Worldwide Photographic Journeys

Africa

Tanzania: Serengeti Spectacular

Predators & Prey of Ngorongoro & Serengeti

Thursday 16th April – Tuesday 28th April 2020

Leader: Inger Vandyke and a local naturalist driver-guide

13 Days Group Size Limit 5

Photographic Highlights

  • The incredible scenery and wildlife of the Ngorongoro Crater
  • The amazing Serengeti spectacle of vast numbers of migrating wildebeest and zebras
  • Close encounters with fabulous Cheetahs on the Serengeti Plains
  • Repeated encounters with prides of Lions, often with cubs and full-maned males
  • Very good chances of encountering Leopards
  • Lots of smaller predators, including good chances for Serval
  • Really huge ‘tuskers’ at Ngorongoro
  • African wildlife amidst wildflowers and/or under dramatic skies
  • High chances of great Hippo action in Serengeti
  • Some of the richest birdlife in Africa, with numerous photogenic species from Ostriches to weavers
  • Transport by extended safari Toyota Landcruiser with large opening roof hatch. The perfect photography platform that can go anywhere
  • Maximum 5 group members in a 9 seater vehicle, so plenty of space for all. One vehicle only, for the best photographic experience

TANZANIA: SERENGETI & NGORONGORO WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS WITH WILD IMAGES

The most awesome wildlife spectacle on Earth? Serengeti is surely 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 migratory herds still circulate around 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!

As well as being a fantastic experience in its own right (chatting round the campfire under African skies, quite possibly with Lions roaring in the distance, is something one never forgets!), being on safari in Tanzania is made even more special on our Wild Images photography adventures because we are based in remote yet very comfortable safari lodges.

Staying in these fabulous locations, in a comfort one hardly expects in a wilderness area, will get us right in amongst a fabulous selection of large mammals, including such dramatic and highly photogenic subjects as Lion, Leopard and the incomparable Cheetah, never mind a sea of gnus, zebras and gazelles.

We will start our wildlife photography adventure at Kilimanjaro, the site of the only international airport in the north of Tanzania, from where we head westwards towards the famous Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania’s Crater Highlands.

The spectacular Ngorongoro Crater is both a scenic and a wildlife wonder of the world. The crater is just a small part of the vast Serengeti ecosystem (situated at its eastern edge) and yet here we will enjoy what will seem like an endless series of wonderful wildlife photography encounters, many at very close range, as most of the wildlife in the crater has become extraordinarily unafraid of vehicles. Pride of place here amongst the photography possibilities goes to the critically endangered Black Rhinoceros, but other wildlife stars include Kori and Black-bellied Bustards, flocks of pink flamingoes, large groups of Olive Baboons, Ngorongoro’s Lions and Spotted Hyaenas, huge old tuskers and some marvellous Hippopotamuses.

After this wonderful experience we will descend from the Crater Highlands into the endless plains of the southeastern Serengeti. We shall be visiting the area at the prime season for wildlife photography, when the rains have usually turned the entire area from a parched thirstland into a green paradise that attracts over a million large mammals, the great majority being Blue Wildebeest, Common (or Plains) Zebras and Thomson’s Gazelles, to the shortgrass plains. Here we will be based first in the south-central part of Serengeti National Park and finally in the famous Lake Ndutu area, probably the finest Serengeti wildlife photography area of them all.

At this time of year the number of predators and especially big cats has reached a maximum, so we are certain to be able to spend plenty of time with both Lions and Cheetahs, and we should also have some Leopard encounters, as well as chances for Servals and Wild Cats.

The rich wildlife of the Serengeti is awesome enough, but the whole photography experience is made even more special by the amazingly beautiful scenery, with dramatic cloudscapes and sunsets, seas of bright green and tawny grass, those evocative flat-topped acacia trees, and granite kopjes and distant mountain ridges rising above the plains.

By the time we end our African odyssey we will have seen and photographed so many wildlife and scenic wonders that it will be hard to appreciate that all this has happened to us in just under two weeks! Serengeti and Ngorongoro will produce vivid, unfading memories and photography encounters that one will treasure for the rest of one’s days.

 

What makes the Wild Images Serengeti Photosafari special?

The awesome gathering of the migratory wildebeest (or gnus) and zebras on the shortgrass plains of the southeastern Serengeti occurs between January or February and April each year, while much of the local birdlife comes into breeding plumage in March and April and the landscape becomes greener and much more photogenic as intermittent rain starts to influence the plains and brings out a host of wildflowers. In our view, based on our extensive experience, March-April is absolutely the best time to visit the southern Serengeti for wildlife photography. There is simply no comparison with some other times of the year. Often we see photography tours offered to this part of Serengeti at other seasons, including the end of the long dry season in September-October when animal numbers are just a fraction of what they are when we visit and when the backgrounds are, in our opinion, far less photogenic.

