Serengeti Safari: Into the Wild Heart of Tanzania
Like many people, going on an African safari has sat atop our bucket list for a long time. The wild heart of Africa; the big 5, the wide-open plains of the Serengeti, the culture of the Maasai warriors – this exotic destination has been calling to us for quite some time. As soon as we decided to visit Tanzania we knew that a safari would definitely feature and immediately booked a four-day tour of Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park.
Despite still feeling physically broken just two days after coming off Kilimanjaro (a day of visiting the Moshi hospital sandwiched between - but that’s a story for another post!), the excitement of the long-awaited adventure before us goes a long way to sparking our tired souls.
We wave goodbye to Moshi from our 4x4 Landcruiser around 6am, arriving at Arusha in time for breakfast before collecting the rest of our tour companions. In all there are five of us and after quick introductions we set off for our first stop - Tarangire National Park.
The Tarangire river is the lifeblood of the surrounding plains, often parched dry by the unrelenting African sun. Here, thirsty animals flock in droves to the water holes for refreshment and respite, which means of course, that game-viewing in the region is great.
Within half an hour of our arrival, our car rolls to a stop near a herd of elephants feeding on surrounding trees. “Tembos!,” whispers Miranda excitedly – the Swahili name for elephants we’d learnt from our Kilimanjaro guides.
We pop the top of the jeep up, clamouring for a better view.
Seeing these majestic animals, it’s all definitely starting to feel real – we’re in the heart of Africa!
Soon after, we’re bumping across winding dirt tracks, guided by radio to a pride of Lions by other tour groups in the area. We catch a glimpse of them, albeit a few hundred metres away, and are surprised to see two lions scale a nearby tree with agility I don’t think any of us have seen before. We make a mental note to be quick with shutting the top of the jeep if the need arises!
As evening draws near we exit the park and head to our campsite near Lake Manyara, swapping stories with our new friends over a hearty meal under the stars before retiring to our tent for almost instant sleep.
The next morning we’re slow to stir, definitely enjoying a more relaxed pace post Kilimanjaro. Soon enough, the smell of a hearty breakfast wafts through the camp- all the encouragement we need to be packed and ready to head to to our destination today: the Serengeti National Park by way of a brief stop at the Ngorongoro Crater.
Despite the incessant hum as our Landcruiser charges across the dirt roads, we sleep solidly for most of the 6 hour trip, still weary from our efforts days earlier.
Arriving at the Serengeti National Park entrance gates, we sit atop a rocky mound, enjoying lunch while surveying the vast plains that surround us. Serengeti, or Siringet means “the place where the land runs on forever” in Maasai and it is not hard to understand why.
Slowly, we make our way deep into the immense park, stopping sporadically to spot game. We chance upon a pride of Lionesses, relaxing in the grass after a failed attack. Before long, this serene experience resembles peak hour in Melbourne, as ten or so 4x4s circle them. While the lionesses thankfully remain relaxed in the face of a probably regular occurrence, this is a sure reminder of the ‘other side’ of tourism. Thankfully, we’ve seen enough and set off.
We spot a lone elephant in the thick grass and approach with caution. She allows us to draw quite close close and we lift the top of the jeep up to watch her. A storm brews in the distance and dark clouds juxtapose the light green hues of the grass and plane trees, presenting us with a most quintessential African image. It’s stunning.
Our second night is spent at a campsite inside the national park. Open to the elements (and the animals), we’re told that any call from nature during the night is best held on to – at least until the sun rises and predators depart. Sleeping in the wilds of Africa, surrounded by a symphony of wildlife noise at night is an exciting, yet daunting experience.
We set off early for a morning game drive and watch in silent awe as a burning red sun rises over the east. Zebra and Wildebeest graze, cautious of potential hazards. Further along a couple of Hyenas lope alongside our jeep for a while, cackling to each other occasionally.
We arrive at a rocky outcrop, reminiscent of Pride Rock from The Lion King. A herd of Elephants sip water from the local pond while to our right, two male Elephants fight, presumably over territory. It is a brutal show of strength from truly magical animals, and we are the enthralled, quiet audience.
Sadly, our safari show must go on, and we leave this sight behind to begin our 6-hour drive back to the Ngorongoro Crater and our evening’s campsite on the rim of the crater (2,286m above sea level).
Next day, we drive down the crater’s edge and realise no words can adequately describe the beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater. The early morning sun breaks through the clouds, draping ribbons of light on the valley floor. Animals abound all around us; Ngoronogoro is home to some of the densest large mammal populations found anywhere in Africa.
As if timed for our arrival, a pride of lions slink past in the grass. Unfortunately, we are not the only safari group to spot them and around seven 4x4’s descend, cameras at the ready. While we all snap away manically, a number of lionesses are trying to chaperone their young, their frustration clear when one stands to stare us down, letting out a roar before stalking away with cubs in tow.
We have seen and experienced everything we’d hoped for and more. As we make our way out of the crater, it’s almost poignant that we spot a rare black rhinoceros slowly moving in the distance. It’s almost surreal, viewing this huge, heavily persecuted creature in the flesh. We watch in silence, thankfully alone this time, as it disappears into the distance – the perfect finale to our African safari.
We want to hear from you! Have you been on an African safari yourself? Where did you go? What did you see?! Tell us in the comments below :)