So far on our safari, we had spent a day each in Arusha NP, Lake Manyara NP, and Ngorongoro Crater. We returned from the crater and spent the night in Rhotia Valley, on the edge of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
We woke up the following morning, climbed in the Land Cruiser, and again started west. On this travel day, our guide would drive us through the NCA, into Serengeti National Park, and on to our walking safari camp site.
As reference: in the map below, the inset (upper left) shows how the NCA borders on the Serengeti N.P..
For this blog post, we are entering the park on the main road (in red, coming from the map's southeast/lower right), take a quick detour west onto the Serengeti Plain, return to the main road and head for the Naabi Hill Gate.
(In the next post, we'll complete the travel day into Serengeti NP: continuing north from Naabi Hill Gate along the main road, take the right fork at Banagi, and eventually go off-road to our wilderness camp on the Orangi River.)
The Ngorongoro Conservation area has some hills... so it was clear when we reached the "endless plain".
Yes, there are some hills far off, and we'd see kopjes later on, but it left no doubt how the Serengeti was named:
Our guide maneuvered us around a bateleur (type of eagle) that was finishing a meal in the middle of the road.
It was hard to tell if it had made the kill itself, or had scavenged a piece of a larger carcass further afield.
Within 20 minutes of crossing the border from the NCA into the Serengeti, we saw lions! There were three.
One young male was relaxing soooo close to the road, just behind a small pile of rocks, 25m from the other two:
The sun was already very warm, so he made it easy to take photos. And so close by!
The other two, 25m away, stayed closer together. In fact, the male walked over to the female...
...and they they mated. We'd seen the circle of life already (eagle feeding, future lion cubs in progress)!
We were even able to get a short video. We didn't think that we would be shooting lion porn, but there it is.
We're glad we did -- you can see and hear the final snarls and fake bites at the end. What a great experience:
Here is a still frame from the above video. They both give a big snarl at the end:
Our guide, Prim, speculated that the two males are brothersthat grew up together, and still relatively young. Normally an alpha would not tolerate another so close by, but perhaps he doesn't feel as threatened by his sibling. Of course, only the dominant brother gets to mate, with the other forced to keep his distance at this time.
After mating, the dominant lion laid down (photos above, below), panting a bit to get cool:
The female, as you saw in the video, immediately rolled on to her side and presumably fell asleep.
Also, did you notice that she is wearing a leather collar? It's part of the park program tracking lions.
And the other brother? He didn't move a muscle:
After stopping to watch the lions, we continued north. Far from the road, our guide spotted a tawny eagle.
We think it had just made a kill and was checking that the area was secure... but it was hard to tell.
Not long thereafter, we reached the edge of the wildebeest herd.
It's late December, and the short wet season; water & food are available. At this time, the wildebeest are not in an active part of their annual migration. Rather, this is the lead-up to the massive birthing in January and February.
At this point in the drive, there are not too many wildebeest nearby, but the horizon is completely covered.
It was a day of full travel, but it was not rushed. So Prim took us off the main road and down a tire-track path.
In effect, he wanted to drive us right in to the middle (or at least a dense portion) of the wildebeest herd:
As we drove, there were more and more wildebeest, in every possible direction. Very cool to see.
Interspersed with the wildebeest were zebra, Thompson's gazelle, and a some ostrich like the one below:
In the next photo, you can see that there are ruts (old tire tracks?) running along the side of the road...
...many of these ruts held water from earlier rains, and the wildebeest drank from them:
They would jump up and run away before the car passed - the one on the left below is about to retreat:
The herd covered the road too -- it was like a wave parting when we drove through.
Most were busy eating, only taking a moment to either get out of the way or check us out.
Ironically, it was rather difficult to take a photo that shows exactly how many wildebeest there were.
It was then that we realized why balloon trips are poular, because that would give the best perspective.
During some stops, we took video too. We tried panning left-to-right, in an attempt to share visually what it was like to be in the middle of that mass. The video also let's you hear the constant vocalizations of the herd's members:
The next photo is pretty low quality, because it is at 600mm (35mm equivalent), and still heavily cropped.
However, it's especially interesting because of the carrion feeders: a jackal and at least four vultures together:
We did spot a lone elephant, also far out into the distance, mingling with the wildebeest:
Eventually, we turned around and drove (through the herd again) back to the main road. We continued north towards the Naabi Hill Gate. The landscape started slowly changing - and we had our first kopjes sighting!
We made it to the Serengeti... but this was just the morning of our travel day into the park, to Naabi Hill Gate.
In the next post we break for lunch, then ride the rest of the way to camp for three days of walking safari!
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:
- Steve (Herr J's brother) for the telephoto lens. It was on my camera the whole time. THANK YOU!
- Megan A, for Frau A's telephoto lens. Like mine, it never left the camera (& worked great). THANK YOU!
- Heather M, for the telephoto lens. It was a "must have" and made a huge difference. THANK YOU!
- William H, for the teleconverter. Frau A loves her trusty Nikon, and took over 2000 shots. THANK YOU!
- Mr. A (Frau A's dad), for the backpack. Your daughter used every inch, but no back pain! THANK YOU!
We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it.