Tanzania Holiday 8: Entering Serengeti National Park

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. 


Tanzania Holiday 7: Ngorongoro Crater - afternoon drive and Rhotia Valley

Our morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater was absolutely packed with animals.
But around 13:00 we left those grassy & wooded areas where we had just seen elephants and lions.
It's time for lunch. 

Our guide drove us to the common rest & picnic area, on the edge of the crater's Lake Magadi:

The Land Cruisers lined up in the parking area - Prim (our guide) said it is packed end-to-end in high season!

Some people stayed near the cars, while others found shade under the large tree on the lakeshore.

In Arusha National Park's eating areas, we had to be mindful of blue monkeys who had become scavengers.
At this site in the Crater, the yellow-billed kites were the animals to watch out for- and far more aggressive.

The kites kept soaring overhead, and would often swoop down very fast by anyone near their car.
They were looking for any open food, and we saw them dive and snatch unguarded items with incredible speed. 

The one advantage:  we got more practice trying to photograph birds-in-flight!
(We stayed inside the Land Cruiser to eat, disappointing these aerial acrobats I'm sure.) 

In a smaller tree near the parking lot lived a number of rufous-tailed weavers:

A trio of pelicans kept soaring -- much higher than the kites (they weren't looking to scavenge).
They circled the lake perhaps 15 times before heading to the far side, to land and settle down. 

Another frequent (but lovely) scavenger here is the southern-masked weaver.  They don't have the size or athleticism of the kites, but since they're small, they hang around nearby and try to snatch up crumbs.

This one would perch on each car in turn, eyeing the people to weigh the likelihood of getting a meal.

At the far end of the lake were hippos.  As usual, one was closest to the people and keeping watch on us.

After our meal and the bird photography, we started out on the afternoon game drive.  A short time after getting underway again, we saw another lone (and, um... well endowed) elephant walking along the grassy beds.

Also on the plain, small groups of water buffalo were mostly still, trying to keep cool in the afternoon sun.

We saw some lions near a cluster of trees.  One had just emerged from the undergrowth coming towards us:

More accurately, the lion was walking towards two others lying in front of us.  They watched his approach:

As the lion drew near to the others, his head dropped and tail swished - initiating a friendly reunion perhaps?

The newcomer nuzzled the other lions for a second before plopping right down to rest beside them.

A fourth lion (looks like a male), kept to himself - his spot was farther away along the same cluster of trees.

Further along the road, we found a pair of ostriches in a mating dance -- circling and bobbing heads up & down.

Almost on the other side of the road from the ostriches was another female warthog with young:

They didn't run away as fast as the others we'd seen, so we took the chance to shoot a brief video:

These two are obviously old enough to feed themselves, rather than relying solely on milk.

As the sun began slowly to drop, we headed back across the plains of the crater's floor.

We were going back to the road that would take us up the crater rim, and back around to the park gate.

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

While waiting to pass another jeep, we pointed cameras out the window to capture the high crater wall.

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

We headed back up the road, ascending to the top of the crater...

...and once at the top, followed the road as it curved around the rim, back towards the entrance gate.

It wasn't long before we were back in Rhotia Valley, driving past the farms and scattered homes.

Before dinner on the second evening, our hosts at the lodge walked us across to the children's home.
This is an orphanage for children from the surrounding area, founded by a Dutch couple around 2008.
As we arrived, the kids were just wrapping up an all-ages soccer game (one of their favorite activities). 

We were shown around the grounds and buildings of the home.  There are three houses (for different age groups, plus two "mothers" in each house ) around a courtyard.  This is one of the houses and the playground:

Our host also showed us their classroom.  Notice that the writing on the blackboard says "Learning English"!

One thing we loved:  each child is asked to say what they want to do when they grow up and leave the home.
The "List of Life Dreams" stays posted on the bulletin board as inspiration and encouragement to the kids.
We were told some have recently, successfully, landed jobs in tourism trades like cook, clerk, or guide/driver.

The hosts are trying to make this home as self-sufficient as possible.  Part of the childrens' chores are to tend a patch in the garden, where they grow food to eat, or sell/trade in the village.  There is one challenge:  the lodge and children's home are right on the edge of the Ngorongoro forest!  Every once in a while, elephants come out and raid the garden.  The kids know to stay indoors when this happens, but the fence suffers damage and must be repaired.
Not much is going to keep an African elephant from getting a fresh meal!

