A back-breaking road, 4 hours and $140 later, we had made the journey from the Serengeti gate, through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and out the gate onto lovely smooth tarred road heading for Lake Manyara National Park.
We stopped in Karatu briefly to get fuel and buy some cigarettes, where we got ripped off by getting charged double. Word of advice – whenever someone quotes you a price, halve it at least! We also found a supermarket there and got some cold beers, ice and a couple of sausages which in the end cost us about P300 ($45) – expensive because of the meat. We decided to give the wine a skip, which was P100 per bottle – no matter what the make.
The turnoff to Manyara is just before Mto wa Mbu (pronounce Mtamboo) and we made it by 2pm, the time we wanted - that would give enough time for an evening drive, and the following morning, before heading out to Tarangire NP.
While Dru did the paperwork, I was entertained by a crew of Yellow-billed storks roosting in the nearby tree. Once of the juveniles did not stop squawking for food in the 15 minutes that I sat there. Even when the adult flew off, he followed crying like a baby and could still be heard when we started our drive into the national park.
The first part of the park that you drive through is the groundwater forest – and is incredibly striking. It’s a thick jungle of massive trees towering over you and the foliage is so thick that you can’t see more than a few meters in. And small springs run across the road from the hills, making a very peaceful scene. Of course, it’s difficult to see anything in the forest, although there are plenty of olive baboons seated on the side of the road, along with our first sighting of a blue monkey.
Once the forest was passed, we headed east towards the hippo pools. It’s quite a sight to see – in the pool are hundreds of pelicans all roosting and making a massive noise. Also, hippos, wildebeest and their usual companions, the zebras. You are allowed to get out so we spent a while there photographing the pelicans, although – again frustratingly – far away.
Once done, we headed in the opposite direction to Lake Manyara itself. Although the lake is spectacular, again the roads don’t allow you to get close enough to see and photograph the waterbirds, especially the flamingos, so we had to be content with staring at them through the binoculars. The only other thing of note that we saw were Ground hornbills at an old carcass, which was interesting to see.
We headed quite far down the East side hoping to catch the tree-climbing lions that Manyara is famous for (although the phenomenon occurs in all the northern parks apparently), though besides some elephants and the usual antelope, we didn’t see anything exciting.
We planned to get back to the camp a little earlier than normal to do some birding in the campsite, but we had gone too far down and only made it back by 6 pm. it was just as well, since we couldn’t see any birds anyway J The campsite is a clearing in the forest, so it’s a nice setting, but the surrounding foliage is so thick, that it makes spotting any birds extremely difficult.
We were going to set up camp, but when I tried to go to the toilet I found that all the doors were locked – so no ablutions for us – this was a problem…
So we jumped back in the car and headed to the gate, only a few metres up the road. The security guard, who spoke no English, couldn’t understand what we were saying and only wanted to take our permit.
Luckily one of the rangers arrived and we explained the problem. So someone went off to find the keys – no go… So we said to them that we’d take one of the bandas instead since they cost the same (yes, camping with shared ablutions cost the same as your own chalet with bathroom, fridge and aircon… go figure!)
This was apparently not possible, because the procedure had not been followed. Our accommodation was written in the camping book and now we wanted accommodation in a banda, which needed to be written in another book. So despite there being no price difference, this was proving to be a dilemma. Finally the head ranger was contacted and after a lot of phone calls, he authorised the move to the banda. (Couldn’t really do anything else – they still hadn’t found the camping keys)
The bandas were really nice, ideal accommodation for people who want to stay in the park but don’t want to camp. They have about 10 bandas there, but we were the only guests for the night. After a bit of a walk around, we found that there is even a communal kitchen, dining room and satellite TV!
David, the head ranger, arrived to make sure we were settled in and informed us that there would be 2 armed rangers around in case of wild animals, so we’d be safe. We think it’s to protect us against the 2-legged kind, instead of the 4-legged, but no-one will admit to that. Sure enough, the 2 rocked up at dark to patrol the area.
Since we hadn’t bought any wine, we settled for Jack Daniels and soda for the evening and proceeded to cook our bacon and Indian-style rice for dinner just outside our banda. A pretty tasty meal later and it was showers and time for bed.
Although we had planned a first thing in the morning start, we hadn’t figured on how long it would take to pack the car up after hauling a lot of stuff into the chalet. So a couple of safari vehicles had already gone through into the park by the time we got going.
We had read up in the guide book that the lions were normally on the eastern side of the lake, so headed in that direction first thing. We eventually found lion spoor, but no lions unfortunately. After stopping for coffee and rusks at a nice picnic site that overlooks – and is the closest spot to – the lake, we headed further down than we had down the previous night.
We finally found a road that goes straight to the lake – probably within about 20 metres from the shoreline. This was really cool – if only there were some birds in the area to photograph J
Heading back, we made a few turns and found another public campsite. It is the ideal setting, right on the edge of the dry river bed, and must be spectacular during the rainy season.
Except for one small fact – the powers that be had a constructed the ablution block right in the front where your fantastic view should be – IDIOTS! Instead of a stunning view of the river, you get the view a 2 ugly green toilet blocks! It absolutely defies logic…
Soon enough we started heading out towards the gate onwards towards our last park of the trip – Tarangire NP.
While Lake Manyara is a nice spot, it feels more like a small reserve than a national park, and not a place we would really visit again unless we had guests that wanted to see it. The experience just doesn’t justify the price, and I’d rather pay the extra $15 per person and spend the extra night in the Serengeti.
It took us about an hour and a half to get back to the gate and from there it was a quick stop in Mto wa Mbu to get bananas before heading the 50 odd km to the Tarangire National Park. We’d heard mixed reviews of Tarangire, some saying it wasn’t worth the time, other saying it was really good, especially in the dry season. Well, we had 2 days to go before we wanted to be in Dar, so what the hell… Especially since it’s the dry season now and because the park is based on the Tarangire River, it should be pretty good with the game based near the river.