Ngorongoro

In 1951, the enormous Serengeti National Park was declared, encompassing the present Serengeti, plus the Ngorongoro area and surrounding Crater Highlands. Today, this is split into the present-day Serengeti National Park, and the current Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The showpiece of the conservation area is undoubtedly the Ngorongoro Crater which was created when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 and is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world. It measures about 16-19km in diameter, with walls of 400-610m in height. It is renowned both for its geological splendour, and for being a natural reserve which is home to some of the densest large mammal populations found anywhere in Africa.

Due to the enclosed nature of the Crater it has virtually formed its own ecosystem. Besides the stunning scenery, one of the main attractions of this area is the variety of flora and fauna found in a remarkably compact area all year round. In the South west corner there is the Lerai Forest, which is mainly comprised of yellow fever trees ( members of the acacia family). To the north of the forest is a shallow soda lake called Lake Magadi and to the east you will find Gorigor Swamp and the Ngoitokitok Springs where pods of hippo are to be found. The north of the Crater is, on the whole, much drier and consists of the open grasslands which characterise the Crater floor; this is where the majority of the resident game reside.

You are guaranteed to see large concentrations of game on any Ngorongoro safari. The mineral-rich floor of this spectacular bowl is largely flat, open and covered in nutritious grasses – much to the liking of large herds of zebra and wildebeest, which graze here. These extensive open plains are also home to herds of buffalo, Thomson's gazelle, Grant's gazelle and tsessebe (often called topi). Breeding herds of elephant pass through the Ngorongoro Crater itself only rarely, but you will see a scattering of old bulls, including some of the biggest tuskers left alive in Africa today. The only surprising absentees from the Crater are Impala and Giraffe; it is thought that this is perhaps because of the lack of open woodlands and browsing species of trees which these two tend to thrive on.

The high numbers of herbivores support the densest populations of predators found anywhere in Africa. The reliable presence of these predators has helped to make an Ngorongoro safari so popular. The Crater's lion population varies significantly over time, the one constant being their complete disregard of vehicles; they will hunt within yards of a vehicle, and, when exhausted, even seek shade beside them. Spotted hyenas are even more common here, often competing with the lion, and there are a small but growing number of cheetah. Leopards are around, especially in the vicinity of the Lerai Forest. Side-striped and the lovely golden jackal are often seen skulking around, whilst bat-eared foxes are a rarer sight.

The sheer number of vehicles in the crater, combined with its open environment, can destroy any sense of wilderness. It can feel crowded and busy. Often, this will be mitigated by amazing game sightings, but not always. So, whilst the Ngorongoro's wildlife is stupendous, the Ngorongoro Crater safari experience isn't always as good as you might imagine.

There is no accommodation within the Ngorongoro Crater and so generally speaking there are two different options; either staying on the Crater rim or on the Rift Valley Escarpment. There is a collection of lodges perched on the Crater rim overlooking the floor. These lodges tend to have incredible views and easy access to the crater, however the prices reflect this. Alternatively you could choose to stay, as we did, on the nearby Rift Valley Escarpment in an area often referred to as Karatu. The lodges and camps here are all less than about 20km from the Crater and have a lot more character than the aforementioned lodges. Gibb's Farm, Plantation Lodge and the Ngorongoro Farmhouse Lodge (where we stayed) are all true of this.

Ngorongoro Farmhouse

The Ngorongoro Farm House, which opened in 2003, is a good value option when visiting the Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara area. The lodge is located in the Karatu area which is equal distance from Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara. The hotel faces the Oldeani Volcano and is 5 kms from the Ngorongoro Lolduare gate - hough the crater itself is about an hour further on from the gate.

It is set in a coffee plantations with lovely views. The lodge is still a farm – they grow their own garden produce. The farm roasts and grinds their own coffee. We took the walking tour through their coffee plantation and gardens (odd fellow giving the walk, who touted for tips all the time) . We ground and drank our own cups of coffee here, but neither of us thought that the coffee was very good, but it was a nice experience

The main lodge area is under a large thatched structure with bar and dining area where all meals are taken. There are 52 cottages and suites in the whole property, the cottages being spread out among the coffee plantations; however it doesn’t feel like a lodge of this size somehow. Happily our room was close to reception, but you could have had a room a long hike away.

I should say that we were very impressed by the manager and assistant manager, who were present at both breakfast and dinner each night, supervising and always ready to answer questions. They run a well oiled machine and are to be congratulated. It cannot be easy to train local staff to understand what foreign tourists want, but they have managed to do just that.

The restaurant and lounge area has white-washed walls and a thatched roof. Inside, red-tiled floors, wrought-iron chandeliers and bare brick fireplaces - it is a bit like a designer's idea of what an old colonial farmhouse would have been like. The majority of the inside space is set out for dining, with individual tables - you get a table allocated, which saves a scrum, and the lounge area offers corners with large white sofas. We had our tapas here, in order to escape the karaoke being performed outside on the deck.

A fire is lit on the deck each night and we enjoyed that too. I avoided the audience participation dance show, but I can see that it would appeal to some!

The dinner was buffet with many selections, including barbecued food on the deck. The quality was nothing special, and the puddings were particularly bad. However the service was pleasant, and the experience good

Lunch is a "chose your own ingredients for your lunch box". You pick up an empty box after breakfast and the duty chef makes a filled roll to order, adds chicken bit, fruit, cakes and whatever you want from the displayed selection. This is a great idea, as you get a lunch you actually want, not a made up box where half the ingredients you don't like.

There is a large 3m-deep swimming pool with sunloungers and plenty of shade.

The bedrooms were my only real beef here. They are large, seriously large, but they lack decoration and colour and feel rather soulless. A little money spent in the rooms could improve them out of all proportion. They are all decorated and designed in the same way – with high ‘barn style’ wooden beamed ceilings, polished concrete floors. Each bedroom has a wooden four-poster bed, covered by a white mosquito net, a couple of armchairs and a coffee table. The ‘coffee table’ is quite literally a coffee table here as the top of the carved wooden table contains real coffee beans. Wifi is available in the reception only, not in the rooms.

Down into the Ngorongoro Crater. It is a one way dirt road down, and a one way paved road up. The density of game on the crater floor is high

We came upon this pair of lions mating twice in the space of a couple of minutes. The lioness was so exhausted that she lay in the shade of a jeep, with her head on the running board. The other lion sightings were a male enjoying his kill, with jackals trying to move in on him. And a solitary male lion

 

 

Although there were a lot of tourist jeeps on the crater floor, there was enough room to absorb them. You realised how many there were at the lunch stop: picnics were only permitted in 3 designated areas.

Tanzania

African Holiday 2017