Ngorongoro National Park
The NCA is not a national park but it is a pioneering experiment in multi-purpose land use.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a Protected Area (PAs) and a Mixed World Heritage Site in Northern Tanzania, covering 8,292 square kilometres and sheltering the finest blend of landscape, wildlife, people, and archaeological sites in Africa.
It is located 180km West of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania, extending from the plains of Serengeti National Park and Maswa Game Reserve in the West, to the Eastern arm of the Great Rift Valley.
This Protected Area was named after Ngorongoro Crater, world’s largest unbroken and unfilled volcanic caldera, which is 610m deep and host over 25,000 large animals including some of Africa’s last remaining black rhinos.
Outside the big crater, wildlife in Ngorongoro Conservation Area co-exist with the semi-nomadic Maasai, who practise traditional livestock grazing. The Maasai are a pastoral tribe that has managed to preserve its culture over hundreds of years, living in harmony with the wild animals.
Apart from the Crater and its wildlife and people, the other significant features in Ngorongoro Conservation Area include Olduvai Gorge (also spelt Oldupai) and Laetoli, which contain important palaeontological records related to human evolution. Indeed, Ngorongoro has been a place for extensive archaeological researches in the past 100 years, revealing evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, collectively extending over a span of almost four million years.
What to see
1. Lake Magadi
There are so many memorable places to visit on nature vacation in Tanzania. Within the Ngorongoro Crater itself, Lake Magadi, shallow, azure blue, fiercely alkaline from sodium carbonate, is fringed by hundreds of long-legged pink flamingos. Most are lesser flamingos, distinguished by their dark red bills, which eat blue-green spirulina algae. But there are also many greater flamingos with black-tipped pink bills, slightly bent to facilitate sifting shellfish from the rich bottom mud. The lake shrinks noticeably in the dry season, leaving thick, crystalline salt pans used as licks by jackals, hyena and other animals to supplement their diet. Outside the Ngorongoro Crater (view map), but still within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, are many other regions well worth visiting on your AfricanMecca expedition tour of Tanzania.
2. Lerai Fever Tree Forest
The Lerai Fever Tree Forest, which consists of tall, slim yellow barked acacias forming an airy, lace-canopied wonderland of glades, is much frequented by elephant, rhino, eland, bushbuck, hyrax, and hundreds of birds. These foliage are the preferred food of the rare, black rhinoceros, but the old forest is regenerating slowly, because of damage by elephants, which tear off whole branches rather than merely grazing. However, seedlings are spreading through the Gorigor Swamps, home to hippopotamus and wading birds, and favored drinking place of thousands of ungulates during the dry season. A younger Fever Tree forest is now forming new groves at the base of the Ngoitokitok Springs, home ground of the famous Tokitok pride of lions, film and television personalities in their own right.
3. Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli
Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek are also on the migratory route in the Rift Valley, not far from Olduvai Gorge, where the ancestors of mankind began the journey towards civilization, with the fabrication of the earliest tools and the building of the first human settlements. At Laetoli, hominid footprints of our genetic ancestors and their relatives, have been found in sedimentary rock of 3.7 million years old. No Tanzanian safari would be complete without a guided tour of the excavations and modest paleoanthropological museum at Olduvai where you can also see evolutionary fossils. But we are their descendants, and in making our mother tour of Africa, we are returning to our ancestral home.
4. Shifting Sands
Ash from Ol Dionyo has formed Shifting Sands – a black dune of moving sand hundred meters in length, and nine meters high, which ingeniously moves slowly across the plains at a rate of 15 meters every year.
5. Olmoti Crater and Empakaai Crater
Your Ngorongoro safari with AfricanMecca holds endless riveting possibilities. You can take gentle, guided walks to two other nearby craters. Olmoti Crater is a shallow, grassy hollow, very quiet and lovely, where Maasai pasture their cattle alongside eland, bushbuck, reedbuck and an occasional buffalo. From the south wall of the caldera, the Munge stream forms a delightful waterfall, plunging several hundred meters into the Ngorongoro crater to feed Lake Magadi. Empakaai Crater is half-filled by an unusually deep soda lake. From the rim, you can look across an exhilarating panorama of volcanic craters and depressions towards Ol Doinyo Legai, the Great African Rift Valley, and even, in super clear weather, snows on the distant Uhuru peak of Kilimanjaro. You can walk for many kilometers around the lushly forested green bowl, frequented by blue monkeys, brilliantly colored sunbirds and red-crested turaco.
6. Gol Mountains
To the northeastern zone, the primeval Gol Mountains provide a surreal wilderness environment of stark, pink cliffs, enclosing the Angata Kiti pass, a bottleneck for the annual Great Migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra, searching for mineral rich grasses as they return to their ancestral breeding grounds in southern Serengeti and the Ndutu wilderness.
7. Nasera Rock
Rising 80 meters from the foot of the Gol Mountains, monolithic Nasera Rock is home to mountaineering klipspringers, baboons and varied birds. It is also the location of a Stone Age human shelter, excavated by the Leakeys.
8. Salei Plains and Ol Karien Gorge
Ol Karien Gorge is a sheer rock-sided ravine at the end of the vast, bare Salei Plains. It is a Mecca for twitchers, because ruppel’s griffon vulture breeds there in March and April, coinciding with the passage of the Great Migration to provide plentiful food.
9. Oldeani Mountain
To the southwest of Ngorongoro crater, bamboo-clad Oldeani Mountain feeds the stream that supports the Lerai Forest, whilst seasonal Lake Eyasi is a lodestone for archaeological and cultural safaris in East Africa. Paleolithic sites include Mumba cave and nearby Nasera Rock.
10. Hadzabe Tribe
Lake Eyasi, close to Ngorongoro is still home to the Hadzabe Bushmen of East Africa who subsist entirely from the wild, communicating by clicks and whistles. Mbulu and Datoga pastoral and farming tribes, who were ousted centuries ago from lands now occupied by the Maasai, have now settled there.
11. Ol Doinyo Lengai & Lake Natron
Further north-east near the border of Kenya, Ol Doinyo Lengai casts its conical shadow across the plains from the edge of the Great African Rift Valley escarpment. Known to Maasai as “The Mountain of God”, it is still active, last erupting in 2007. Intrepid adventurers may climb its lava-encrusted slopes to stare down into its main crater and be perilously rewarded with sulfur fumes and occasional spurts of lava from smaller surrounding cones. It was featured in the Lara Croft film, “Tomb Raiders II”, but has been more seriously researched and popularized by Chris Hug-Fleck and Evelyne Pradel. Lake Natron, far below, is fed by hot, mineral springs so heavily saturated with volcanic ash from Ol Doinyo Lengai that it provides a toxic, protective moat for Africa’s largest concentration of breeding lesser and greater flamingos. The lake itself shines like a jewel, sometimes green and blue with, sometimes blooming red with cyanobacteria and algae which provide their food.