Article-Road to Ngorongoror!
Your approach to the Ngorongoro Crater will be from Arusha, even if you are staying around the Lake Manyara Area, or in Karatu, you would have made that journey a day or so before.
As you leave Arusha urban life slowly recedes and green hillside farms and coffee plantations take over. Passing the small airfield on the left you are soon out into real African landscapes, open bush and hills in the hazy distance. Mount Meru, if its 4,566 meter peak is free of cloud, will slowly move behind you and as you drive over the gently undulating slopes first westwards, and a little later to the south west, you will notice, here and there, local herders resting with their cattle in the shade of tall trees in which hanging logs serve as beehives from which honey is harvested.
Now the journey is not only interesting but increasingly beautiful. In Makuyuni, where the road continues to Tarangire National park and way off to the south through the Maasai Steppe, you will begin the last leg of the journey on the brand new road. During the first forty minutes of this stretch you must keep your eyes peeled. Long before you reach Mto Wa Mbu at the gate of Lake Manyara National Park you may well see giraffe, zebra and the occasional elephant in the bush on either side of you. But maybe the first sightings of Lake Manyara and the Rift Valley escarpment distract you.
Then you forget the quest for wildlife sightings as you drive through the multi-colour, multi-cultural and busy little town of Mto Wa Mbu and as you leave the town, someone will shout out, ?Look up in the trees!? Marabou Storks perch on the top together with Yellow Billed Storks and Ibis?
Now look down there, on the side of the road!? Sykes monkeys sit in the bushes eating bananas stolen from a local garden and a rumpus of baboons stroll up the hill on the roadside totally ignoring traffic and passers by. At this point you begin driving up the winding road that climbs the escarpment and offers stunning views of Lake Manyara and the multitude of different vegetation layers from parched savannah along the lakeside to the green ground water forest at the top. You are now just one hour from the gates of Ngorongoro and as you leave Manyara behind and roll up and over the gentle hills to the township of Karatu you will begin to see the farm-scapes in this first truly arable land since Arusha. The colour of the earth deepens from brown to red and you think that the dry savannah is way behind.
But it is ahead of you, in Ngorongoro itself, and in the vast expanses of the Serengeti. After Karatu it is only one quarter of an hour before you stretch your legs at the gates of Ngorongoro whilst your guide does the paperwork for your entrance into the conservation area, and already you are amazed at the vegetation.
If you had come directly from Arusha then you probably left before dawn to arrive here at nine in the morning. That?s a little late, so hopefully you stayed overnight in a safari lodge somewhere near Manyara and you reach the gate at eight in the morning as one of the first.
As you drive through the gate you immediately realise that you have left the new road. It is now somewhat steeper, narrower, and full of potholes. Your guide should be taking it easier, and watching out for the oncoming traffic of those travellers and adventure seekers who are sadly leaving Serengeti on their way back to the airport near Kilimanjaro. If they are lucky they still have time to crown their game driving experience with a day in Manyara National Park, Tarangire or even Arusha National Park on the side of Meru.
But your crater experience is still ahead of you and as your vehicle slowly climbs up to the crater rim you will amaze at the jungle like vegetation. This is not a rain forest; it is a ground water forest but is no less beautiful, as it sweeps down the slopes to the south west.
You might be disappointed if the cloud increases and you drive into a drizzly mist just before the driver announces that he will not stop at the panoramic viewpoint as you reach the rim, but donât worry because the mist will almost certainly surrender to the probing sun before you get to the road down into the crater.
You will see an incredible view of the Serengeti as you come round to the north west flank not far from the descent road. There you will stop and even a little cloud will not belittle this beauty. As you drive down the steep descent road, in the direct sunlight that has melted the last of the clouds, you will be ready for a fabulous day in the crater ? but that is another story, because this article was about the road to Ngorongoro!