A journey to the Ngorongoro Crater, through the Serengeti and on to Mahale

Things got off to a bit of a slow start when I let slip that there was a boutique shop where we were picking up our lunches for day one. There was lots of catching up to do and questions to be answered as we set out for the Ngorongoro Crater. Having already found an elephant just outside of Mto wa Mbu we marvelled at the fig trees full of pelicans above Lake Manyara and arrived up top in time for the clouds to clear over the crater. Dodging the grumpy buffalos along the way we arrived at Entamanu with time to stretch our legs in the afternoon. Joining the groups of giraffe silhouetted against the immense landscape and following the cows home. 

The first thing we saw the next morning down in the crater was a caracal. This is tricky as a guide when you can’t get your words out properly to explain to your guests just how lucky that is. A sign of things to come. Making good time we again ventured out on foot in the afternoon to visit a neighbouring Maasai manyatta, a very sensitively run venture with the camp staff. A wonderful experience and quite surreal scenes as the sun set across the Serengeti. 

Rolling down the hill into the Serengeti (Toto playing) we set a good pace on our long crossing out to the western Serengeti in search of the wildebeest migration. We were held up on the way by lions crossing the road, leopard cubs amongst the kopjes and various other Serengeti surprises one must cope with. We pulled into the perfectly positioned Serengeti Safari Camp in time to watch a few lonely wildebeest trickle out into the plains in front. Our final group member also joined us on time thanks to some triumphant logistical wizardry.

The fertile grasslands of Grumeti did not disappoint as before breakfast we had bagged some lovely elephants, hippos, a huge clan of hyenas and some tree climbing lions. At breakfast we were treated to columns of wildebeest galloping across the vista in front of us. After breakfast all we managed to find was a cheetah, with a her cub, trying to climb a tree and then stalking some topi in a torrential downpour. 

Making the short aerial hop up to very north of the Serengeti we were treated to the beautiful Mara River area with no one else around, coming as we did a few weeks short of the busy season. After covering some distance in the previous days it was nice to be based in such a spectacular location like Lamai camp for a few days, we really didn’t have to go far. 

Some expletives were heard unfortunately as the resident mating lions decided to do so really rather close to the wagon. Cheetah, leopards in trees, much more lions, dwarf mongoose and great herds of buffalo from the comfort of our decks would follow. The hills were dotted black with wildebeest when we arrived, they promptly turned around and disappeared again. 

No doubt our leopard sightings were almost guaranteed by the extraordinary luck of having a leopard whisperer in our group, able to summon even the most shy leopard with a range of uncanny contact calls. I didn’t have the heart to mention we saw four together in one place after dropping him off at the airstrip. My personal highlight sighting must have been the bellowing lions atop the rock, surrounded by an amphitheater of granite. Baboons watching on as the lions rattled the cars bolts with their deafening performance, the rain coming down and sun setting. 

The group went their separate ways, including the most intrepid continuing their safari to Mahale in search of Chimpanzees. COVID might have stuffed the safari season this year but it has given me the chance to reflect upon the amazing safaris I have been lucky enough to share with great friends. This would have been much more tricky without the excellent images the groups natural documentarian collected along the way, which I thank him for letting me share with you below. 

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