Hidden gems of Southern Serengeti

Hidden gems of Southern Serengeti

Many visitors pass through this area, unaware of the hidden gems of Southern Serengeti.  For most guests it is not even on their itinerary, and more often it is merely on their way from Ngorongoro Crater to the middle of Serengeti.

For the regular safaris going to and from Serengeti, visitors call in at the world famous Olduvai Museum for lunch and a comfort break this area is best known for Early Man. The museum was founded by Mary Leakey and includes maps of the original fossil excavation work.  It is worthy of a much longer stop to explore this area.

But there is so much more, there are easily nine very good reasons to spend at least one night in this less visited part of the Conservation Area, we call Hidden Gems of Southern Serengeti.

Oldupai Gorge View from lookout

The southern plains can be visited at any time of the calendar year.  For most visitors, they are regarded to be at their very best when the wildebeest migration return to their calving ground. At this time of year the rains have brought fresh growth, the female wildebeest are calving and predators are abundant in all their gory glory!

The long-established and award-winning Olduvai Camp is the ideal base from which to explore the hidden gems of Southern Serengeti.  There are gentle strolls near to camp, longer hikes to be enjoyed and even visit one of the local villages.  Its fun to pop in to see the Masai neighbours, some of whom are relatives and friends of the team at Olduvai camp.

Olduvai Tented Camp Serengeti

This camp has often been described as magical; the atmosphere; the authentic and natural welcome of the Masai staff and their wonderful hospitality all add to the genuine wilderness feel. The views are spectacular; north out over the Serengeti and 50 to 60 km to the north-east is the active volcano Oldonyo Lengai.

The summit of Oldonyo Lengai can be seen from Olduvai Camp and the distinctive cone-shaped profile from further north. Lengai is revered by the local Maasai tribe’s people and of great interest to the scientific community because of many unique features, including “white lava.” Treks to the summit can be arranged.  Lengai is quite a tough climb in rugged terrain, but worth it for the sun rise over Masai land.

Oldonyo Lengai - The Mountain of God

Oldonyo Lengai – The Mountain of God

For the gentler adventurer wishing to be out of the vehicle and doing a bit of exploration on foot, Mount Makarot is a superb alternative to Lengai.  This is a day trek.  You would spend the night before at a “fly-camp” on the slopes of the mountain, fully serviced by our wonderful Masai camp staff and in the company of your guide.  The next morning you would trek through Maasai villages to the summit of Makarot standing at 3,000 meteres.  You would then descent to Olduvai Camp for “sundowner! The best way to finish the day!

Mount Makarot Serengeti

Mount Makarot

Olduvai Gorge cuts its way across the plains deeper into the earth the closer it gets to the outer slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater and the Highlands. As the vehicle winds downstream along the steep sides of the canyon-like gorge, among the acacia and scrub, there is a chance of sightings of rarer mammals like steinbok and striped hyena, as well as many bird species.

Under the experienced eyes of the driver-guide, short walks and strolls down onto the gorge floor make for a nice break out of the safari 4×4.

Continuing onwards, you reach an open area known as Olbalbal Depression. During the rains it becomes a green swamp pasture, the Migration herds can be seen milling around this area in their thousands.  In drier times, there is a dramatic feel to this area.

Turning north, back along the gorge, towards the ancient Gol Hills, the phenomenon of Shifting Sands come into view.  The sands are formed from volcanic ash.  They have the appearance of a sand dune and are formed when there is a non directional wind and sufficient ash on the ground to create movement.  The ash accumulates around a rock and continues to move creating a dune.  This dune moves continuously and it is said Shifting Sands move approximately 10 metres per annum.  In Masai culture the sands came from the Mountain of God – Oldonyo Lengai.

Shifting Sands Southern Serengeti

Shifting Sands a Hidden Gem of Southern Serengeti

Heading towards the hidden valley of Lemuta is Nasera Rock a huge monolith of 100m.  It, is a superb stop for a picnic lunch and has an ancient atmosphere, and is well off the main track, between Ngorongoro and Serengeti.

