African Safari blog

Top African Destinations Part 5 – the Ngorongoro Crater

Destinations

My fifth top African destination has been described by some as a one day wonder, others liken it to a zoo and yet others consider it Africa’s Eden. The place is the Ngorongoro Crater and though my introduction to this amazing ecosystem was less than ideal, I am in the latter category.

The night before our excursion into the crater we shared the bedroom with one of my dreaded enemies, a tsetse fly! As they seem to prefer Irish blood, I think, unlike me, John got some sleep! However as we were determined to be at the gate when it opened at 6am, we arose in the middle of the night – well before the shower water had heated. So it was a tired and cold me (the crater lip where we stayed is an often chilly 8, 000 feet above sea level) that approached the still darkened gate. So I was determined to hate the place! My resolve did not last long as we arrived at the foot of the crater just as dawn was breaking and truly it felt like it must have on the very first day of Creation!

 

Angry grey clouds were clawing their way over the lip of the crater as we gazed across an amazing panorama with a couple of the rare black rhino grazing on dewy green grass while in the distance a small flock of flamingoes waded in a blue alkaline soda lake. It totally blew me away! Subsequently I discovered that the Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest, inactive, intact and unfilled caldera which was formed when a huge volcano exploded and collapsed in on itself about 2 – 3 million years ago. Sometimes referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, it is therefore no surprise that it is close to the top of my list of top African destinations.

One of the reasons some see the crater as a bit of a zoo is that the 2 000 foot high walls create a natural sanctuary for animals as they tend to limit wildlife tours to some extent. It’s not as if the animals cannot get out, those that stay just choose not to as they have everything they need in the crater. Despite the climb, it is thought that about 20% of the wildebeest and 50% of the zebra population vacate the crater in the wet season while buffalo and eland do the opposite.

Another reason the crater might be considered a bit of a zoo is the number of visitors. Thankfully, we had the crater to ourselves in the beginning since we were the first vehicle to enter (indeed we didn’t see another vehicle for at least an hour and a half.) As the morning progressed the number of vehicles one could see increased but that was not the reason however, it was the nonchalant attitude of the inhabitants that gave us some idea of the volume of visitors! In particular the zebra (normally pretty flighty were so non-plussed at the sight of a vehicle we almost had to nudge them off the road with the vehicle!

The crater is in a 8 292 square kilometer area called the Ngorongoro Conservation area which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and is part of the wider Serengeti ecosystem.

Within this wider area but close to the crater is the significant archeological site known as Olduvai Gorge where evolutionary remains have been located which indicate that various hominoids have occupied this area for at least 3 million years.

So if you happen to be in the area, then it would be a real pity not to pay a visit to this particular top African destination but get there early in the morning and retire to bed the night before with a tin of doom insect spray!

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