Curious as to whether pastoralisation, conservation and tourism could co-exist, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was set up in 1959 as a land-management experiment. Fortunately the pioneering agreement has succeeded in protecting this natural habitat. Considered by many to be the 8th wonder of the world, Helen Dawes is amongst those who are completely captivated by this volcanic crater…
“My travels over the years have taken me many places, but if there’s one place I would go back to, it would be Africa. I’ll never forget my first glimpse from the rim of Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater.
After listening to various howls and screeches during the night, we stumbled weary-eyed from our tents at 4am. Setting off in the dark, we travelled by truck for nearly two hours, winding through dense jungle and tall grasslands. As the sun slowly started peeking over the horizon, the cool sunrise concealed the blistering hot day it was about to deliver. We drove past Maasai tribal settlements with their colourful cloth wraps draped outside their huts, marking the territory of these nomadic warriors and herders who are able to survive where others would not.
Suddenly the truck stopped, we were told to get out and we walked to a nearby lookout. The bowl-shaped crater stretched for kilometres below us. In the golden early morning sunlight herds of animals surrounding waterholes in the distance looked like ants gathering around spilt honey, taking their time to drink the cool, sweet water in preparation for the harsh solar onslaught. From our local guides we learnt that the crater floor is approximately 265 square kilometres (165 square miles) in size, home to more than 25,000 large animals, and the rim is 2286 metres (7500 feet) above sea level.
Back in the truck we descended 600 metres (1968 feet) to the crater floor, the animals getting closer and more life size – zebras, gazelles, buffalo, warthog and eland, all curious yet sure enough to stand their ground and graze as we drove past. Two lions lazed in the sun, almost nonchalant, bellies full from the night’s conquests.
Later in the day, driving through the Lerai Fever Tree forest, adult elephants shaded themselves and stayed ever watchful of us as their charges playfully wrestled with their siblings, kicking up the dust and rolling in the dirt.
Leaving the crater later that afternoon was not easy – we’d been mesmerised by the thousands of animals who survive in this beautiful, serene place. It was hard to believe just how unforgiving and ferocious it could be for its inhabitants.”
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* photo by Simon Mills – Intrepid Photography Competition