Tanzania Part IV – Ngorongoro National Park

20 – 24 August 2015

First view of the crater

First view of the crater. The jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq kms in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtaking natural wonder.

After breakfast at Jungle Junction, we said our last goodbyes and left for Tanzania. And met our first corrupt cop in 25,300 kilometers!

We have been pulled over so many times, it’s not even funny anymore. East African roads are a pain, even when the road is perfectly tarred and smooth. Kenya and Tanzania specialize in “sleeping policemen”, speed bumps, having one reduce speed to 50 km/h before, in, and after every village. Sometimes the villages are not even 5 km apart. And between the villages or in them, they have traffic officials. It means that a hundred kilometers can take easily three hours.

So this one person in some kind of uniform pulls us over and asks for driver’s license, insurance, import documents and whatnot. Then asks for the inspection certificate for the trailer. We had no idea what he was talking about, and explained to him that it was the first time that we’ve been asked for it. Okay, he said, but where is your sticker? Which sticker, we wanted to know. He clarified that we needed a 65km/h sticker on the back of the trailer, meaning that we are not allowed to go over that. That was just ridiculous, even the 40 ton trucks had 80km/h stickers and I am fairly sure we are allowed to go at least the same speed as them.

I politely informed him that he is mistaken, there is no such law. He was insistent though, saying we must pay KSh 5,000 or US$ 50 otherwise Hugo might be thrown in jail at the next police stop. We said fine, we will pay it if he gave us an official receipt. Ha! That stumped him. He pretended to start writing the fine, standing next to my window. I was sitting high enough to see that he was writing in a normal notebook, and on my side pretended to go online and check Kenya’s traffic laws. I confidently told him he was mistaken and after more deliberations he reluctantly let us go. Score one for us!

We made it without further incidents or accidents to the Kenya – Tanzania border and crossed it without major hassles.

The van Heerdens with Denise and Alan Geddes. Photo borrowed from their blog.

The van Heerdens with Denise and Alan Geddes. Photo borrowed from their blog.

The tarred road after the border was beautiful – we almost kissed it. The road lead to Arusha where we planned to spend the night at Lake Duluti as suggested by Uwe Schmidt from Jungle Junction. We saw Masai Camp as we entered the town and decided to have a look. We immediately spotted a familiar Nissan Sani – Alan and Denise Geddes from Nairobi, they just came from Maasai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro. They informed us that Lake Duluti’s campsite wasn’t usable anymore and we set up camp next to them.

Again we met more interesting people. Frank (Dutch) and Lyna (DRC) were on their way west. Dave (or Dan, sorry, memory glitch), or Pretty Boy as Frank dubbed him, was a sight for sore eyes. He is a fulltime member of the British Royal Army in Nanyuki. All the females in the camp drooled over him and all the men were jealous – he wasn’t in his twenties anymore (nearer to forty – I asked) but looked half his age. Pity he knew it, walking around without his shirt (not that we complained). At least he gave us a lot of good “intel” about the places we were going to.

We spent two days in Arusha and went to the Tanzanite Experience, which was a bit underwhelming to be honest. The children got their way and we had lunch at the first Spur since we were in Lusaka, Zambia. They did not have the famous Spur Pink Sauce and did not even know what it was. Really, Spur?

Early-morning selfie. Ready to spot animals in the Ngorongoro Crater

Early-morning selfie. Ready to spot animals in the Ngorongoro Crater

From Arusha we drove 117 kilometers to Kiboko Bushcamp near Lake Manyara, with only 66 kilometres to go to Ngorongoro. There is science to this madness: the National Parks in Kenya and Tanzania issue 24 hour permits, whatever the time of day you arrive. It is completely nonsensical to me, in the Kruger for instance, you are either a day-visitor or not and you pay per day. To get most out of your 24 hours you have to time your entry and exit just right. Obviously if you are only visiting for the day, you have to enter at 6 am and leave at 7 pm when the gates close. If you stay overnight, we have figured out that you should enter the park at around one or two o’clock in the afternoon. It gives you enough time to reach the camping site, set up camp and maybe go for a short drive before having to be back at sunset. The next morning you can either go for a drive, come back, pack up and make it to the gate in time, or pack up first and then drive the long way to the gate. Hence our sleeping so close to the gate, it had something to do with the timing.

