Our Drive to Lake Ndutu and Day 1 of our safari

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I have made it a practice of providing the full Tanzania experience to everyone who accompanies me here and that means at least several safaris to visit the national parks. Tanzania is the number one destination for animal viewing in Africa and the premier locations here are Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Kelley, who was here with me last fall, had contacted us about taking a safari to the Lake Ndutu region of the Southern Serengeti. Lake Ndutu is known as the prime location to view the Great Migration in March and April which is when all the wildebeest and zebra travel there during the rains to calve. I’ve been here before and it is spectacular.

Unfortunately, this year has been an anomaly with the rains that haven’t yet come in full force which has caused the migration to move on to the central and now western portions of the Serengeti. Rather than being incredibly lush and green, the Lake Ndutu region is dry and very dusty. We had booked well in advance to visit there in a tented camp for two nights and so began our journey early on Friday morning at about 8 a.m. when we were picked up by our driver, Isaac, from Duma Explorer which is the safari company Kelley booked us with. Along on the trip are Kelley, Natalie and Hannah in addition to Christyn, Payal and myself.

We left FAME a few minutes after 8 a.m. and drove up to the entrance gate of Ngorongoro Conservation Area which is a very large area that borders Serengeti National Park to the east and contains some of the Serengeti ecosystem. The NCA is a multi-use area meaning that many Maasai live there and graze their cattle while also sharing the land with the natural fauna. It is very regulated and well maintained with an entrance fee to just pass through the gate. Ngorongoro Crater is also within the NCA, but requires separate entrance fees and is more heavily restricted due to the often high level of traffic into the crater.

The tarmac (paved road) ends at the NCA gate and there is no paved road any further traveling west over the crater rim, through the NCA or across the Serengeti. There has been much controversy over this issue and whether to allow a paved road for commerce such as trucking, but at the present time that has been blocked and will not likely occur – for now.

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So our trip began with a very long drive up to the crater rim and then around it and down into the Oldupai Gorge region which I’ve mentioned before. Dropping down the backside of the crater we immediately encountered a massive group of giraffe (probably more than 50 in all) with lots of babies and adolescents. It was amazing to see so many together as that is not often the case and much smaller groups are more typically seen. They are just so amazingly graceful to watch and seeing so many in one place was an incredible sight

On we drove past Oldupai Gorge with Maasai children herding huge groups of cattle and goats that represents their family’s entire wealth. Also past long lines of donkeys carrying water to their boma with the women and children also tending to these chores. A sort of “clean up crew” made up of mostly women followed to pick up any loose water containers that had fallen off their respective transport. It is an existence that seems very harsh, but having visited many a boma on my trips I can say that the Maasai are all a very proud and happy people. It is a constant reminder that happiness is not merely a two-car garage and a large home.

The turnoff for the Lake Ndutu region is barely marked and the first thing one notices is that the “road” is really just multiple cross-country tire tracks heading essentially in the same direction. As opposed to the parks where you are unable to drive off-road (“roads” in the park though are often only several tire tracks), the NCA allows you to drive entirely off-road. This totally changes the perspective of game driving as you can drive however to reach any sightings. You must still respect the animals by not interfering with any of their activities to alter their behavior – sometimes this rule isn’t followed as well as it should be unfortunately.

We arrived at our camp for a hot lunch (as opposed to a box lunch often prepared for full day game viewing when you don’t return to camp) and dropped off our bags. Chaka camp, where we booked two nights and three days of game drives, was simply amazing. It is owned by Duma Explorer who Kelley had booked our trip with and I can’t say enough good things about them. Our tents were incredibly comfortable and some of the nicest I’ve stayed in.

After a lunch and a brief nap we took off at 4 p.m. for an afternoon game drive and immediately ran across a lion pride in one of the marshes that make up the landscape here and they had just killed a warthog. There were two males and at least four females, but the males had the kill and were hidden in the reeds. We spent a short while watching them and then decided to do some more driving. In a very short time we found a mother cheetah and two cubs about 4 months old. The sun was getting low and the lighting was excellent for nice photographs. They were so majestic to just observe and with the sun setting it was an amazing time.

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We arrived back to camp with barely any light remaining in the sky and just in time to spend some relaxing moments around a fire and chat amongst ourselves and some of the other guests at the camp. One was a friend a Natalie’s who was there just by chance and is a professional photographer and guides some photo safaris. It was great speaking with him about safari photography and sharing some similar experiences. I hope some day to be able to go out with him on a short trip.

Dinner was marvelous – homemade soup for the first course and then fish with potatoes and vegetables. All the food is very fresh and prepared on site. We went to bed all very satisfied with the day and our experiences. The travel to Ndutu was very tiring and being on safari is also a bit draining. It had been a long day and we were all looking forward to the next two days. Dreams of big cats and wildebeest and zebra.

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