Ngorongoro – a world of its own

Tuesday 4 October

The Ngorongoro Crater was a must see, but it was not until we got there that I realised what it meant in terms of our civilisation.

Once again, photos before story.

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Leaving our accommodation, we had a 40km drive ahead of us. We climbed and climbed. The day was dull and before long I felt the clouds were within reach. From the gate to the Ngorongoro Park we continued to climb, until we were in the clouds.

We travelled some way around the rim of the extinct volcano that is Ngoronogoro. At times, we couldn’t see more than 10m ahead of us because the cloud was so heavy. Chris, our driver said the crater was to our right – under the cloud. The lookout was like pea soup.

As we started to descend into the crater, the size of it became evident. Approximately 40km across, enough to see the other side. A 600m drop. And it really is a very steep drop.

Silver clouds and golden grass greeted us on a day when the clouds hung onto the rim of the crater.

Most of the crater floor is a grassy plain. At this time of the year the grass has dried to a soft golden colour, to match the lion’s coat. A lake is a shimmering white salt pan.

The population of each park varies, more or less lions, elephants, ostriches. The animals in this park are land locked and in a balanced population. Having said that, the density of lions and hyenas is higher than anywhere else.

We saw all the now familiar animals and some extras. The Lesser Flamingo population is a good size but too far away to see well.

I really thought I was seeing a brook babbling over large boulders. The boulders were in fact hippopotami, perhaps a hundred of them, all snuggled up together. One very small one was feeding, popping under water for another suck, then coming up to breath while mamma lay on her side.

Every now and then a raucous broke out with lots of snorting and growling.

There were birds in the hippo pond as well, sacred ibis, cranes, egrets, vultures and pelicans flapping their wings. There were some unidentifiable nests in the rushes.

We spotted four lions sauntering through the grasses. They looked like they were in hunting mode, but they wandered past the gazelles without threatening them. Perhaps a gazelle wasn’t a big enough meal.

On our way to the lunch park we came across two lionesses sprawled across the road. Other photo-hunters were also stopping to capture the moment. The lions slept on. They must have been sleeping off a mighty good meal.

A large carpark beside a lake was set aside for photo-hunters to have lunch. The normal birds were actively scavenging food and a couple of black hawks were circling in a menacing manner, looking out for morsels.

We continued our safari after lunch, to the lookout to get an understanding of the crater floor and the to the forest, fed by fresh water springs coming in underground streams from Lake Victoria, 500km away.

As we climbed to the rim again we got an understanding of its vastness.

When we reached the park gate I was writing notes and forgotten that my window was open. Chris, our guide went to sign paperwork for us leaving the park. Suddenly a baboon jumped through the window and into the back seat where our unfinished lunch boxes were. Bruce & I hopped out of the car as quickly as we could, Chris returned and the baboon was gone, with an uneaten sandwich. We were warned!

It is in this area that primates became biped, standing and walking on two legs between an estimated 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago. The footprints that are evidence of bipedalism were discovered by Mary Leakey around the crater in 1978. Once that was achieved, the brain developed further and the long journey from humanoid to human had begun. Yes, this area is the cradle of civilisation.

What we saw…

  • In cloud on rim
  • Ostrich
  • Wart hogs
  • Crowned crane
  • Thompson gazelles
  • Wildebeest
  • Flamingos
  • Hyenas
  • Crane
  • Wildebeest
  • More flamingos
  • Hippos
  • Sacred ibis, black & white, black beak
  • Blacksmith lapwing, black & white ground bird
  • Pelicans
  • Vultures
  • Stork with red leg
  • Lions
  • Kori bustard grey bird
  • Lions asleep
  • Buffalo in the grass
  • Kori bustard
  • Wildebeests & dramatic background
  • Male lion asleep
  • Lunch spot including black hawks
  • Zebras
  • Ostrich on eggs
  • Ostrich pair on burnt grass
  • Lookout
  • Hawk? In tree top
  • Wildebeest line