Ngorongoro Crater & Highlands
The Ngorongoro Crater is sometimes known as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’; it is the largest volcanic crater in the world. Almost everybody has heard of the crater; view wise it is on a par with the Grand Canyon. That aside it is still an awe inspiring view which will live with you for the rest of your life.
The Crater covers 260 square kilometres and the balance of predator and prey within the crater is so precise that animals seldom leave, so it possibly contains the largest permanent concentration of wildlife in Africa, with an estimate of 30,000 large animals.
The game viewing is good all year-round. The expansive floor is predominantly grassland, which provides for excellent game viewing. There are two swamps fed by streams (a favourite for Hippo, Elephant and Reedbuck, among other species), two forests and a huge soda lake that attracts
thousands of flamingos and other water birds. The crater walls themselves are also lightly forested and provide a prominent backdrop.
Olduvai, more accurately called Oldupai after the wild sisal in the area, is the site of some of the most important fossil hominid finds of all time by Mary and Louis Leakey such as “Nutcracker Man” or Australopithecus Boisei who lived 1.75 million years ago. There is a small informative museum located at the visitor centre where you can view ancient fossils and the curator gives a talk to those interested. The gorge is a treasure trove of archaeological sites filled with fossils; settlement remains and stone artefacts – all evidence that this was once ‘The Cradle of Mankind’.
Ol Donyo Lengai is the home of Engai, the Maasai sky god. Almost without fail, about every seven years Lengai erupts and plumes of smoke billow out of the crater. At other times it is possible to walk down into the crater, to the edge of the molten lavas. The ascent of Lengai is demanding due to the daytime heat, lack of water, steep and unstable slopes of ash and crumbly rocks, but possible.
Lake Natronis outside the Conservation area to the North East, but is usually included with a visit to Ol Donyo Lengai. The landscape is strikingly bleak and inhospitable due to the soda. Lake Natron is not a place to visit in the wet season as you would get spectacularly stuck.! Flamingos love it and it is a great place to see them.
Olmoti and Empakaai Crater, North of the Ngorongoro Crater, is a beautiful area with two further craters, Olmoti and Empakaai. Again it is possible to include a visit to each or if you are up for it a trek! Olmoti’s floor is shallow and covered with tussocks of grass. Reedbuck and buffalo can sometimes be seen alongside the Maasai and their cattle. The Munge River originating from Ngorongoro crosses this caldera and tumbles down over the cliffs, into the steep-sided ravine below.
Returning from Olmoti you can see the depression where the slopes of Olmoti, Empakaai, and Lolmalasin and Losirua volcanoes join the outer rim of Ngorongoro. This shallow, grassy basin is called the Embulbul depression. It resembles the Malanja depression on the way to Serengeti.
The surrounding area is covered with thick forest and mysterious sheer walls in some place over 300 metres. The water in the lake is again very alkaline and unusually deep.