For further self-sufficiency, the home raises chickens also - using the eggs or selling them to the community.

In addition, a German man donated a new, simple, inexpensive system for collecting methane from manure decomposition - it was installed recently.  The children contribute to gathering and depositing animal waste into the "well".  A gas line runs directly to a stove, meeting some of their cooking needs (remember, 24 growing kids!)

Speaking of manure... as we walked back to the lodge, we observed this dung beetle, rolling, rolling...

Before dinner, we tried to capture the last moments of daylight:

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

I'm not sure if I like the "regular" photo (above) better, or the bracketed/HDR-processed version (below).

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

From the "lobby" we looked back on the children's home, and relaxed with some drinks on our last night here.

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

We ate at one of the tables behind the sofa.  They had a fire going too (barely see the fireplace, right):

Once last chance to stand on the deck, overlooking the valley, before turning in for the night.

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

The Ngorongoro Crater was incredible.  We had high hopes, but still couldn't believe the density of animals!
From here, we will head into Serengeti National Park for both a walking safari, and multiple days of game drives. 

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.  Ngorongoro was truly one of the highlights of the trip.  THANK YOU!
   -  Karen J, for the picnic lunch today.  We didn't let the birds get any of it!  THANK YOU!
   -  Landrea R, for the overnight at Rhotia Valley Lodge.  It was lovely and inspiring.  THANK YOU! 

In addition, the following guests from our wedding made a donation to the Children's Home:

   -  Martha M
   -  Brett A
   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom)
   -  Ronald M
   -  Jaclyn F
   -  Karen J
   -  Mr. A (Frau A's dad)
   -  Teri K

Thank you all. 

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


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".


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.


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. 


Tanzania Holiday 5: Lake Manyara National Park - afternoon drive and Rhotia Valley

The morning in Lake Manyara National Park brought us our first encounter with elephants.  We stopped briefly for lunch at a picnic spot somewhere in the middle of the park (near the central Ranger station on the map, I think).


About this time, clouds rolled in and when we climbed back in the Land Cruiser, some showers were falling.
Despite the weather, we drove by vervet monkeys gathering food in the grass -- they had babies too!

They weren't bothered by a light rain, but looked less happy when the intensity of the showers increased.

This was the last monkey still in the open -- we got this photos just as he was heading for the trees.

The rain soon stopped.  We drove on, and saw these giraffes as we rounded a bend in the dirt road.

Further down the park, an adult baboon was feeding at the side of the road.  He paused to inspect us.

Nearby, a mother was carrying her baby away from the road in into the protection of the forest.

A slightly older baby baboon took a moment before running to mom, and gave us a nice photo.

Our driver and guide, Prim, was amazing at spotting animals.  His sharp eyes found this golden weaver:

Eventually, we circled around and headed north - back to the park entrance.  From here we drove west, and up to a lookout point on the escarpment that is effectively the western wall of the park.  It's a nice view to the lake below.

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

From Lake Manyara N.P., our guide drove us to where we would spend the next two nights: Rhotia Valley, near the town of Karatu.  It's about 45-60 minutes from the Manyara park entrance, and about the same distance from the entrance gate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (tomorrow's destination).

When one thinks of "Africa", hot and dry places come to mind by default.  But Rhotia Valley defies this stereotype.  It lies at 1700m elevation, so the climate is cooler (and well above the line for Malaria risk).  The soil is rich, and many terraced farms take advantage of the fertile environment.

We climbed a bit in the Land Cruiser to reach our destination, and could look out over the valley.

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

We arrived at Rhotia Valley Lodge just as the sun was getting low in the sky.  This is what our hut looked like:

We checked in, washed up, and found seats on the deck.  They had a new beer brand, Tusker, for us to try.

The lodge had a few cats around.  Most were still sleeping the day off, like this one:

From the lodge's deck, you can see some of the valley -- lots of green!  The lodge tries to source as much food and material from the local farming community as possible, so ingredients are local and fresh!

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

It was very warm at Lake Manyara today, but we wore fleeces tonight at the higher altitude (it felt great).

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

Across the way from the lodge is a children's home -- a group of ~24 kids, all orphaned from towns in the area.
Proceeds from the lodge help support the home.  Our hosts will bring us over tomorrow to meet them! 

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

So we settled down for dinner, and another beer, and watched the sun go down.  Tomorrow is Ngorongoro crater!

