View of the crater from the top of the ridge
A day trip to the crater
It sounds hard to believe but about 2.5 million years ago, there was an enormous volcano that rose above the western side of the Great Rift Valley, that blew up in an enormous explosion. KABOOM! The reservoir of magma under the volcano emptied itself and caused the mountain to implode under its own weight. It left behind a huge crater technically called a caldera. This caldera, is the largest unflooded unbroken caldera in the world, is 600m deep and has a diameter of 19km. What it means is that this crater is a perfect amphitheatre and holds about 30 000 large mammals, including some of the large predators. It is one of the few national parks in the world where you are assured of seeing both herbivores and carnivores. Going to the Ngorongoro Crater, is one of those once in a lifetime experiences you just have to have.
Getting There - We left Moshi at seven am and headed in the direction of Arusha which is about 80km away. It should have been simple from there but it wasn't, as the road out of Arusha is not clearly marked. Once we found out that we had to drive through Arusha, it wasn't a problem. I think the lack of proper road signs pointing the way, is because most people go to the Ngorongoro Crater with a safari company, and obviously, they know the way. However, next time I'll know exactly what direction to drive. The Ngorongoro Crater is close to the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Terengeri - all fantastic parks to visit if you want to view game. The road to Ngorongoro is tarred and in good condition, and we arrived at Lake Manyara at about 11am. Not bad going, considering we got lost on the outskirts of Arusha and had to backtrack quite a few kilometres. The Ngorongor Crater is literally just past Lake Manyara and just before the Serengeti.
Pricey but worth every penny
Okay, you have to have a 4 x 4 to go to the Ngorongoro Crater, not so much for the descent, but definitely for the ascent which is quite hairy. We decided to cram everybody into my car to try and save money, so seven of us did our sardine can impersonation. Actually, my car is quite roomy so it wasn't that bad at all. I have a pajero with a little Toyota engine. The previous owner forgot to tell his wife to check oil and water regularly, and she blew the engine. It's okay, i prefer Toyota anyway, even if the car is a little heavy for the size of the engine.
Okay, so what are the costs? As I said, it's pretty pricey, supposedly to try and deter many vehicles from visiting the crater. It isn't working! There are still just as many vehicles visiting the crater, and the government is rapidly filling its coffers with the park fees. We paid $50 per adult and $30 for children under 12. Then you have to pay 10 000 TSH car fee which is roughly about $10. The big fee is the $200 crater fee which you have to pay on top of that. But if you think 'once in a lifetime experience' then it's okay. Of course, then they try and get you to pay for a driver/guide, which costs $20. They try and make this compulsory, but seriously, we wouldn't have had any place for him to fit in the car anyway. So I admit, I lied. i told the guides at the gate that I'd already driven to the crater before. This was not my first visit, obviously bull, as I didn't even know which direction to drive to get there! I could see he didn't believe me, but he waved me through as there was a long queue of safari vehicles behind us. Along the way from the main gate to the crater entry gate, we passed many Maasai villages and Maasai warriors along the side of the road all checking out their cattle. We came to the crater gate, and the guide at the gate wouldn't let us through. He didn't believe me. "When were you last here?" he asked a little aggressively. "Um, two months ago," I replied nervously biting my lip. "How did you manage the ascent?" he asked with a glint in his eye. "Oh the ascent, no worries, no problem," I replied lying through my teeth, wondering what ascent he was talking about. "You need a ranger," was his response. "Oh, I'm a qualified South African Ranger," interrupted my 18 year old son who had completed a level one 12 day ranger course two years ago. The guides at the gate indicated for my son to go to the main office while we waited nervously in the car. They had made him sign some papers saying he understands the rules and will go to jail if we leave the car. What a relief, it should be a breeze. I mean, why would you want to leave the car anyway? My son looked quite nervous. You are only allowed to spend six hours in the crater and have to leave the crater by 6pm.
Maasai on the crater rim
Animals and more animals
As a person who has spent over 30 years of my life living in different countries in Africa, I have been to many different game reserves, game parks, national parks - call them what you will. Nothing prepared me for the abundance of game I saw at Ngorongoro Crater. We saw rhino, hippo, hyena, lions, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, warthog, baboons, elephant, water buck, Thompson's gazelle, kingfishers, vultures, ostrich, crowned cranes, flamingoes. Wherever you looked, there were animals. The cool thing about the Ngorongoro Crater is it has so many different kinds of habitatas. You have Lake Magadi in the middle, savanna all around and then the Lerai Forest, a large patch of Acacia woodland, on the southern edge of the lake. Bring in some swampy land and you have an area that caters for a diverse variety of wildlife. You see it all at Ngorongoro. The only animals we didn't see were giraffe - but we'd seen plenty at Arusha National Park, leopard and cheetah. The only thing we didn't find, was a toilet.
After a couple of hours of game-viewing, my friend in the back of the car needed the toilet. Badly. We tried to encourage her to hold on, but after another hour of squinting at the animals because her eyeballs were floating in pee, it was time for desperate measures. The problem was, that so many people were in the crater, there were safari vehicles everywhere. Down all the little roads. Eventually, next to a grazing herd of zebra, we found a quiet spot and she dropped her drawers and swung her bum out of the back of the car. The Victoria Falls have nothing on her and she seemed to pee for ages. In mid-pee, we saw a convoy of safari vehicles heading towards us. "Hurry! vehicles approaching, the six of us shouted anxiously. "I'm going as fast as I can!" shouted my friend from the back. "Vehicles 50m away!" we shouted. "Okay, three quarters of the way done but I feel better," said my friend hastily pulling up her knickers and closing the back door. My son was sweating profusely, imagining how he was nearly jailed for letting someone put their bum out of the car and pee in the crater!
The ascent was all they'd warned us about and more. A steep muddy incline that I would not want to drive up myself. Luckily, my friend's husband drove up the face. Definitely not for the cowardly types that ascent! I couldn't look down and rather focused on the bush on the passenger side! Ngorongoro Crater is a must for your Bucket List!