Friday, 27 August 2010

Trip Report of Takims Northern Discovery Tour. The Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Lake Manyara, Tanzania. June 2010.

Whilst Andy and Co were making their way back down from the Roof of Africa, I was sat on a KLM flight MAN-AMS-JRO. The plane was a bit old and dated, it was a Boeing 777-200 ER named Serengeti.
The seats were very hard, the entertainment system a little old fashioned and the food was not edible. The food looked good and was nicely presented, it was just odd. On the first service, I was served a starter of salad, then very green pasta in a box and an odd pudding. There was a second service of pizza, that was quite nice. The crew were very good, in the cabin most of the flight with one service or another. There were a lot of passengers from the USA and they were very impressed with the flight, food and free drinks. Saying it was a vast improvement on the Delta flights they had taken from 'The States'.
We landed after nine, and I was picked up and taken to Springlands Hotel in Moshi.
The road to the Hotel is a small, pot holed, dirt track, and the complex is hidden by large walls and iron gates. Inside it is a small oasis of lush vegetation.
The rooms were very basic, no AC, on this occasion no hot water ( I was told it was rather intermittent by my partner). The rooms were clean but the beds were rather old and shabby.
At 0900 the next day, the family went our separate ways. One to Dubai, one to the UK and us on our first ever guided safari.
John, our driver and guide picked us up at 09.00. He worked for a company called Takims Holiday Tours and Safaris Ltd.
We were driven from Moshi to Arusha.The area was very fertile, all sorts of crops were growing, coffee, banana, maize. I was hoping to see the mountain my family had climbed, but no luck, it was shrouded in cloud.
We stopped at a very modern hotel and were shown into a shop, trying to get us to bye carvings like the one above and a stone called Tanzanite. About 2 minutes from the modern hotel we were dropped off at The Arusha Hotel to sit for 2 hours before lunch. We then had a slow lunch at the hotel and had a 'safari briefing', basically our itinerary was read out to us! Eventually at 14.00 we set of to the Ngorongoro crater. It had been a bit of a wasted day really, and I wished I had not rushed to get up in the morning.
It was quite a slow 3-4 hour drive to the crater (if you could drive yourself you could do it as a day trip from Moshi/ Arusha). We had to stop at another curio shop, this one full of wood carvings, fabric prints and paintings..........I hoped this would not be a theme of the trip, shopping!The entrance gates.
I had read that the crater is an extinct volcano, but until I saw it I did not appreciate how spectacular this is. That volcano must of been massive, at least as big at Mt Kili. We drove up one side of the rim, through densely forested areas and on getting to the top stopped at Heroes Point to catch our first glimpse of the breathtaking view over the crater floor lying 600 mt below us. We then turned right and drove along the crater rim, with its red soil and rocks that had blasted from the volcano to our lodge, the Sopa Lodge. The lodge offered fantastic views of the crater floor so far below. The rooms were very nice, large with two queen sized beds and really modern bathrooms. The lobby and bar were great, as was the TV room on the first floor. The football world cup was on so the TV room was crowded. Dinner was a choice from a set menu, all delicious. The wine list was extensive and we had a lovely bottle of Nederberg to finish off our restful day.
On day two, following an early breakfast at the Sopa Lodge we had a full day in the crater. The Land-Rover roof popped up allowing us to view the wildlife through the open roof. All the game vehicles were of the same style. The Ngorongoro crater has a spectacular concentration of wildlife. Within the first half an hour we had seen the ‘Big Five’.This was assisted by the fact that if you spotted a 4 X 4 traffic jam, you knew some thing of interest was lurking there. The driver John, was on his radio all the time, talking to other rangers and taking us to where game had been spotted. So this was a very different experience for us as we were not seeking out the game ourselves, and it felt a rather lazy way of doing things?
The crater itself, with its breathtaking scenery, was some thing I will remember for the rest of my life. The hotel had provided us with lunch boxes and we stopped at a watering hole for lunch. Unfortunately due to the presence of Vervet Monkeys we could not get out to eat and had to have lunch in the van. Even then the monkeys got through the roof and tried to steal the food from us.
