboon hanging out in a tree watching our every move

A bit about the Ngorongoro Crater. Per Wickipedia it is a large, unbroken, unflooded volcanic cauldron discovered in the late 19th Century. It was formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some two to three million years ago. The crater is 2,000 ft deep and its floor covers 100 sq mi. There is an estimated 25,000 animals within the crater. All of this is quite daunting.

Rube is busy already in the early AM taking photos

Finally we are ready to take off. The road becomes dirt again, but not filled with pot holes. We have the top of the jeep up so we can stand, not wanting to miss anything. I would guess, at this point we are 6,000 feet up. We turn a corner and the crater is revealed. I was astonished at how expansive it is. The varieties or greens and blues wove gently into one another. Yes, and inside is another alkaline lake.

Our first glmpse of the crater. The sun has not risen high enough yet to flood the space with warm light. Rube and Kaashu and I are allowed to exit the jeep for better views.

I kind of wished I had a wool hat. It was cold!

We continued. I was fascinated by these trees, their shape is very much like the Monterey Pine Trees that populate the Carmel and Monterey areas in California.

I wonder if these are Acacia trees?

I asked Chester, our guide, if I could get out and take more pictures. No, he said empatically. There are lions about. Sure enough. Look what happened, not two minutes later!

We crested over a hill and this lion was walking towards us. The male lion got closer And closer. Have you ever seen an animal so beautiful (and serene!)

Our day has certainly begun and we haven’t reached the floor of the crater, yet. In fact, we are just beginning to weave our way down.

The sun is just beginning to peek into the crater. Morning mist was rising from the land.

The first animals we pass are zebras.

I suddenly realized how horse-like a zebra is.

/> Zebras eating up their breakfast

These beautiful beings are less than a block away from us. In the distance are herds of buffalos.

As we descended into the crater this huge collection of buffalos were grazing.

I was fascinated by the light in the crater. As you can see in the picture above only part of this vast space has been illuminated by the sun. This contrast continued throughout the day. The areas enjoying a direct hit from the sun gave us lots of light to view the terrain and the various species of animals. The hills often remained very dark and mysterious.

A continued surprise is how easily these animals (in this case zebras and buffalos) co-exist.

Co-exist until one or other needs to eat. Hmmm. It is a metaphor for humans, I thought. Fortunately, we don’t eat one another, but we do battle for a point of view! I guess you could say that the animals battle for food, for existence. We, humans, really, are battling to satisfy our ego’s needs. Maybe our challenge is to grow beyond this individual and/or group selfishness. When I experienced the peace in this Crater, I sensed a message to us humans.

As we reached the Crater floor, the buffalo were nearby. I found the placement of these zebras amusing. The design of the coats integrates one to another no matter what position they are in.

Suddenly, we came upon a flock of birds. They moved very quickly but I caught this photo.

Searching for the name of this bird on Google images, I think this is a Ardeotis kori. Rube takes a break from her pursuit of animals. A scrawny lion sulks about.

We had been told previously that sometimes the herds of animal migrate from one side of the crater to the other. Well, to our amazement this happened with the buffalos. (A reminder, when you see blue background, it’s because there is no sun on that area – which is one of the qualities that makes being in the crater so extraordinary.)

Buffalos enjoying their breakfast /> We noticed that some of the buffalos started walking in a one direction. Others not yet

Then, they all got serious and the trek began.

We decided this must be happening because the scawny lion was a threat.

Oh no, we think we are incorrect. For to our left is a hyena somewhat hidden in the ground. See you he eyes us.

They are slippery types, hiding away (kind of) /> If you look to the left, in the dirt you will see the baby (kind of)

This beautiful gazelle was resting. This gazelle paid absolutely no attention to us. /> Hippopotamus enjoying his privacy by hiding.

Becoming a little more adventurous joining another behind the reeds.

I take a break while we journey on. It’s necessary to hang on at times.

We passed a few trees. I believe these are figs.

I think this is a Yellow Billed Stork.

There were a flock of these birds. Name?

I continue to love the dark earth that one sees in Tanzania. And, if you look carefully into the distance you will see the lake and the shimmering flamingos

I love this photo of a zebra in front of the lake filled with flamingos

In looking on Google Images I wonder if this is a Histurgops Rficaudus. It certainly is an alert species.

