Arusha & Serengeti August 24 – 27
I have been on many safari trips in Africa and have seen the African Big Five on many occasions. But I decide to join Venus’s 12-day safari trip in order to find out whether the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and the world-renowned annual migration at Maasai Mara live up to their reputation.
While Venus’s group of 12 would fly from Hong Kong to Kilimanjaro via Doha, I would take a short flight from Dar es Salam to Arusha. We would meet up in Arusha and spend eight nights in Tanzania including six nights in the Serengeti National Park before flying to Maasai Mara in Kenya for three nights. The safari trip would end on September 4 in Nairobi.
Day 1 August 24 Dar es Salam – Arusha
As my flight would leave at 12:40pm, I had time for a visit to the fish market in Dar es Salam. Ling, Karen and I had a nice morning walk to the market which is about 2km from our hotel. It’s a pleasant and enjoyable walk.
The fish market must be the largest and most vibrant one in Africa. It’s smelly and crowded with perhaps two thousand people juggling around. Some 20 large wooden fishing boats were on the beach with their catch. They brought the fish in buckets ashore to sell.
The market spreads over several buildings providing several hundred stalls/stands. Most of them are selling small fish. Big fish which was cut into small pieces were sold in one building. Food is sold in the last block.
We returned to the hotel by tuk-tuk around 9 am. After breakfast, I took a pre-arranged taxi to the airport at 10 am (35,000MWK).
When I checked in, I realised that it would fly to Arusha via Zanzibar. Hence, I had a scenic flight over the turquoise water before landing in Zanzibar. More developments have taken place on the island since my scary visit when I had the vein on my right wrist cut by a shattering glass-shower. I shall never forget my near-death experience.
After a dozen passengers got onboard, we moved on and landed in Arusha around 3 pm. A driver picked me up and drove me to the Rivertrees Country Inn. The Hong Kong group of 12 arrived shortly after 5pm. My friend Ellen was my roommate.
We sat around a camp fire for a drink before dinner. I tried to remember the names of my new travel mates: Josephine and Peter, Lee and Susanna, Raymond and Grace, Stewart, Sylvia, Pat and Joyce. After a nice light dinner, we all went to bed early.
Day 2 August 25: Arusha – Karatu
We had a full breakfast at 7am and were ready to leave by 8 am. The group would be travelling in two 4WD with Ali and Macdonald as drivers. Venus, Ellen, Stewart, Joyce, Josephine, Peter and I went with Ali who is 63. After a short briefing, we set off at 9 am.
Today we had a light programme. We stopped in a Maasai settlement where we paid US$10 each for a visit. A member of the family who speaks good English was our guide. His father has seven wives and a household of 75 members. They live in 12 mud huts and keep 40 cows and over 70 goats. A slaughtered cow can feed the large family for four days.
He showed us his hut measuring about 10 m2. It is windowless with a narrow opening. There are two tiny compartments inside: one for him and his wife and the other for his three children. The only empty space inside the hut is for cooking and eating. There is nothing inside the hut.
He took us to a newly built two room structure without roof or door. We saw ten kids with a teacher. Two kids came out and counted one to ten in English and Swahili.
We also had a demonstration on how the Maasai people make fire.
It’s a busy place with many paid visitors. We arrived when a small group left. When we were at the classroom, another group arrived. I presume they have a fair amount of income from tourists.
We arrived in the Kitela Lodge around 2pm. The lodge, a former coffee plantation, is luxurious with a swimming pool. We had champagne on arrival and a delicious lunch on the veranda with full views of the plantation.
After lunch, we had a self-guided walk of the plantation and discovered many avocado trees. We picked two dozen ripe ones which were on the ground: they were most delicious and fresh.
Ellen and I had a swim before sunset. The water was refreshing. Then I had a glass of white wine on the veranda watching sunset.
It got dark shortly after 6pm. Soon, it was time for a sumptuous dinner with wine. I felt I was on holiday and enjoyed my jolly travel mates.
August 26 – September 4: 10-day Safari Trip in Tanzania & Kenya
Our group had three full-day and ten morning/late afternoon game drives in ten days in a unique and expansive area which is part of the larger Serengeti ecosystem. This area includes the Serengeti National Park and its surrounding areas namely the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the southeast, the Masaw Game Reserve to the southwest, the Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves and the Loliondo Game Control Area to the northeast and east and Maasai Mara National Reserve to the north.
Animals are abundant especially during the migration season. I easily saw thousands of animals each day and many of the species were seen many times. What makes the safari unforgettable is the setting, landscape, wonderful viewing and unique moments each day I experienced when watching the animals. I would only mention several most memorable and special encounters each day.
As it is meaningless to name the animals individually every time, I have prepared a list of animals/mammals/birds I have seen (of course, many have been seen but have not been recognised as I am not a good animal and bird spotter).