Another secret gem, high up in the northern Ngorongoro Highlands is Empakaai Crater.  It is well worth the bumpy track to get to the camp site. Views of the active volcano Oldonyo Lengai and surrounding mountains and forest are breathtaking. The small Crater Lake, called Ol Nairobi by the Maasai, is a short scramble down and up and the magical stillness is only broken by the cries of birds, including flamingo and rarer forest species.

Slightly further afield from Olduvai Camp is Olkarien Gorge.  This would an enjoyable day trip north from Olduvai Camp.  The gorge is a dramatic narrowing valley cut into the rock over the millennia. It is a world-famous nesting area for vultures as well as a water source for the cattle and goats of the local Maasai.

Continuing northwards from Olduvai Camp; there are adventurous and varied days out to enjoy.  Essentially en route to Naabi Gate, the gateway to Serengeti National Park lays two lakes Ndutu and Masek.

Here the landscape changes to acacia forest due to the changes in soil and twisting and turning tracks lead to many marshy areas holding very different mammal and bird species, including Impala and, again in the Migration times, spectacular water crossings watched by the inevitable stalking predators. The soda lakes are fed by small fresher water streams – a vital water source for all.

In closing we offer you 10 of the Best Reasons to visit the “short grass” plains of the Southern Serengeti

Ol Donyo Lengai
Makarot Mountain
Olbalbal Depression
Shifting Sands
Lemuta & Nasera Rock
Empakai Crater
Olkarien Gorge.
Lake Ndutu
Lake Masek

And last but definitely NOT least Olduvai Tented Camp, our favourite hidden gems of Southern Serengeti.

Masai Hidden Gems of Southern Serengeti

The Masai neighbours

 

Safari Adventure in Serengeti

Safari Adventure in Serengeti 25 years ago

By Rob Bosma

Back then, it was possible to travel in battered old landrover carrying camping equipment in the back of the vehicle and go on a safari adventure in Serengeti. There were dedicated campsites even then, but the only facility was a flat area. On a safari adventure today you have all the modern luxuries of hot showers, fine dining, bedrooms with king size beds and butlers to cater for your every whim, but not then. It was a golden era of adventure.


Serengeti National Park Sign

The campsites in those days were often hard to find, indicated with an old rickety sign, when you were lucky, but most of the time we found a nice shady spot under an acacia tree, where we put up a tent and nobody was around to mind.

On this particular safari adventure in Serengeti, there were three of us. We had driven from Nairobi, to the Masai Mara, where we spent a few days game viewing and enjoying the peaceful landscapes.

Our safari adventure continued into Serengeti this was when the border between the Mara and Serengeti was open. We found a lovely campsite. There was no sign, but there was a rickety old pole where a sign had once been erected. We could tell this was a designated Serengeti camp site.

Camping in Serengeti

Camping in Serengeti

In a way our stop was an enforced one, as the landrover had decided to start running on two cylinders earlier in the day. I wasn’t too worried, as I always carried a box of spare parts. I had already found out that the high-tension coil had packed up and decided to put in a spare on the following day. So our mechanical stop was not a hardship.

Feeling very pleased with ourselves and congratulating each other on finding such a fantastic spot, we erected the tent and prepared our camp. As the sun began to set we opened our customary cold beer and enjoyed an evening sundowner, with the sights and sounds so typical of game parks like Serengeti.

Impala’s with their ears twitching just a safe distance away from us, a far cry of a hyena in the background and the sun setting beautifully behind the acacia trees. What more could you want on a safari adventure in Serengeti?

Male Impala in Serengeti

Following our dinner and a few more beers our freshly purchased sheepskins, bought at Nairobi market beaconed. We decided to retire for the night. Well fed and watered we dropped off without a care in the world.

In the middle of the night all three of us were woken by a low growling noise. We knew immediately this was the sound of a lion. Slowly the noise got closer and closer, no doubt attracted by the still smelly sheepskins rugs.

In my imagination, I could clearly see the lion entering the tent. I immediately grabbed a panga (an African machete). The only other items we had were a flashlight from one of the cameras and a kitchen knife. which I handed silently to my travelling companions. I heard a sharp intake of breath, nothing more was said.

