This is my third trip to Tanzania, and the country never ceases to amaze me. We took a short game drive in Ngorongoro Crater this morning, and in less than three hours we saw a week’s worth of animals. Early on in the drive we spotted a couple members of a lion pride that were totally unconcerned with our presence. The male was more interested in the zebra herd off in the distance, while the female was busy trying to coax him into mating. Apparently, he was too hungry to bother. But soon we encountered other members of the pride who were luckier in love. It was my first time seeing lions mating, and now I know why: if you blink, it’s easy to miss the whole thing.
Other animals we saw on our short game drive included herds of zebras, wildebeest, and Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles; a pod of hippos sleeping in a shallow pool that included an 18-month old baby; three adult black-backed jackals and two pups; a hyena; several warthogs; and (through binoculars) two rhinos laying on the ground to avoid getting chilled by the morning wind that was blowing over the crater floor.
Later on in the drive we encountered a male ostrich who was participating in another step of the circle of life. He was sitting down in the grass, and we soon realized that he was incubating a brood of eggs — so many eggs, in fact, that his body wasn’t able to completely cover all of them and one of the eggs was visible at the edge of his stomach. Modi, our Tanzanian guide, explained that ostriches tend to mate with one male to many females. All the females lay their eggs in the same nest, and the male and alpha female are responsible for incubating them. The male usually incubates at night and the female during the day, but obviously these roles can switch from time to time. We felt privileged to see this uncommon arrangement.
Besides the ostrich, we saw two other large birds: a kori bustard, which is the heaviest flying bird in Africa; and a juvenile secretary bird.
It’s hard to pick favorites among all of Tanzania’s destinations, but if I had to, Ngorongoro Crater would definitely be a top contender.
After our game drive, we made our way back to the rim to visit Lemala Ngorongoro Camp. It’s a nine-tent semi-permanent camp, taken down each April and set up anew in the same location in June. It has the feel of a luxury mobile-tented camp, with premier service and elegantly appointed Rooms have en suite bathrooms with bucket showers for an authentic bush camp experience.
Next we stopped at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge, a 75-room lodge with gorgeous views Ngorongoro Crater. Activities offered at the lodge include a daily nature walk, Maasai dancing at sunset, and an African drum circle after dinner. Another unique feature of the lodge is a book exchange library, where guests can get rid of vacation reads that they’ve already completed and pick up a new paperback for the next leg of their tip.
As we headed down from the crater rim toward Oldupai Gorge, I had the closest encounter I’ve ever had with a giraffe in the wild. This male was two stories tall and browsing on the top of an acacia tree right by the side of the road. We stopped the vehicle and he eyed us to make sure we weren’t a threat before continuing his feast. The average lifespan of a wild giraffe is about 25 years old, and our guide estimated that this male was 22 to 24 years old because some of the hair near the top of his head was starting to turn white. Apparently giraffes go gray as they age, just like humans do.
From Oldupai Gorge we drove to the Ndutu section of Ngorongoro Conservation area for an overnight stay at Masek Luxury Tented Camp. The 20-tent camp lives up to his name, with well-appointed rooms and en suite bathrooms that include a large tub, enclosed outdoor shower, and enough electricity to run a hair dryer. Each tent has a furnished veranda that overlooks Lake Masek. After checking in, I went to the main lodge’s veranda for tea, watching hippos and birds through my binoculars and chatting with other guests at the camp. It was the perfect way to enjoy the sundown.