We left the lovely Bougainvillea Lodge with its nice large spacious rooms (so much different to the place I am in as I write this – I hate the Ngorogoro Wildlife lodge with a passion, its everything I despise about big tourist hotels but more on that later).
The crater itself was formed about 3m years ago after a volcano collapsed after erupting. Over time it has formed this ecosystem 20km in diameter full of wildlife. The animals do come and go from time to time but in general they tend to stay put as the Maasi population on the rim has doubled in the last 5 years to over 80k people.
The day started quite slowly and despite the early start (7am) we still hadn’t seen much (other than more baboons) by about 9 am. Then we came across a large herd of wildebeest and zebras. The two creatures are often found together and they say that the wildebeest migration is run by zebras as they have good memories whereas wildebeest have very poor memory. Wildebeest also mate during May-June every year and their calves are born in February so we saw lots of babies to. There were several herds of Thomson and Gerant gazelles rooming around the place and a jackal which was on the prowl. Later on we were to see jackals fighting with a hyena for some food. I was surprised to see ostriches in the park. It had never really occurred to me that they were an African bird.
I got a bit carried away taking pictures of zebras during the course of the day and one had to be taken of an actual zebra crossing! Soon after we left the zebras we came across a group of trucks parked up on a track. We had to ask what they were looking at and it turned out to be a female cheetah sitting resting. She was so well camouflaged it would have been impossible for us to have seen her otherwise. She was too far away to take pictures of – unlike in Kenya, all Tanzania safaris have to stick to the national park tracks and there is no off-roading allowed.
We drove on a bit further and saw four lions in the distance just sitting there sleeping. We didn’t stay there for long as they were so far away and went round the corner to watch three large male buffalos walking towards us and look at more zebras – I think they are my favourite animal here. As we were watching the lions started walking towards us. We went from being on our own to being surrounded by 15-20 other jeeps. It wasn’t good. However I got really lucky when one large male lion walked directly in front of my jeep so I got a great view. He looked a very lazy cuddly creature but he is deadly. Apparently today is very quiet in the park as it is low season – in high season July/Aug & Dec/Jan there are about 200 jeeps in the park! That would be horrible – I highly recommend going out of season!
We then headed to a hippo pool for lunch (the only place in the park you are allowed to eat and there are toilets there). But you have to eat your lunch sitting in the jeep as there are lots of red kites about. If you try to eat outside they swoop down out of nowhere and steal your sandwich or chicken before you even get it to your mouth!
In the afternoon drive we saw this big cloud of dust not far away so went to investigate. It turned out to be two rival packs of hyenas fighting over territory. We counted over 40 of them in the fight. The fight didn’t last long though – not sure which group won. Saw a couple of lions who had been walking stop and then just sit down to watch them. It was amazing to see how these two huge creatures could just vanish in what looked like short flat grassland. It just gives an indication of how much you must miss because they are so well camouflaged.
On the other side of the truck were two black rhinos in the first throws of courtship. The big old male was certainly up for it but the young female (we suspected this might be her first time due to her size) wasn’t having any of it! I admired his persistence though. We watched this ritual go on for nearly an hour before we decided that nothing was going to happen anytime soon (we were by far the most patient of all the people who stopped). When we left we came across two retired bull buffaloes (retired because they are old and the young ones have kicked them out of the herd) enjoying rolling in the mud with a family of warthogs.
We stopped by the hippo pool to see if the hippos were going to play ball and come out of the water but it wasn’t looking likely and by this time it was 5pm – there are huge fines if you are still in the park after 6pm so we had to leave – still a 9hr safari isn’t bad! Just before we headed up the crater ascent we had to stopping in this little parking area to put the roof back and engage the 4×4. I got out to use the bathroom. On my way back to the jeep was my closest encounter with wild animals outside of a jeep. A herd of zebra were walking through the area between me and the jeep. I sat down on the grass to make myself small and they came within a few feet of me. They are beautiful creatures and so horse like. Each one of them is different as their patterns of stripes are unique. This was probably my highlight of the day.
Sadly after that was my low point of the day – the hotel. Impressive looking building from the outside but I knew as soon as I walked in and heard all the noise I knew I was going to hate it. It was full of about 20 American children! The only good thing I can say about this place is that because it is on the rim of the crater it has stunning views over the crater but I wish I had stayed back in town! The rooms are small, the walls are paper thin and you hear everything especially when people walk down the corridor, there is no drinking water in the rooms and all the drinks they sell are overpriced. The food was awful a buffet meal which was full of things I couldn’t eat made worse by all the kids. I look forward to leaving this place tomorrow. Still I won’t let it ruin my day.