We kept as quiet and still as possible, every breath we took sounded like a volcano erupting. Adrenalin pumping, we sat in our tent for what felt like a lifetime. We had never been so scared in our lives. We could tell from the sounds just the other side of the canvas of our small three man tent the lion was pretty close.

Male Lion in Serengeti

Our mail lion in Serengeti

 

After what seemed like ages, the sound disappeared, only the faint whisper of the wind could be heard and one by one we relaxed, but decided not to peer out of the tent as a camera flashlight, a kitchen knife and a panga as means of defence didn’t feel appropriate. We relaxed further and eventually fell asleep.

The next morning the sun rose beautifully as it does in Serengeti, the warmth on the canvas tent walls and the dawn chorus lured us from our sheepskin mats and we peered out of the small opening of our tent, there before us were the footprints of what we believed to be the lion. They were pretty big.

Safari adventure in Serengeti male lion

Our Serengeti Cecil

We had a thorough look around to make sure the lions were not in close proximity. They were nowhere to be seen, our adventures of the night before seemed a world away.

When you consider the recent event which has sparked huge global interest, the slaughter of Cecil the male lion in Zimbabwe for nothing more than wanton greed, the very thought of killing any kind of mammal could not have been further from our mind, even while we lay in our little tent, armed with a panga, kitchen knife and flashlight.

Our experience was very different. We were in Serengeti to enjoy the wide open spaces to watch and observe animals and birds in their natural habitat. To shoot with a camera. We were the intruders in this animal kingdom, with our little tent. The lions were not intruding.

In those days in Tanzania, we knew many people who hunted big game. Lords, royalty, presidents they all did it, why we will never understand. It was sadly part of life, in many parts of Africa, the thrill of the kill. There are arguments constantly flying around about trophy hunting helping conservation. It is a controversial subject.

If you feel strongly about this please take a look at this petition http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/stop-the-savage-and-sickening-trophy-and-sport-hunting/

Unlike elephants and other endangered species, lions are not currently listed as threatened or endangered, although moves are afoot by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure they are listed. In the meantime elephants are being slaughtered in their hundreds as the world mourns the death of Cecil the lion.

As we sat enjoying our fresh fruit breakfast, contemplating the day ahead we were aware of our surroundings a feeling of privilege to be in such a beautiful location unspoilt by man. Despite our scare of the previous evening, we decided we would spend a few more days on our tranquil camp site in Serengeti.

A few repairs had to be done to the battered old landy. I had brought a spare coil with me, and we began to do the necessary repair of changing the coil. The task did not take long to complete and the Landrover was running smoothly once again.

In perfect time to enjoy a game drive round the Seronera River. As we drove slowly through the bush, we came upon a pride of lions. It was a spectacular sight. One large male surrounded by his family. Several cubs were playing and the females were lounging in the grass.

We were about 20kms from our campsite and although we were not certain we felt sure this was the same male who had visited our camp in the night. He seemed very docile now, lying under a shady acacia tree. He was huge; no wonder the lion is called the King. Our memories of our Serengeti Cecil will live with us forever.

We left the pride in peace and returned to our camp. That night we fell into a peaceful sleep, but again were woken up during the night, this time by the giggling of hyenas.

Safari adventure in Serengeti giggling hyena

I had no idea that hyenas could pose a bigger threat than the huge male lion, neither did my companions, so we didn’t worry, rolled over and went back to sleep.

When we woke to the Serengeti dawn and emerged from our tent, we were faced with a camp in total shambles. The hyenas had it appeared to us enjoyed an all night party. All our pans, dishes and other utensils were spread across an area of about 50 metres. The wooden spoons had bite marks on them and what little food we had carefully stored at the front of our sleeping tent was all gone. The hyenas must actually have been in our tent, which also was proven by their footprints around the tent and we had never even heard them.

But all’s well that ends well. We salvaged our belongings and decided to break camp and go in search of some new supplies. We still had water, so we carried on with our safari.

We will never forget our safari adventure in Serengeti. Serengeti shall not die

Safari adventure in Serengeti Sunset over acacia tree