My volcano climbs of Meru and Kilimanjaro done, I had six days of empty space at the end of my Tanzania visit. Two of them I spent in Moshi and two in Arusha. The original plan had been to climb one more volcano – the active Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano in the Lake Natron area to the north of Arusha. It would have been a two-day excursion involving yet another five or six-hour climb to a summit with a midnight start. Luckily, I gave the idea a pass and decided to do something else instead – go on safari!
Arusha is the safari capital of Tanzania’s northern safari circuit with a large number of local agencies keen to provide their services. Nearby are the parks and conservation areas that make Tanzania the place to go for wildlife viewing:
- Serengeti National Park
- the Ngorongoro Conservation Area,
- Tarangire National Park,
- Lake Manyara National Park,
- Arusha National Park, and
- Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
I sent out a number of emails one afternoon and by the next morning had settled on Simba Adventures on Sokoine Road (Arusha’s main street) and a two-day all-inclusive package that included a visit to Tarangire National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as a drop off at Kilimanjaro Airport at the end of the second day. The cost – $540. U.S. It seemed very reasonable given some of the other eye-popping prices I had seen at other agency websites. I paid the Simba office a visit and finalized details.
I would join a multi-national crew of four other tourists, which included solo Israeli, German, Swiss and Chinese travellers, all of whom were in their twenties except for the guy from Shenzhen who was in his late 40’s. Our itinerary – one day at each of Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater, and for three of them, Manyara National Park on the third day. Two of us would return to Arusha after the second day.
It was a two-hour ride to the main park entrance at the north end of Tarangire National Park in the Central Rift Valley to the south-west of Arusha. That is our vehicle – an older Toyota Land Cruiser – pictured below. Apparently, Toyota has taken over the safari vehicle market in the past generation from the Land Rover. Our vehicle comfortably seated six behind the driver. On the second day, we had seven passengers with the seventh one in the seat next to the driver. All of us had access to clear views with the roof raised. The following image shows a few Land Cruisers in full safari mode!
When we got to the park entrance, there were perhaps two dozen vehicles in the parking lot, surprisingly busy given that it was about 10:30 already. To be honest, I figured that given the heat of the day, we would be setting off to view animals at the worst possible time. Also, our visit was in early February while peak viewing is during the dry season (July to November) when the park sees an influx of other grazing animals thanks to its water holes and rivers.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about the number of animals we’d get to see. It turned out to be an amazing five-hour trip through the park, which is best known for the 2500 or so elephants who seem to live there on a more-or-less permanent basis. They share the 2500 sq. km. space with lions, cheetahs, impalas, waterbucks, giraffes, warthogs …just some of the species we did get to see!
We waited for a half-hour while our driver/guide got in the line at the ticket office to deal with the park entrance fees. (It is $45. U.S. per visitor for a day pass.)
You could easily spend a second or even a third day at Tarangire Park, given its size. We confined our rambling on the jeep tracks to the upper third of the park; as the park map below makes clear there is much more to see and it looks even more secluded than the northern third which is what most one-day tours take in.
And then it was into the park. Sergey, Rick, and I had pushed up the vehicle’s roof and we were set to go. Rick, the name the Chinese guy went by, readied his Nikon D5 and a massive 200-500 lens and we were all envious!
The Elephants Are The Stars of a Tarangire Safari!
The Impalas Grazing In The Shade:
Tarangire’s Baobab Trees: Maximum Shade!
The Warthogs Make An Appearance:
Following the Tarangire River Through the Park:
Intermittent radio communication from other safari drivers alerts everyone in the park to the current location of animals. Our radio would crackle with updates every once in a while; a few minutes later we would find ourselves on a stretch of road with seven or eight other land Cruisers looking for the latest sighting. When we left the giraffes above it was a lion sighting that got our driver’s attention and we were nearby so off we went.
It took some time to finally zoom in to where they were. We waited for a while hoping they might get up and move – but the image below is all I got! And who can blame them – it was mid-day and they had a nice, shady spot in the grass!
The Tarangire Lion And the Elephant:
Reports of another lion lounging in the grass and off we went. When we got there I wasn’t seeing anything. A bit more guidance from someone who had and I finally zoomed in under the tree where our lion was enjoying the shade and mostly hidden by the tall grass.
And then – some potential drama! Behind our Land Cruiser, an elephant crossed the road and he was heading right to the tree where the lion was. I wondered how grouchy the lion was going to be when the elephant disturbed his afternoon siesta.
It didn’t take too long for us to find out what would happen next – the lion got up and nonchalantly started walking slowly away from the elephant and parallel to the jeep track where we and a half-dozen other vehicles were parked and watching the events unfold.
The Elephant Carcass and the Vultures:
The Giraffe Under The Tree:
A Nursing Baby Elephant?
I did not understand what the baby elephant was doing in the two images. I figured he was just nudging his mother playfully as they walked along. It may be that the elephant is still nursing and trying to access his mother’s teats, which are located between her front legs. Who knew!
An Elephant In Need Of A Scratch:
I should have filled the entire episode instead of snapping photos! But here is what I got after I finally remembered that cameras these days have video too!
The Cheetahs Lounging In The Shade:
On To the Next Sighting – Waterbucks!
A Brief Visit With The Vervet Monkeys At the Rest Stop:
Elephants At The Water Hole In The Mid-Afternoon Heat:
Sure – it was just another day at the waterhole for the elephants but for us – spellbinding! Everything was just right – the water, the clouds in the sky, the baobab trees in the background, the elephants (especially the little ones) cavorting and rolling over in the water…I think I held my breath for five minutes as the spectacle unfolded.
And then a new crew came in from the right and walked right by our vehicle, so close I could touch them. Maybe even more so than seeing the elusive cheetahs lounging under that tree, this was for me the highlight of our visit to Tarangire!
As we were getting ready to leave the water hole, yet another extended family of elephants was making its way across the road to the water. I guess it was their turn for a dip in the muddy but cool water.
And so ended our remarkable day traversing the jeep roads of Tarangire National Park. The visit surpassed all our expectations! Our guide Ali has clearly spent a few years on the park’s roads and always seemed to know where to go next. His commentary and observations – and his keen eye in picking out animals we were not seeing – definitely added to what was an unforgettable experience.
Now we headed to our evening campground above Lake Manyara, where dinner and a private tent for each of us was waiting. The next morning we were up at 5 and would be on the road by 6:00 a.m. Ngorongoro Crater would be another day of WOWs!
Next Post: A Memorable Morning In Ngorongoro Crater