Animals/Mammals: African Big Five (African buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion & rhinoceros (rhino), cheetah, hippopotamus (hippo), Maasai giraffe, bushbuck, steenbok, dik dik, Thomson’s gazelle , Grant’s gazelle, impala, Topi, hartebeest, wildebeest, common eland, warthog, waterbuck & zebra, spotted hyaena, black-backed jackal, olive baboon, velvet monkey, hyrax (rock & yellow-spotted) and mongoose (banded & dwarf) etc.
Birds – common ostrich, pelican, great cormorant, black-headed heron, hamerkop, stork (marabou & white), sacred ibis, flamingo, goose (Egypt & spur-winged), secretary bird, vulture (hooded, white-headed, African white-backed , Ruppell’s Griffon & Lappet-faced), eastern Changting-Goshawk, eagle (bateleur & Tawny), helmeted guineafowl, red-necked francolin, African jacana, grey crowned crane, Kori bustard, plover (spur-winged, long-toed & crowned), dove, Verreaux’s eagle owl, kingfisher, speckled moosebird, little bee-eater, lilac-breasted roller (national bird of Kenya), hornbills, Usambiro grassland pipit, yellow-throated longclaw, common bulbul, flycatcher, shrike, boubou, starling (superb, Hildebrandt’s & wattle), parrot, sparrow, weaver, blue-capped cordon-blue, barbet etc.
Others worth a mention include rainbow agama, striped skink and Nile crocodile.
Day 3 August 26: Ngorongoro Crater
Our safari trip began on high note on the world famous Ngorongoro Conservation area, a cultural and natural World Heritage Site. The conservation area is home to the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera and the various prehistoric sites. The area also houses various endangered wildlife and the Maasai tribe coexist with the animals.
Formed by the implosion of a massive volcano two to three million years ago, the crater is 610m deep and its floor area covers an area of 260km2. Its diameter is 20km long. The estimated height of the original volcano ranges from 4,500 to 5,800m high and the crater floor is 1,800m above sea level.
The caldera forms a unique world on its own with open plains, forests, freshwater lakes and soda lakes. The crater highland on the side facing the easterly trade winds receive 800 to 1,200 mm of rain a year and is covered largely in montane forest. The less-steep west wall receives only 400 to 600mm and is grassland and bushland dotted with Euphorbia bussei trees. The crater floor is mostly open grassland with two small wooded areas dominated by fever trees.
The caldera is fed by the Munge and Olijoro Nyuki Rivers, while the Ngoitokitok hot springs feed into the Goringop swamp. Lake Magadi is a shallow (1.7 m) alkaline lake is located in the centre of the crater. Other volcanoes within the complex include Olmoti, Empakaai, Loolmalasin, Sadiman, Lemagrut and Oldeani.
There are many small springs on the crater floors which provide water for the animals and local Maasai especially during times of drought. The crater is home for approximately 25,000 large animals which migrate inside in search of food. Large mammals include black rhinos (11-14 in 1995), lion (62 in 2001), African buffalo, hippos, blue wildebeest (7000 in 1994), Grant’s Zebras, common elands, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles and waterbucks. Thousands of mainly lesser flamingos are often found in Lake Magadi.
There is a very high chance of sighting the African Big Five and other major species. The crater is a safari world in miniature.
The most awesome experience today was not the animals but the sight of the crater and the moment I began to descend from the rim into the crater floor. The mysterious mist was suddenly lifted giving me my first glimpse of the sheer size and perfect form of the crater, its floor, terrain, vegetation and landscape.
The beautiful morning light and blue sky created a surreal world: the dry grass looked golden, the soda lake was veiled white with smoke blown wildly by the wind, and the slope inside the crater was leafy and green.
What an extraordinary landscape and scenery! I have seen many craters but this is truly unique and most impressive.
I also saw large herds of buffaloes, zebras and wildebeests on the move. They were migrating inside the crater.
We had picnic lunch near the Ngoitokitok Spring around 1 pm.
By 1:30pm, we made an ascent and drove towards Serengeti. It is a long drive mostly on dirt road. The area is arid, vast and empty. It was very hot and dry. By 3:30pm, we arrived at the Serengeti National Park entrance.
The Serengeti National Park, a natural World Heritage Site with an area of 14,750km2 , comprises grassland plains, savanna, riverine forest and woodlands. It is home to one of the largest mammal migration in the world for over 1.5 million white-bearded wildebeest, 250,000 zebra, numerous Nile crocodile and honey badger.
The park is usually described as divided into three regions-
Serengeti plains of the south are almost treeless grassland. This is where the wildebeest breed and remain from December to May. Zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, Topi, buffalo and waterbuck gather in huge numbers during the wet season.
Western corridor with the savannah covered by black clay soil. The Grumeti River and its gallery forests is home to Nile crocodiles, patas monkeys, hippos and martial eagles. The migration passes through from May to July.
Northern Serengeti is dominated by open woodlands and hills. Migration of wildebeest and zebra occur from July to August and in November. This is also the best place to find elephant, giraffe and dik dik.
