September Safari - On the back Roads to the Mara River

Our tourist industry is booming so the main roads into Ngorongoro and the Serengeti are now quite busy with vehicles.

Since the mid eighties I have endeavoured to take the road less travelled and I am constantly finding cross country and back road routes to ensure that my guests enjoy the scenic splendours that Northern Tanzania is blessed with. These routes take longer, are in most cases a bumpier ride but are, I believe, much more rewarding. Leaving Oldupai after seeing vehicles a plenty we drove northwards into the Loliondo area avoiding the rough main track by cutting westwards along the Serengeti Park boundary to Suyan Camp. At this dry time of year this drive starts out dusty and eventually reaches the green grassy woodlands near Klein’s Gate. A long day with many twists and turns, getting lost for a while and then inviting some Maasai youth to join us in the vehicle to guide our direction on a goat trail for two hours through varied landscapes, is a great way to ‘break in’ a new group! We saw no other vehicles except a government Toyota heading to Ngorongoro. How I love finding a new and interesting route!

Suyan Camp has become my favourite and with only 6 tents set amongst rolling green hills it is perfect for walking and seeing wildlife on foot. The hiking alone is spectacular with views over the Serengeti and Loliondo the reward at reaching the top of rocky hills. Nothing beats the camp fire after a refreshing shower, especially after a good hike. These acacia clad hills around Suyan Camp support good numbers of elephants, buffalo's and zebra, giraffe, impala and plentiful bird life. This classic Northern Serengeti landscape is peaceful and well watered with small streams and numerous seepage points where wildlife comes to drink. I highly recommend a visit here in the July to November period.

[2007/09/01.jpg]A young bull elephant walks past the migration

[2007/09/04.jpg]Lilly pad flowers decorated the ponds

[2007/09/02.jpg]I have my breakfast

[2007/09/03.jpg]Lamai Female carrying one of her 3 young

[2007/09/05.jpg]Our Mara Moon was bright

We moved on to Sayari camp sited near the Mara River-this 3-4 hour drive heads North West through the Serengeti on a once small vehicle track which is currently being ‘improved’. I do question the logic of widening these long established and small bush vehicle tracks. More maintenance and erosion issues usually follow. Better to leave them with a grass centre and natural drainage I feel as once a grader has been through these tracks often end up being a eyesore. Anyway the rolling countryside of woodlands and plains is beautiful indeed.

Sayari Camp is a busy and popular place now and with an airstrip close by its 9 guests tents are receiving new guests almost daily. Better to drive there in your own vehicle I feel-you can always fly out if time is an issue. This is exactly what two of my guests did as they were lucky enough to be heading to Mahale to continue their safari. I drove back to Arusha via Lake Natron with the two remaining guests-but more on that later. The Mara River area was teeming with the migration and as many river crossing had been going on for well over a month the rocks in the river were covered in dead wildebeest. It did smell!

I had to remove 8 of these rotting carcasses from the bridge to drive across into the Lamai area. Cheetahs, Lion cubs, elephants and plains animals awaited us at Lamai and over 5 days we worked all the drainage lines finding predators each and every drive. Wonderful viewing of big cats is always desired and we even spotted a male leopard one morning close to Sayari. He was shy however and did the evaporating Leopard trick on us! He melted away into dense cover. I suppose that six million years of evolution has conditioned his kind. He will settle down in the coming seasons I’m sure.

It’s all about sensitive viewing and a slow and respectful habituation process and training the guides as much as the guest is what it is all about.

[2007/09/06.jpg]Photographing Mara River Hippos

[2007/09/08.jpg]The herd starts to cross the Mara River

[2007/09/09.jpg]White 'waste paper' flowers with a cheetah

[2007/09/07.jpg]Sunset trees are irrisistable photo subjects

As two guests flew out to Mahale we drove via Loliondo and Wasso to descend the Rift Valley escarpment to Lake Natron. And as we drove on the active volcano Oldonyo Lengai reminded us that we were crossing two very mobile tectonic plates where recently the ash plumes from Lengai have been bellowing up to over twenty thousand feet. That’s eleven thousand feet above the volcano’s peak.

Literally over 10 minutes, as we drove past, a great burst of ash made half of the mountain disappear in front of our eyes

[2007/09/10.jpg]Lengai blasts 27 Sept 07

We drove on…………watching our backs!