Creators and Craters

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Jun 16, 2012

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Where I stayed
Simba A Public Camp
What I did
Drove into the crater

Flag of Tanzania  ,
Wednesday, September 14, 2011

At 1pm on Wednesday we reached the Naabi Hill Gate of the Serengeti. This marked our entrance into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and restarted our stopwatches.  Another swag of money had bought us 24 hours inside this amazing part of the world.  A little piece of advice for anyone else following this path: try and enter at about 2pm or so.  This will give you more time the following morning to explore the crater.  But we didn't think that would matter for us since we didn't plan on making the descent, due to the steep (excuse the pun) vehicle crater fee of US$200!

Soon the dry grass thinned out and was replaced by an even more desolate landscape.  Maasai villagers sat by the side of the road getting coated in dust by every passing vehicle.  The road was typically attrocious and at one point we even opted to drive in a field to save Mozza from the corrugations on the "Western Corridor".  About 2 hours of vibrating later we arrived were to speak.

Olduvai Gorge is known as the cradle of mankind, because it contains the oldest human(ish) traces anywhere on earth.  Technically it is actually called Oldupai Gorge, the Maasai word for an indigenous plant of that area, but the first German settlers made a mistake and the error stuck.  Excavations around Olduvai Gorge have revealed homonid fossils and tools over a million years old.

In Laetoli, 25km away, fossilised footprints have been dated to an astonishing 3.6 million years ago.  This short trackway, which was reburied in 1979 to stop erosion, preserves the footprints of three homonids that conveniently walked across a layer of freshly deposited ash from a now-extinct volcano.  The footprints reveal two critical evolutionary differences from our primate cousins.  Each print shows the big toe to be in line with the rest of the foot and each has a pronounced arch.  Scientists believe that these belonged to a homonid species Australopithicus Afarensis, which is in a direct evolutionary path with homosapiens.  Nice to meet you great, great, great....great, great uncle Flintstone!

Heading east from Olduvai the landscape becomes distinctly volcanic, with large calderas rising around you.  Here the grass was all but gone, yet still the Maasai were in attendence...all be it in a cheap and tacky tourist village kind of way...  As we ascended towards our campsite we pulled over at what we thought was a view site.  It turned out to be the top of the descent road into the Ngorongoro Crater.  We were here...and what a view here gave us!

Stretching before us was a near-perfect, 20km wide caldera.  In the bottom was an amazing vista of greens, blues and whites from the landscape that earns this place it's Unesco World Heritage status.  It is also one of the most visited places in Tanzania, attracting nearly half a million toursits annually.  I sent a status update back to base and received a most welcome response: Hoopers were willing to chip in some cash to get Mozza onto the crater floor.  It was game time!  We slept on the rim of the crater, under a full moon at over 2,000m, and made ready to obtain a last-minute permit as soon as the office opened the next morning.

After the usual "Africa time" attendance of the office clerk the following morning, we finally grabbed our permit and raced back to the descent road.  To be honest, the game viewing experience was disappointing inside the crater.  While the sightings were abundant, each one was shared with up to a dozen Landcruisers and their snap-happy tourists.  After visiting Ruaha and South Luangwa, this felt like being in a zoo.  It was also completely overshadowed by the extraordinary scenery.  Climbing in and out of the crater is like entering a unique bio-sphere.  The crater floor contains it's own hills, salt pans, lakes, valleys and forests.  And always you have the amazing backdrop of the crater walls.  Wow!

With our 24hr permit almost expired we crawled up the ascent road, dropped off our guide and legged it for the gate.  With less than 5 minutes to spare, we rolled out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  The clock had finally stopped, and what a 72 hours it had been!!

[16,900km to date]
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