Crowned-Crane, I believe Saddle-billed Storks (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) ?? Close up of what I think is a Saddle-Billed Stork. /> Into this bucolic scene comes a lion. She decides to settle in for a while. Meantime, in the distance we view an elephant approaching. It comes closer. This is the only elephant we see today. Such a magestic species. (The lake is shimmering in the background.) /> We get closer to the lake and the mass of flamingos.

I keep being amazed at the fact that every turn our safari jeep takes we see another species. Next up?

A herd of wart hogs are nearby

The Wart Hog babies are thirsty Many Wart Hog mothers were busily feeding.

All our attention has been to the left. Suddenly Kaashu said: Look to the right. There before us were a herd of cows. Rube and I were astonished. Chester said these belong to the Masai Warriors. They are allowed to bring their cattle into the Crater each day to drink the water from the alkaline lake. They, must however, be out of the Crater by 6 pm.

An invasion of cows brought into the Crater by the Masai

Looking closely we discovered there are two herds We were startled to see that those tending the cows are young – like 10 – 12 year old, Masai tribe members. Two of them came over to our jeep and asked for water.

At this point a leader of another safari in a similar style jeep drove by reporting he had received a message that a hyena was attacking a baby buffalo. Chester asked: Do you want to go and watch? Rube and I said an emphatic no. Kaashu said yes. The ladies prevailed.

I have become intrigued with zebras. So, I am adding another photo of them.

This intimacy of two Zebras is so special.

As we move into fertile land ostriches begin to play part.

This female ostrich is sitting quietly. She decides to move along.

Now that we are far away from where we entered the Crater – the other side. It is becoming easier to see the terrain of the cliffs of the Crater.

The red earth, once again, becomes dominant Looking towards the Crater hill, the coloring remains very dark. We take a different road which gives a different angle and the srubbiness of the Crater hill becomes more evident. The view becomes almost tropical.

At first I thought that dark brown mound was an animal. Nope, it’s a stack of wood!

Two ostriches came into view – playing the dating game, we surmised.

Keeping an eye out, he is He makes a move,

She makes a move. The pursuit is becoming serious She reaches the road in front of us /> He is close on her heels. He is closing in on her and they disappear.

Perhaps this is a Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris).

We are beginning the end of our journey in the Crater. Stopping for lunch on the edge of the alkaline lake we are admonished to eat inside the jeep. There are scavenger birds that dive at people eating food. We paid attention. However, others did not and we watched these scavengers become very aggessive. Needless to say the picnicers soon retreated to their jeep.

We got out to stretch our legs hoping we might see a rhinocerous in the lake. We saw a bit of the water ripple but not the animal. Oh well, we have had an extraordinary day.

Chester relaxes after we arrive at the lake for lunch. Rube and Kaashu after lunch

Rube & Kaashu return to our jeep. As you can see this is a gathering place for many taking a safari

The end of our time in the Crater has come. We have a four hour drive now back to Arusha. We are all surfeited with images and experiences. How lucky we have been!

After our journey back to Arusha and dinner at the Kitine’s Mrs. Kitine presented me with a Masai Warrior cape. That was a very kind gesture.

Then she, her husband and children, Rube and I sat about and chatted. It was a fun family evening.

Othman Kitine and Ann chatted long into the night. The youngest Kitine hung out with us. He’s a sweetheart.

We left Arusha at 7am the next morning. And, wonderfully the mist, fog and rain had lifted. From the bus I was able to grab a couple of photos of Mt. Kilimanarjo. It’s huge, speads a long distance (wide) and was covered in glistening snow.

Mt. Kilimanjaro Mt. Kilmanjaro with the early morning sun shining on it.


The Manor at Ngorongoro

Reminiscent of a country farm with quaint Cape Dutch style architecture, the Manor at Ngorongoro lies within the Shangri-La Arabica Coffee Estate, surrounded by lovely gardens amid the natural splendour of Tanzania.

Located adjacent to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, it is an exclusive safari experience combining East African safari hospitality with timeless architecture and décor. Besides game drives into the Ngorongoro Crater to view wildlife, and bush picnics on the Crater floor, other activities at the Manor at Ngorongoro include excursions to a Maasai Market, Lake Manyara and Olduvai Gorge guided estate walks or bicycle trails along the Ngorongoro Crater.

There are 18 guest suites set in nine cottages and your room will have its own courtyard, private deck and both indoor and outdoor fireplaces - perfect for stargazing or snuggling with a nightcap after a full-day on safari!


Watch the video: Lunch in a crater in Tanzania Ngorongoro Crater (May 2022).