Though the Serengeti is the premier wildlife park in Africa with its endless plains and the great migration, Ngorongoro Crater is the crown jewel of parks here in Tanzania and elsewhere for its completely unique topography and the diversity of wildlife that exists in such a compact space and immediately reminds one of the Garden of Eden. The crater, which is actually a caldera, or a collapsed volcano, is the largest complete, dry caldera in the world with it ten-mile diameter and its fully encompassing 2000-foot steep walls that protect a population of animals that have no need to migrate and exist here for their entire lives. It is home to numerous species of antelope including very large herds of wildebeest, massive numbers of zebra and Cape buffalo, and a great many lions who roam is large prides. The only two animals that don’t exist at the bottom of the crater are the Nile crocodile, for there are no flowing rivers at the bottom, and the giraffe, as the crater walls are too steep for it to descent. The premier animal to see here, though, is the endangered black rhino, whose numbers have been increasing in recent years due to the strict protection that has been placed on them by the Tanzanian government.
The crater is a game drive that I feel totally comfortable guiding on my own as it is impossible to get lost in the crater, as opposed to the Serengeti, which is so immense, one can become disoriented and lost for days. The crater is also a wonderful first game drive for those who have never been to Africa. I would never want to miss the Serengeti, though if I had a single day to explore, it would be in the Ngorongoro Crater for it has everything to see without having to drive very far. The crater gate is also only thirty minutes away from FAME, making it incredibly convenient for a day trip. The gate opens at 6:30 am, so I try to arrive as close to that as possible, and once paid and through the gate, we’re driving up the 2000 feet of the crater wall on a very windy and, at times, eerie road that ascends in altitude as it descends in time for the vegetation is entirely primordial. Tall, thin trees reaching up as far as possible to reach the even the smallest rays of sunshine, all covered in vines that hang back down to the ground. It feels as though we are entering the age of dinosaurs and that a T-rex may pop out through the trees at any moment.
This is one of my favorite drives in Tanzania and perhaps even in the world. We climb and climb in the Land Rover, driving in our lowest gears given the steep inclines and tight turns that are required to reach the top, or the crater rim. It is simply marvelous here and, even more so, unforgettable. Approaching the crater rim, we enter the clouds and visibility drops precipitously so that by the time we’re at the overlook into the crater, there is nothing to see but clouds. No worries, the view is always spectacular on the way home after the clouds have dissipated. There are a few glimpses of the crater floor as we drive around the rim clockwise, heading for the descent road. There are three roads here, one for descent, one for ascent, and one on the opposite side of the crater that is a two-way road. Finally reaching the descent road, I hop out to check in after which we pop the top and begin our descent to the bottom in our lowest gears to brake the engine given the steepness of the grade going down.
I will let the photos, all taken by Dennis, describe for you what our day in the crater was like. These photos are selected from the 1000 or so photos he took with my Nikon D750, and long telephoto zoom that I let him use, having discovered what it was like to be on a true photo safari in Africa.