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Joe explores Spice Island Zanzibar and northern Tanzania – December 2017

 

My trip began on the fabled island of Zanzibar. After arriving into the island, I headed into Stone Town, arguably one of the cultural epicentres of East Africa. It is a special place and boasts a fusion of numerous different cultures which are noticeable not only in the very Arabic architecture but also the way of life. The labyrinth of Stone Town streets and the cultural history of the town really does lend itself to a two night stay either before or after time on the beach. 

My visit to Zanzibar was full on, with lots of properties to visit in my three nights. My first night and second night were spent in the south-eastern beaches of Paje and Bwejuu. This area of the island is beautiful and very much provides the quintessential tropical island experience of white sand and turquoise waters. I then visited the busier northern and western parts of the island. Nungwi (in the north) is home to a number of larger resorts offering all-inclusive options and a slightly busier and more European experience.

From Zanzibar I flew north-westwards to Arusha (the gateway to a northern Tanzanian safari!). After meeting up with my guide and visiting a couple of Arusha properties, we ventured west along the main road to Tarangire National Park. Tarangire is beautiful, the contrast between different areas of the Park and the variety of different vegetation zones is incredible and allows for great game viewing, not to mention the birding! Game viewing largely takes place around the Silale Swamp, the swamp is huge and provides a haven for the wildlife especially during the drier months. Tarangire is particularly known for its flourishing elephant population, driving through the park, I couldn’t help but notice the vast number of family groups enjoying the lush vegetation on the river bank (as the swamp had dried up). Being a National Park, it can get busy, especially in the northern section of the park. However, towards the central and southern areas, vehicles become less and less! Game viewing was superb and I had excellent predator sightings, with lions in trees and two great leopard encounters. One thing to note about Tarangire is the tsetse flies, luckily I don’t react and they are just a nuisance to me. But other people can have bad reactions, so this is something to keep in mind when considering Tarangire.

From Tarangire, I continued west to Karatu via Lake Manyara National Park. Lake Manyara provides a slightly different game viewing experience. As you enter the park you drive through thick forest before emerging on the lakeshore. The lakeshore is superb for birding, attracting numerous species to the saline water of the lake (including both greater and lesser flamingos). Due to the thick vegetation, general game viewing is more difficult. The National Park is famous for its ‘tree climbing lions’ but speaking to guides throughout my trip they have rarely seen lions in the Park, so this can’t be the reason to visit. Manyara is located en route to Karatu and the Ngorongoro Crater, it makes a great add-on to a journey and it is great to experience.

The Ngorongoro Crater was next. This giant caldera is spectacular and is aptly one of the highlights on the ‘northern circuit’. Game viewing is excellent on the crater floor with good numbers of rhino, lion, buffalo and big elephants as well as general game. One thing to mention is that due to its popularity and its relatively small size (in comparison to the Serengeti!) it can become crowded with tourists in high season. Vehicles tend to follow a similar road network so it doesn’t necessarily provide a true wilderness experience. However, when visiting this part of the world it is a great inclusion. There are a number of properties/camps on the Crater rim, peering over the edge. Some of these properties are larger lodges however there a few smaller camps too. A great alternative to staying on the Crater rim is to stay in the Ngorongoro Highlands in and around the town of Karatu. I visited a few lovely lodges offering superb locally grown food and a variety of activities. They provide a great base from which to visit both Lake Manyara National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. 

There were many different rumours circulating about where the wildebeest herds were and you could sense the anticipation to find them. The short rains tend to occur in November, however, the rain had been delayed this year and had thrown the migration off slightly – it really shows the unpredictability of wildlife and that we can never guarantee where the wildebeest herds will be at a certain time! As we drove further west, we descended onto the plains and through to Ndutu (which is technically the Ngorongoro Conservation Area – not the Serengeti National Park). Game viewing in Ndutu largely revolves around the ‘big’ and ‘small’ marsh. Here, we saw the very successful marsh lion pride, a number of cheetah as well as other game. Something very sad but incredible to see was the carcass of a fully grown cheetah in an acacia tree. Having spoken to other guides, we established that the female cheetah had been resting under a tree when she was stalked by a large male leopard, who pounced and killed her. As food was relatively scarce (due to the delayed rains and lack of plains game) it shows the brutality of nature and it was really hard to see the long lifeless tail of such a majestic creature blowing in the wind. Ndutu is a wooded area surrounded by the vast open plains that the Serengeti is synonymous with. In search of the wildebeest herds, we headed south towards the Matiti Hills and began to see a few herds but nothing to the scale of what would be in residence in February time!

From Ndutu, my guide and I drove further west into the Serengeti National Park (marked by a small white post in the ground!) across the plains to Kusini. This area is known for its big cats and the large granite kopjes on the plains around Kusini provide a great resting place for the large lion prides. There are far fewer camps in Kusini, compared to Ndutu and game drives predominantly take place on the open plains which are a haven for the wildebeest herds in high season.

My next stop was to venture further south to the Kakesio area of the southern Serengeti/Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I spent an evening at Alex Walker’s Serian South and ventured up the escarpment behind camp. Lake Eyasi is a hidden gem of northern Tanzania and is spectacular. We had sundowners with a truly wonderful view of the Lake which provided a superb ending to my safari.

This was a great trip and it was excellent to visit the much talked about ‘northern circuit’ and its highlights. Travelling to northern Tanzania in early December was a really interesting time to travel. Tourist numbers were few and the game viewing was excellent. Despite the southern Serengeti plains not being covered with wildebeest, there were still many and the resident predator population is flourishing. As I was leaving, the camps were filling up with tourists for the festive period, so travel in early December is almost the ‘calm before the storm’ (please bear in mind that the mobile camps tend to open on around the 01st December).

 

During Joe’s trip, he stayed at: Echo Beach, Baraza, Pongwe, Oliver’s Camp, Sanctuary Swala, Plantation Lodge, Entamanu, Serengeti Safari Camp, Kirurumu Ndutu, Olakira, Sanctuary Kichakani, Serian Kusini, Serian South and Gibb’s Farm.

Joe also visited: Zanzibar Palace, Serena Inn, Park Hyatt, White Sands, Palms, Breezes, Zawadi, Gold, Diamonds Gemma dell ‘Est, Essque Zalu, Nungwi Dreams, Matemwe Lodge, Matemwe House, Matemwe Retreat, Next Paradise, Shooting Star, Bluebay Beach Resort, Arusha Coffee Lodge, Kuro Tarangire, Kichuguu, Tarangire Sopa, Manyara Serena, Kirurumu Manyara, Ngorongoro Farmhouse, &Beyond’s Crater Lodge, Kirurumu Pakualala, Serena Ngorongoro, Chaka Camp, Lemala Ndutu, Lake Masek Tented Lodge, Ndutu Safari Lodge, Sanctuary Kusini, Ubuntu, Kimondo, Sopa Ngorongoro, The Highlands, Sanctuary Ngorongoro, Kitela, Legendary Lodge, Machweo House, Onsea House, Rivertrees, Mount Meru Game Lodge and KIA Lodge.

 



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