It was great to return to Northern Tanzania and remind myself just how beautiful and diverse this part of Africa really is and the incredible wildlife opportunities on offer.
I flew on a daylight service from Norwich to Amsterdam and connected through to Kilimanjaro. This service is ideal if you don’t wish to make the journey to London for the Kenya Airways via Nairobi. KLM offer many UK connections including Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Birmingham, and Manchester.
I arrived into Kilimanjaro in the dark of night and was immediately impressed with the efficiency of this small airport. Having spent a good night’s sleep at the comfortable Rivertrees Lodge at Usa River, just outside Arusha, I was up early, transferred relatively easily (missing rush hour traffic) to the smaller Arusha Airport for my flight up to the northern Serengeti. Not being the most enthusiastic light aircraft passenger I actually really enjoyed this flight and was captivated by the scenery below as we flew over the beautiful Ngorongoro Highlands and its famous Crater and the vast plains of the Serengeti.
We landed at the Kogatende airstrip and I visited a few properties before spending the night at Serengeti Lamai which has a spectacular location tucked amongst the rocks of Wogakuria Kopje with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The northern Serengeti at this time of year is pretty exclusive with only a handful of permanent lodges operating (all the semi-permanent camps which are resident mid-June to October (for wildebeest crossings) are down in the south on the short grass plains of the Serengeti where the wildebeest ‘should be’ resident and calving at this time of year). The scenery there is simply stunning and quite different to the rest of the Serengeti with a mixture of small valleys, rocky outcrops, dotted plains and the expansive open plains of the Lamai wedge.
The next day I flew down to the central Serengeti and landed at Seronera airstrip. This section of the park has good year round resident game but is surrounded by a few larger lodges so can get busy with other vehicles. I headed a good hour and a half east to a quieter area and fairly new camp, Namiri Plains. Although still within the Serengeti National Park, Namiri is currently the only camp operating in this area, which was once blocked off to tourists for a cheetah conservation project. The landscape is beautiful with endless open plains and rocky outcrops, which make for excellent cheetah and lion country. My afternoon drive resulted in us finding a gorgeous family of lions with small cubs. Whilst some lay on the open rocks soaking up the last bit of sunshine, we enjoyed our sundowners as the cubs played and ‘annoyed’ their mum. The following morning, I set off early for a game drive as we headed slowly back to the Seronera area and on towards Moru Kopjes where I was to spend another night. My drive was very successful with another pride of lions and three different cheetahs, two of whom had cubs.
The Moru Kopjes area, south-west of Seronera is a slightly different, but equally beautiful part of the Serengeti. The landscape includes rocky outcrops, large wooded areas together with open plains and dramatic hills. Traditionally, at this time of year (March) you have a reasonable chance of seeing some of the migrating wildebeest herds, as they move between the southern Ndutu plains and this area depending on food and water. However, and rather surprisingly, none were to be seen leading me to believe they were still enjoying the southern short grass plains.
My final two nights were split between the wooded Kusini section of the Serengeti and southern Ndutu plains of the Ngorongoro Conservation area. As we travelled through Naabi Hill (border between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area), I looked forward to seeing some of the vast herds. I spotted only a handful. At this time of year, the Ndutu plains should be lush and green with plenty of grass for the wildebeest and their newly born young. However, I had never seen this area so dry – it looked like it was something out of the Wild West, hot, dusty and barren. I gleaned later from the locals that the herds had headed north in search of food and water. They had split largely into two groups, one heading towards the Grumeti River in the western corridor, and other past Lobo in the north-east. In normal years, they would only reach these areas in May/June not March! It was a stark reminder to me, and the safari operators in Tanzania, on just how unpredictable weather patterns are becoming and the affect they have on the wildlife (as a footnote, see below two pictures taken by our client Richard Barret in the southern Serengeti on exactly the same day in 2014 and then this year – 15 March).
My next couple of nights were spent at the Ngorongoro Highlands, the first near the famous Crater, the second at the delightful Gibbs Farm. In contrast to the plains, the drive up to the crater from the Serengeti was beautiful as we travelled through the lush rolling hills. I spent the afternoon on the floor of Crater which was very productive with lions, hyaena, elephant, buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra. The crater has a limited road network and covers a relatively small area so a day game-viewing is usually sufficient.
My final night was spent visiting Chem Chem Lodge and Little Chem Chem Tented Camp. Both are situated on private wildlife management areas between Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara. The lodge is very comfortable and has the most fabulous waterhole which was visited by giraffe, zebra, warthog and wildebeest whilst I was having lunch! Little Chem Chem is a small, comfortable, tented camp situated on the end of an acacia forest overlooking an open plain and Lake Burunge in the distance.
En route to the airport I made a detour into my favourite park in the north, Tarangire. I popped in at the charming Oliver’s Camp in the heart of the park for lunch. Tarangire blows me away every time I visit. The landscape is breath-taking with a mixture of savannah, woodland, riverine grasslands and the swamps in the south-east. In the northern section, giant baobabs dominate the undulating countryside. The park is particularly well known for its large elephant herds and although I did not spend any time on a game-drive, just transferring through, I saw numerous elephants some of which were happily feeding in the lush green swamp – an African paradise and not a bad place in which to spend my last day!
All in a days work!
During Michele’s visit, she stayed at Rivertrees Country Inn, Lamai Serengeti, Namiri Plains, Dunia Camp, Serian Serengeti Mobile Kusini, Serian Serengeti South Camp, Neptune Ngorongoro Luxury Lodge, Gibbs Farm and Little Chem Chem. She site inspected Lemala Kuria Hills, Sayari Camp, Serengeti Pioneer Camp, Olakira Camp, Mwiba Lodge and Tented Camp, &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Ngorongoro Serena, Kirurumu Ngorongoro Pakulala Camp, Plantation Lodge, Kirurumu Manyara Lodge, Ngorongoro Oldeani Mountain Lodge, Kitela Lodge, Chem Chem Lodge, Kirurumu Tarangire Lodge, Oliver’s Camp and Kia Lodge.