The Northern Safari Circuit
My first view of Tanzania was from the plains of Amboseli National Park in Kenya. It was a sight of the legendary Mount Kilimanjaro rising into the African sky, the snow cap white against the blue. There were no elephants on the plains to complete the classic African postcard image but the sight was nonetheless dramatic.
Two days after this sight we crossed the border into Tanzania - the land of legend. Synonymous with iconic names such as Serengeti and Kilimanjaro Tanzania has held my attention for as long as I can remember and it was with mounting excitement that we headed towards Arusha.
The town of Arusha is the safari capital of Tanzania and is within easy reach of all the parks of the northern safari circuit. A pretty town in a wild untamed sense Arusha has developed with the tourism boom in Tanzania.
The northern safari circuit of Tanzania is the part of the country that is sold in glossy tourist brochures and is what kept the tourism industry afloat. If there is any commodity on earth that is able to sell itself on reputation alone then the iconic names of the northern safari circuit would be it. But is it all it is cracked up to be?
The Loveliest and the Most Underrated - Manyara and Tarangire
Although part of the legendary northern safari circuit of Tanzania, albeit a slight detour off-route, Tarangire is surely one of the most underrated parks in Africa. During the two day stay in Tarangire I experienced a place far removed from the human bustle of the more popular African parks, a place that exuded a feeling of true wilderness, a place where elephants and baobabs filled the landscape and where the dry season was vividly shown.
Between Tarangire and the Crater is Lake Manyara
- described by Earnest Hemingway as the 'lovliest I have seen in Africa'. Lake Manyara provides a combination of all the natural history there is to experience in Tanzania. From forests to lakes and grasslands to mountains the national park is home to a diversity of life seldom seen in Africa. Elephants, flamingos and tree-climbing lions are some of the wonders of Manyara.
On to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti Plains
From Lake Manyara the road climbs into the foothills of the once-mighty mountain of Ngorongoro where the final part of the ascent is through rain forest - until the road opens out on the rim of the crater. My first view of the crater itself came as a surprise, so suddenly did the rim appear. Surprise quickly turned to awe at the spectacle before me.
Photographs and descriptions do not do the crater justice. Here is a self-sufficient ecosystem - not man-made as many reserves in Africa are today - an eco-system born in geological upheaval and developed over time into a natural theme park. The Ngorongoro Crater
, although often crowded with safari vehicles, is truly one of the world's natural wonders.
From our lodge on the crater rim we descended the 600m meters onto the seemingly endless plains of the Serengeti, passing Maasai herdsmen and villagers, and domestic stock mingling with zebras and gazelles. This was classic Africa - where man lived in harmony with the earth. The rains were still some weeks away and the earth was dry, the brittle grass showing the signs of the dry season, and yet wildlife still dotted the landscape.
Olduvai - a brush with our beginnings
The Serengeti plains support a great diversity of wildlife but they are also where many believe humans gained the first glimmers of understanding. Olduvai Gorge is a treasure house of information on our past - and a small on site museum preserves some of the most dramatic artifacts unearthed by scientists in the area.
The drive from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Serengeti National Park
has to be one of the most fascinating routes in Africa. An early departure from the crater rim usually shows the crater shrouded in mist, a truly spectacular site. The descent is a spectacular journey through Maasai life and a great insight into the possibilities of humankind when man and nature are in harmony.
As the endless plains of the Serengeti stretch into the dust-stained horizon a stop at Olduvai sheds light on the Africa of the past, an Africa that can still be felt in the heat and seen in the ancient landscape.
From Olduvai the journey takes in a canvas of plains and wildlife, and maybe a Maasai wanderer etched on the edge. Gazelles dance in the heatwaves and depending on the time of the year the plains may be littered with life.
The Serengeti hosts one of earth's greatest spectacles, the great wildebeest migration
, and even when the herds are in the Masai Mara in Kenya the area is a wildlife paradise. Predators and prey abound and drama's play out constantly. The Serengeti is classic Africa, the Africa of postcards and legend.
Tanzania - The Rhythm of Africa
Africa is an experience that every person should have at least once in their lives and Tanzania is that experience. Nowhere else is the rhythm of the continent so dramatically felt than in the northern reaches of Tanzania - and the northern safari circuit is only a small part of this incredible country.by Leigh Kemp