Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to a balloon ride over the Serengeti: “There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”
Starr, who lives in Billings, Montana, went on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania with his wife and six friends in February. It was his first trip to Africa, and he’d spent much of the previous year reading about Tanzania and its wildlife to get ready. “But nothing can prepare you for it,” he says. “The trip was beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to look at pictures of animals. It’s another thing to be standing there with them right next to you.”
In Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a male lion walked right up to his group’s slowly moving vehicle to inspect it. At Tarangire National Park, they came upon a pack of 27 African wild dogs – a sight so unusual that even their guide was over the moon at the encounter.
While staying at Kikoti Safari Camp, located on a scenic hill outside of Tarangire National Park, the group took a morning hike in the camp’s wilderness reserve. They saw baboons, impala and even a Cape buffalo. A guide carried a spear in case any of the wildlife became hostile, but all of their encounters were peaceful thanks to the guides’ experience in wilderness treks and reading the body language of animals.
Starr’s group also took a night game drive, allowing them to see many animals rarely seen during the day. These included bush babies, tiny nocturnal primates with huge eyes and a baby-like cry; and springhares, rodents that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit but are not directly related to either.
Staying at a mobile tented camp called Zebra Camp was an integral part of what made the safari so memorable, says Starr. The camp moves with the wildebeest migration, and Starr’s group spent three nights there while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti. “The Zebra Camp was outstanding. There is nothing that can top living next to the Serengeti in a tent, and the service was excellent.”
Even though the camp moves frequently, it was incredibly comfortable – with real beds, showers with hot water, chemical toilets that were cleaned out daily, and electricity from a generator. Even though it was in the middle of the wilderness, the service and incredible food were on par with with a luxury hotel’s. “We had a fantastic chef,” he says, recalling the sculptures that the kitchen staff would carve out of the melons they served at breakfast.
Starr says he would recommend Ujuzi “to anyone planning a safari to Tanzania. It was the finest trip of my life. We saw every animal that we desired up close and personal. And our guides, Modi and Amini, were excellent. We felt like they were family by the end of the safari. ”
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Thank you to Bill’s friend John Traeger for allowing us to share some of his photos from the trip!
Enjoy this music video of highlights from my recent trip to Tanzania! It was tough narrowing hours of video down to just a couple of minutes, but somehow we managed to get dozens of animals and five national parks in there. I think my favorite capture is the cheetah stalking and chasing its prey in the Serengeti. What’s your favorite footage?
The day started at Exploreans Lodge in the Ngorongoro highlands with fresh, local coffee on my cabin’s veranda. Off in the distance, I could see the Ngorongoro Crater rim, while closer by I had a nice view of the neighboring coffee plantation.
Breakfast offered an extensive menu of hot and cold dishes, including a variety of European and American fare and many items that aren’t commonly found in Tanzanian lodges, such as chicken sausage and American-style donuts.
After breakfast, we headed back to Lake Manyara for a morning game drive. Lake Manyara National Park is known for its tree-climbing lions, but unfortunately we weren’t able to spend enough time at the park to find one. Our visit was definitely worthwhile, though.
We encountered a few herds of elephants and saw three species of primates: baboons, blue monkeys, and vervet monkeys (including a 2-3 week old infant that couldn’t have been any bigger than a chipmunk and was absolutely adorable as it gamboled up and down a tree branch within arm’s reach of its mother). There are many creeks in the park, which meant we got to see monitor lizards and a stunningly blue grey-headed kingfisher.
Lake Manyara’s shoreline varies depending on the time of year and weather conditions. The area has been under drought lately, so the shoreline was low and surrounded by vast saltmarsh flats where zebras, wildebeest and warthogs grazed. WIth the help of binoculars, we could see flamingos on the lake itself. When the water is higher and fish begin to breed, the bird population explodes with large numbers of pelicans and yellow-billed storks.
After our drive, we headed toward Karatu to visit lodges and camps. Karatu is a city close to the eastern rim of Ngorongoro crater. Karatu Simba Lodge is a new, 13-unit permanent tented camp on a hill that overlooks a large vegetable farm. The lobby features both traditional wood carvings and modern African paintings. Tents have verandas where guests can sit to enjoy the view. A large swimming pool offers refreshment after long game drives.
Rhotia Valley Camp is a 15-unit tented camp with swimming pool on a high hill outside Karatu. It is associated with Rhotia Children’s Village, which provides housing for 38 orphans and also supports the local primary school and orphaned children who live with relatives in the community. Twenty percent of accommodation charges go directly to the children’s village. From the camp, visitors can look down on Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The children’s village is a short walk away, and guests may visit it before dinner to play with the kids. Other optional activities include village walks to meet people from the community, as well as nature walks.
We headed out of toward the Ngorongoro Crater, stopping at Plantation Lodge for lunch on our way out of Karatu. It was quite the treat, with cream of tomato soup from scratch, an avocado and cucumber salad, succulent beef tenderloin, and a rich custard topped with raspberries and spun sugar. Plantation Lodge is a beautiful 25-room property that overlooks a farm and coffee plantation. It features vast gardens that meld modern European garden design with the local flora. The cabins have a similarly chic flair, and many have verandas with views of the beautiful gardens.
We ended our day on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater, world-famous for being the only caldera (depression formed by an erupted volcano) that is surrounded by peaks on all sides. We stopped at a viewing point to admire the crater before finishing our day at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, which features round cabins that sit on the slopes of the eastern rim.