Your Virtual Safari – Day 5 – From the city to the Ngorongoro Crater

This article is part of a series; you will find the other episodes here:

Your Virtual Safari – Day 1 – Travelling to Africa

Your Virtual Safari – Day 2 – Arriving in Africa and onward travel

Your Virtual Safari – Day 3 – On the lookout for wildlife

Your Virtual Safari – Day 4 – Going to school and visiting the local village

Day 5 – From the city to the Ngorongoro Crater

It’s Day 5 already! After a busy time yesterday visiting social projects and doing the school run in a slightly different way than what you are used to, today we are on the move again.

Your itinerary now takes you to Tanzania – so the first step is the flight in and arrival.

The weather is on your side as you near your destination, giving you a spectacular view of Mount Kilimanjaro.

And continuing the theme, your guide is waiting for you at Kilimanjaro International Airport outside the city of Arusha. You climb into the vehicle and once your group is all aboard, head off towards town.

A quick aside here – if you arrive late, or have an early flight out on the way back and need to rest up, then you can stay at this wonderful lodge on the route from the airport.

Rivertrees Country Inn

It’s a cliche, but this place really is an ocean of calm away from the big city and the busy road. It’s also set in lush gardens containing many of the enormous trees which give the lodge its name.

Your room here, number 18, takes up one half of the building a few minutes walk from reception.

As you can see, you have plenty of space, a huge bed and all the comforts you need.

You can write in your diary, so a little work or continue your memoirs using the desk or take a rest on the sofa.

Here’s a video of your room.

Nice, huh?

You can also enjoy the large pool or a massage in the spa. In other words, Rivertrees Country Inn is the perfect place to relax before or after a safari. The bar is well-stocked, too…

Lake Manyara National Park

After about 90 minutes on the road from Arusha, the first stop on your journey is Lake Manyara National Park. The main feature is the lake itself which covers two thirds of the park, but there is also the possibility of spotting land-based wildlife – with wildebeest, impala and zebra probably the most likely to be seen.

If you are very lucky, you may even spot African bush elephants and the famous tree-climbing lions, but don’t bank on it.

Before entering the park proper, you get the chance to stretch your legs. And test your nerves…

A relatively new attraction near the main gate, the treetop walkway is not for vertigo-sufferers. And it’s tough for the rest of us, but you go with it and are glad you did (when you are back on terra firma).

After a quick briefing, you follow the treetop walkway guide up into the canopy and begin the endurance test. Sorry, I mean your fun adventure…

It’s not as stable as it looks and you have to take it slow, but you can’t deny the adrenaline rush and the amazing views. But you prefer to look down when on one of the “hubs” firmly fixed to the trees.

It’s not just your group on the walkway, either…

Let’s have a look at the video:

You don’t have a lot of luck spotting wildlife afterwards, but the picnic area is a great place for a coffee break before the next leg of the journey towards Ngorongoro.

Another digression here – it is possible to break your journey from Arusha to Ngorongoro by staying near Karatu, where there are several options.

Let me show you the best…

Gibbs Farm

Luxury is a subjective quality, but few would disagree that Gibbs Farm offers it in spades.

Located on the forested outside slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania and overlooking the ancient Great Rift Valley, Gibbs Farm is a good base from which to explore the Crater but is also a destination in itself for a few days of pampering, or the many activities available.

This historic organic farm and family coffee plantation is spread over 80 acres and has two-family houses and seventeen cottages.

The cottages are amazing, and you might not want to leave your room.

Lying in the bath with an open fire to keep things cosy is probably not something you do that often…there’s an outdoor and indoor shower, too.

On the other hand the organic vegetable and terraced flower gardens provide a wonderful setting for afternoon tea or a quiet walk, and the restaurant serves superb food.

A video goes some way to show off the fabulous room:

Whether you break your journey at Gibbs Farm or not, your next destination will be world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera.

Ngorongoro Crater 

The crater formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 610 metres deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. Yes, it’s big. The crater was voted one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa in February 2013.

Your driver stops at a hotel on the crater rim so that you can get a good view before driving down – even though it has been rainy and overcast the clouds begin to lift and you start to get an idea of its scale.

Further down the track you pass through the park entrance after your guide takes care of the paperwork. And now it’s time to descend onto the crater floor and see what you can spot.

Approximately 25,000 large animals live in the crater. These include large mammals such as the black rhino, the Cape buffalo, the hippo, the blue wildebeest, hyena, Grant’s zebra, the common eland and two species of gazelle.

For once you won’t be seeing any impala and giraffe are absent too.

Although thought of as an enclosed area with wildlife “stuck” inside, 20 per cent or more of the wildebeest and half the zebra populations leave the crater in the wet season.

On the way down your first sighting is of a group of zebra – but suddenly you notice a hyena in the foreground.

Your guide spots a lioness watching the proceedings on the other side of the track.

The zebra seem very relaxed; perhaps because the vast open space helps them spot trouble some distance away.

A crowned crane finds plenty to feed on – the rains have been good this year and the crater floor is lush and green.

Later you have a close encounter with a beautiful elephant – always a highlight on a game drive.

Some way in the distance, and unreachable by vehicle, hundreds of flamingos feed by the lake.

After a long and eventful drive, your 4WD reaches the other side of the crater floor and turns left at the wildebeest.

Just before you begin the ascent to your home for the night, this jackal watches you pass.

Check out this video from Day 5:

Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp

You climb to the rim, almost exactly opposite the hotel where you first viewed the crater. Driving through a delightful ancient acacia forest your driver takes the access route to Lemala.

The camp has 9 spacious canvas tents to ensure intimacy and minimal impact on the pristine forest environment.

The tents accommodate two queen beds with winter weight duvets and hot water bottles. A gas heater provides warmth in the evening, ensuring a cosy night’s sleep and each tent has a roomy en-suite bathroom with flush toilet and a large safari shower.

Here’s a video:

A key advantage of staying at Lemala Ngorongoro is quick and easy access into the crater. You can set off on a game drive from the camp and be to the crater floor within 10 to 15 minutes.

The mess tent is beautifully furnished with grand sofas, lamps, bookshelves and corner cabinets in old wood,  chests and rugs.

After a quick shower, you join your fellow guests around the campfire to exchange tales of the day’s safari with a sundowner.

Then it’s time for a sumptious meal in the mess tent, a nightcap and a heavenly night’s sleep to the soundtrack of the wilderness.

You’ve got an early start tomorrow – so get some rest before Day 6!