Ngorongoro Conservation Area
~ Professor Bernhard Grzimek: ‘The Serengeti Shall Not Die'. ~
The Ngorongoro Crater has steep wall and even though it may be cold and foggy on the rim it is usually warm and sunny in its floor that is 2,000 feet below. During the descent we experience dramatic changes in scenery and temperature. Dark green candelabra trees give way to African plains flora about half way down. During the dry season the pastures look scorched and barren, but when the rains begin they turn into emerald meadows dotted with small white, blue, yellow, red, and pink flowers. At the center of the crater is a soda lake formed by volcanic ash and rain. During the dry season a white desert forms around the shores of the shallow lake. On the southern side of the crater the crystal clear Koitokitok Springs flow into Lake Makat at a rate of more than one million gallons a day.
The vast Ngorongoro Highlands rear more than 3,000 feet out of the surrounding plains 180km to the north west of Arusha in the north of Tanzania. At the centre of this vast elevated highland is Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest unbroken ancient caldera, and surely the most dramatic section of the famous East African Great Rift Valley. A World Heritage Site and dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, scientists estimate from the impossible size of the crater, that before Ngorongoro erupted 2 million years ago, it’s summit sat eye to eye with Kilimanjaro’s. The caldera excavated from the explosion is so huge that often you can watch little isolated weather systems skidding across it. To reach Ngorongoro Crater from Arusha, a road winds itself through thick lichen-bearded forests up the long and steep escarpment that forms the Crater’s outside walls to a final altitude of 7,000 feet.
Access from the north is through the Serengeti plains, past Olduvai Gorge, and up a more grassy gentler slope where groups of cattle and goats are tended by their Maasai herders. At the top, from whichever direction, where the road flattens onto the crater rim, the drama unfolds. In front of you, cliffs drop vertically 2,000 feet into the crater floor, a tapestry of pale open grasslands, forests, swamps, fresh springs and soda lakes that spread 20 kilometres to the Crater’s far side. Local Maasai pastoralists have retained grazing rights throughout the Conservation area, and in the Crater itself. This brings with it a sense of ridiculous incongruity combined with the humbling reality that man and wild beast have shared these lands for millennia; you may be studying a cheetah stalking an impala from the compulsory safety of your vehicle, and pick up through your binoculars the ubiquitous red billowing blanket wrapped around a Maasai, on foot and leading his herd to water on the Crater floor, just a hundred yards away!