Ngorongoro Caldera National Park

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Ngorongoro Caldera National Park

Oldupai Gorge

Chris wrote this section of the blog......

In 2010, when we were driving from Ngorongoro to Serengeti, I saw a road-sign with "Olduvai Gorge" written on it. Aware of its significance in helping us humans to understand parts of our evolutionary journey over the past couple of million years, I regretfully passed on the opportunity to visit the gorge as our time in the area was so limited.

On this trip, I specifically asked KWSS to include Olduvai (now more accurately known as Oldupai) in our itinerary. So it was that as we departed Serengeti on our way to Ngorongoro, Rama turned north to take the side-road leading to Oldupai. I had been pretty sure that our visit would not involve much - if any - climbing as I assumed we would enter the gorge along its base. I had made the same assumption when we went to Hell's Gate, near Naivasha, and had been completely wrong as our walk there started at the top of the gorge so we had to descend into it and then climb out.

When we arrived at Oldupai, which turned out to include a museum with an open-to-the-air lecture theatre overlooking the gorge. The museum was informative and interestingly designed, and did not overwhelm any of us by giving too much detail. We were offered the opportunity to listen to a museum guide tell us something about the gorge, its geology and the various discoveries that had been made, but I wanted to go see the gorge itself, so the guide took us down. It was getting close to noon, and the heat was intense. The path down was easy enough, but we descended close to 100 m and we knew the climb back up would be exhausting in the heat. I chatted with the guide most of the way as we went down .... talking about the geology mostly, and the guide, who was in his early twenties, was fascinated to hear that I had met Louis and Richard Leakey, two of Oldupai's earliest and best-known paleoanthropologists, in 1967 when I and a friend had been investigating how to drive two Land Rovers from Kenya to Addis Ababa.

When we reached the bottom of the gorge, there was nothing very exciting to see .... a couple of concrete cairns and some researchers from Europe were just preparing to leave a hillside spot where they were excavating to drive up a road that led back to the museum. What for me was emotionally stirring about being there was my profound feeling of awe knowing we were standing on ground that some of our ancestral beings had walked across a couple of million years ago. One of the cairns marked the location where Mary Leakey, Louis's wife, who was equally famous, had found the skull of an early hominin that has been named Zinjanthropus boisei (more recently changed to Australopithecus boisei) and has been dated at about 1.75 million years. Another cairn was located where Mary discovered some bones assigned to Homo habilis, a larger-brained species of hominin, in strata that have been dated at 1.8 million years.

This is the plaque which is on top of the cairn in the previous photo


A photo that Dana took down in the gorge so you can see the scenery around there


A photo of us at Oldupai


The climb back to the museum was arduous but we all managed it ..... we had lunch there, then began the drive past Ngorongoro to our next lodge, ............ Chris was really happy about our visit to the gorge — his only disappointment was that he wasn't able to see the fossilized hominin footprint trail in volcanic ash some 3.6 million years old. He had thought the track was in Oldupai, but he learned it was actually at a place called Laetoli, some 40 km away which would have taken a long time on those roads! (but at least there was a reproduction of it in the museum!).



This part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is perhaps the most impressive as it is actually located in a caldera which is about 20 km across and 600 metres deep. When you stand high on the caldera rim looking down, it is a gorgeous sight. I will include a panoramic photo taken on my iPhone which is a bit distorted but it will give you a sense of the beauty of it.


A photo Chris, Rama and Yazi by an overlook into the crater.


We stopped for a view part way down into the caldera and this was the view.


Early on we came across a huge elephant with two very large tusks, which we wondered how it managed navigating with day in and day out without tripping over his tusks!


A little further along, male impala were trying out there fighting skills, though at this time it is not serious. When it gets to mating season, it is much more aggressive as the males need to establish their dominance in order to mate. You often see a harem of females with a male impala.


It was a gorgeous day and the scenery in the caldera was particularly beautiful. I love this photo of the zebras in the distance as it shows the uniqueness of the scenery in Ngorongoro.


There were a number of young zebra that we saw this day. You can tell they are young as their stripes are brown and white rather than black and white.


We came across our first lion of the day — by now we must have seen nearly fifty of them from the time we arrived in the Serengeti. This one, we again found right on the side of the road so we had a front seat view!


As I was watching the lion, I noticed a wonderful view of the buffalo grazing in a swampy area nearby.


One of the many treats that day was seeing some newborn wildebeest. In the caldera, because they don’t migrate as the wildebeest do in Serengeti and the Masai Mara, the young are born earlier. It was the first time for us to see these young ones. Amazingly, they can actually walk five or so minutes after being born and in fact need to as they are often born at the time they are migrating. They were so sweet as they are so spindly!


As it had recently been raining a bit in Ngorongoro, there were some wild flowers and we came across this buffalo amongst some lovely red wild flowers. Notice the oxpecker on his back. These birds feast on the bugs that attach themselves to animals.


It really was a gorgeous day and the clouds made a real impression. Chris thought it looked like a volcano steaming away!


Here is a photo of some buffalo taking a mud bath as they love to do when it is hot. Apparently, the mud helps keep the flies off them.


And while we are on the topic of "baths," here is one of my favourite photos of a zebra taking a dust bath.


One of our real highlights of the day was seeing two black rhinos, a male and a female, very close to the road. Rama told us that it was quite unusual to see them so close so he was also very delighted. It was very special for us to watch them running back and forth as they looked for a way to cross the road which was pretty solidly blocked by safari vehicles that had stopped so that the occupants could watch the rhinos. They eventually succeeded in crossing and then swiftly ran off into the distance.


Towards the end of the day, Rama spotted these lions in the distance. What really distinguished this pride was the huge mail lion with his very large and dark mane. I had to zoom into this photo.


There are a number of different kinds of Ibis’s in eastern Africa; these ones are called Sacred Ibis’s. They are very elegant birds and even more amazing in flight, though I haven’t had much luck in photographically catching one well.


We spent time watching the flamingos from a distance. It is clear that mating rituals are happening but as we were in the park we could not get nearer to see it close up.


After lunch, we came across some zebras, that seemed to be “horsing around” but in actuality they were being quite aggressive with each other. It was a bit of a surprise as they often seem so peaceful. We witnessed one of them kicking the other in the face with its back feet! I am sure that hurt.


We found a hippo pool and another elephant grazing in a swamp.


We found ourselves worrying about this baby jackal, whose mother we had seen leave it alone as she went off to hunt. High above there was a large bird of prey circling around and we wondered about whether this young one would survive — we very much hoped it did. Being in these parks we are reminded of the harsh realities of life in the animal world of eat or be eaten.


Towards the end of the day, we saw this huge eland in the shade of the trees.


As we ascended toward the rim, I took several photos of the caldera.


At the Ngorongoro Conservation Area gate, there were many baboons, and we ended up watching this little family.


Happy with our day, we headed back to the Country Lodge for our last evening and morning.


Rama drove us back to Arusha where we said our final good byes to him after an amazing time in Tanzania. Then we got a transfer to the border with another driver. To our delight, Benson was waiting for us and he drove us back to Nairobi. It was so good to see him again. We will continue on with the next part of our journey which is a trip out to the Kenya Coast, Diani Beach and Mombasa.

This featured blog entry was written by danjali from the blog East Africa Adventure.
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By danjali

Posted Wed, Mar 27, 2019 | Tanzania | Comments