Tanzania Destinations | northern circuit
Nearly three million years ago, Ngorongoro towered alongside Mount Kilimanjaro as one of the highest peaks in Africa. Forged during the tumultuous birth of the Rift Valley, its volcanic top erupted at the time that ancient man first walked the plains.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) covers some 8,300 square kilometres. It boasts the finest blend of landscapes, wildlife, people and archaeological sites in Africa. It is also a pioneering experiment in multiple land use. The concept of multiple land use in a conservation perspective is a deviation from the traditional approach of regarding conservation as complete absenteeism of human interference.
Rifts and volcanoes shape the landscape of Ngorongoro. A rift is a disturbance in the earth’s crust that causes the rise or fall of its borders. Rifts also cause lava or melted rock to penetrate to the surface where it hardens. If lava emerges from the same penetration for a long time, it builds up into a volcano.
In the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the main rifts are north of Lake Eyasi and east of Lakes Manyara and Natron, where the nine volcanoes of the Ngorongoro highlands were formed during the past four million years. Of these, only Oldonyo Lengai is still active. The ash and dust from the eruptions were carried by the wind to form the fertile soils of the Serengeti plains.
Today, Ngorongoro’s caldera shelters the most beautiful wildlife haven on earth. The rich pasture and permanent water of the crater floor support a resident population of some 20,000 to 25,000 large mammals. They are not confined by the crater walls and can leave freely; they stay because conditions are favorable. Since most of the crater floor is grassland, grazing animals predominate gnu, zebra, gazelles, buffalo, eland, kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest), and warthogs. The swamp and forest provide additional resources for hippos, some of Tanzania’s last remaining black rhinos, giant-tusked elephants, waterbucks, reedbucks, bushbucks, baboons, and vervets. The steep inner slopes provide a habitat for dik-diks and the rare mountain reedbuck. Towering Euphorbias cling to the crater walls and, on the floor, fever tree and fig tree forests give shade to an awe-inspiring array of creatures. All these animals in turn support large predators such as lions and leopards, and scavengers such as hyenas and jackals.
For the best viewing and photography, approach the animals slowly and quietly and stay on the official tracks.
What you can see of birdlife depends greatly on the season of the year because there are resident birds and migrating birds. You are certain to see many residents, like ostriches, bustards, and plovers, all year round. In the wet season, they share the crater with European migrants such as White Storks, Yellow Wagtails, swallows, etc. The migrants pass through from November through May, coinciding with the rains in Africa and the winter in Eurasia. There are also local migrants such as flamingos, storks, and ducks, which come and go depending on the state of the lake and ponds.
Other birds you can see are Stonechat, Anteater Chat, Schalow’s Wheatear, and Fiscal Shrike. Augur Buzzards, Verreaux’s Eagles, and other raptors live in the crater.
The climate of Ngorongoro Crater
Ngorongoro safari lodges are situated on the rim of the crater, which is 2,235 metres (7,264 feet) above sea level. It can get quite fresh up here, and gets very cold at night in the winter months of June to August, but it is oppositely hot down in the crater during the day.
The weather is usually dry from June to November. July is the coldest month, and highland temperatures may fall below freezing.
It rains anytime from November to May, with the longest rains from April to May. The amount and pattern of rainfall vary, and a dry period in January and February may split the rainy season into short and long rains. The forested eastern slopes get much more rain due to their elevation than the arid country to the west. The rain arrives in stormy showers, usually during the afternoons and nights, which cleanses the air to reveal clear views.
The Ngorongoro Crater Floor
Interpretive game drives through the emerald plains and forests of the crater floor engender guests with a respect for the people and wildlife of this world wonder.
A sheer dirt road descends from Malanja Depression on the crater rim to the crater floor. For a small fee, Maasai women and children will allow you to photograph them. The Malanja depression is grassy and open and is a good place to spot typical highland antelope such as mountain reedbuck and Kirk’s dik-dik and birds such as the striking auger buzzard and Schalow’s wheatear. The dominant feature of the crater floor is Lake Magadi, a shallow soda lake that supports large flocks of flamingos. Much of the crater floor is open grassland, making animal spotting relatively easy: black rhino, lion, hyena, gazelle, wildebeest, and zebra are all commonly seen. The hippo pool near Mandusi Swamp is a popular picnic spot.