Ngorongoro Crater is hailed by some as the eighth wonder of the world. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but after almost 10 days of safari so far, it certainly offered a unique backdrop and fantastic setting for viewing Africa’s big game.
After a long, monotonous (we were just backtracking our route into the park, and didn’t really see too much of intereste) drive out of The Serengeti we arrived on the top of the Ngorongoro crater. The climate was much different than what we had been experiencing, and although the sun was still shining, the air was chilled and the prospect of camping that night was not something we were looking forward to.
We set up camp and had some time to wonder around and get some pictures down into the crater below (the view was somewhat blocked by the trees around us, but we could tell that tomorrow’s game drive would offer scenery that was much more lush than our Serengeti experience. After dinner there was a bunch of commotion near the “kitchen” so we wondered over there to find an elephant wandering around the edge of the camp. It came up to the water reservoir and spend several minutes drinking from it. We’d never seen an elephant drink, drawing water into its trunk then sucking the water out through its mouth. Cool stuff!
The night was as cold as expected, and getting out of the sleeping bags in the morning was not fun at all. It was cloudy, cold, and misty wet when we crawled out of our tent at the painful hour of 630. But after breakfast and a quick drive around the crater to the road that descended down into the crater, clinging precariously to the side, we were rewarded with the sun breaking through the clouds onto the beautiful crater floor below.
We headed directly for the large lake towards the middle of the crater hoping to spot one of the rhinos that lilved here. We didn’t have any luck with rhinos, but we did see the thousands of flamingos that were hanging out in the shallow shores of the lake. We even saw some zebra and wildebeest cross in front of the scene, which was all too tempting to snap a few pictures of.
On the way across the plain away from the lake we saw a lot of warthogs, a few hyenas, as well as plentiful zebras and wildebeest. One of the zebras was using a rock to itch itself and Lynette amused herself by taking video of it itching its stomach.
Not long after that, we came up on something that I think everyone has near the top of their list: lions on the hunt. There were three lionesses near a riverbank and we saw them creeping towards the riverbank, one at a time. One crossed the road, then the second and finally the third. They branched out, flanking their prey, which we could not see. As we positioned ourselves better, we noticed that there was a wildebeest on the far side of the river. All three lions had their eye on the price and were slowly and gracefully approaching it. Unfortunately, the wildebeest seemed to catch wind of the lions and made its way carefully back across the river to the safety of its herd.
We ended up leaving the scene since the wildebeest seemed safe and sound and the lions seemed content to lay by the river and await their next passerby. We continued on our drive, seeing the usual prey along with a healthy herd of buffalo. We then spotted what looked like another cat in the field a little ways away. Upon further inspection, we found that it was a hyena and he was carrying around what looked like a wildebeest leg. It was definitely a wierd site!
Without having much luck finding anything terribly interesting, we headed back to the lions to see how things were going with them (they were obviously hungry, so an attack seemed iminant - although that could still mean a day or more away). Low and behold, we saw three unfortunate wildebeest hanging out near where we had left the lions. As we approached, we saw no less than six other safari vehicles, parked right in between the lions and the wildebeest! It was incredible to see how willing the drivers were to disrupt the interaction, and perhaps more incredible to see that the lions didn’t seem to mind. The just crossed the road, right between the trucks.
We were content watching from a bit away, fearing that if we drove right up that we would spook the wildebeest. After watching the lions creep closer and closer while the wildebeest contentedly grazed and/or just lay in the sun, several other trucks had pulled up, and we were in danger of being edged out. So, we hesitantly made our move, but neither the wildebeest nor the lions seemed to mind the six-or-so trucks that pulled up all at once.
We sat and watched for what must have been a half hour while the lions inched closer. I felt sure several times that they were about to pounce, but they didn’t seem to want to get any closer. Perhaps they were waiting to see if the wildebeest would just wander right into them on their way to the river. At their closest point, they must have been no more than 10 meters away. I was amazed at their patients, and also a bit frustrated. In the end, the wildebeest just meandered off, never having seen the lions, but the lions never made their attack. We were bummed, but on the other hand, watching the hunt was an incredible experience, and certainly not something that everyone gets to see.
At that point, our time in the crater was running short (each vehicle is only allowed to spend 6 hours in the crater). We headed back across the plain, getting a glipse of a rhino’s horn poking up through the grass in a field. It was very far away, so there wasn’t much to see. We saw another large pride of male and female lions who were not nearly as hungry as the three we had seen previously. They were just laying there, too full to move a muscle. We saw more warthogs, one large one near the truck, nealing down to get a better vantage on the grass he was eating. Didn’t he know how short he is??
The drive out of the crater was fantastic, if not a bit horrifying, speeding around wicked corners with huge dropoffs down below us. The views were incredible!
We quickly packed up camp and headed back to Arusha where we would have a day of rest before starting our treck up Africa’s highest peak. All in all, we were very happy with our safari experiences, and Lynette’s childhood dreams of seeing the wildlife in Africa had been fulfilled.