We ran into Frank and Lyna here, and Frank organized that we could stay in the tented accommodation with beds, mosquito nets and en suite bathrooms at only US$10 per person. We soon realized why the massive discount: the beds were not nice, with random planks hammered into them to hold up the mosquito nets, and the showers had no water.

When we arrived they arranged for someone to do our laundry, but when we received it back the next morning, I insisted on our money back. It was all just bundled together, still damp and somehow dirtier than before. Boy, I think they are still reeling from my “constructive” comments!

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 180 km west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The area is named after Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area. The conservation area is administered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, an arm of the Tanzanian government, and its boundaries follow the boundary of the Ngorongoro Division of the Arusha Region.

The main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority is the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 610 metres deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 4,500 to 5,800 metres high. The elevation of the crater floor is 1,800 metres above sea level. The Crater was voted by Seven Natural Wonders as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa in Arusha, Tanzania in February 2013.

– Wikipedia

We entered Ngorongoro National Park just after one o’ clock. We knew it would be expensive but the fees were way beyond unreasonable. It cost us US$680 for two nights of CAMPING IN OUR OWN TENT! Plus another US$200 for the privilege to go down into the Ngorongoro Crater ONCE… Hugo initially said we should spend five days each in Ngorongoro and Serengeti, we decided that we would rather spend the money somewhere else and stay a combined five days in the two parks.

The scenery from the viewpoint on top of the crater was everything we expected and more. Nothing can prepare one for something like this; photos, documentaries and movies cannot do it justice. We saw herds of blue wildebeest and zebras, so far away they were only recognizable with binoculars. Dust was swirling in the air near the salt pans and greenery indicated the flow of a river, with a dam glistening in the sun. The chilly wind forced us back into the car to go pitch our tent.


serengeti-1-3 ngorongoro-1-2

We were surprised at how cold it was on top of the crater and made a big fire to keep us warm. During the night we heard lions and hyenas in the distance and we had zebras around us the whole night.

Cold cold cold!

Cold cold cold!

We managed to rise early and set off with sandwiches, coffee and other snacks to spend the day in the crater. The entry checkpoint had a fantastic view yet again. The road down into the crater was beautiful, snaking down the mountain.

Maasia herders and their cattle. Reason for overgrazing?

Maasai herders and their cattle. Reason for overgrazing?

Following the recommendations of the ad hoc committee of scientists convened after the year 2000 drought, an ecological burning program was implemented in the crater, which entails annual or biannual controlled burns of up to 20 percent of the grasslands. Maasai are now permitted to graze their cattle within the crater, but must enter and exit daily.

– Wikipedia

The crater itself was very dry. The previous day on our way to the crater we noted how dry and overgrazed the area were, and the same was true here. We did not see the abundance of animals as one would during the rainy season, but we still saw a lot, the level crater floor ensured that you could see very far and in a 360 degrees circle.

From a distance we saw a lot of game viewers congregating, once we got there, there were a big pride of seventeen lions, probably the most we’ve seen together. They did not however outnumber the vehicles…

A herd of the most dangerous animals on earth, stalking a pride of lions

A herd of the most dangerous animals on earth, stalking a pride of lions


Young male lion

Young male lion

Safe for now...

Safe for now…

Later during the day we saw another four young males together. In the course of the day we saw many of the usual suspects, elephants, hyenas, giraffes, jackals, blue wildebeests, zebras (I started calling them silk worms, with my “excellent” eyesight they looked like masses of greyish silkworms), Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, ostriches, hippos…



After we’ve circled the crater twice, the children and I voted against another round – we have surely seen enough of most everything and it has been a long, satisfying day. Hugo promised to be back in the rainy season, that must be a totally different experience.

We took another road out of the crater back to camp to find masses of overlanders there. That night, after having traveled 26,700 km over the worst roads imaginable, I broke the first of our three (what a stupid number of glasses – I gave six to the clever people who personalized our trailer and they only made covers for three..) wineglasses.

After chatting to other South Africans who turned up, we went to bed, dreaming of the fantastic day we had.

Next stop: Serengeti National Park!

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