The Serengeti is abundant with the African Big Five: it is estimated that there are over 3,000 lions, 1,000 leopards, 5,000 elephants, about 30 eastern black rhinos and 53,000 buffaloes. There are also many other mammals including cheetah (over 200), spotted hyenas (3,500), two species of jackals, African golden wolf, honey badger, striped hyena, serval, mongoose, otter, East African wild dog, yellow and olive baboon, vervet and black-and-white colobus monkey.
The park also boasts more than 500 bird species including Maasai ostrich, secretary bird, Kori bustards, helmeted guineafowl, Grey-breasted spurfowl, southern ground hornbill, crowned cranes, marabou storks, yellow-billed stork, lovebirds, martial eagles, ox-peckers and many species of vultures.
I moved to sit next to our driver Ali after entering into the National Park. We drove for three hours through the Serengeti Plains before reaching the Kubukubu Tented Camp at 6 pm.
Serengeti boasts millions of animals. Visitors will surely see lots of animals when driving through the park. The questions are just which animal, when, where and how the encounter would take place. As soon as we entered the park, we saw giraffe, elephant, zebra, buffalo, gazelle etc coming from all directions. Three encounters were more memorable.
First, I saw my first rainbow Agama just outside the toilet at the park entrance. The colourful and surreal creature was oblivious of people around it. I watched it moved swiftly and found itself a comfortable small rock. It posed on the rock for a few minutes before disappearing in the grass.
Second, I had the closest encounter with a Tawny eagle which stood less than a metre on the road side shortly after we entered the park. It’s big with piercing eyes and a majestic air.
Third, we saw our first group of five Maasai giraffes which stood in a line close to each other behind a couple acacia trees less than 20m from the road. I have seen countless giraffes over the years. But it was the first time to see five beautiful giraffes packed together in front of me.
Our luxurious camp stands on a hill side overlooking the expansive and endless Serengeti plains. We could see both sunrise and sunset from the terrace. Ellen and I had a large tent with three beds and two showers (one outside and one inside). It’s lovely to shower outdoor with views of the starry sky and the vast plain below. We stayed here for three nights and heard lion roaring and hyena calling at night.
Day 4 August 27: Central Serengeti
We had a full day game drive including spending over two hours having a picnic lunch and a guided walk in the visitors’ centre. I began my great day watching my first beautiful sunrise of this trip from our terrace around 6:30am.
Today, I saw thousands of animals and birds and had a few memorable occasions with lots of action.
First, soon after leaving the camp, we saw thousands of buffaloes crossing the dirt road. We stopped our vehicles to let them move on: they walked in front, next or behind our vehicles without fear. Hundreds of zebras were moving with the buffaloes.
These animals are masters and tourists should not disturb them. We spent almost an hour watching our first big herd of animal in the park.
Second, after driving a short distance, we arrived at a pond with many gazelles, storks and birds. We spotted a lion under a tree. Soon, it moved trying to stalk a gazelle. It first hided itself in the tall grass and walked stealthily towards the gazelle. When it was less than 10m away, the gazelle seemed to sense its presence and started to run for its life. It escaped in time and the lion gave up.
Third, we encountered our first big lion family with four lionesses and a dozen cubs. They were feeding on their kill (a buffalo or gazelle). A dozen of vehicles stopped by the road to watch. The cubs looked curious and came to survey us. We were soon surrounded by lions.
What were in their mind? I wish I could communicate with them! We watched them for almost an hour.
Later we discovered a majestic lion sitting under a tree on the other side of the road in a distance. I wonder whether the lionesses are his harem. Before I could take a good photo of our first and handsome lion in the park, he turned away and soon disappeared.
Fourth, on the way back, we had an incredible 90 minutes of actions and encounters with elephants, lions, storks and a crocodile.
We watched our first big herd of elephants bathing, eating and playing in a bush near a pool for some 20 minutes.
Lions arrived after the elephants. First, we saw a lioness, then another followed by two more. They had a dozen cubs. The whole gang showed no fear and zigzagged around a dozen of vehicles that had stopped to watch them. Then they spread out and lay on the grass resting. A mom was caressing her cub affectionally. We watched this group for another 20 minutes.
Soon we arrived at the pond where we watched a lioness stalking a gazelle in the morning. This time we found half a dozen marabou storks on spot light (i.e. they were lit up by the soft golden sunset rays). Suddenly, the head of a Nile crocodile emerged out of the water with two small horns sticking out at a corner of its mouth. We saw its head of the crocodile out of the water a couple times. From the photos taken, we could see that it was probably eating a gazelle.
When we got back to the camp, the sun was about to set. But dark clouds gathered over the plain. It was raining in a distance. The lights against dark clouds were atmospherically beautiful.
It started to rain soon after I had an outdoor shower. We decided to walk to the terrace to watch sunset amidst the rain. But while Ellen and I were too busy in finding our umbrella, we missed one of the best photo shots of the trip: a rainbow with the sky and Serengeti plain in red. As soon as the rain stopped, the sun broke through the sky creating a rainbow. At the same time, it somehow turned the sky into red with beautiful red hue over the plain. I guessed this phenomenon only lasted a few minutes and we just missed it. Anyway, I got a nice photo from Josephine.