Masai Mara

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:12 pm
Jul 172011
 

Masai MaraShortly after crossing the border we turned off the main road and headed towards the Masai Mara. We managed yet again to take a road that led us through villages and at times became a track with us having to climb over rough roads. At least though the road was not bad because of corrugations and stones, it was just a rough road, which is much more interesting to drive. The last part of the road makes its way down the escarpment and is quite steep and rocky at times requiring us to engage 4wd. The view of the Mara though was spectacular, miles and miles of grass plains. As we reached the bottom we passed a school bus. Surely it wasn’t going to negotiate the pass and the road we had just come down? Yep, it was. Loaded with school kids it turned and started up the road. Goodness knows how or if it made it.

After so many days of fantastic game driving in Tarangire, the Crater and the Serengeti we wondered how the Mara would hold up. Sure enough, it was absolutely amazing, making us again extend our stay to 3 nights. We camped in the park all 3 nights and heard lions every night all throughout the night as well as zebra, wildebeest and I think a leopard.

Wildebeest & Zebra migration across the Mara River, Masai MaraWe were extremely lucky and managed to time our visit so we could witness the migration crossing the Mara River (people we met later were there 2 weeks earlier and didn’t see it). It is a sight to behold with thousands and thousands of wildebeest and zebras making their way to the river bank and crossing into the Mara triangle, with millions of them dotting the plains with black on either side of the river. There is pure chaos as the wildebeest follow each other, often making it to the other side where it is extremely difficult for them to climb out the other side when there is a much easier exit point 10 metres over. They panic as they attempt to scramble out up the rocks, many of them falling and struggling. The zebras seem to be more intelligent and tend to make their way directly to the easiest exit. The number of wildebeest that die in the process is astounding. The river is full of hundreds of dead bodies making easy feeding for the vultures. Some are taken by crocs, but most die through injuries, such as breaking legs or getting jammed between the rocks where they eventually die from exhaustion or drowning. It is impossible to capture the spectacle with a camera as you just can’t capture the chaos, the masses of animals, the sounds and the tension. We sat there each day watching for an hour or so in astonishment. We even saw crocs take down a wildebeest in the river twice. The whole thing is an amazing event to witness and we are so lucky to have seen it.

Wildebeest & Zebra migration across the Mara River, Masai MaraDead wildebeest in the Mara River, Masai MaraMigration, Masai Mara

The Mara is primarily about the wildebeest and zebras, but there are plenty of other animals around. We saw a variety of animals including:

9 lions Defassa waterbuck zebras impalas elephants
ostriches topis warthogs buffalos hyenas
Grant’s gazelles Thomson’s gazelles baboons giraffes crocodile
wildebeests black rhino dik-dik vultures  

 

Masai MaraAt times there were 7 or 8 different types of animals all grazing in the same area, pretty amazing. All the animals were used to cars and rarely moved away when we approached.

The first night we camped at the signposted public camp near park HQ, but it was down a rocky road, deep in amongst the trees and nowhere flat really to park our car. After speaking to a ranger we managed to find the other campsite, about a kilometre further down the road which was much nicer being up on a hill with views down to the plains. A bit of a long story, but on our second night we were told we would need 2 rangers at a cost of $20 each if we were going to camp. After explaining that we had camped the previous night without them, that we hadn’t budgeted for this and didn’t want them, much discussion and phone calls they agreed that if we signed something to see they would not be liable if something happened we could go without them. When we got to the other camp there was already someone there, another car also arrived and neither of them had rangers!

Grant's Gazelle, Masai MaraMasai MaraCrocodile, Masai MaraMasai MaraBlack Rhino, Masai MaraMasai Mara

The second car that arrived were 2 Aussies, Mark and Bansi, who have set up a safari Masai Marabusiness in Kenya and base themselves here with trips back to Aus. They were extremely helpful, assisting us with planning our new route through Kenya and providing all sorts of useful info.

The roads managed to take their toll on our car, and on the second day we blew one of our shocks, with the bushes completely destroyed. Luckily we managed to get the mechanic at the lodge to replace the bushes for us which would at least allow us to get to Nairobi without having to drive extremely slowly. Our primary battery died a few days ago and this will also need to be replaced in Nairobi. Nothing like African roads to destroy a vehicle.

