Tuesday 17th April -
Sunday 29th April 2018
Leader: Mike Watson
Group Size Limit: 6
Potential photographic highlights
The most awesome wildlife experience on Earth? This is it! Serengeti and the adjacent, and almost equally famous, Ngorongoro Crater are so remarkable that one cannot do justice to this incredible place in words alone. Over two million large mammals live in this immense African wilderness that has miraculously survived, thanks to the remarkable understanding of the people of Tanzania, who despite all the pressures upon them have kept faith with the vision of the park’s founders. These vast herds still circulate across the Serengeti in the same way as they did when Man’s earliest ancestor’s walked these very plains, followed by their attendant carnivores in a cycle of life that has continued unbroken for millions of years. How incredible that we can still say this about any place on Earth at the beginning of the 21st century, when so much of our planet has been changed out of all recognition! We will explore this amazing area in Landrovers that have been specially adapted for safari work, and are ideal for photographers with their large roof hatches.
Important: The huge gathering of gnus (wildebeeste), zebras and carnivores on the shortgrass plains of the southeastern Serengeti only occurs between January-April each year. This is absolutely the time to visit the area. There is simply no comparison with the other months of the year.
Day 1 The tour starts in the morning at Kilimanjaro airport, from where we will drive the short distance to Arusha for lunch and then continue westwards through Northern Tanzania until we reach the Great Rift Valley and Lake Manyara, where we stay overnight.
Day 2 We will have the whole morning to explore Lake Manyara National Park. We will spend some time here enjoying the waterbird spectacle, for there are often thousands and thousands of waterbirds present, with good opportunities to photograph some species such as Greater Flamingos, Pink-backed Pelicans, the colourful Saddle-billed Stork and Yellow-billed Stork. On the nearby meadows there are often herds of Cape Buffalo and African Elephants, which can provide excellent photographic opportunities. After lunch we’ll head into the Crater Highlands until we reach the wonderful Ngorongoro Crater itself for a four nights stay.
Days 3-5 The beautifully-constructed game lodge where we will stay is carefully built into the rim of the crater and offers amazing views. Gazing down from the observation areas, one can see the entire crater laid out below one like a map, and even make out distant elephants, rhinos and herds of antelopes and buffalos! The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the scenic wonders of the world. The immense caldera is over 16 kilometres across, covers over 260 square kilometres and is over 600m deep! Some 30,000 large mammals are resident in the area and they can be seen speckling the grasslands from the crater rim.
Each day, we shall descend from the rim by way of the rough mountain road. Early in the morning there is often a sea of mist covering the crater floor, with just the rim catching the first rays of the sun – an incredibly beautiful sight. And down there, below that cotton wool blanket, so much wonder awaits us! The commonest and most conspicuous large mammals are Brindled Gnu, Common Zebra, Grant’s and Red-fronted (or Thomson’s) Gazelles, the ungainly but amusing Common Warthog, African Buffalo and African Elephant, indeed most of these are hard to get away from as big herds of zebras, gnus, gazelles and buffalos are constantly meandering across the crater floor as they feast on the bountiful grass of the long rains. Ngorongoro is one of the most reliable places in the world for seeing the endangered Black (or Browse) Rhinoceros, mainly because they have nowhere they can easily hide (and neither do poachers!), and we shall enjoy some marvellous views of these magnificent leviathans, hopefully at close range. The crater also has a high predator population. Spotted Hyaenas and Black-backed Jackals are quite common, whilst the local Lions are often both approachable and highly photogenic.
Towards the southern end of the crater is Lake Magadi, a shallow soda lake with glistening salt flats at its periphery. Here, thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingoes slowly sift for brine shrimps in the shallow water and the lake’s margins provide a resting place for flocks of White Storks and other wetland species such as the lovely Grey Crowned Crane. Other photogenic species we may encounter here include the huge Kori Bustard (often to be seen in full display). For the photographer, the crater is a true paradise, for not only are both mammals and large birds very used to vehicles and people, allowing amazingly close approach (almost touching distance at times, which creates quite an impression!), but the wonderful skyscapes and the constantly moving shadows of the clouds on the dappled crater walls produce an incomparable backdrop. No wonder so many of the world’s greatest wildlife photographs and films have been made here!
Day 6 Today we will drop down from the Crater Highlands into the shortgrass plains that form the western part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is Masai country and from time to time we will encounter these proud cattle herders with their traditional red cloaks and spears (and no doubt some of the young men who nowadays like to dress up and pose for photographs – in return for a consideration!). If the great herds have already moved into the southeastern extremity of the area, following the progress of the rain, we could be treated to a first incredible introduction to the Serengeti plains. We will make a stop at the famous Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakey family have discovered so much about our earliest ancestors. We will then make our way to the south-central section of the park for a three nights stay at a comfortable game lodge. At this season the cloudscapes are often dramatic, making for some incredibly beautiful sunsets.
Days 7-8 At Seronera, location of the park headquarters, one of the kopjes has an educational boardwalk snaking amongst the boulders and trees, complete with interesting and unusual metal sculptures of Serengeti creatures. It is a great place for a walk, with many tame birds and Yellow-spotted Hyraxes to photograph.
