Saturday, 21 December 2013

Serengeti Christmas - Day 1 Back to the Serengeti

Sunrise in the Serengeti

A few months before Christmas we were trying to decide where to go for the Christmas break.  We weren’t even sure how much leave we would be getting, so bounced around a few places, including Selous,Mikumi, Gombe and Kenya… we didn’t really consider Serengeti because it was the middle of the short rain season, and we’d been there quite a few times before…

Songata Falls Lodge
But the lure of the Serengeti is hard for us to ignore, and pretty soon we were planning a trip there for Christmas J  It would be the first time that we’d been during the rains, and we were a bit worried about the roads, but in the end decided to take the chance and hope it wasn’t too bad.  

Of course we would be camping as well, so we were really hoping it wouldn’t be too wet!  But we swayed when we heard that wildebeest migration had become a bit confused due to the strange rain patterns.  Instead of being down south already, they were milling around the same area that we would be based – perfect!

The Songata Falls valley
So the Friday before Christmas, we finished work, packed up the car, and headed out first thing on Saturday to Arusha.  For us, the drive is a full day’s one and we only passed Moshi late afternoon.  Again, we made a quick stop to meet up with Selma and Ngomi (the tour operator that we go with when not driving ourselves) to pick up our prepaid TANAPA and Ngorongoro cards.  

They were again kind enough to work out the cards for us, saving us a lot of hassle trying to sort it out from Dar, or spending a day of our holiday getting things organized.  Thanks guys!

Mount Meru
 We’d done a bit of research on the net and found a place that sounded quite interesting, called Songata Falls Lodge.  Owned and run by a Tanzanian woman for the best part of a decade, it’s set within walking distance to the falls, and has quaint little chalets set in lush surroundings.  

It is a bit hard to find though, and by the time we’d finally found our way to the place, it was almost dark.  After a quick lookaround we headed for dinner, which was completely worth it.  While I had chicken, Dru was served a full, barbequed fish – as he said – the best fish he’d in Tanzania, high praise indeed!  

Waiting at Ngorongoro gate - spot the odd car out
Because of the 24 hour permits granted to the Serengeti, we have to plan our arrival at the Naabi hill gate carefully, so that we don’t get there too early to make sure we would have ample time to explore on the way out.  

After doing some calculations, we realized we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to start our trip.  Just as well, since the bushbabies that seemed to infest the place had great fun jumping on the tin roof of the chalet and kept us awake for quite a while ;)

The required Ngorongoro Crater photo :)

But it still meant we got up pretty early – mainly to indulge in the breakfast while enjoying the view of the valley of the Songata Falls.  And we were pleasantly surprised by seeing a Hartlaub’s Turaco, a first time sighting of the bird for me.  Too bad we were too busy eating breakfast to take photos…

Soon though, it was off on the road to the Serengeti.  

There were hundreds of thousands of them! The migration was in town
A quick stop to check out the Crater from the new viewing platform, it was time to tackle the road from hell… the most corrugated road it feels in Tanzania.  With safari vehicles speeding past us, we bumped around slowly heading towards the hill.  Our info about the migration had been right – and within sight of Naabi Hill, we came across thousands and thousands of wildebeest grazing on the plains.  

We’d seen the migration on the plains last February, but there weren’t nearly as many as we saw this time – we estimate the bulk of the migration was there – everywhere you looked you just saw wildebeest around, it was fantastic.  The frustration though is trying to capture it on camera, an almost impossible task as they’re so spread out.  Eventually we took a few photos for the record, and then just drove through enjoying the amazing view on the way to the gate. 

Wildebeest along the road
We were taken aback by the amount of cars that were at the gate, it was the fullest that we had ever seen and struggled to actually find a parking space.  Judging by the amount of visitors, we figured it was going to take quite a while to get the formalities done, I set about making lunch, while Dru went off to fight the crowd of guides to get the payment done.   

While it took long, Dru had a few tricks to get it done a bit quicker.  When he got into the office, it was chaos with so many guides pushing their way to the TANAPA administrators.  If you try to wait your turn you’ll be waiting there forever, so he pulled the “I’m new here, I don’t know what to do!” and got helped a lot quicker than we thought J Still, it ended up taking over an hour to do the paperwork, but we were finally officially out the Crater area, and in the Serengeti.

Greater kestrel
Instead of taking the corrugated main road all the way to Seronera, we turned off within sight of Simba Koppies (a drive we’d discovered last time we’d been in the park) and headed the back way to Maasai Koppies.  One of the things that you look for in the Serengeti – besides animals – is clumps of cars.  That’s normally a good indication that there’s something worth seeing.  

And sure enough we found a clump of cars, watching a couple of cheetahs who were resting on a grassy dune.  It was a bit far to get any good shots, so we carried on further north, soon being rewarded with the sight of a couple of lions.  

Lioness and cub
We soon realized that they were mating lions, but found that the show wasn’t really worth the wait.  We have seen some great displays of aggression during mating sessions, but these 2 looked like that they could hardly be bothered :)

But a little while later, we hit the jackpot – a pride of lionesses and their cubs – about 15 in all.  They were just starting to wake up and the cubs were quite energetic, jumping around.  We spent the last hours of sunlight with them, before having race to our campsite before it got dark.   

4 young cubs trying to get a drink
We were pleasantly surprised to find that except for one other self-driving couple and one tour group, the Dik-dik campsite was empty, so it was a nice and quiet evening spent hanging around before heading off to bed.

Lion family
Day 2 >>

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