Encompassing three spectacular volcanic craters, Olduvai Gorge, huge expanses of savannah, forest and bush land, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the flagship of Tanzania’s tourism industry.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), measuring 8,300 square kilometres, is also the only place on earth where mankind and wild animals co-exist in harmony. The NCA became a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1971 and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Originally part of the Serengeti National Park when the latter was established by the British in 1951, in 1959 the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) was formed, separating NCA from Serengeti. Land within the area provides protective status for wildlife whilst also permitting human habitation. Its uniqueness lays in the fact that the NCA is where man, livestock and wild animals live in peace: Maasai cattle can sometimes be seen grazing alongside zebras on Ngorongoro’s grassland.
WHAT TO SEE:
The crater is the star feature for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is a large, unbroken, un-flooded caldera, formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed some three million years ago. The Ngorongoro crater sinks to a depth of 610 metres, with a floor base area covering 260 square kilometres. The height of the original volcano must have ranged between 4,500 to 5,800 metres high and many specialist say it must have been higher than Kilimanjaro. Apart from the main caldera, Ngorongoro also has two other volcanic craters: Olmoti and Empakai, the former famous for its stunning waterfalls, and the latter holding a deep lake and lush, green walls.
On the leeward side of the Ngorongoro highlands protrudes the iconic mountain, Oldonyo Lengai; an active volcano and Tanzania’s third highest peak after Kilimanjaro and Meru. Known to local people as the Mountain of God, Mount Lengai’s last major eruption occurred in 2007. At the mountain’s foot is Lake Natron, East Africa’s major breeding ground for flamingoes.
BEYOND THE CRATER
Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek form shallow basins where water accumulates from the nearby areas of slightly higher altitude. The water in both lakes are extremely saline, too saline for human consumption. Lake Ndutu becomes alive with animals during the migration because it is surrounded by the Ndutu woodlands and the Short Grass Plains, which provide ample cover and food.
Located just outside the NCA, to the north-east near Lake Natron, this Volcano, whose Maasai name means ‘Mountain of God’, has had a major influence on the development of the area. It rises 1830m above the Valley floor. Its ash has been blown westwards onto the plains and helped shape the landscape and ecology. It is the only active volcano in the area, having erupted in 2006 and more recently July this year (2007).
The Shifting Sands
This remarkable black dune, composed of volcanic ash from Oldonyo Lengai, is being blown slowly westwards across the plains, at the rate of about 17 meters per year. Some 9 meters high and 100 meters long in its curve, it can be found to the north of Oldupai Gorge. What makes the ‘Shifting Sands’ so remarkable is that it moves intact. Specialists say this is due to a magnetic compound within the volcanic sand!
The Gorge is ecologically important because it is a vital nesting site of the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture. The best time to visit Olkarien Gorge is from March to April when the vultures are breeding. This coincides with migration when there is plenty of food available.
Ngorongoro Walking Safaris
Walking in and around the NCA is encouraged, but should be done with guides. We will arrange short hikes on your behalf with the NCAA headquarters. Long walks can be adventurous and rewarding but need additional planning.
Suitable walking routes include the area from Olmoti Crater to Embakai Highlands and down to the Great Rift Valley, the Northern Highlands Forest Reserve and the Eastern Plains around Nasera Rock, Gol Mountains and Olkarien Gorge. It truly is an adventure you won’t forget.