Our final game drive was in he crater. After breakfast and packing up our tents, we hit the road and were soon winding our way down to the crater floor. The road down was a little hairy, narrow and winding with an unfortunate drop on one side. However, It did offer some spectacular views over the crater.
The game viewing however had a bit of a slow start with the morning being mainly plain game, including some very excited Thomson’s gazelle running around with these crazy little hops and some more sedated wildebeest, warthog and zebra. We also saw some male lions relaxing off in the distance, but were only able to get a proper view through binoculars. The real highlight of the morning was the crater itself, giving every outlook a magnificent backdrop.
The terrain is actually more varied than it seems from the lookout, there are some fairly big forested areas on the crater floor. In these areas we came across a herd of elephant snacking on some thorny acacias and some playful baboons. We were really hoping to see some rhino in the crater, and we did see a couple, but they were always far off in the distance; enough to identify that they were rhino but not much else. One thing that was great to see were some large flocks of flamingoes as we had missed them at both Lake Nakuru in Kenya and at Empaki.
After driving all day with only a glimpse of lion, we were starting to wonder about our luck given the Ngorongoro crater’s reputation of having one of the densest lion populations in Africa. However, in the afternoon in really did deliver, with two great lion sightings. The first was a group of four lions, lying in the long grass. One of these lion decided that the shadows of the Land Rover in front of us made for better cover and came right up to the road.
The second sighting was a lone lion prowling nearby. She eventually started heading along the road directly towards us and came within two meters of the Land Rover. Although it really looking like she was giving us the eye as she approached, she never gave us a second look as she stalked past.
Despite the healthy numbers, the craters lions population does have it’s problems. Due to the isolation brought on by the geography the prides have, over time, ended up being quite inbred. This has resulted in a lion population that is significantly more susceptible to disease. There is currently a program to transfer new lions into the area to help with this problem so heres hoping that this improves in the future.
For lunch we headed to one of the lakes in the area, although we end up eating lunch in the truck because of circling fish eagles, who apparently will have a go if they see you eating something. We initially thought Abdul was being a bit cautious but not five minutes after we had moved back to the truck a lady got her sandwich snatched right out of her hand. After lunch we had some relaxing time by the lake, stretching our legs and admiring the view as well as the small hippo pod nearby.
With the drive back to Arusha still ahead we didn’t have much longer in the crater after lunch. As we were heading back to Arusha another thunder storm started rolling in around us, so we really felt like we had done well as far as the shoulder season weather was concerned with 6 brilliant days of sunshine. Arriving back in Arusha we said our goodbyes and thank-you’s to Abdul and Daniel for making our Safari so great and then headed back to our lodging for an early night and a proper sleep in.