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:
   -  Jaclyn F, for the lunch in Manyara.  We were soooo hungry after snapping all these photos.  THANK YOU!
   -  Landrea R, for the overnight at Rhotia.  The beer... the view... see how happy Frau A looks?  THANK YOU!

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


Tanzania Holiday 4: Lake Manyara National Park - morning drive

Our first active day in Tanzania was spent in Arusha National Park, in the fields and on the lakes.
Early the next morning we continued west along the "northern circuit" to Lake Manyara National Park.  

Source: Official Site of Tanzania National Parks

Unfortunately we didn't have time to schedule a day at Tarangire -- we continue west tomorrow towards Serengeti.

This National Park is a narrow strip of land running between Lake Manyara on the east and the Gregory Rift Wall (escarpment) on the west.  Like the Momela Lakes in Arusha N.P., Lake Manyara is alkaline.  Birds are plentiful, but large game (like their famous tree-climbing lions) are hard to see in the wet season -- the greenery is dense. Guide books say to expect baboons, zebra and buffalo, various antelope, and hippos in the Hippo Pond (obviously).

It was about a 2.5 drive from Arusha to the northern gate entrance of the park.
From there we would drive south with the lake on our left, and the tall escarpment on our right. 


Along the road from Arusha tp Manyara we saw many termite mounds mixed in with highway markers.

Just like Arusha, as soon as we entered Lake Manyara Park we saw baboons and their babys.

This little one had a very relaxed pose!

On the park map, you'll see a few road loops just south of the entrance gate.  We went there to the Hippo Pool.

As usual, we had to keep our distance from the hippos and use the full reach our our longest zoom lenses.

From the Hippo Pool we continued south, spotting impala under the protection of trees as it approached midday.

We saw some roadside vervet monkeys, who appeared to be doing... well, not much of anything:

We were fortunate to see a tiny Dik Dik in the tall grass and leaves - one of the smallest antelope (30cm tall).

It's a male, because of the horns.  Frau A though he was cute, and asked if we could bring him home!

Further south, the land opened up - dry plains between the dirt road and the lake.  Here we found zebra.

Many of the zebra were juveniles, and quite active.  (We will see zebra babies in future posts...)

There was quite a bit of "roughhousing" from the guys, kicking up dust as they play-fight with each other.

As the road continued on, it returned into forested areas, where baboons stayed in the shade to keep cool.

A female elephant and her young one emerged briefly from the brush and then disappeared again.

In African Elephants, females have tusks too.  The males are more often solitary (no little tag-alongs).

The road through the forest and brush looked like this, with thick greenery and interspersed tall trees:

A few minutes later, some other elephants emerged on our left.  This lady had two children in tow:

Our guide stopped the Land Cruiser, and the elephants crossed the road right in front of us!

A trailing member of the party stopped to scratch himself (or herself, I think) against a tree before crossing.

Frau A took this next photo from the back seat of the Land Cruiser, looking forward.  We could either point our cameras out the side windows, or as in this case, stand on the seats and through the openings in the roof.
I had extra sun protection (neck cover, long sleeves) after the intense exposure the prior day in Arusha.

They're very relaxed near the cars.  They see us as part of the car, and don't get spooked or aggressive.

We mostly took photographs, but did capture about 25 seconds of video as they emerged from the trees and then (after crossing the road) re-entered the woods.  That's one of the difficulties - encounters like this happen so fast.

Some elephants turned back onto the road, walked ahead a bit, and then back into the forest on our left.

We were excited to see our first elephants, and so closely!  The afternoon in Manyara is still to come (next post)!

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:
   -  Nia H, for the morning game drive in Manyara.  The elephants were just amazing to see.  THANK YOU!
   -  Don, Karen, & Joshua D, also for the game drive with our first impala sighting & the cute dik dik.  THANK YOU!

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


Tanzania Holiday 3: Arusha National Park - afternoon canoeing

We spent the morning in Tanzania's Arusha National Park driving through forest to the Momela Gate (saw baboons and their babies), then got a guided walk across the plains and brush (with a group of ~20 giraffes walking by).

After this, we climbed back in to the Land Cruiser and our guide drove northeast to the alkaline Momela Lakes.


Alkaline lakes, also called soda lakes, have water with a pH typically between 9 and 12 (7 is pH-neutral).
This is due to carbonite salts in the soil that dissolve in the water.  Few fish habitate them... but there is wildlife.

