Giant cotton swabs float above and cast patches of shadows on the valley floor. Looking down into the crater, tiny specks come into form as herds of wildebeest and buffalo. From the view point, the edge of the crater rim quickly recedes down to the vast caldera that is Ngorongoro.
Unlike the Serengeti which was warm, the air at this altitude (of the crater rim) was shockingly chilly for November. The base of the crater on the other hand is what you’d expect of a safari destination. At about just over 8 000 square kilometers, Ngorongoro is the world’s largest dormant and intact volcanic caldera and is a haven for wildlife. Unlike the Serengeti where animals roam large tracts of land, Ngorongoro is more contained. Most wildlife are permanent residents. Only few venture out of the crater and trek the long distance toward the Serengeti. This has become increasingly difficult with human encroachment and development between these great conservation areas. Whereas the Serengeti is demarcated as a national park, Ngorongoro has conservation area status and villagers are allowed to reside within certain areas and bring their livestock into the crater for limited periods. But that does not distract from the beauty and wild character of Ngorongoro.
Descending into the crater, we sighted a bulging spotted hyena, sure to give birth soon; followed by a herd of eland, the odd wildebeest and ostrich, and small pride of lazy lions and jackals lying in the road. And that was within the first few minutes. As the day progressed we encountered many large herds of wildebeest, zebra and buffalo, pods of hippo and flocks of flamingo and crowned cranes. A large pride of lions, including over ten cubs drew a large crowd of spectators. Due to its limited area, escaping the hordes of tourists is not possible. You are bound to attract the attention of other safari vehicles if you remain stationary for too long. If you are able to mentally block them out, you can still enjoy the wilderness. As we did following the pride, watching them unsuccessfully launch an attack on zebra. Changing focus and direction, the pride moved along, and so did we in search of the crater’s other residents.
We scoured the crater floor in search of black rhino, but they eluded us until the end of the day. While searching for rhino, we happened on remarkable sightings – a serval on the prowl; Thompsons gazelle parents protecting their baby from an opportunistic jackal; lappet faced vultures soaring overhead. There’s rarely a moment of inaction in the crater.
It was a short trip in Ngorongoro. We stayed for two nights on the crater rim, and came down into the crater for a full day safari. And I felt satisfied. Especially after coming from the Serengeti. You could spend longer, if you don’t mind driving the same roads many times. You’ll see the same herds, perhaps the same prides, and maybe some different interactions.