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Trip Report - short (Serengeti, West Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Ngorongoro)

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We just arrived back in Arusha after an eventful camping safari! The highlight was certainly the night of May 28 at a camp site near Seronera in the central Serengeti. We camped right in the middle of the apparent main herd of migrating wildebeest. At times the snorting noises got so loud I was afraid that they may stampede right over my tent! Hyenas were all over the place and in the early morning I thought I heard a lion followed by a loud struggle. Indeed, the next day we could see the vultures feasting on the remains of a wildebeest near the approach road of the camp next to us – about 75 meters away.

Unfortunately, the rains were very heavy at times and we got stuck on several occasions while trying to find the migrating herds off the beaten paths. At one point I was covered top to bottom in black mud after several failed attempts to push the Landcruiser out of the holes!

We saw a big herd (the one from our camp) moving north from Seronera on May 29. We also saw a big herd near the Sopa Lodge that appeared to be moving West along the Mbalagheti River. Several lines of Wildebeest were coming over the hills between the Sopa and Serena hotels and started to gather near the road between Seronera and Grumeti. It was too early to tell if they were heading west or north.

We could not find other large herds as the rains restricted our movements and the wildebeest were milling around in all directions near Seronera thanks to sufficient grass and water. I guess that there were more big herds to the south of the Sopa but cannot confirm this.

I have to think that the arrival near Grumeti is still several weeks away.

Between the morning and late afternoon excursions to find migrating wildebeest, we visited several lodges/camps. Here is a quick summary – more details and pictures to follow:

1. Mbalagheti is awesome! The views are incredible, the management staff is clued in and the presidential suite and honeymoon suites are amazing with outside tubs and showers overlooking the Mbalagheti river. It is 16km from the main road to Grumeti/and Kirawira and the wildlife viewing is not the greatest but perfect for a few days of R&R. But get the tented rooms – the standard rooms are not near as exciting. You can choose between rooms/tents on the west or east side of the hill.
2. Ikoma Bush camp was a let down. It needs a serious upgrade with planks in the broken windows of the buildings as you walk to the reception area. Landscaping is suffering from overgrowth and the tents were stained and looked dirty. The dining room (long communal tables) looked a bit scary behind a large dirty mosquito net. If you are planning to go there, don’t expect too much! I simply did not want to stay there so I cannot tell you about the food and night drives.
3. Mbuze Mawe was a very pleasant surprise. It is an hour north of Seronera and really beautiful. They are still working on it but it will open any week now. The tents are great with dik-dik running around! The lounge area has great views and while the pool is not in place yet, it looks like a winner! The Serena-trained staff is sharp and attentive. I think it is a wonderful alternative to the crowded hotels of Seronera.
4. The upgraded Migration camp took my breath away. Don’t miss this camp if you are visiting the Northern Serengeti. I’ve not seen a tented camp on the Northern Circuit that compares with the guest tents of the Migration camp. It rivals Mbalagheti but with the additional bonus of superb wildlife. There are resident wildlife, hippos and large prides of lion nearby (at Lobo). The managing couple used to manage lodges in Botswana and it shows.
5. In Ngorongoro, the Farm House has new management and time will tell. It is nearest to the gate (about 5 minutes) but rather big and large groups can overrun it. The Plantation Lodge is further away but smaller and more intimate. Gibbs Farm is even further away and a bit far for a comfortable trip to the crater but the new tar road goes right to the Ngorongoro gate and makes things a lot easier.
6. I hear that the half-day Ngorongoro game-drives have been suspended until January! I will double-check but two different guides told me this.
7. In Tarangire, the River Camp did not disappoint! With the Tarangire River flowing thanks to the rains, the views are just amazing. The tents are new and very comfortable and the bar area is built around a big tree. There has been much confusion between the camps in Tarangire. Just remember that Tarangire River Camp is outside the park just before the main gate. You cannot see it from the approach roads. Tarangire Safari Lodge is inside the park not too far from the gate. You can see it from the park roads and it also has a nice view of the Tarangire River. But it is older and larger and a bit more touristy.
8. Tarangire was not good for game viewing. The grass is just too long and we saw many frustrated safari guides with boring tourists. We saw just about nothing in two days. It is much better to wait for another month or two as it dries out. We are going back next week to stay at the newly renovated Treetops.
9. West Kilimanjaro took me by surprise! We stayed at Ndarakwai Ranch and also at the Kambi ya Tembo tented camp. Please note that the Kambi camp has moved quite a distance away from its previous spot. In the past, this camp was frequented by elephants on a daily basis but now it is nearer to Maasai villages and also near another tented camp (West Kilimanjaro camp). As a result, the game drives are a bit further away (towards the Kenyan border and Amboseli). But this area is remote and we saw no other vehicles! It was just our own wilderness for two days in an area that is both varied and rich in wildlife. The hunting concessions are being phased out and poaching is under control. Wildlife is returning and we saw large herds of elephant, zebra, gerenuk, giraffe, wildebeest, tummies, baboons, monkees and heard lion and hyena. There is an ear that looks just like the Serengeti – teaming with wildlife. They call it Little Serengeti!
10. We also stayed at Ndarakwai Ranch. The elephants there are amazing. We saw an elephant that just gave birth to a 2-hour old calf. They have a viewing platform next to the waterhole and I could easily spend all day there. The night-drives were exciting and the area is very good for horse-back riding, cycling and other activities. They don’t have horses at the ranch (yet) which put an end to my horse-riding plans! Near Ndarakwai I ran into Elizabeth (the owner of Makoa Farm) and we are planning to visit her place soon. She is a super lady and if you do horseback safaris with them you should have a wonderful time.
11. Ndarakwai camp is tented and there’s no electricity. The rooms are very comfortable but the mosquitoes were a bit of a bother without nets. The lounge has two big fireplaces and is really welcoming. It is another place to just relax with lots of elephants to watch if you like them as much as I do.

I did take lots of pictures of all the camps/lodges and will post it upon my return to the States. If you have specific questions about these, other lodges/camps or anything about the area while I am in Arusha I will gladly tell you more. For example, we also stayed at the Sopa Serengeti, the Impala in Arusha, the Coffee Lodge in Arusha, etc.
Regards
Eben

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