Mary into the northern Serengeti – October, 2013

TAN-Topi-on-plainsHopefully you will have enjoyed Ollie’s updates of his visit to Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Highlands but they were to be left behind us as we flew north enjoying en route splendid aerial views of the Ngorongoro Crater and the endless plains of the Serengeti far below us. Our arrival in the Serengeti heralded further new horizons for Ollie but for me this was a return visit. Shortly after I joined Safari Consultants seven years ago I travelled to the northern Serengeti on an educational visit after which I wrote an article entitled ‘Silence of the Serengeti’ which extolled the virtues of visiting this almost empty region of Tanzania’s most iconic National Park. TAN-Mother-and-baby-ellieThese past seven years have brought a lot of changes to the Serengeti with regular updates of new camps and lodges openings and the constant threat of a tarred highway through the centre of the park, so I was more than a little interested to see if I could stand by my previous statement, that this was THE place to come for an exclusive game viewing experience. My memories were immediately challenged as I had forgotten just know beautiful this region is. TAN-Wildebeest-crossingThe Mara River which meanders along the northern edge of the plains not only provides a picturesque backdrop but also plays a pivotal role in the wildlife experience as it is at various junctures along it’s course that the massed herds of the wildebeest take their leap of faith on their journey to and from the open plains of Kenya’s Masai Mara to the north (no-one has ever told them they could walk round!) To the south of the river the terrain is one of rolling hills dotted with ancient acacias and punctuated by game rich valleys and rocky kopjes from where majestic male lions survey their territory and elusive leopards skulk. The vast eastern plains towards the Nyamalumbwa Hills are more reminiscent of the Masai Mara and ideal cheetah country and we weren’t to be disappointed as we found a mother and two sub adult cubs sleeping contentedly in the shadow of an acacia tree. TAN-Male-LionNorth of the river is known as the Lamai Wedge, a secluded triangle of vast open plains dotted with clusters of balanites trees, tucked between the sometimes tumultuous Mara River and Kenya’s Masai Mara. When the river floods vehicles are unable to cross in either direction making air transfers the only assured form of access. Singita Mara River Tented Camp and Olakira Lamai are currently the only two seasonal tented properties north of the river and when the river floods, the Lamai Wedge becomes their own personal wildlife back garden and game viewing is truly exclusive. There are without doubt now more properties on the southern side of the river than there were seven years ago but the upside of this is the greater diversity of choice when it comes to accommodation styles. Sayari Camp was the first luxury lodge to be built in the northern Serengeti and it is now joined by the brand new Lemala Kuria Hills and Nomad’s Lamai Serengeti, which has perhaps the most breath taking location of them all, perched on a hillside with expansive views of the rocky plains. Clients looking for something a shade more adventurous can opt for the seasonal tented camps such as Olakira, situated close to the river and overlooking one of the main wildebeest crossing points, or Alex Walker’s wonderful Serian Camp, where guests automatically get a private vehicle and guide. Serengeti Safari Camp, operated by Nomad Safaris and &Beyond’s Under Canvas product are two further good options. Does the presence of these new properties mean however, that my previous belief, that this was an exclusive game viewing area, still hold true? I believe so, yes! From July through to October the plains should be heaving with hundreds and thousands of wildebeest, gazelles and zebra; a fantastic spectacle in itself as they attract the attention of the predators and scavengers with added spikes of excitement as the herds plunge across the river. Of course the spectacular game viewing also attracts the attention of the tourists and it is the busier time to visit but for every car that is present at one of the crossing points in Tanzania, the likelihood is that there will be three or four at crossing points in the Masai Mara, so the northern Serengeti most certainly is still the more exclusive option for migration viewing and river crossings. TAN-Zebra-sunsetThere is of course much more to the Serengeti than just the wildebeest migration and thanks to early rains in October, the main herds had already moved much further south and our game viewing was primarily restricted to the resident game in the area. Disappointing? Not in the slightest; which gives rise to the thought that this area can easily be visited outside of migration season. The resident game is excellent and only the permanent camps remain open, so potential visitors can look forward to very competitive shoulder season rates, great game viewing and hardly any other vehicles! Tempted? I would be…..