Entries in water buffalo (5)


Tanzania Holiday 17: Serengeti Game Drives Day 1 - Morning

So we arrived finally at the core of the "safari" experience -- two full days of game drives in the Serengeti.  We would depart around 08:00, stop an hour for lunch somewhere, and return to camp around 18:00.

Unfortunately, we didn't ask our guide Prim where exactly we were going and can't give a "map" of our routes like our other posts... we were too busy taking photos.  But we do know that we stayed in the area of the Moru Kopjes:

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

At the time of morning we departed, it was a bit foggy - the clouds low on the hills: 

The water buffalo had already started grazing, but most animals are pretty quiet and inactive. 

As we drove by kopjes closer to the road, we spotted hyrax (rock hyrax, we think).  It was a little cool in the morning, so they were huddled together on one of the rocks.  Interesting facts:  they are found only in Africa, and they are the elephant's closest living relative in the animal kingdom!  (no, they're not rodents!)

Here is a closer crop to see the hyrax (a bit blurry, unfortunately):

When we got closer, they ran for cover:

Prim next spotted a lion high up on the next kopjes -- making for a nice first hour on the game drive!

Obviously "she" is just relaxing.  They like to be elevated because there are fewer insects up there to bug them:

She was still quite far away, even with the 600mm (full frame equivalent) lens on the camera:

We wanted to drive closer, and get a different angle on the lion.  In this brief break, we shot more buffalo:

The buffalo were standng so still, that we bracketed shots to see what they look like tonemapped:

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

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

We think this is a cattle egret that was perched on one of the buffalo:

Back to the lion... still just hanging out, so a few more photos before driving on:

We spotted some baboons working their way through the taller grass...

... this one was carrying a baby:


We did have one destination this morning, aside from "looking for animals".  On one of the Moru Kopjes, Masai rock paintings can be found.

The Masai used this land for their cattle, but were forced to leave once the Serengeti National Park was created (1951).  We were interested to see remnants of their life here.

This is what the kopje looked like from the jeep:

We first climbed some stairs...

... and then wound our way through a path in the brush.  (Out guide Prim is there on the right side.)

To get a perspective of scale, this is Prim at the rock paintings, the photo taken from the path:

These are not ancient drawings - there appears to be a man on a bicycle (in orange).  The repeated pattern seems to represent their shields.  What makes this special is that it is authentic - not a tourist stop.

Here is the view from the crevice under the rock, looking over the Serengeti plain:

From here you can circle aroung the large boulder, and on to the massive rock foundation (with another boulder perched on top).  Frau A and Prim are walking up here:

If you look carefully at the "small" rock to the right of the boulder, you see more Masai impact:

Off to the right you find the "gong rock", also called Ngong Rock.  This rock has unique properties, for when it is stuck with another stone, it produces sounds (a different pitch in each indentation).

Looking closer, you see that some stones are still there, resting in indentations.  We tried striking the rock, and you get an almost metallic, but dull sound.  We have read different interpretations - that this was used either for communication, or music:

Here's a view from the other side of the kopje's top.  You can see more white "dots" also inscribed by Masai.  Most believe it was the young warriors that did this, before they "settled down" in a village.

Frau A and I asked Prim to take a couple photos of us:

These are panoramas below - they are large files, so beware clicking on them for the full version:

Panorama #2:

Finally, a few HDR shots to try and exaggerate the textures and view:

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

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

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

We finally headed back down the path and steps to the jeep, to continue on the game drive:

The only residents that bade us farewell were the agama lizards:

We drove on for a while, stopping next at a small lake.  Flamingos were the dominant animal here:

There were not-so-subtle reminders of other wildlife - here lies an elephant skull:

Other neighbors of the flamingo included the black-winged stilt:

A duck also called this water home:

Here, an artistic/HDR view of the wetland:

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

From here Prim drive us back to the woods and plains:

Prim has incredible eyes for spotting animals:  he found a bearded woodpecker (female)...