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

Microorganisms can grow and thrive in the salty water - in fact, since each lake has a slightly different mineral content, they have different types of algae that grow in them (and have therefore a slightly different color).

Different waterbirds call the lakes home, but they are dominated by the lesser flamingo, that feed on the algae.

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

As seen on the park map (above), there is a road going around/through the lakes.  There are a number of viewpoints here and there along the way.  Since it was the middle of the day, we stopped and took these stairs to a picnic area:

Here we ate lunch overlooking Small Momela Lake:

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

After the midday pause, we drove to a dock on one of the smaller lakes (we need to ask which one - we forgot!)
and boarded a canoe.  Two guides led the way, and an Italian couple had the third canoe in our little party. 

We paddled along the shore a bit.  About 50m into the water sat a small rock - we think these are reed cormorants. 

The two cormorants took flight as we approached -- it was rather difficult taking photos from the rocking canoe!

Just beyond that rock were hippos.  We came within about 60m of them, and the guides warned us not to get any closer.  We were being eyed warily.  The guides got a bit nervous when the hippos disappeared underwater.

One hippo started moving towards us, and the guides had us back away even further.  Hippos move surprisingly well on land and in water, and get very aggressive when they feel their area is threatened.  That would be bad.

As we backed away from the hippos, we turned our cameras upwards and scanned the hills above the lake.
At the top of one crest we saw some more giraffes, slowly walking and grazing their way through the thick brush.

After maybe 45 minutes in the canoe, we returned to shore and again got into the Land Cruiser for the drive home.
We continued slowly along the dirt road around/through the Momela Lakes, stopping for photos along the way.

In the next three photos, we start with a wide view, showing a rock outcropping in one of the smaller lakes...

...then zoom further to see the density of lesser flamingos along the shoreline...

... and finally zoom as far as we can (600mm equivalent in 35mm) to see the lesser flamingos feeding:

And here is a short video where you can see them dragging their beaks through the algae to feed:

We drove from the dirt road down to the shore of one of the lakes.  Here we could walk right to the water's edge.  There were many flamingos flying by, so we attempted to photograph "BIF" (birds in flight) as they passed.

The black beak is one of the characteristics that distinguishes the lesser flamingo from its larger cousin.

This was tough photography for us amateurs.  Optical viewfinders on DSLRs are always "open", but electronic viewfinders on our Olympus E-M5 mirrorless cameras "black out" between shots - hard to keep the frame.

Our recommendation:  practice panning with the birds at first; keep that panning speed when shooting blind.

Also, the "continuous" or "tracking" autofocus with mirrorless cameras like the E-M5 is based on contrast detection, rather than phase detection on DSLRs.  This is simply not as fast, and slows frame rates considerably.  Not worth it.

Our recommendation:  use single autofocus (locks focus once and holds it).  Reduce the aperture as needed to get a larger depth of field (deeper focus area) so that shots stay in focus as you pan and shoot (at least for a while...). 

FYI:  we were using the Panasonic 100mm-300mm lens with the E-M5 and the Panasonic G5 cameras.

As the dirt road around the lakes descended again into the forested area, we found female waterbucks:

A bushbuck at the edge of the road, just outside the trees, paused enough so we got a photo of her too:

Further on we spotted a male waterbuck, walking along a hillside.

He crossed the road maybe 30m in front of the car.

He continued on for a minute before disappearing into the brush.

We caught a glimpse of another blue monkey in the trees, and stopped for a photo.

At least this one finds his own food, as opposed to the scavengers near the Momela Gate parking lot.

If you look on the map of the park, you will see Rhino Crest in the southeast, beneath Ngurdoto Crater.
Here we got out of the car again, and walked towards the lookout point above the crater.
The highlight was not the view, but the black and white colobus monkeys in the trees along the path. 

They appeared to be relaxing, socializing, and grooming.

It was challenging to get a good look through the thick trees, but managed a few good shots.

We also switched to video and have a short clip of one b&w colobus monkey grooming another:


We continued observing the monkeys until the moved back further into the trees and out of sight.

This was a great start to the honeymoon safari.  We saw a lot of the park in one full day, including canoeing!
We returned to Karama Lodge near Arusha this evening... on to Lake Manyara National Park tomorrow!

