When I was growing up my father used to tell us about his life in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and how he used to cycle on dusty dirt roads down to his favourite river for a day of fishing and other stories about him camping out in the bush. These stories painted vivid images in my mind. I can remember saying to myself that I have to see Africa.
Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa we would go on holidays to the bush or along the coast but for me countries like Tanzania and Malawi were always in my mind and they were the ‘real Africa’. I remember thinking, ‘Everyone says Malawians are so friendly, is that true?’ and ‘I would love to wake up on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and watch the sunrise’. I love sunrises..
Well, I would like to paint a picture (hopefully as vivid as my father’s stories) about a place in Africa that I call heaven on Earth. It is the Ngorongoro Crater and it is situated in Tanzania on the border of the Serengeti National Park and just down the road from Kilimanjaro. It was a dream of mine to visit it and when we drove up the winding dirt road and saw the first glimpse of the vast floor of the crater I was simply blown away. Goosebumps and all.
Image courtesy of Seven Natural Wonders
The crater is called the 8th wonder of the world and it is easy to why. The entire conservation area is 8300 sq km and houses animals, grasslands, forests, Masai villages and the Oldupai Gorge (cradle of mankind). I am not going to go into all the facts and figures of the area, what I would like to tell you is about my experience.
The evening before we entered the floor of the crater we pitched our tents on the rim. It was an awesome experience to be setting up camp high above the crater floor and watching all the animals below while the sun was setting. When you look into the crater there is an amazing diverse eco system. It has a forest area for the elephants to rub their backs and eat the leaves; grasslands for the cheetahs to blend in; marsh areas for hippos to wade with their babies and last but not least a salt pan perfect for the migrating flamingos.
In the morning we woke up before the sun and made our way down the steep winding road to the floor of the caldera. It was AMAZING! The sun was only rising when we hit the floor and almost immediately we were all ‘professional game spotters’. For the males in the 4×4, the competition was on to spot the animals first! We saw everything from Lions, a lone Cheetah hiding in the savannah grasslands, elephants, wildebeest by the hundreds, hippos with their pink belly babies, small antelope, big antelope to tigers (only joking on the tigers)!
I have to say the saddest moment was when I spotted a baby wildebeest being hunted by a pack of hyenas. It was a powerful moment to see nature at work. In the distance we could see commotion and as we drove the landy over the hyenas dispersed only to see a baby wildebeest get up and run over to our truck. The poor animal was alive but barely. As we watched the animal walk off each of us was willing it not too, the hyenas pounced on him.
After an experience like that you simply sit back and have to accept life and nature with its beauty and pain.
For me the highlight of the crater has to be its diversity. To see so many different types of animals all living together in one area is phenomenal. You simply have to go there and experience that sunrise…