Another great aspect of April in particular is that there are far fewer visitors around at Ngorongoro and in Serengeti proper than in July-August (the Northern Hemisphere peak summer holiday season) or in December-February (the peak time for ‘winter escapes’), so that means fewer vehicles and a quieter more rewarding experience.

We will be exploring this amazing part of Tanzania in an extended, 9-seater Toyota Landcruiser that has been specially adapted for safari work, and is ideal for photographers with its large roof hatch. The tour is limited to just five participants and only one vehicle. Everyone has a window seat at all times.

Opinions about number of vehicles and loading do vary markedly between photosafari organizers, so we will spell out why we think just one vehicle is the best option. It is simply uneconomic to have 2-3 participants in each vehicle and yet a photographic leader in each (the safari price would be stratospheric), so one option is to have from two upwards to even four or five vehicles with just three people in each. That sounds good in theory, but there is usually just one leader with the group, so on most days participants are not in the vehicle with the leader. All that experience, skill and potential help is lost to you.

In theory each vehicle and set of participants could go off and do their own thing with the safari vehicle driver, with group members just meeting up for lunch and dinner, but this does not tend to happen. Participants know that their leader is the one with the highest wildlife photo expertise, so the vehicles stick together. Often the first vehicle gets the only prime spot and the other vehicles have to wait for the first to move on from the best spot. We think the disadvantages of multiple vehicles outweigh a bit less space in the vehicle. There is still plenty of room for five participants and their camera bags, you have the leader’s skills and tuition on tap all the time, and, if you are a bit shy, you don’t have the burden of constantly asking the driver to adjust the vehicle position to the optimum spots, as you do if you are in a leaderless vehicle.

Finally, this being a Wild Images photosafari, we get away in the morning at the very moment the national park or game reserve opens, so you can banish any thoughts of having to leave with most of the other guests: they will almost all be still in their beds or having breakfast. By the time they are up and about, we are far away, usually by ourselves, photographing wildlife at the prime time!

 

Accommodation & Road Transport

The safari lodges we use in Tanzania are of a very good standard throughout and are often wonderfully situated.

Road transport is by extended Toyota Landcruiser 4×4 with opening roof hatch and main roads are mostly good or reasonable (but there are also plenty of rough tracks in the sanctuaries and some ‘off-road’ driving).

 

Walking

The walking effort during our Tanzania wildlife photography tour is very easy throughout. Walking is restricted to a few specified areas in the national parks/game reserves.

 

Climate

At this season in northern Tanzania there will usually be plenty of dry and sunny weather, some dry and overcast conditions are very likely some rain. Owing to the relatively high altitude, days generally start off pleasantly cool, becoming fairly hot by the middle of the day.

 

Photographic Equipment

If you use a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera you will need to cover focal lengths from 200-600mm or more for most wildlife situations. If you use a crop-sensor camera, adjust the focal lengths accordingly. You will also find a wide angle lens good for landscape photography and a short focal length telephoto good for some wildlife situations (for example, very close elephants and other mammals, or groups of animals). There will be only limited opportunities to use a macro lens.

If you bring a good quality bridge camera it will be best if it has an optical zoom of 18-20x or more, combined with a reasonable wide-angle at the other end of the zoom range.

Be sure to bring plenty of spare battery power. Dust is ever-present in northern Tanzania, so cleaning equipment is important. A beanbag can be very useful here for wildlife photography from the vehicle.

If you would like to talk over suitable equipment, please contact our office. We will be happy to advise.

 

Other Wild Images wildlife photosafaris in Africa:

Botswana & The Okavango

Ethiopia’s Extraordinary Wildlife

Kenya: Mara Migration & Laikipia Exclusive Photosafari

Namibia & South Africa

South Africa & Botswana: The Ultimate Photosafari

 


TANZANIA: SERENGETI & NGORONGORO WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR PRICE INFORMATION

2019: £5340, $7210, €6110 Kilimanjaro/Kilimanjaro. Single Room Supplement: £433, $584, €495.

2020: £5400, $7290, €6180,  Kilimanjaro/Kilimanjaro. Single Room Supplement: £440, $600, €510.

If you are travelling alone, the single supplement will not apply if you are willing to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

Deposit: £600, $800, €700.

