What to write for my first blog. Hmmmmmmm!!! As all my friends (and not so friends) tell me, I generally have a quite a bit to say, so it should not be a problem. Hope they are right.

Having a passion for travelling in Africa, I really want you to experience Africa and develop a love for some of the world’s most unique destinations. My idea is to get you TRIPPING on Africa, rather than on any other form of stimulant. I also will also try to be helpful with tips, info and things to avoid.

Let’s start with the Serengeti Wildebeest Migration:

Part of the vast Wilderbeest herds

Sooo many gnus

My most exhausting trip to date was my trip to Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire, known as Tanzania’s Northern Circuit. The goal of my trip, several years ago, was to orientate me to the area and get to see as many lodges and hotels as possible. 15 Days, 49 lodges and hotels. And some people don’t call this work? The trip was invaluable as I learned about distances, landscapes, things to do, places to see and places I don’t want to ever see again.

Many of you will have seen some of the myriad of National Geographic films made on the Serengeti and it famous annual Wildebeest migration. 1.8 million animals, Wildebeest & Thompsons gazelles, moving together, crossing swollen rivers infested with hungry crocodiles, kicking up dust and snorting, what could be more different from our normal lives?

I break away for a moment to ask if you ever thought about the amount of dung that is deposited by these masses of animals and what happens to it. Well – two thirds of the 420 tons per day get processed by dung beetles, awesome little creatures! The balance serves to fertilize the Serengeti and prepare it for next year’s grass crop.

The annual migration follows circular pattern, and while the herds are not yet tech savvy enough to be able to send me an e-mail as to where they find themselves at any given time, this picture gives you a rough idea of the typical pattern they follow, year after year after year.

Why do they migrate at all? Simple answer – where’s the food and water?

Spread across the southern plains - time for calving

Spread across the southern plains – time for calving

December to March:
December to March, the southern plains are green, nutritious and full of flowers. The wildebeest herds are almost static and they use this time wisely and calve. So many calves (approx. 8000 per day), make it impossible for the predators to make a significant dent in the overall numbers. April and May are the months of the long rains and the herds move a bit north and the young calves benefit from this abundance. As June arrives and the dry season takes its grip, the herds move towards Lake Victoria (which has its own micro climate) into the Western Corridor.

April to September:
The grass soon becomes depleted and the herds move north as they smell the coming short rains in northern Serengeti/Masai Mara area. This is when the spectacular wildebeest migration Mara River crossings take place.

Migration Crossing the Mara River

Braving the Mara River

From October to December, they again make their way south to the southern plains.

Another aside. Wildebeest can detect rain up to 50km away, not sure how, but they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map of the wildebeest migration

Route the migration takes

 

 

Travelling to the Serengeti is a little bit more than, book a lodge, any lodge, get out your sunscreen and hat, jump in your safari vehicle and travel 15min to the herds that are eagerly awaiting you to make your appearance. As in buying a house, the success of your trip all depends on location, location, location. Careful planning will not go wasted and will serve to whet your appetite for one of the most awesome spectacle’s you will ever be privileged to see.

Tripping Tips:

It is essential to find a lodge/s that places you in the correct basic area for that time of the year as the distances in the Serengeti are vast (approximately same size as Belgium).

As your day out on safari will take you into the wilderness, be aware that there are not ablutions around every corner and squatting behind the vehicle will be the order of the day.

What to Trip on next.

What happened when the Mt Ngorongoro blew its top and how it relates to the Serengeti

A violent volcanic eruption that blows the top of Mount Ngorongoro, one of the highest freestanding mountains in Africa. Is that dramatic enough?

Hippo pool at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 

A violent volcanic eruption that blows the top of Mount Ngorongoro, one of the highest freestanding mountains in Africa. Is that dramatic enough?

How the Ngorongoro Area was formed:

The boring technical stuff first:
The Ngorongoro Crater finds itself on the coming together of two continental plates along what is called the Great Rift Valley. This fault in the earth extends from the Dead Sea in Israel to Botswana & Zambia where it ends some 6400 kms later. It is the volcanic action of this fault that caused Mt Ngorongoro to erupt and spew lava onto the Serengeti Plains. The Ngorongoro Crater is thought to have formed about 2.5 million years ago from a large active volcano whose cone collapsed inward after a major eruption, leaving the present vast, unbroken caldera (6th largest in the world) as its chief remnant.

These plains are mostly in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation area

Treeless Serengeti Plains

Why are the Serengeti Plains treeless?

Once the lava had cooled back into rock, the whole of the Serengeti Plains became a huge slab of rock. Over eons, volcanic ash, dust and sand settled over this rock, grass and small bushes started growing. To the soil covering this rock is about 15cm deep. Trees cannot grow as they are unable to penetrate the rock. This is why the Serengeti Plains are almost treeless.

