NGORONGORO COSERVATION AREA
A great moment in a traveller’s life: Winding up the forested flanks of the long-retired volcano, up to its very rim, and suddenly, 2,000 feet below, a stunning, world-unique view of the great caldera, undiscovered until 1892.
The Ngorongoro Crater is one of our solar system’s greatest geographic ornaments, a gorgeous natural Eden the size of 75 Central Parks, home to 30,000 free-roaming animals. And, as geologic masterpieces go, Ngorongoro has had quite a career. It’s been a gigantic peak, perhaps a rival of Kilimanjaro, and, after it blew its snowy top in what must have been a rather impressive explosion (our forefathers over at the nearby Olduvai Gorge, busy getting their humanoid act together, probably saw it), Ngorongoro spent many millennia as an alternately quiet and occasionally bubbling lava lake. Now in an extended pacific mood, the crater is about as close as we’ll ever get to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World —which, it must be said, lacked the creature comforts of our luxury lodges, not to mention the ease and comfort of descending to the crater’s lush floor for some of Africa’s finest gameviewing.
A UNESCO protected World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is situated some 190 km. west of Arusha, between Lake Manyara and Serengeti National Parks. Covering approximately 8,292 square km, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area consists of the Ngorongoro Crater itself, the Olduvai Gorge and Ndutu, the Empakai crater and the Oldonyo Lengai Mountain. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a pioneering experiment in multi-purpose land use where people (the Maasai), their livestock and wildlife coexist and share the same protected habitat. Wild animals are protected as in the National Parks. The craters of Ngorongoro and Empakai are reserved exclusively for wildlife, while the rest of the Conservation Area is shared by wildlife, people and livestock. The Maasai, the main residents of Ngorongoro, are pastoralists who move widely with their herds of cattle, sheep, goat and donkeys in search of pasture and water. In recent years the Maasai have been encouraged to work on the land and supplement their traditional diet of milk and meat.
The Ngorongoro Crater, which is the central attraction in the area, is the largest Caldera in the world that has its walls intact. The Ngorongoro Crater floor, a sheer drop of 610 metres below the crater rim, has an area of 304 sq. km, with a diameter of 19 km. The sight of the Ngorongoro Crater is simply stunning. “It is impossible to give a fair description of the size and beauty of the Crater, for there is nothing with which one can compare it. It is one of the Wonders of the World…” once wrote Professor Bernhard Grzimek. The crater floor is home to tens of thousands of plains animals, including wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, elands, and a large predator population of lions, hyena and jackal which can all be viewed at close quarters. The rare black rhino can be viewed here, and if you are lucky you can see cheetah and leopard. The rainy season is between November and May. The altitude at the crater rim is about 2286 metres above sea level, and temperatures can get quite chilly in the evening, especially between May to September.
Ndutu is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in the southeastern plains of the Serengeti ecosystem. The plains around Ndutu are the main holding ground for migratory animals where vast herds congregate and linger for more than four months, from December to April, before they start moving across the Serengeti in search of greener pastures and water. Ndutu area forms an important part of the Serengeti ecosystem, in particular the short grass plains which provide calving grounds for wildebeest and other migratory animals.
Things we love about, and love to do in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Reveling in the world-uniqueness of the 100-square mile crater, standing on its grassy floor realizing that a couple of million years ago we’d be stuck in a fierce volcano with thousands of feet of rock over our heads.
Watching hippos galumph in waterholes, wondering, like Peter Matthiessen, how the huge beasts could have found their way into the crater.
Horsebacking and mountain biking on the crater’s lush slopes, based on the idyllic Manor at Ngorongoro, followed by a vitalizing swim in its pool.
Standing on the deck at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge on the crater’s rim, looking 2,000 feet down at elephants ambling and beautifully designed zebras flowing across the acacia-dotted landscape.
Breathing in the pure air of the African highlands. “It went to my head like wine,” Isak Dinesen wrote, “I was all the time slightly drunk with it.”
And, as William Hazlett said, “In travelling we visit names as well as places,” so we stop to enjoy just being in a place with such a magically evocative name: The Ngorongoro Crater!