Price includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, some soft drinks, entrance fees and tips/gratuities (including for our driver/naturalist guide).

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

TANZANIA: SERENGETI & NGORONGORO WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1

Our Tanzania wildlife photography adventure starts this evening close to Kilimanjaro airport (situated east of the town of Arusha), where we will overnight at a comfortable lodge.

Day 2

This morning we will drive westwards through the varied landscapes of northern Tanzania until we reach the Great Rift Valley (an immense geological feature that extends from southern Turkey to Southern Africa by way of the Red Sea!). We will pause at the western rim of the escarpment, from where there are stunning views of Lake Manyara far below.

Afterwards we will head up into the fertile Crater Highlands, passing into the huge Ngorongoro Conservation Area (which extends from the highlands to the Serengeti plains) at Lodoare Gate. From there we climb up through montane evergreen forest until we reach the lip of the wonderful Ngorongoro Crater, where we will stay for four nights at the wonderful Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. This beautifully-constructed game lodge is carefully built into the rim of the crater to minimize its ‘footprint’ 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 buffaloes! Occasionally a few buffaloes or even an elephant wander right past the lodge.

Days 3-5

The Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania is one of the scenic wonders of the world. The immense caldera, the largest intact caldera on Earth, is over 16 kilometres (10 miles) across, covers over 260 square kilometres (100 square miles) and is over 600m (1970ft) deep! Some 30,000 large mammals are largely resident in the area and they can be seen speckling the grasslands from the crater rim.

Each day, we shall set off early and descend into the crater from the rim by way of a rather rough mountain road (once we reach the crater floor the roads are quite reasonable). Early in the morning there is often a sea of mist covering the crater floor, or wreaths of cloud hanging on the caldera sides, 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 most wonderful thing about the Ngorongoro Crater for wildlife photography, and the reason we spend so much time here, is its winning combination of superb, atmospheric light, cloud and mist, subtle, diffused backgrounds and approachable and diverse wildlife. This special combination comes together best between March and May, during the ‘long rains’. Happily rainfall in this period is still intermittent, but it is regular enough to bring wonderful drifting patches of mist and cloud to the sides of the caldera and new green grass growth and often seas of wildflowers to its floor. At this time of year the light can be great all day, not just early and late, and lovely moody photographs are the order of the day. You are sure to take many special images at Ngorongoro.

The commonest and most conspicuous large mammals are Blue Wildebeest (or Brindled Gnu), Common (or Plains) Zebra, the handsome Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles, the ungainly but amusing Common Warthog, the impressive African (or Cape) Buffalo and African (or Savanna) Elephant. Indeed, most of these species 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. Elephant numbers are not as high, but they include some really huge but mild-mannered ‘tuskers’ that often permit great images.

Ngorongoro is nowadays one of the most reliable places in the world for seeing and photographing the critically 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 enough range to get some good images.

The crater also has a high predator population. Spotted Hyaenas and Black-backed Jackals are common, African Golden Wolves are regularly encountered and the crater’s Lions are often both approachable and highly photogenic. Cheetahs, Leopards and Servals also occur here, but can be harder to find than in the Serengeti proper.

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 spectacular Grey Crowned Crane. Among the many other photogenic bird species that we are likely to encounter in the crater are the huge Kori Bustard (often to be seen in full display) and the smaller Black-bellied Bustard.

To the south of the lake is a beautiful area of yellow-barked Fever Tree (Vachellia xanthophloea) woodland. The large troop of Olive Baboons that lives here often makes for a good photo session. There are usually some eagles in the area and sometimes Black Rhinos, although often the latter leave the woodland and walk out onto the open plains surprisingly early in the morning.

At one of the few places we are allowed to walk around there is a Hippo pool where it is often possible to shoot hippos from a very low angle, making for some very atmospheric images.

For the wildlife photographer, Tanzania’s Ngorongoro 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 come from here!

Day 6

Today we will drop down from the Crater Highlands into the shortgrass plains of the Serengeti that comprise the western part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This part of Tanzania 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 moved into this southeastern extremity of the area, following the progress of the rain, we could be treated to a first incredible introduction to the wildlife of the Serengeti plains.

We will make a short stop at the famous Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakey family have discovered so much about our earliest ancestors.

Afterwards we will make our way to the southern section of Tanzania’s vast Serengeti National Park for a three nights stay at the luxurious Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge. At this season the cloudscapes are often dramatic, making for some incredibly beautiful sunsets.

