Our first stop was Arusha National Park with its humid and wet climate with lush green vegetation all around. We set up camp speedily and desperate to start our experience we went by foot along the Ngurodoto trail to a waterfall. It was here that we had our first true wildlife experience, being less that 20m from a female giraffe and her calf. Genuinely with my jaw on the ground it was hard to keep walking. Nothing was more satisfying on the walk back to camp that knowing this was only the beginning of what I was about to experience.
The following day we explored the park by truck, visiting the Mombella lakes and spotting flamingos and hippos. In the open grasslands, wet with the constant light rain were full with zebra, waterbuck and varieties of birds. We then saw our first black and white colobus monkeys, as well as blue monkeys, while watching amazing views from the peaks of the park. That afternoon we packed up camp and headed on to Kwakuchinja, where we planned to stay for 3 nights. Unfortunately this was when we first broke down; meaning that after being towed to camp, tents were being put up in the dark, but as stressful as this was, everyone was around to help.
Kwakuchinja fell between Tarangire and Lake Manyara national parks, providing an excellent camping spot to save money yet still close to two of Tanzania’s most important conservation areas. We spent the following day exploring the surrounding area while they attempted to fix the UniMog – Mr Mushi, the botany expert from CAWM told us all about acacia trees which are prevalent in all the national parks. While on this walk I also improved my bird identification skills, particularly those of the hornbills, a really charismatic species of big-billed birds.
The following day we visited Tarangire National Park where my childhood dream of seeing an elephant herd in the wild was almost immediately realised, followed by sighting of more giraffe, zebra and even dik dik. I also indentified two of the most spectacular birds I’ve ever seen: first the secretary bird, a prehistoric like species with quite a peculiar walk, and secondly the superb starling, a significant pest in Africa but absolutely stunning with its electric blue feathers and crimson eyes. In the afternoon we were treated to a visit to one of the private lodges in the national park – meant for the fancy safari guests. When we got there we were about to use the pool and enjoy some well deserved serengeti cider in the sunshine, with the most spectacular view behind us – was so much fun! In the evening we drove to the remnants of significantly dried up Lake Manyara, due to the worst African droughts for decades. From here I got first glimpse of the Great Rift Valley you hear so much about in environmental documentaries.
Our final day in the area was spent as Lake Manyara National Park. It was immediately different with its lush green dry forests fed by numerous underground springs, abundant with more bird and animal species due to the year round water supply. At one point a juvenile male elephant crossed the path of our truck, making everyone’s eyes light up and leaving a smile on my face all day.
I feel I should mention at this point the quality of the campsites so far. Arusha although wet, was isolated and we had the area and one toilet block to ourselves, unfortunately this set expectations higher than they should be, for our arrival at Kwakuchinja was a huge shock. Drop toilets in wooden huts, with doors that wouldn’t look and bats brooding in the cavern below. It was terrifying to go, but with 3 nights there it had be braved, and even with one experience of bat flying straight out at me it was soon found hilarious instead.