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photos & trip report - Tanzania January 2006

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I'm new to this Forum, just found it a week or so ago, and I've enjoyed reading the posts very much. Here is my first contribution, a report with photos of a safari my wife and I took to Tanzania in January 2006 to Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ndutu and Ngorongoro Crater. This was a 16 day trip (13 in safari lodges, the rest travel) and we were mainly interested in photographing wildlife.

As newbies to this part of Africa we were particularly keen to photograph lions, cheetahs, elephants, etc but also wanted to photograph as many birds as possible. This trip was lead by two professional photographers whose work we admire and we had five jeeps with 15 photographers. Everyone rode two days with each pro but the other days we were on our own, which worked out fine.

We stopped in Arusha to exchange some money (you get a better rate here than at the lodges) and also bought extra bottled water (the safari company supplies a daily bottle of water but you will eventually run out and it costs about 4x as much to buy it at the lodges, so if you do a safari thru Arusha ask your driver to stop at the supermarket on the way out of town for water). Also some of our photographers bought beans or rice for their camera support bags.

Tarangire National Park was our first stop, for three nights. We were there at the tail end of a three year drought but it had rained a bit shortly before we arrived, which dispersed the game animals from the river. So we didn't see as much game as we expected to see at Tarangire in the "dry" season. Our guides told us that during the July - October tourist season Tarangire was often better than Serengeti for photography since the animals congregated around the river, but we missed this.

Photography highlights at Tarangire were probably the baby elephant, so young it had trouble reaching it's mother's breast to nurse, antelopes like the dik-dik, baboons and monkeys, and birds. We only saw three lionesses, sleeping at a distance, and no other cats. We stayed at the Sopa, a deluxe 4-star class lodge. I heard the lodge with the best location is a tented lodge overlooking a water hole which often has elephants. Here's a link to the baby ellie ...

Lake Manyara National Park was our next stop, for two nights at the lovely Serena hotel on the rift rim. This is a very small park and most tourists visit one afternoon on their way to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti since it's only a two hour drive from Arusha, but because of our group's interest in birds we did four game drives. In the morning there were few people but in the PM it was crowded.

We saw a few lions sleeping in trees ("seen one sleeping lion in a tree, seen 'em all" is my new motto) but did well photographing birds and elephants, with a couple of ellies browsing within a few feet of the jeep. I think many people will be disappointed with Manyara but because of all the different habitats (including ground water forests, something we didn't see elsewhere on this trip) the birdlife is especially rich and we enjoyed photographing there. Unless you are into birds I'd guess one afternoon would be enough. Here's a link to some of the bird photos we took at Manyara ... (and the two pages after that one).

From Manyara we drove to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) entrance, kissed the paved road goodbye, and drove up to the crater rim for the view of Ngorongoro, which was pretty cool. We skirted the crater instead of going in, taking the road to Serengeti but turned off before reaching Serengeti NP to our next spot, Ndutu Safari Lodge. This is a more rustic out-of-the-way spot than the other lodges we used, but it's right on the boundary of the NCA woodlands with the Serengeti plains at the head of the Olduvai Gorge. If the Nov and Dec rains came on schedule the short-grass plains would be greening up by now (January) and the wildebeests and zebras would be here for the migration, but the drought left it parched so instead of 100's of thousands of migrants we had maybe 10's of thousands ...

The big story at Ndutu (for us) was the cats ... we found a large, photogenic pride of lions and photographed them most mornings ... they were feasting on the zebras and wildebeests, catching 2-3 each night ... there were 8 larger cubs, 8 cubs born in November so maybe 10 weeks old, 9 adult females and three old scarred pride males with full manes, and photographing these cats was probably the highlight of our trip ... and the next 4 pages are some of the hundreds of photos we took of this pride.

We also saw several cheetah at Ndutu and got to photograph a pair of alliance males stretching in the shade, spotting a herd of wildebeests, stalking them for 2 hours, sprinting into the herd and killing a yearling. Most jeeps left before the kill but those who stuck around got to film the entire hunt ... this was probably the second highlight of the trip ...

The group did not go to Serengeti but one jeep load wanted to photograph leopards and kept hearing reports (and seeing digital photos from fellow guests) so went to Seronera for one night and photographed a couple of leopards in trees near the river.

After five dusty, productive days at Ndutu we left reluctantly and drove back to the crater rim, lunching at the Serena lodge (beautiful lodge), then descending for an afternoon game drive across the crater. We stayed on the other side at the Sopa for three nights, the only lodge on that side of the rim. We saw few people early each AM when we descended at 6 AM ... I know the crater is over-crowded, especially on the side with all the lodges and in the afternoons, but it was still a great place because of the density of predators, with 80-100 lions in 5 prides and 400-500 hyenas in several large, competitive clans all in about 100 square miles.

This is not the best place for serious photography because the early light is blocked by the crater rim and because you have to be out by 6 PM, about the time the afternoon light is getting sweet, but we still did OK, photographing mating lions, lions fighting hyenas ( ), black rhinos (only ones we saw), and the two heaviest tusked elephants we saw on the entire trip, including one whose tusks dragged the ground when he walked ... . So if you have a chance to visit the crater do it, even if it's crowded and expensive. It's worth it.

So that's my report on the January trip ... the home web page for it is ... we enjoyed it so much we immediately made plans to return in April 2006 when rates were cheaper during the "rainy season", betting the drought would continue. We lost that bet (the heavy rains started in March) but the April trip was still a worthy venture and I'll post a report on it tomorrow or the next day.

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed the photos.

Bill & Carolyn Hilton

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