THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT
No safari expedition to Tanzania would be complete without a visit to one of the natural wonders of the world. After a long and dusty drive from the Tarangire National Park, my wife and I were tired and looking forward to a shower and rest. However, as we began our ascent to the rim of the crater of the caldera and the scenery began to change from dry plains to increasingly lush rainforest, our spirits revived. As we rounded a corner on the increasingly steep and winding track, a leopard shimmied unexpectedly across the road, pausing briefly to look disdainfully through us with its cold yellow eyes. Finally, as we had our first wonderful sight of the crater, the arduous journey behind us was completely forgotten. I could have happily stood there for hours, greedily taking in the most incredible spectacle I had ever seen, had we not been promised even greater views from our lodge - and our room - itself. Some two thousand feet beneath us lay a land – approximately ten miles by ten miles - that time had forgotten. It was as though, by an accident of nature, the rim encircling the crater had allowed it to evolve separately from the surrounding areas, and we were the first people to stumble across it.
In fact, life in the crater is an exact microcosm of life on the plains – save for the absence of giraffe, which are unable to negotiate the steep descent into the crater. Whereas some animals, such as wildebeest and zebra can move in and out of the crater, others such as the lion population, live only there – and this can lead to some problems with the decreasing gene pool.
There are a number of lodges on the rim of the crater – although none within the crater itself, and all the major lodge chains are catered for. We stayed at the Ngorongoro Wildlife lodge (run by TAHI) which, like its sister lodges in the Serengeti - the Lobo and the Seronera - provides a reasonable level of comfort (though not as great as the Serena, Sopa, or Crater lodges), but in a fantastic location overlooking the Lerai forest in the crater. Having said this, the other luxury lodges are all on the rim of the crater as well – albeit in different locations – and so it is impossible not to have a fantastic location!
For obvious reasons the Crater is very popular with tourists and there are several large lodges, not to mention assorted camp sites to cater for them. Therefore, given the limited area of the crater floor, some may find it gets a little busy for their liking. However even here it is possible to get off the beaten track – to an extent – and our Wildersun driver did just that for us. If you want to see an account of what we saw when we did so, please visit the Travellers Tales page.
During a day spent in the Crater you are virtually guaranteed sightings of lions, and, more unusually, one of the twenty or so rare black rhino resident in the Crater. (Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge the photographs)
Most safari companies allow at least a whole day at the Crater, and you will set off at first light to be the first vehicle on the steep track descending into the Crater. Lunch is usually taken at the 'picnic area', by a large freshwater lake to one side of the Crater, where large kites with sharp talons swoop down to steal food from the hands of unwary tourists, before an afternoon safari drive followed by the final equally steep ascent out of the crater.
Definitely an experience not to be missed!