Even after our amazing experiences in the week or so prior to the Mara, we were not disappointed. At this time of year the Mara is a spectacular place to visit.

Masai MaraRuppell's Griffon Vulture, Masai MaraTopi, Masai MaraMasai Mara

Musoma and on to Kenya

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:58 pm
Jul 142011
 

We left the Serengeti via the western corridor. We thought the road from the south was bad, but this was ridiculous. Several hours of bone jarring corrugations and rocks and very little wildlife to be seen made it a long journey. Pushing on to Musoma, we stayed at the Tembo Beach Hotel where we decided to eat in the restaurant as it was so cheap and we had eaten there before. We both ordered chicken curry, which turned out to be a leg and thigh of the smallest chicken in the world which was tough and the meat was black – not particularly appetising. At least the rice and chips were ok.

As we opened our car after dinner the most revolting stench emanated from it. On investigation it turned out that the horrendous roads we have endured over the last few days had managed to burst a long life milk container so we had milk through the carpet – ewwwwwwwww! I washed it out as much as I could and hoped it would get better. Nope. I have washed it as much as I can and it is significantly better, but I doubt we will ever get rid of the smell completely.

In the morning we ventured into town to try and get some fuel and food. Everyone kept telling us to go to the vege market in Market St. We drove around 4 times until I finally managed to glimpse the market behind the other buildings. Once again everyone welcomed me as I walked around and they did not try and charge inflated prices, definitely better than the supermarket. Whilst I was in the market a man came up to Wayne in the car claiming to be an immigration officer. Wayne insisted he show some ID, which he did. He then asked to see his passport, but Wayne told him they were locked away and showed him a photocopy. That seemed to satisfy him and they chatted. A bit weird but no harm done.

The border crossing was again pretty quick and straightforward on both sides. For Kenya we needed visas at $50 each and $40 for the car. The money changing touts pestered us as usual, telling us the next ATM was 160km away. Turns out the ATM was more like 160 metres away and we managed to get cash out and once again avoided them.

Serengeti National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:45 pm
Jul 142011
 

Serengeti National ParkWe left the Crater about 2pm and endured the horrendous road to the Serengeti gate and then to Seronera. Given the crater cost us $400 and the Serengeti $200 a day and there are thousands of visitors, you would think they could use part of the money to maintain the roads. The safari vehicles speed along the roads without a care for their safety, we though did not feel comfortable travelling at such a speed with little control of our vehicle, so it took us some time to get to the gate.

Just when we thought we had had a fantastic day in the crater and really it couldn’t get much better, we came across a large pride of lions devouring a recently killed buffalo. There were at least 10 adults and 10 cubs feasting on the kill. The noise they made as they ate was incredible and watching the dynamics as they ate was fascinating. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay as long as we would have liked as we needed to make it to camp before dark. Then, not far from camp we came across 2 cheetahs! A pretty awesome start to our Serengeti visit.

Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National Park

Originally we planned to spend 2 nights in the Serengeti, but it was so fantastic we decided to spend 4 nights. There were soooo many animals, especially around the Seronera area, it was amazing! Our animal sightings included the following, as well as heaps of birds:

60 lions 7 leopards 6 cheetahs elephants giraffes
zebras buffalos wildebeests Thomson’s gazelles topis
Coke’s hartebeests hippos Grant’s gazelles ostriches servals
warthogs vervet monkeys dwarf mongooses rock hyraxes impalas
Defassa waterbucks olive baboons dik-diks hyenas klipspringer
crocodiles black-backed jackals marabou storks Ruppell Griffon’s vultures African fish eagle
Goliath heron Lappet-faced vultures      

 

Cheetah, Serengeti National ParkOne afternoon we came across a cheetah not far from the road so we decided to sit and watch her for a while. She came within a few metres of our car at one point which was awesome. She was quite nervous, constantly looking around her as she attempted to get a drink, especially when a hyena walked past. Then she started stalking a gazelle and before we knew it she was in full flight and attempting a kill! Unfortunately she was unsuccessful, but to see a kill attempt was amazing. We saw her try again later that afternoon. Whilst we were watching the cheetah, Wayne noticed something in the background which turned out to be a hyena who successfully took down a gazelle. How amazing to be watching 2 kill attempts at the same time!