Days 7-8

Our time inside Serengeti National Park may turn up smaller numbers of migratory herbivores 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, there is a great deal of variation from year to year and sometimes this part of the national park is already flooded with wildebeest and zebras. In any event, the diversity of mammals here is greater than on the shortgrass plains and numbers of large cats and other predators are high.

This is by far the best area in the Serengeti, and indeed in all Tanzania, for Leopard photography and, with patient searching, we should be rewarded with great views of one or more individuals resting on broad branches in Sausage Trees or acacias in the thin gallery woodland along 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.

Lions are regularly encountered in this area and typical Lion scenarios include finding some sat up photogenically on the rounded boulders of a granitic kopje, a pride feeding at a kill, playing cubs and mating couples. If we are fortunate we will witness a kill, although most hunts in this area occur during darkness.

We may come across a group of Banded Mongooses living in a termite mound and photograph both Wild Cat and the beautiful, lanky Serval Cat stealthily stalking through the grass. Cheetahs can be found in the more open terrain, but are more common on the shortgrass plains.

As well as the more numerous species, antelopes in this part of Serengeti include Bohor Reedbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Kongoni (or Coke’s Hartebeest) and the rather awkward-looking Topi.

Birdlife is rich and varied and includes various hornbills, rollers, bee-eaters and many other photogenic species.

Small lakes and large river 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 to yawn or mock-fight. At one crowded pool in particular the interactions can be really dramatic, so we shall be sure to spend plenty of time there.

At Seronera, location of the park headquarters, one of the kopjes (granite boulder outcrops) 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 and for photography, with many tame birds and both Yellow-spotted (or Bush) and Rock Hyraxes.

Day 9

After a final morning inside Serengeti National Park, we will re-enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area region of the Serengeti plains. As we leave the long grass plains and head towards the shortgrass plains of the southeasternmost Serengeti, we will pass through a landscape peppered with acacias and punctuated by hills and kopjes of huge rounded granitic boulders. Eventually we will reach the Lake Ndutu area, where we will stay for the next four nights at the famous and comfortable Ndutu Safari Lodge. After dinner one can sit around the campfire and chat away under a crystal clear African sky ablaze with stars.

[Note: Ndutu is the ideal place to stay for wildlife photographers visiting the Serengeti shortgrass plains for the migration spectacle. It provides much more comfort than the mobile safari camps that get set up in the area during the migration, but at the same time it is quite a small and intimate place, with a lovely atmosphere. Kirk’s Dik-Diks (tiny antelopes with the sweetest faces) scamper around right by the rooms, some marvellous Common Genets turn up every evening, and we have even had Lions walking past the camp fire!]

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, and therefore in the whole of Tanzania. Over one million grazing mammals stream into the shortgrass plains after the onset of the rains, 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 Blue Wildebeest, but also huge numbers of Common Zebras and Thomson’s Gazelles. We should enjoy some amazing experiences here as we 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 regularly, perhaps including 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, making for wonderful photography opportunities. Here also, feeding on carrion or small mammals, are African Golden Wolves, Black-backed Jackals and delightful Bat-eared Foxes. If we are fortunate we will come across the fascinating Honey Badger. Leopards are regularly sighted in the scattered areas of woodland.

There are plenty of photogenic birds around too, such as Common Ostriches striding across the plains, Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, Pink-backed Pelicans and often the superb Saddle-billed Stork at Lakes Ndutu and Masek, the bizarre-looking Secretarybird, the noisy Grey-bellied Spurfowl, the impressive Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and of course Yellow-billed Oxpeckers hitching rides on giraffes, wildebeest, zebras and other animals. Out on the shortgrass plains we should also find Chestnut-bellied and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, and we may well come across several groups of vultures squabbling over the remains of kills.

At night, tame Common Genets come right into the dining room of our lodge, sitting on the roof beams and waiting for a handout, or scampering around the floor as if they were pets.

Some of the most memorable of all our experiences in this fantastic place will be seeking out one of the wildlife glories of the Serengeti plains, the incomparable Cheetah. We will set off early from Ndutu 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 can expect to locate Cheetahs hunting in this area and we may well be privileged to spend a significant amount of 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 well 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 wildlife in wonderful situations for photography, with backdrops of the hills or the skyline. Here we may encounter 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 long lines of Blue Wildebeest making their way, who knows where, and watch in fascination as a Cheetah tries to creep up on some unsuspecting Thomson’s Gazelles.

Day 13

Today we will return to Kilimanjaro airport, where our Tanzania wildlife photosafari ends this afternoon.

[Note: If you are not leaving Kilimanjaro until tomorrow, we can make a reservation for you at the comfortable KIA Lodge close to the airport on request.]