... and nearby another bearded woodpeaker (male), probable the second half of a pair:

Not far away we also identified a southern white crowned shrike:

It was getting on towards midday, so this water buck and others were laying low:

We also happened by a giraffe, quite close to the roadside (good photos!):

As with the water buffalo, you really see how many insects pester these animals:

She/he gave us some great poses:

An impala also came into a clearing, so we snapped a couple of pics:

Again, there are insects all over:

On the way to our lunch stop, we saw a lounging leopard:

Like the lions, they like to find elevated perches (trees or rocks) to try and escape the insects:

She/he was not being very active, so we grabbed the photos and moved on through the kopjes:

In the last event before lunch, we saw some elephants in the shade.  The little one on the left was using the tree as a scratching post.  It looked like mom had a baby on her far side:

We zoomed in on the young elephant scratching away:

And zoomed in on mom too:

The adult started getting active...

... which was when we noticed that many others were headed to join them.  With more babies!

The adult continued to throw dirt on her back to fight the insects:

The rest of the herd slowly arrived...

... and took position in the shade:

One final photo:  we found this caterpillar at the lunch site.   From elephants to caterpillars, a good morning:

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:
   -  Ronald M, for the overnights in this great location.  It made a camper out of Frau A!  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the nights in this special camp.  We absolutely loved it.  THANK YOU!
   -  Erin and Kevin O, for the game drive, the resulting photos we treasure.  THANK YOU!
   -  Seery M, for the game drive.  It was such a special experience.  THANK YOU!
   -  Greta M, for the game drive.  We got perfect weather too!  THANK YOU!
   -  Steve A and Claire P, for the game drive.  It was just perfect, as you can see.  THANK YOU! 


Tanzania Holiday 15: Drive to Camp for Serengeti Game Drives

The morning after our final day in walking safari camp, we loaded the Land Cruiser and headed toward the next camp.
This time we would be in a similar mobile tent camp, but further south in Central Serengeti for a series of game drives.
We would drive today from our site on the Orangi river, past the Seronera airstrip, then head west into the kopjes: 

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

Not long after starting out, we got a photo of one of the "Little Five" - the leopard tortoise!

30 minutes later, we pulled off to a well-known hippo pool.  There was already one jeep in the prime viewing spot:

We took some photos from our "on deck" position, and then pulled forward when the first Land Cruiser left.

We had seen hippos from afar in prior parks, but this was our first relatively-close look at the "river horses":

Most of the herd (or pod) were clustered together, with one large male noisily keeping order.  A few others were a bit apart, on the far bank or further up the pond, but all eventually waded down and joined the main group:

On this one's hide, you can see the scars from fighting/mating or other interactions with fellow hippos:

Hippos can't keep themselves cool, so they stay in the water and splash themselves using their ears.  Some float up and down to breathe, but others like the one below prefer the technique of resting their head on someone else:

This baby had mom nearby to rest on.  Mom would give her a lift every once in a while:

Yes, this was cute!

Every once in a while, one hippo would emerge farther out of the water for a nice photo:

After maybe 30 minutes at the hippo pool, we got back on the main road:

We stopped briefly at the Seronera air strip to drop off our secondary guides.  We would head back here in a few days, after the game drives, to end the safari but continue on to the Tanzanian coast part of our honeymoon!

We soon started seeing a lot of impala, many grazing very close to the road:

We spotted a giraffe moving through the trees and feeding...

... and it led us to a little giraffe, on the ground.  We were hoping the little one would get up, but no luck.

Small water holes, similar to the hippo pond, were scattered throughout the landscape:

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

One of the water holes offered us our first glimpse of crocodiles!

Throughout the trip, we never got a better look than this -- they were just lying in the sun and resting.
(We heard if you're here for the Great Migration, you can really see the crocs in action in the right places.) 