Crucial to our understanding of this area is that the Serengeti Plains are now mostly part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and NOT in the Serengeti National Park. How did this happen?

Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) – the experiment:

The Serengeti National Park was declared in 1951 by the British and by 1959, the experiment that is The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) was started. It was an attempt to conserve and promote the life and interests of the Maasai who are inhabitants of the area. This is a pioneer experiment which attempted to reconcile the interests of wildlife,

Maasai pastoralists and conservation in a natural traditional setting. Land within the area is multi-use, providing protection status for wildlife while also permitting human habitation. Its uniqueness lays in the fact that the NCA is where man, livestock and wild animals live in peace: For the most part they have succeeded!

Maasai cattle can sometimes be seen grazing alongside zebras on Ngorongoro’s grassland. Most of the famous Serengeti Plains now fall in the NCA.

Bucket list, for sure.

How deep and how wide. See for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How big is the Ngorongoro Crater?

The Crater itself is one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. It is 16 to19 kms in diameter, with walls are up to 600m high. In this extinct volcano is the densest known population of lions, numbering 62. Higher up, in the rainforests of the crater rim, are leopards, about 30 large elephants, mountain reedbuck and more than 4,000 buffalos, spotted hyenas, jackals, rare wild dogs, cheetahs, and other cat species. All this in an area less than 260 square kms! Beat that!

One of the funniest and most poignant sights I had while visiting the crater was a pick-up truck (bakkie) that carried about 6 guys in orange overalls, bouncing along the crater floor. The purpose of this you may well ask? They are part of a team that permanently follows the Black Rhinos and is responsible for their protection, 24/7.

The crater is home to a small forest, The Lerai Forest, a shallow soda lake called Lake Magadi (home to huge flocks of flamingos, both greater and lesser), the Gorigor Swamp and the Ngoitokitok Springs where pods of hippo are to be found. It was quite dry when I was there and the hippos were so tightly packed in the little remaining deep water they looked like a very bumpy raft. (For this reason, I am in favour of calling a “collection” of hippos a raft)

A little shade cubs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shade anyone?

The north of the Crater is, on the whole, much drier and consists of the open grasslands which characterises the Crater floor; this is where the majority of the resident game resides. On a single game drive, I managed to see three prides of lions (jealousy is not a pretty thing). How many areas this size in Africa can boast the same? The Crater’s lion population, on the whole, show a complete disregard of vehicles; they will hunt within yards of a vehicle, and when exhausted even seek shade beside them.

Sode Lakes are the ideal feeding ground for flamingos

Flamingos and more in the Ngorongoro Crater

Wilderness or Zoo?

Safaris in the crater are rewarding in that the abundance and variety of wildlife seen in such a small space is unparalleled. You however have to contend with “Bakkies” with orange overalls flying past, fellow gawkers in many other safaris vehicles making it feel like Grand Central Zoo rather than a true wilderness experience (please see one of my future blogs on Wilderness Camping in the Serengeti for a more relaxed safari).

Migration in the Ngorongoro

Wildebeest herds spread over the Serengeti Plains in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation area

The Ngorongoro Migration

While the Ngorongoro Crater is the centre piece of the NCA, the plains below are the dessert. The legendary annual wildebeest and zebra migration also passes through Ngorongoro, when over 2 million ungulates (big word I know) move south into the area in December then move out heading north in June. The ungulates (just boasting that I know a big word) 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,000 zebra, and 470,000 gazelles.

Herds of Wildebeest in January

Lake Ndutu

Not all is about the ungulates. The Lake Ndutu area to the west has significant cheetah and lion populations. Over 500 species of bird have been recorded within the NCA.

Empakai Crater, part of the Ngorongoro Conservation area

Besides Ngorongoro, there are two other craters in the area: the Olmoti and Empakai Craters. These two are located in remote and pristine places, where you can enjoy tranquil walks, cultural experiences and game viewing, against a backdrop of spectacular vistas. Among NCA’s many other treasures, a most intriguing one is the Olduvai Gorge, towards the border with Serengeti.

This where they dug up Lucy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy, Homo-habilis

The Olduvai Gorge archaeological site, widely regarded as the cradle of mankind and the most important prehistoric site in the world. It is at Olduvai where remains of Zinjanthropus, the world’s first humans, were discovered by Dr Louis and Mary Leakey over 50 years ago. The earliest known specimens of the human genus, Homo-habilis, as well as early hominids such as Paranthropus boisei have also been found there.

Fun Facts:

60% of all tourists to Tanzania visit the Ngorongoro area
No impala or giraffe in the crater.