We sat for a while at a waterhole and watched as several herds of elephant took it in turn to drink and play in the mud. The little babies were so cute as they played around, getting stuck at times in the mud. The different groups of elephants seemed to greet each other as they took it in turns at the waterhole and as usual, the elephants were great to watch.

Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National Park

A leopard mother and her 2 cubs have been in the same area for the last month or so and we managed to see them a number of times. One afternoon the cubs had come down from their usual resting place high in the tree branches for a bit of play time. Whilst we were watching them a hyena came around, no doubt in search of some of the kill that the mother had dragged up into the tree. Nervously we watched as the hyena got very close to one of the cubs, hoping that it would not attack it, which thankfully it didn’t.  We also saw a number of other leopards during our visit, most of them resting high in the tree branches or sitting on a rock.

Leopard, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National Park

On one of our drives we saw what we think was a very small part of the migration. There were thousands of wildebeest crossing a small river. They were jam packed together, making a column about 50 metres wide that went on for ages, so far that we could not see the start of them. We both hoped that this was a good sign for the Masai Mara and that we would see the migration in full swing when we got there.

Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkTawny Eagle. Serengeti National ParkBuffalo, Serengeti National Park

On our second day I started to get a sty in my eye which was getting sore, so I asked at the visitor centre if there were any medical services at any of the lodges that could give me some antibiotic drops for my eye, expecting to have to pay a tidy sum for the privilege. To my surprise he organised for one of the staff to take me to the staff dispensary where a lovely lady happily gave me the drops I needed, explaining that the service was free! I gave them a small amount to thank them, amazed at how helpful everyone was.

Serengeti National ParkOnce again we were definitely the odd ones out. During our 4 days we saw one other 4wd with a roof tent and couple of other hire cars. I think at one point we were the talk of the safari guides as once we stopped to ask a group what they had seen and the tourists in the back starting talking to us. Somehow they knew we were on a 6 month trip yet neither of us recall speaking to them previously. (We were chatting to number of the guides at the gate as we all waited in line to get our permits, so several of them knew a little about our trip). The photo is part of the car park at a picnic site at lunch time. Can you spot the odd one out?

We saw so many different animals and had such wonderful experiences whilst we were there, it was absolutely fantastic. Along with the crater, the Serengeti, especially at this time of year, is an absolute must if you are coming to Africa.

Serengeti National ParkDefassa Waterbuck, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National ParkHippos, Serengeti National ParkHippos, Serengeti National ParkKlipspringer, erengeti National ParkWhite-backed  and Ruppell's Griffon vultures, Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkMarabou, Stork, Serengeti National ParkGrant's Gazelle, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National ParkTopi, Serengeti National Park

Ngorongoro Crater

 Posted by Elizabeth at 8:04 pm
Jul 102011
 

Ngorongoro CraterThe road from Lake Manyara to the Crater gate is not the most pleasant of roads to drive, but we made it to the gate and after handing over $400 for the privilege of camping the night and taking our car into the crater the next day we headed towards camp. Once we arrived at Simba A camp we were told we could not park our car on the grass, yet there were several other cars already parked on the grass. We pointed this out and were told they were going to pay a fine at the gate (yeah right). Eventually we agreed on a reasonably level piece of ground where we could park the car (which was on the grass – go figure???). At the camp we were asked if we needed a guide, to which we told them no. They then told us we would not be allowed in the crater without one (sure) so we just told them we had no space and we know others have taken their cars into the crater without a guide so we would be ok. Sure enough at the crater gate they asked if we had a guide, we told them we had no room and they just said fine and let us through as we expected.

The night was freezing cold as we expected it would be, so we were in bed fairly early. Unfortunately I managed to get food poisoning and spent 90 minutes in the middle of the night in the loo vomiting and having diarrhoea. Not the best place to get sick. The next morning I wasn’t too bad thank goodness, and we headed down into the crater at sunrise.