Continuing south through the Park, were were seeing more and more impala:

They were skittish, but stayed so close to the road that we could basically get portait photographs of them:

Our guide Prim was an amazing spotter.  Here, he found a silverbird for us to photograph:

We also found a rufous-tailed weaver in the trees...

... and a southern masked weaver, in the process of weaving its nest!  (entering the nest from the bottom):

And one more bird that we'd seen before, the superb starling:

As we left the wilderness area ("low use area") and approached high-use areas, we saw many more Land Cruisers:

Then, finally!  A coupled of stopped jeeps with lots of people staring indicated something interesting was ahead...
It was a young leopard, resting in a tree: 

Here is a zoom.  Nice!

He/she eventually got down, and in the tall grasses we could not see him/her anymore, so everyone moved on:

We took another brief pause to photograph a pair of white-backed vultures:

As with the crocodiles, this ironically was the best view we ever got of vultures.  They were quite far away, and we needed all of the 600mm equivalent zoom lens to get a shot (therefore a bit fuzzy and non-contrasty, but OK):

We took a break for lunch in a small area with a few picnic tables.  We finished lunch in the jeep due to the rain:

Not long after we again got going, the results of the rain hit us -- this road was underwater!
Prim drove us slowly and carefully across, without incident: 

Despite what was now a slight drizzle, this mongoose family was foraging about:

Those babies are sticking close to mom, and are really sweet!  Look at that face!!

We had stopped a bit too long photographing them, so they got nervous and headed back into the den:

This water buffalo was grazing near the roadside, and decided to stick his tongue out at us...

... so we thought he deserved a "headshot".  A handsome dude:

In a little while, we entered the area with the Moru Kopjes:

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

Each one was a little different.  There was certainly tons of wildlife in there, but hidden from cars & cameras:

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

On one of the outcroppings, we spied a lion resting:

She was lying in the sun to get warm, plus at that height the insects are much less of a nuisance:

Our last view was as the sun was setting, looking out from our new campsite near one of the kopjes.
You can see others of the Moru Kopjes sticking out from the plain in the distance:

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

We'll give a complete look at the campsite in the next blog post, then we're on to the full-day game drives!


Tanzania Holiday 10: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 1 - Morning

In the previous blog post from our Tanzanian safari holiday, we had spent the day driving through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and into Serengeti National Park.  Our destination was a campsite in the designated "wilderness area" -- very off-road, and select spots where approved guides (together with a Park ranger) can take you on guided walks in the Serengeti.  Much different than the typical game drives in a jeep.

The campsite was along the Orangi river, center-east in the Park (see map below):

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

The Orangi river winds its way west, joining others and eventually landing in Lake Victoria.  At the point of our campsite the river actually ran north-to-south for a few hundred meters.  The camp layout looked roughly like the picture below.  We would have two days of guided walks, with a morning & afternoon hike each day (not to scale!):

The walks came together something like a clover -- each one exploring a different area away from camp, and lasting about 4-5 hours (including brief rests).  Our guides "warned" us about a few things before we got started:

First, the guides stressed that animal viewing would be much less intimate than in a Land Cruiser.  The animals see you as part of a harmless jeep on the road, but on foot we are human and are avoided as much as possible (and they can smell and hear us much before we could see them).  We would get to see the trees, plants/flowers, and insects first hand, but we should not expect big game too close.

Second, there are some pitfalls to be prepared for.  Insects sting or bite, some plants cause skin problems, and in rare cases an animal will get aggressive rather than running away.  We jokingly asked "When was the last time you had to use your gun because of a charging water buffalo?".  Our guide Prim answered straight-faced:  "last week".
He wasn't joking.  He explained that a shot in the air usually sends animals the other way.  Their group came around a large rock and surprised it, so it charged.  Interesting...

