September 27th – Day Three
We all woke up bright and early to have breakfast before our drivers were scheduled to arrive at 7.15. Once they arrived we split into three groups and then got into the relevant vehicle for our drive to the Ngorongoro crater. Keryn and I were with Helen, Lyn and Jacques being driven by Sisste. We set off in convoy and drove out, stopping for the first time at the Ngorongoro park office to have our entrance credentials checked. Once done it was back into the vehicles and off up the road to the crater rim. Along the way we had a couple of brief stops to look at Zebra and an Elephant with two young in tow eating off the side of the road. Onwards our next stop was at the crater rim to look over the crater plain below.
It was explained that we were actually standing at the edge of the worlds largest caldera, a volcano that collapsed upon itself rather than exploding. The floor of the caldera is 16 by 19 kms wide and contains a wide variety of wildlife but not any female elephants or giraffes. Our viewpoint was looking down on the sunlit plain while we were buffeted by cool winds and swirling mists. The view was partially obscured as the mist and cloud headed out over the rim into the caldera. Photos taken and talks finished we loaded up again and set off on the winding road down into the crater.
There was one more stop at a kind of vehicle passport control. We all got out and walked through the crowded gate, taking photos of Maasai where possible (most of the Maasai were asking for money for the privilege so I limited myself to a Maasai who was heading his cattle from over the hill). Once the vehicle was through the tangle of other trucks and jeeps we were in again and heading down the steep and dusty road into the caldera proper. Along the way down we saw a number of Maasai guiding their cattle into the caldera, the Maasai have traditionally used the lakes and springs within the caldera for watering their livestock and the practice still continues even though the caldera is now a World Heritage site. From our jeep we could see herds of animals that became identifiable the closer we got to the plain; wildebeest, zebra and gazelle making up the majority.
A young Maasai herding cattle
We spent the morning and early afternoon driving the caldera looking for animals. The encounter with Elephant fairly early on was quite good, a couple of bulls deciding to wander in front on the jeep while we watched. We also had a great couple of encounters with lions. A female wandered along a stream bed looking like she was on the hunt for something. Any chance of a catch was spoiled by the 15 or so jeeps and trucks following her every move from both sides of the stream. Later on we came across a young male who wandered no more that 12 feet or so from our jeep, completely ignoring us. He walked a short way while we followed before disappearing down into the scrub hanging along the sides of the same stream we had seen the female walking earlier.
The young male posing while having a rest
The caldera was mostly dry and dusty and the dozens of vehicles kicked up a lot of material meaning we were constantly hiding our camera equipment from the worst of the swirling particles. There is talk that next year the entry fee for the caldera will increase maybe as much as 10 fold in an attempt to preserve the environment and reduce tourist numbers, this can only be a good thing from what we saw. It often felt like we were in some giant zoo rather than the wilds of Africa.
From a distance we also saw a cheetah and a black rhino with young rhino in tow. All the caldera traffic had to keep to the assigned paths so it was up to the animals if they wanted to come closer, one good thing I suppose. In this time we also saw a very lazy hippo, a few ostrich, giant bustard (Africa’s largest flying bird), vulture, jackals, wart hog, hyena, a few different kinds of antelope and lots more zebra and wildebeest.
Lunch was had at a picnic stop next to a wetland area in the middle of the caldera. Mostly obscured by reeds there was an open lake area that was home to a number of hippo and a flock of cheeky kites. If any food was held in the open for more than a few minutes there would be a number of kites flying around attempting to grab the food from your hand, and they had no regard for human safety. Dave had people take his photo while holding food to tempt them in, he got the photo but also received a numbers of scratches for his troubles. Tina lost a whole packet of biscuits to another greedy kite. Because of the kites most of the food was consumed inside the vehicles. After eating we wandered the shore a little bit and just before we left had a group photo taken. Then it was back to the safari drive.
The afternoon highlights included a low flying flock of crowned cranes flying just in front, a black rhino briefly appearing nearby along with some nicely posed water buffalo, a couple of hunting secretary birds and a lazy group of hippos wallowing in a small swampy area. We also travelled to the salt pan/lake in the middle of the caldera to look at the birdlife, an Egyptian goose and some young flamingos being the most interesting specimens. The end of the day seemed to come fast and we all met at the edge of the forested area for a convenience stop and time out of the vehicles. This done it was a long slow drive up a dry and dusty road out of the Caldera. We managed to spot some blue monkeys and a hornbill on the way out which was nice.
Great Cranes flying in front of the vehicle
The drive back to the camp seemed quicker than the mornings drive to the crater and before to long we were unpacking and reflecting on the days adventure. Everyone had enjoyed the days drive; the other two groups had the bonus of talkative drivers who gave them lots of information about the animals they had seen as well as about the caldera. Jacques had keep us informed on the animals we saw its just a pity our driver wasn’t more communicative as he did seem to know what everything was. It was a good first game drive, we’d seen four of the big five being Lion, Elephant, Water Buffalo and Rhino. We had only missed the elusive leopard.
After dinner there was a birthday surprise for Keryn and Lyn, both of whom had had their birthday just before the trip started. Joe had backed a cake in the fire and Jacques had supplied a rather impressive cracker to let off as the cake was brought out for the candles to be blown. The cracker went off with a bang spewing forth sparkly foil and paper high into the air, eventually settling to cover a large area of ground around Will and Maria. The cake was lovely but we wouldn’t expect anything less from Joe.
We had some entertainment on show this night up by the bar. A group of local acrobats performed tricks and stunts, there was one gut balancing bottles on a stick held with his teeth and another who ran burning batons over his body and arms, down his pants (!) and then swallowed the fire. I watched this from the bar while downloading photos, Keryn joined the others with front row seats. Once the entertainment was done it was off to bed, another day done.