Tanzania 2013 Trip Report

By Perry Conway on Jun 20, 2013

Tanzania.  The Ngorongoro Crater.  The Serengeti Plains.  All are magical places for nature photographers.  In March and April of 2013, I led two safaris that were photographically the best yet!  Wonderful light, great subjects, and an infrastructure which really works—all critical components for a great trip.  As an example, each time we descended the 2,000-foot drop from the cloud forest, where our lodge was located, into the world’s largest caldera, the Ngorongoro, the magic began immediately.  Acacia trees found nowhere else but in this part of Africa, dramatic warm light filtering through the clouds onto the crater’s floor, and then the wildlife began to appear—lions, zebras, wildebeest, hyenas, herds of elephants, rhinos, African Cape buffalo, and those absolutely amazing birds.  Birds from families not found in the Americas.  Crowned cranes in courtship flight right over our heads and Kori bustards with inflated necks trying to attract females.  Migratory storks and ibis by the hundreds, if not thousands.  And that wonderful rainbow with wings—the lilac-breasted roller.

From the Ngorongoro, we headed west to world-famous Olduvai Gorge where an important part of human history began.  Here, for over three decades, Mary and Louis (L.S.B.) Leakey searched for the origins of how we, Homo sapiens, evolved.  On July 17, 1959, Mary Leakey “truck pay dirt”—in a small embankment, she discovered the fossil remains of one of our ancestors, Australopithecus boisei (Zinjanthropus Man).  We were able to visit the exact spot where those remains were found.  To me it was like walking on hallowed ground—that small 20-foot-high bank has had such a very big impact on our understanding of who humans are as a species.

From Olduvai, we stopped at a nearby Maasai Village for some insight into how the Serengeti’s indigenous people live.  Men and women in colorful dress danced for our group and then invited us into their huts.  There was an opportunity to purchase some Maasai works of art made by the women of the village.  Later that afternoon, we arrived at Ndutu Lodge, our base in the Southern Serengeti.  Staying at Ndutu is like going back to the early days of African safaris.  The lodge is very comfortable, safe and clean, not at all pretentious, and we could hear the nearby wildlife all night long.

At this time of year, the main part of the “Great Migration” is usually found in this area.  Here, wildebeest and zebras gather by the tens of thousands to graze on the nutritious grasses before moving back northward to Kenya’s Masai Mara.  Wherever there are large herds of herbivores, there will also be plenty of large carnivores like lions, cheetahs and leopards—and we found all three of the big cats.  Perhaps most exciting was the number of photogenic cheetah cubs in the area.  They pay little, if any, attention to safari vehicles and wonderful photographic opportunities greeted our group on a daily basis.

After our days in the Southern Serengeti, we moved northward into the Central part of this amazing savannah.  Billion-year-old granite outcroppings called kopjes and beautifully-sculpted acacias make this area distinctively different from the Southern Serengeti and the Masai Mara.  The rainy season was approaching and each day we had wonderful cloud formations to “highlight” the amazing landscape.  My personal highlight was photographing two bull elephants fighting against a dramatic background of thunderclouds.  Wow!  Throughout the continent, elephants are in real trouble.  However, our group had some of the best opportunities ever to capture powerful images of this icon of the African savannah.

When it comes to photo safaris, Joe Van Os does it “right.”  On our last morning, we drove to a local airport and flew back to Arusha.  The flight takes you right over all the places we had just traveled.  What a wonderful way to say kwaheri—goodbye in Maasai—to this wild and wonderful component of Planet Earth.  Frankly, I cannot wait to get back!

Related Tags:  africa, conway, ngorongoro, perry, serengeti, tanzania