Gray Crowned Crane, Ngorongoro CraterCoke's Hartebeest, Ngorongoro CraterServal, Ngorongoro CraterWildebeest, Ngorongoro CraterNgorongoro CraterKori Bustrard, Ngorongoro Crater

We both had high expectations of the crater given our previous visit, however we were a little worried that this time we were in peak tourist season and the number of vehicles might spoil the experience. Our concerns were unfounded, and whilst there were more cars, there were not too many and they did not detract from our experience. The crater was fantastic! We saw so many animals including:

19 lions spotted hyena elephants black rhino warthogs
serval Coke’s hartebeests black-backed jackal golden jackal baboons
Thomson’s gazelles Grant’s gazelles wildebeests ostriches zebras
flamingos buffalos Defassa waterbuck hippos cheetah
vervet monkeys kori bustards grey crowned crane    

 

Spotted Hyena, Ngorongoro CraterHippos, Ngorongoro CraterBuffalo, Ngorongoro Crater

The highlight would have to be watching a group of 7 lions eating a kill. They feasted on the wildebeest whilst hyenas watched from a distance and a jackal sat within metres of them just waiting for an opportunity to snatch part of the kill away. (You can see how close the jackal was in the bottom middle picture). Finally the dominant female decided it was time to move so they slowly started to move away, although a couple of the lions lingered a bit longer. It was at this time that the jackal made its move and dashed in right to where the lions were still eating and stole part of the kill and then went back for more. A pretty brave jackal if you ask me!

Lions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterNgorongoro Crater

Spotted Hyena, Ngorongoro CraterWe also saw hyenas eating their kill. In fact there were heaps of hyenas throughout the crater. There were heaps of animals in general and a wide variety, all of which were fairly easy to spot as the grass was reasonably short.

We were the odd ones out being self drive and the only overlanders we saw amongst the heaps of safari vehicles. The safari guides were pretty friendly and happily told us where they had seen things such as lions, cheetahs and rhino which definitely helps, especially as they all have radios to communicate with each other and we don’t.

The crater is definitely an experience not to miss. Yes it is extremely expensive but it is a totally different experience to other national parks and is worth the time, money and effort to visit.

Lake Manyara National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:39 pm
Jul 082011
 

After spending the morning in Tarangire National Park we headed for Lake Manyara, about an hour away. Lake Manyara National Park is on the tourist route to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti and the town immediately before it is full of tourist shops. We stopped in the town to buy some veges and you could tell we were on the tourist route as they tried their hardest to charge us super inflated prices. Originally the guy wanted 8000Tsh for a kilo of potatoes – not likely when they should be 1000-1500Tsh. After much discussion, telling him there was no way we would pay that, him trying to tell us he has to add freight etc etc we finally agreed on 5000Tsh ($3.30) for a kilo each of  potatoes, tomatoes and onions which was really still a bit too much and we didn’t get a full kilo of everything, but we needed some veges.

Baboon, Lake Manyara National ParkWe arrived at Lake Manyara National Park just before 4pm, as did every other tour group in the vicinity! It seems that the tour groups only spend a couple of hours here in the afternoon. It was like peak hour traffic, at times we could not move forward as there were so many cars stopped. This is probably the first game park for a lot of people as they travel from Arusha, so they understandably stop at everything but we don’t really need to stop and take photos of a giraffe off in the distance, so it was a bit frustrating. Once they started to head back to the gate before closing it was much more pleasant.

We spent the night in the park, but unfortunately didn’t hear or see anything. The amenities though are the cleanest and nicest in any national park so far (excluding Kruger and Etosha) even if they were still only cold water showers.

Buffalo, Lake Manyara National ParkThe lake itself does not have much water in it at the moment and you can rarely see any water at all, and then only when you can get a view above the lake. The road travels along the edge of the lake when it is full, but given there was little water it was more like a grass plain. The animals are not very plentiful except for the plains near the main entrance and hippo pool, which is also where all the tour groups spend their time. We did see though zebra, wildebeest, elephant, giraffe, warthog, hippo, olive baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, impala and buffalo.

Lake Manyara National ParkWildebeest, Lake Manyara National ParkThomsons Gazelle, Ngorongoro Crater

In hindsight, the park was really not worth the money and we would have been better off spending another day in Tarangire. Maybe when the lake is full and apparently it is covered in flamingos it might be better.

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