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:
   -  Seery M, for the canoeing on the lake.  It was a really unique way to see the animals.  THANK YOU!
   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom), also for the canoeing.  You can stop worrying - the hippos didn't get us.  THANK YOU!
   - Aunt Annie and Uncle Jack, for the overnights at Karama Lodge.  The views were lovely.  THANK YOU! 

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


Tanzania Holiday 2: Arusha National Park - morning walk

On our first day, we arrived in Kilimanjaro and then spent a relaxing evening at Karama Lodge near Arusha.
So the next morning, refreshed, we were itching to start on the safari and met guide Prim promptly at 08:00. 

Our first destination was Arusha National Park, about 60km south of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the border with Kenya.  Also, it is about halfway between the Serengeti National Park (west) and Tanzania's Indian Ocean coast (east).

Source: Official Site of Tanzania National Parks

The drive from our lodge to the park's southern entrance took just over 30 minutes.  Arusha is known for Mt. Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania and fifth highest in all of Africa. Mt Meru and Little Meru are in the far west of the park.  The trails to these volcanic peaks start at Momela gate in the center of the park and head west.

Arusha is mostly montane forest areas, with a group of alkaline lakes in the northeast, and grasslands around the lakes and the crater in the southeast.  Wildlife is not as abundant here as in other Tanzania parks, and no lions live here.  Wooded areas have blue monkeys and black & white colobus monkeys.  Giraffe, water buffalo, and zebra roam through trees and plains.  The lakes are home to hippos and waterfowl.  Elephants are present, but rarely seen.


We entered the park from the south, with views of the crater and some open space, and saw zebras first:

As we drove through a more forested area on the way north to Momela Gate, we stopped to photograph some baboons and their babies along the side of the road.  The lighting was challenging with the shadow of the trees vs the bright morning sun, but they were right there next to the car. (The sun would get even harsher later...)

At a stopping point, the babies climbed down from their mothers' backs, but never too far from mom's reach.

It was difficult to guess the number of baboons due to the woods.  But these four came right into the sun for us.

Our guide drove on to Momela Gate and we pulled into the parking area.  He immediately warned us about the blue monkeys.  They are now too used to people, and approach every car looking for food.  They climbed right up onto our Land Cruiser and we had to "shoo" them away, or they would have climbed down through the open roof!

Here, we waited while our guide registered with the park and found a ranger, who would be taking us on a walk.  The starting point/sign is the same place where Herr J started on his climb of Mt. Meru a few years ago:

Mt. Meru was clearly visible in the west -- we see the plains, the outlying forest, and Meru's volcanic peaks:

Our guide walked us through the fields and told us about / showed us the flora and fauna in Arusha.
She had a rifle with her, just in case an animal got aggressive and needed to be scared off.

Frau A had a weapon of her own... her Nikon with a big zoom lens!

Far across the field we could see a large family of baboons moving about in the grass:

We ascended a bit into the foothills and had a look back at the path we took across the plain.
The sun was very hot (we both got a little burned this day) so we definitely took a pole-pole pace.

We entered a more wooded area, a stopped for a photo with a large tree and its unusual root system:

Then we arrived at the small waterfall.  It felt nice to be in the shade, and splashed water on our faces.

(Note for photographers:  the above is bracketed/HDR with Photomatix, whereas below is single shot.)

We continued walking downstream with the water from the fall, circling back towards Momela Gate.

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

After we made it back to the parking lot, we took off in the other direction, looking for giraffes.
We definitely found them!  A group of almost 20 passed our position, and we took a lot of pics.

We tried to photograph each one as they walked by, or paused with an unobstructed view:

We were incredibly fortunate to see so many, and to have them pass by so closely.  We just stood there!

They were quite cautious -- we were under constant surveillance (even though they could squash us):

We were in place for probably 40 minutes.  More and more just kept coming and walking by, 50-100m away.

I panned a bit too quickly (vid quality is spotty) but here you can see 19 of them:

They finally passed our location and continued heading into the forest, to hide & feed in the trees:


This was a fantastic start to the trip -- to see so many giraffes, so closely.  And this was all before lunch, Day 1.

Post #3 will be our lunch, and canoeing on one of the alkaline lakes in the afternoon!

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:
   -  Mellie W, for the game drive through Arusha.  We saw zebra, baboons, and monkeys.  THANK YOU!
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk in Arusha.  You made these giraffe photos possible.  THANK YOU!

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

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