Ngorongoro crater is one of Tanzania’s most prestigious tourist destinations, and rightly so. Situated in the north of Tanzania, Ngorongoro is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. It is walled by the Great Rift Valley which stretches all the way from Mozambique to Egypt.
On the morning of our Ngorongoro game drive, our expectations were high; and even the sound of the name Ngo-ron-goro gave us goose pimples – thanks to our driver who did a good job whetting our appetites to drooling point. Now it was a very cold morning out there in the conservation area, with temperatures hovering between twelve and fifteen degrees. With bated breathe, all five of us grabbed our cameras as we drove along: Leslie Carvell, Julia D’Orazio (both Australians), Banke Otubanjo, Laolu Hassan and Sam Adeleke (Nigerians).
Our first encounter was the point when we spotted some tall beautiful giraffes having breakfast. What a stunning sight it was! Watching these vertically-gifted mammals doing their thing was a joy and delight. We stopped to take some shots, then continued till we got to the gate of the crater.
Now guess what? This is the point where you are blown away! Literally!! We had thought the driver was exaggerating when he was whetting our appetite, but No, he was damn right! Ngorongoro was (and still is) all shades of awesomeness. There is simply nothing like standing at a viewing point with a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the entire area. Oh my goodness, we screamed for joy, jumping and running all over the arena, taking pictures and striking poses – all at the same time. Only the Ngorongoro can do that to you.
While this was going on, the driver left us to pay the park entry fees. He was done in about fifteen minutes and we proceeded on our game drive, going on a downward spiral into the crater. As usual, we were reminded yet again of the ground rules of the game drive. All doors must remain shut. Be as quiet as you can so as not to scare the animals when spotted. Hold on to your devices tightly so you don’t drop them.
Unlike the Serengeti, we didn’t drive for long before we spotted our first major game. And guess what it was? A cute, large lioness, sitting lazily by the dusty road, taking in fresh afternoon air. Wow! A mixed doze of adrenaline rushed through my veins. I was so ecstatic and euphoric that I had to be “shushed” by my fellow travellers.
My noise was going to ruffle the gentle beast. No one wanted to spoil that beautiful, priceless moment! And of course, I have seen lions before! Just never been so up close and personal – especially with the queen of the jungle!
So we parked and spent some time with the beast gazing into each other’s eyes. What a rapturous moment it was! We were told she had just had lunch and was simply resting. You see, all lions do is hunt for game, eat and sleep. Life is good!
After about thirty minutes, we moved on from there to the field where the Wilderbeeste and Zebras were roaming. Some chimps and baboons crossed the road as we drove. We spotted some elephants in the distance. They moved in families as usual, gallantly and peacefully. Far away in the distance was the main crater where the flamingoes were congregated. The naked eyes couldn’t do justice to the magnificent sight, so we engaged our driver’s binoculars. And those with powerful camera lenses did their thing.
We spent some there and moved on from to the Hippo Pool – the water body where hippopotamuses swim, eat and play all day long. It also doubled as our lunch area. And there were also restrooms for those who’d love to pee. So we brought out our lunch boxes and digged in, watching the fat hippos glide through the pool.
Our driver advised us to eat in the vehicle as against taking our foods out to eat under the shade. He warned of some hungry birds that were in the habit of diving to steal food from tourists. Well, everyone complied, except Julia. The rest of us were hungry enough not to risk losing our food to disrespectful, hungry Ngorongoro birds. Thankfully, the birds weren’t around and Julia ate her food peacefully.
As the rest of us sat back in the jeep to eat, the view in front of us came alive. It was simply priceless. It still is. The beautiful acacia tree sheltering scores of tourists; the midday sun was shining in its full glory; the majestic backdrop of the Great Rift Valley; and the funny-looking yet beautiful hippos making harmonious baritones in the blue sparkling waters. Life in Ngorongoro is like a dream. It blows you away one second at a time.
After spending an estimated three hours in the crater, we began our drive home. As we headed out, we spotted an old elephant strolling in a damp lonely arena, called Elephants Graveyard. Our driver tells us that elephants come here when they’re old and about to die. “How do they find the place?” we queried. Nature, instincts and intuition bring them there. As they advance in age, they become weak and the follow the trails to that region, till their sun finally sets.
Ngorongoro is indeed not only a place of life, sunshine and colour, it is also a place of sunset, expiration and death.