We started the morning walk on Day 1 around 08:00 (after breakfast at 07:30).  Because it was the first one, I asked the others to pose for a photo.  From left to right we have:

- Prim, our main guide from Wayo Africa
- Frau A, with her Nikon DSLR ready to fire
- Mark, a recent graduate from a wildlife university and guide-in-training at Wayo, and
- Daniel, a park ranger in Serengeti National Park 

We started the walk in the Orangi riverbed, reading what Prim calls the "morning newspaper".  December is the short wet season in Tanzania.  Evenings often bring a short rain and get some water flowing (the river was mostly still pools at this time) which makes recent animal tracks easy to see.

It was interesting to see how many animals came to drink the prior evening - 30 meters from where we slept!

We continued to follow the riverbed...

...then headed off into the brush a bit (but often came back to the riverside throughout the walk):

At a point further along the river was another large still pool to investigate:

This time Mark showed us some of the recent visitors here:

The most interesting were pawprints from a large hyena - you can see the imprints below:

Further along in the brush we came across a buffalo skull...

...Mark picked it up and we got Frau A to pose with it!

The next section along the river was not as flat -- it had kopjes (rock formations) going up to the right:

A bit ahead, we spotted a large water buffalo -- see him in the trees?

This was nice, but actually presented a bit of a problem.  The water buffalo seemed to be following the river... just like we were.  Prim was trying to keep track of it.  But we ran into a higher kopje, and the water buffalo was probably on the other side, out of view.

In the video below, here's what happened:  we are walking quietly, to listen for the buffalo.  At the 20 second point, you hear Prim voice "psst" -- a signal that we need to follow him.  We crept up the kopje, and then Prim went forward alone (gun somewhat ready) to see where the buffalo was.

What you don't see in the video (it happened after I stopped recording) is that Prim *did* flush the buffalo out, and it thundered away about 20m from us, ground shaking.  It didn't charge or present a danger, but things might have gotten interesting had we surprised it up close.  But that was Prim's job.

After that exciting moment, we continued along the riverbed:

This time, Mark offered to take the group photo (left to right:  Daniel, Frau A, Herr J, and Prim):

The next brief stop was at a good-sized termite mound (they can get a lot larger, in proportion to the amount of water in the earth below, as our guides informed us):

It was almost as tall as Frau A:

In a nearby tree, we spotted a dragonfly posing for a photo:

Around 11:30, the sun was getting punishingly fierce.  We found a tree for shade and took a break for lunch.  We were situated on a kopje with a decent view of the surrounding plain and its acacia trees:

The video below is just a quick pan, left to right, to show the view from our perch above the Serengeti:

When we got underway again, it was back down to the riverbed.

As we saw in the sand near our campsite, there were hippo tracks in the damp soil here:

From here, we cut across the plain, starting to circle back towards camp:

We would consistently pause in the shade for some water.  Daniel agreed to a photo here:

We got Mark in action, when he took the lead.  The would rotate positions between them on the hike.

We came across an abandoned termite mound that another animal had made its home.  The guides guessed that it was a warthog family, but they get dangerous if cornered so we didn't investigate further:

The weather was great, but hot!

Unfortunately, the acacia trees are a favorite home of tse-tse flies, but they didn't bite too much:

We did see another "large" animal - a lone impala in the trees.  This photo was taken with a 580mm (35mm equivalent) focal length, so it gives you an idea of how far away the animals were that we could spot:

As soon as it saw us, it took off and was out of sight:

We saw a number of dung beetles, working tirelessly to roll their find to the right location to bury it:

We eventually made it back to camp, and were rewarded with some Serengeti beer and a light lunch:

It was nice to view the river from the mess tent, now that we had explored it a bit:

There were some other things that don't have an accompanying photo, but made the experience more real - for example, I felt a "rock" underfoot and looked down to see that I was stepping on a zebra skull!  It was a very different experience than the game drives was had previously in Arusha / Manyara / Ngorongoro... just what we wanted!

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:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  Just the unique experience we were looking for.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  Frau A was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time.  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  It was so cool to hear the lions roar at night.  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  The view from the tent was extraordinary.  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".

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.