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Wednesday
May152013

Tanzania Holiday 6: Ngorongoro Crater - morning drive

After our day in Lake Manyara N.P., and the first night in Rhotia Valley, our next stop was the Ngorongoro Crater. The Crater is just one part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which sits right on the Serengeti National Park's southeast border.  Lake Manyara National Park (much smaller!) is nearby, just east & south of the "NCA".

Source: expertafrica.com

The geography here is part of the Serengeti ecosystem, but was separated and designated as a "Conservation Area" (vs a "National Park") specifically to allow human habitation for the Maasai and other tribes that have traditionally used the land.  No humans inhabit the Crater portion, but the tribes may bring cattle in to graze during the day.

The Ngorongoro Crater is the "world's largest, inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera" (Wikipedia).  It is effectively a natural enclosure that supports an unusually high number and density of wildlife.  The crater wall is 600m (2,000ft) deep, with an area of 260 sq km (100 sq mi).  Its Lake Magadi is, like Manyara & Momela, alkaline.

Because food is so plentiful, the Crater has the highest density of lions in Africa (over 60 total); they are also some of the largest and can keep new lions from entering the territory... ironically, this has led to inbreeding issues.
No giraffes, crocodiles, or impalas are present -- the first two have not been able to make it up and over the rim. 

Here's a map of the NCA, with a blowup of the Crater in the lower left.

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

We decided to focus on wildlife viewing, and skipped Olduvai Gorge, which is almost in the center of the NCA.
The annual wildebeest migration passes through the northwest corner of the NCA, but this wasn't the peak time.

Arriving at the entrance gate, we waited a while while our guide Prim paid the fees and got the day pass.

The road ascends from the entrance to almost the top of the crater wall.  From here, there is a "T" - the road circles along the crater rim both clockwise and counter-clockwise.  You can't see over the edge though - trees are too dense.

At one point our guide Prim pulled over to where a lookout is being constructed:

You can see the clouds hovering over the crater rim, and Laka Magadi on the floor of the basin.
Although it's a soda lake, all rivers and other smaller bodies of water in the crater are fresh water.

The black dots on the crater floor?  Almost all are animals!  You can see roads winding across the crater bottom too:

We're not so great at assembling a panorama... but here you can see the landscape, Frau A, and guide Prim:

For a different perspective, here is a video where we panned from left to fight across the lookout point:

We went right when the road spilt at the crater rim.  After about 50 minutes of driving, at the "2 o'clock" point along the rim, the road starts heading down towards the floor of the basin.  That's where the action is.
It is still strongly montane forest, but starting to clear up -- with some animal tracks becoming visible:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

When we finally reached the bottom, the landscape had opened up completely - plains with clusters of trees:

At this point, it was almost non-stop animal viewing.  We'd recommend 2 days here if possible.  First - zebras:

The video is a bit longer than usual, but in the second half you'll see the young zebras really playing around:

Here is a still frame from the video.  The "fighting" was trying to bite the other (and trying not to get bitten):

We also saw a few babies, and noticed many females pregnant (some looking like it could be any day now):

We saw a lone hyena running across the plain -- couldn't spot any others, although they usually live in groups:

Most of the water buffalo were lethargic -- it was still morning, and they hadn't roused themselves yet:

At least at this point in time, there were more zebra and water buffalo than wildebeest, but we did see them:

We saw some lions lounging too (what else do they do during the day?):

We were seeing a lot of warthogs and (relative) newborns:

Also out in the open, we next came across an ostrich, quite close to the car:

He seemed to stike a ballerina pose for us!

And yet another instance of a warthog mother with young.  We found this pair nursing from a skittish mom:

Far away from the road we saw our first black rhinos.  Like the buffalo, not very active at this time of day:

They think there are perhaps two dozen black rhinos in the crater.  This one was closer, but just sleeping: 

Driving further, we passed a lone elephant with a crowned crane in the forground:

We came across another hyena, very close to the road.  He was relaxing, to say the least (and staying cool):

In this picture, it almost looks like he has a punk mohawk:

He did a double-check that nothing was amiss, and then went back to doing nothing:

December is the short wet season, so there were some small water holes and streams that aren't there in the dry season.  This made a nice place for this sacred ibis to hang out (like the other animals, not very active):

There wasn't a mass of wildebeest... they seemed to be dispersed all around with the other animals:

The zebra standing here with the others is getting wide -- another baby will probably be arriving soon:

Not far away, a couple Abdim's storks were foraging for food:

The bird we saw most frequently that day was the kori bustard:

Further on we spotted the largest antelope in africa, the eland.  (That's a wildebeest in front.)

We had probably spent 1.5 hours in the open plains, until the road led into a wooded area:

We drove down branches of the road, looking for animals, and would turn around and head back again...

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Far across a clearing, we spied a couple of elephants (but this is a reall zoom & crop photo - we want closer):

And sure enough, we spotted an elephant working its way through the trees nearby:

He was walking parallel to the road, so we got ahead of him and waited for him to emerge into a clearing:

Now we could get some unobstructed, close-up shots:

He paused to eat, so we switched to video mode to capture a part of his meal (fresh grass):

 

When he changed courses and went for the trees, we could really hear him ripping & chewing the branches:

He stayed there so long, eventually it was we who decided to say goodbye and continue on.

Prim, our guide, was so fast in spotting animals.  He pointed out a bush buck before it disappeared:

We emerged from the trees, and back on the plains we found a lion family near a section of tall grass.
All potential prey knew exactly where they were, and kept a good distance (seen in the background):

Cats are expert relaxers.  Frau A thought they reminded her of her parent's house cats - legs in the air!

At the edge of the tall grass, away from the females, was a male.  Behind him is a water buffalo skull!

He wasn't sprawled out like the ladies, but obviously still half-asleep.

Eventually he got up, and slowly walked over to the others (they are right, outside the frame of the photo):

Not far away from the lions was another skull - this time, the large bones of an elephant:

Further away from the road, near some water and tall grass, some hippos and water buffalo were grazing:

Another animal that we saw a lot of in the Crater was the Thompson's gazelle:

We spotted an elephant a ways out, but he looked nice framed against the crater wall:

We'd seen a lot so far that day... but it was still just before lunch!  We drove on towards the picnic area.

As we stopped for lunch, Frau A posed by the Land Cruiser.  She's all smiles:  we had seem so much already!

The next post is for the afternoon in Ngorongoro Crater, and will be just as large as this!

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:

   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom), for the game drive.  The number and diversity of animals was amazing.  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 

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