John, the driver kept asking us if we wanted to stop looking at game and call at a Maasai Village near the crater. He appeared quite disappointed that we had no desire to visit the Maasai. I did feel that we were being rather nagged at about craft shops, Tanzanite and Maasai Villages and it got a bit irritating at times.
The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge provided another good nights rest. The hot water is only on from 17.00 to 20.00, but this was not a problem as it was really hot and plentiful at this time. The dinner was excellent and the Lodge very comfortable.
The next morning it was raining when I got up. Looking out of my window I could see a very black shiny rock, I wondered if it was a Rhino, then thought I was being fanciful. When I came back to the window 15 minutes later the rock was gone. I don’t know what the ‘rock’ was, but it was not mineral!
I had imagined that we would drive through the crater again, but I was mistaken. We drove right around the crater rim and then headed for the Serengeti. Yet again, the subject of the Maasai Village came up. We agreed to visit the village and pulled in to it about five minutes later. The lunch stop was at Olduvai Gorge. This site is of significance due to the fact that the first fossilised remains of Homo Habilis, modern mans ancestors have been found here. There was a small but informative museum here as well as disgustingly dirty long drop toilets.
It was a dusty drive into the Serengeti and we were pleased when we arrived at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge. The Lodge had endless views over the Serengeti plains, but its design and construction seemed a little eclectic and did not really merge into surrounding landscape. The service and food were once again very good. There was an advert for a balloon ride in the lobby and we booked to do this the following morning, so knowing that we would have an early start we got off to bed in good time. The Land Rover called to pick us up at 05.00, and we had a ‘night drive’ through the park to the balloon launch site. When the car stopped, our driver told us to take care as lions had been seen in the area. As we waited for the dawn and for the balloon to be blown up, we could here the lions calling to one another, they sounded far away. As the sun rose however, it was apparent that the pride of Lions were very close to us, so close that the workers launching the balloon would not get out of there vehicle to help to inflated the Hot Air Balloon.
The Hot Air Balloon Safari is run by a company called Serengeti Balloon Safaris, it was very well run. To take off we had to get crawl into the basket that was tipped on its side. Then the hot air was blasted form the burners and up we went. It was really a ‘Once in a Lifetime Experience’, just spectacular. I was worried about feeling cold, but I was close to the burners so was very warm. Seeing the animals; and we saw them all, herds and herds of Wildebeest, Zebra and Giraffe, Hippo, Warthog, Hyena, and best of all a Leopard when we landed.
Back on Terrafirmer, we were greeted with Champagne, as much as you wanted, then we were served a full English breakfast under the tree that had had the Leopard in it! He left when we arrived. The Hot Air Balloon ride was very expensive, but how may time in my life am I going to sore over the Serengeti in a Balloon, it what MasterCard is for and is one of the best things I have ever done.
John picked us up from the Balloon breakfast point and we spent the rest of the day
In the Serengeti National Park; watching the herds of Wildebeest and Zebra on the move, we also saw all the Big Cats. It was a really special day. On day four we left the Serengeti Sopa lodge at 09.00 and headed for Lake Manyara. Here we stayed at a Community Run Tented Lodge above the park, it was very basic accommodation and not as nice as the Sopa Lodges.
We had a game drive in Lake Manyara National Park, which is famous forits tree-climbing lions, we did not see any. The park was small but nice and it is only a two hour drive from Arusha so you could easily do it as a ‘day trip’ from Arusha or Kilimanjaro. Early the next day we set off back to Arusha, and arrived for a late luch at where we had started from, The Arusha Hotel. Then it was time to get to the airport and board the KLM flight back to Amsterdam.
Reflecting on my five day guided safari, I feel that it is a shame you cannot hire a vehicle yourself and drive to the Tanzania National Parks. This does not seem to be an option for tourists. The only cars I saw doing this had Kenyan or RSA number plates. I felt our tour was rather drawn out at times. If I had planned it my self I would have left out Lake Manyara Park and just had lunch at Olduvai Gorge, I would rather have had 2 days in the Ngorongoro and at least 2 full days in the Serengeti. I did not like ‘chasing’ the game with the radio, but understand that other tourist would feel cheated if they did not see all the animals. We certainly did see them all and in abundance. And to conclude, I wouldn’t have missed the balloon safari for anything!