Knud Henrik's diary 28 May 2006: The Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge and Serengeti National Park

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Last updated 2007.11.21

This afternoon we reached Mwanza. But I better do it chronologically.

Thursday 25 May is Mai-Britt's birthday, but we didn't make any special occasion out of it. We made a fairly early start from the Glory Guest House in Karatu, cashed some more money (now being in possession of more than a million Tanzanian shillings - !), shopped some necessities and went on to the Ngorongoro Crater. As with everything else around here this crater is volcanic. The caldera forms a almost perfect circle and the rim is quite even all around. And it's big, some 20 km in diameter. As such it's one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world.

As the wind here close to the equator always blows from the east the eastern side of the mountain gets a lot of rain whereas the western side is very dry. The road from Karatu is quite steep in some places and goes up the eastern side through a dense forest, actually very rainforest-like. Once at the rim a magnificent view opens up down into the caldera.

The Ngorongoro Crater is also world reckoned for the amount of wild animal found here. Almost all of the wild African animals can be found here in fairly large numbers, except the giraffe. Furthermore, so many tourist came to this zoo-like place that the animals are less shy than most other places. This means close encounters but also less "wild".

Among the most spectacular sightings we saw two rhinos, a female and a youngster. Most of the animals found in the crater migrate in and out of the crater but the rhinos do not. According to our driver and guide Japhet 21 rhinos live in the crater presently and the number is growing.

We also had a very close encounter with a small group of five lions, actually it could hardly have been any closer as three of the lions chose to rest in the shade on the side of the car, occasionally resting a paw on the doorstep or on one of the wheels. Unusual to take pictures of lions right from above.

After having spent all day on the crater floor we went to a camping site up on the rim.

The next morning we had another record: the coldest temperature experienced on this trip so far, just 12 C ("All voices singing ..."), and Aske expressed the unforgettable words: "Does it always have to be this cold here in Africa?" As the sun gained power the temperature increased to some 30 C.

Friday 26 is Lea's birthday and we gave a little birthday song to wake her up. Once again we packed our stuff and went on, this time down the western side of the volcano cone. Though the rainy season is at it's end the area west of the Ngorongoro mountain was surprisingly dry, even Japhet was surprised.

Next stop was Olduvai Gorge. The gorge cuts down through several layers of sedimentary and volcanic deposits, uncovering fossils of some of the oldest human remnants found in the world. The most outstanding discovery is some footsteps imprinted in volcanic ash mud some 3.6 millions years ago.

Though we had been told that few animals were found in the area we went south to Lake Ndutu, just to realise that the area was almost deserted. However, on the way back up north-west towards the entrance gate to the Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill we saw a surprisingly amount of animals even though the grass seemed dry and cut-off. In the central part of the Serengeti some very interesting rock formations are found, the so-called kopjes ("small heads" in Dutch). These are actually small volcanoes where the less solid ash cones have been eroded away, leaving just the cooled off lava protrusion. The kopjes offers popular viewpoints for lions and we had the luck of seeing one.

The next two nights we stayed at a camp site in the very centre of the Serengeti, an area called Seronera. There is always a lot of animals here as this area never dries out completely. Saturday morning we went up north but had not much luck. As we were all very hot we decided to go to the rather fancy Seronera Wildlife Lodge to have a shower. However, the lodge didn't offers this kind of services to campers anymore, so they had stand the odour of us while we had an exquisite lunch. In the afternoon we went east right into the big wildebeest migration. That was an astonishing sight, hundreds of thousands or even millions of wildebeest and zebras covering the landscape almost completely. According to Japhet the wildebeests are very good at finding water whereas the zebras are good at sensing predators. This way both parts benefit from each other and the two of them are very often seen intermingled. For the time being the migration goes north towards Masai Mara National Park in southern Kenya but as there is a fair amount of grass around the Seronera area the migration is paused and the wildebeest/zebra herd was more like roaming around, trying to avoid occasional predators. We even had the luck of spotting a leopard though it was very hard to see in the long grass. Before turning back to our tent we spotted a lion at some distance. The wildebeest and zebras in the vicinity were visibly anxious and we waited for a long time in hope to see a kill. But no, apparently the prey to be were too well alerted.

Next morning (today) we set off early, just at sunrise, once again to see the huge wildebeest/zebra migration herd, really amazing. The Seronera area lies at about 1700 meters above sea level and therefore the temperature in the morning hours is quite low. After two hours of driving around in the cold morning we went back to the camp site, packed our stuff and had some breakfast. Then off out west through the so-called Western Corridor, a part of the Serengeti National Park extending out west along the Grumeti River towards Lake Victoria. Because of the Grumeti River the animals in this area do normally not need to migrate, the river ensures sufficient pasture year around. This is true for both prey and predators and soon we had the luck of a lion not far from the road. The lion walked straight towards us but on the way it passed a little tree or bush and climbed up. After a little while it jumped down again soon followed by a cup which had been hiding up in the tree. A male was also around but at a greater distance. We waited a little while hoping to see them mate, but all three of them disappeared in the tall grass.

Every time I have passed the Western Corridor I have been down to the Grumeti River to watch the hippos and the crocodiles. But today most of them seemed to have left home, only once we found a group of maybe a hundred hippos and three or four croc's in the back. A pity we didn't have the chance of a better look at the croc's because this river is said to have the largest croc's in the world, up to seven meters of length.

Towards the end of the Corridor we once again enjoyed the wildebeests, zebras, impalas, Thompson's gazelles, Grant's gazelles, topis, hartebeests, warthogs, dik-diks, baboons, monkeys, vultures, marabou storks, hornbills, herons, ostriches, weaving birds and occasional giraffes. Goodbye to the Serengeti National Park and welcome to the Lake Victoria and to the industrious city of Mwanza.

We have installed ourselves at the "Christmas Tree Hotel" (!), a fairly new and clean multi-storey hotel in the very centre of the town. The price level has gone up dramatically over the last 12 years and for two double rooms we are paying the amount of 24 $ per night - outrageous!