From a mammal viewpoint, our time inside Serengeti National Park may well be comparatively quiet compared with our stay to come at Ndutu, as the large herds tend to avoid the tallgrass areas until the shortgrass plains are grazed to the limit. However, this is by far the best area in the Serengeti to look for Leopard and, with patient searching, we should be rewarded with great views of one or more individuals resting in a tree in the thin gallery woodland along one of the rivers. There is something special about Leopards – maybe it is those cold eyes looking at one, or those beautiful spots, or that feline grace mixed with sheer power, or how elusive they are compared with the diurnal large cats.
We may also come across a group of Banded Mongooses living in a termite mound and watch both Wild Cat and the beautiful, lanky Serval Cat stealthily stalking through the grass, while antelopes in this area include Bohor Reedbuck, Kongoni and the even more awkward-looking Topi. Small lakes and pools in the area are home to groups of Hippopotamus and we shall enjoy spending some time photographing these huge animals watching us, waggling their ears or rearing up and opening those huge mouths.
Day 9 After a final morning inside Serengeti National Park, we will make our way east. As we leave the long grass plains and head towards the shortgrass plains, we’ll pass a landscape peppered with acacias and punctuated by hills and kopjes of huge rounded granitic boulders. Here mammal densities will increase. Eventually we will reach Nthe Lake Ndutu area, where we will stay for the next four nights at a comfortable lodge. After dinner one can sit around the campfire and chat away under a crystal clear African sky ablaze with stars.
Days 10-12 Lake Ndutu is situated right on the border between the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. At this season the Ndutu area is often the most exciting place in the Serengeti. Over one million grazing mammals stream into the shortgrass plains after the onset of the rains in November, occurring at a density of many thousand per square kilometre, or even tens of thousands! In places the plains are largely empty, but in places they literally seethe with mammals – mainly Brindled Gnu, but also huge numbers of Common Zebras and Red-fronted Gazelles. We should enjoy some amazing experiences here as our vehicles drive right amongst these vast gatherings of large animals until we are completely surrounded and look out over a sea of large mammals that may stretch away to the horizon – a truly incredible sight. Predators are of course attracted to such a wealth of potential food and we should encounter Lions, perhaps a whole pride trotting along on the edge of a herd, which will part to let them through, or lolling around with full bellies like huge domestic cats. Ungainly but powerful Spotted Hyaenas, less lovely but curiously impressive nonetheless, will also be seen regularly, and both they and the Lions typically allow one to get amazingly close. Here also, feeding on carrion or small mammals, are Common Jackals and delightful Bat-eared Foxes. There are plenty of photogenic birds too such as Ostriches striding across the plains, flamingos on Lake Ndutu, the impressive Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers hitching rides on the animals, while out on the shortgrass plains we should find interesting subjects such as the bizarre-looking Secretary Bird and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, and we may even come across a group of vultures squabbling over a kill. At night, tame Common Genets come right into the dining room, sitting on the roof beams and waiting for a handout, or scampering around the floor as if they were pets.
One of the best of all our experiences in this fantastic place will be a hunt for the glory of the Serengeti plains, the incomparable Cheetah. For the best chance of success we will set off early and drive far from the nearest road. Here the grass is long enough to give some cover to predators, but not much. By careful scanning we should locate Cheetahs hunting in this area and we may be privileged to spend some time with them, perhaps watching them stalking gazelles or even witnessing a kill. These graceful animals are quite fearless of vehicles and so we may enjoy some extraordinary close encounters and with a bit of luck we will be entirely alone as we follow these marvellous creatures across their ancestral lands.
The rolling landscapes and beautiful skies of Serengeti make for great scenery, and we should be able to find mammals and birds in wonderful situations, with backdrops of the hills or the skyline. Here we may watch Giraffes striding out across the wide valleys as they make their way between the wooded ridges, see heavy, cattle-like Eland thundering along at unlikely speeds, observe lines of Brindled Gnus making their way, who knows where, smile as a Cheetah tries unsuccessfully to hide from the Red-fronted Gazelles and wonder how Klipspringers have managed to climb right up on top of Nasera Rock.
Day 13 Today we will make the return journey to Kilimanjaro airport where the tour ends early this evening.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The lodges are of a good or very good standard throughout and are often wonderfully situated. Road transport is by Landrover or Toyota 4x4 and main roads are mostly good or reasonable (but there are also plenty of rough tracks in the sanctuaries and some ‘off-road’ driving). We will have a maximum of six photographers in the vehicle, sharing seven seats and a large roof hatch.
Walking etc: The walking effort is easy throughout. Walking is restricted to a few specified areas in the national parks/game reserves. This is of little hindrance and indeed we can approach many large birds and mammals far more closely in a vehicle than we could on foot.
Climate: Most days will be warm or hot, dry and sunny, but overcast conditions are fairly frequent and there may well be some rain. At higher altitudes temperatures are cool to warm.
These are provisional prices
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike many tour operators who are still showing prices based on hugely higher and very outdated pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assurred that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is a significant recovery by the Pound you will receive the benefit by way of a price reduction.
Tour Price: £5190, €6130, $6800 Kilimanjaro to Kilimanjaro.
Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices will be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a significant change in the exchange rate. See booking information.
Single Room Supplement: £240, €283, $314.
Deposit: £650, €800, $800.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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