This is the last post from our trip to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in mid-May 2014 and shares some of the wonderful sights we were privileged to see. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is not only a conservation area but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located 180 km west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania.
The main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority is the Ngorongoro Crater. This is the world’s largest inactive and intact volcanic caldera. The crater was formed when a large volcano blew its top off two to three million years ago. The crater is about 600 metres deep and its floor is around 1,800 metres above sea level. The crater is approximately 16 kilometres wide and its floor covers 260 square kilometres.
The crater looks spectacular from the south western park gate. The image below is a panorama taken when we stopped on our way into the Serengeti. This was Joseph’s way of showing us what we were in for at the end of our trip.
Although the crater walls do create “a natural enclosure” for much of the wildlife, an estimated 20 percent or more of the Wildebeest and half the Zebra populations vacate the crater in the wet season. Buffalo and Eland do the opposite where their highest numbers are seen during the rains.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
The Crater is noticeably cooler than the Serengeti, especially in the morning. As we were waiting for the gate to open at 6h00 it was really chilly and remained so until about 10h00.
The only raptor we saw was this Augur Buzzard early in the morning, though we did hear Fish Eagles. There were no trees for the Augur Buzzard to perch on so it perched on rocks alongside the road. This is one of the most beautiful Buzzards, next to the Jackal Buzzard.
We don’t usually see these raptors down in SA as they don’t often go further south than Zimbabwe.
The Grey Crowned Crane is my favourite Crane. I think it is exquisitely beautiful with that golden crown, red wattles, black downy forehead and gorgeous blue eyes. They also make a distinct ‘whooping’ call.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
– Wayne Dyer
There are many Grey Crowned Cranes in the crater, more than I have seen anywhere else. Pairs of Crowned Cranes are regularly seen flying between the dams, springs and lakes in the crater.
The crater floor is remarkably flat and the grass not too high so you can see almost all of the game.
I love this image of a Lioness looking down over the crater floor from the south eastern side. There is such a sense of space and benign beauty. You can almost see something coming up the hill from her fixed gaze.
“For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson
There were two Lionesses who took turns to look after the cubs. The one Lioness and cubs looked very bedraggled from all the dew on the grass.
This Black-backed Jackal was hanging around the Lion family. He probably figured there was some food close by. This Jackal was extremely wary and must have had many close encounters of the dangerous kind.
Back down on the crater floor we saw this old black Rhino. One of the difficulties in the crater, from a photographic point of view, is that you cannot go off road to get into the right position in relation to the direction of the light. The number of vehicles in the crater at any one time is controlled. Joseph indicated that rangers have scopes trained on the vehicles in the crater to ensure that everyone is obeying the park rules – a good thing in my opinion.
Thankfully, there is nothing like the gross poaching abuse of Rhinos, and all game for that matter in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, that we see in SA, especially Kruger Park.
The highlands on the east side of crater face the prevailing winds and receive 800 to 1,200 millimetres of rain a year which supports the montane forest. The less-steep west wall receives only 400 to 600 millimetres and is grassland and bushland dotted with Tree Euphorbias. The crater floor is mostly open grassland with two small wooded areas dominated by Fever trees.
“There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations”
― Jodi Picoult
The main water source feeding the Lake Magadi, seasonal salt lake, flows from the north side. The second large water source in the crater is the Ngoitokitoki spring. A huge swamp which is fed by the spring and is enjoyed by all the wildlife, especially the Hippos.
There are numerous Black Kites scavenging around the picnic site down near the Ngoitokitoki spring. They look very similar to our Yellow-billed Kites but have a distinct greyish head.
After having a had a scrumptious lunch down in the acacia forest with the whole group, we wandered down to the salt lake to see the Crowned Cranes. On our way we stopped close to a pair of Kori Bustards. In Mashatu, the Koris will not let us get close but in the crater we managed to get very close to these impressive birds. Both male and female were displaying with their neck feathers fluffed out.
We were hoping for a full display from the male but he did not oblige. The female went and sat down in the flowers right alongside the road. We thought she might have a nest there so moved closer along the road to have a look. As soon as we got close, this willy bird stood up and walked away. There was no nest she was luring us away from some other place, probably her nest.
Not far down the road at the closest point to the Magadi salt lake we stopped to watch the antics of a large group of Grey Crowned Cranes.
These birds are also majestic fliers
Down at the salt lake we were privileged to see layer upon layer of wildlife. In the foreground were Crowned Cranes, behind them were Pink-backed Pelicans, behind them on the water’s edge were Pied Avocets and behind them in the water were Lesser Flamingoes. Not only was he variety captivating but so too was the sheer number of birds.
The lake was a paradise for the birds, the birders and the photographers.
“I am interested in the nature of things. The nature of something is quite different from the way it looks.”
– Duane Michals
Something got the Pelicans moving and they all took to the air. We never realised just how many there where until they were all airborne.
This large flock of Pink-backed Pelicans circled the lake for about five minutes before flying off over the crater wall not be seen again that day. This was an unforgettable spectacle of wildlife.
Just to add to the wonderful view of all the birds in and around the lake, small groups of Zebra and Thompson’s Gazelles and the odd Hyaena would often walk into the foreground.
The next image shows Pied Avocets in the foreground, Lesser Flamingoes in the water and the Pink Backed Pelicans flying above them. The colour and movement in front of us was dazzling.
“Photography is a medium, a language, through which I might come to experience directly, live more closely with, the interaction between myself and nature.”
– Paul Caponigro
We were running out of time because we had to be back at the Ngorongoro Conservancy offices by 16h00 to sign out so we reluctantly had to leave this wildlife spectacle.
Who ever it was that said this is one of the wonders of the world – I agree. It is a very special place.
“When I started my adventure in photography, I was suddenly introduced to the world around me. I can’t believe I have been so blind for too many years.”
– Laura Tate Sutton
We drove out of the north eastern face of the crater. Looking back we had a stunning view of the crater. There are always clouds around the south western rim of the crater and it is the most moist part.
Storm clouds were building as we were driving out but we never drove through rain. Driving on the south-eastern rim of the crater it is like being in a rainforest.
We spent ten very happy hours in the crater. This is one place I need to spend more time in.
Our last night was spent at the Explorean Ngorongoro Lodge. This is a superb colonial style lodge about kilometre or two from the Ngorongoro Conservancy gate and about half an hour from the crater. What a pleasure to finish our trip in the lap of luxury – a wonderful finishing touch.
The hotel, staff and cuisine were top draw. I will definitely spend my last night here on our next trip.
To Rika and Mariska from ExplorePlus – you put together a wonderful trip in Tanzania. Thank you very much. Even though our needs as photographers were different to the rest of the group, we really appreciated the extra care in arranging the vehicle and our ranger Joseph who was a real character and an excellent guide. To our group of fellow travellers, thank your for entertaining evenings. It was great to meet you all and I wish you many more opportunities to explore this amazing continent of ours.
To my photo-buddy, Elana, thank you for inviting me to join you on this trip. I spent eight very happy days in your company and it sounds like we both gained new understandings in our photography from each other. Your dedication, enthusiasm and striving for excellence were an inspiration. I can’ t wait for our next trip.
“Take nothing but pictures
Kill nothing but time
Leave nothing but footprints”
– John Kay
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and then let it be!