Trip Report - TZ Northern Circuit Aug 2011





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    Default Trip Report - TZ Northern Circuit Aug 2011

    Trip report – TZ Northern Circuit Aug/Sep 11.

    I use this website a great deal for dreaming and planning so I figured I’d better post something back. This is a well-established route so it should not provide too much new information – but just in case here it is:

    Route: Northern Circuit 20 Aug 2011 to 8 Sep 2011.

    Arusha (1 night Twiga Lodge), Tarangire (3 nights special campsites), Ngorongoro Crater (Rhino Lodge x 2 (not planned)), Central Serengeti Seronera (2 nights special campsite), Northern Serengeti Lobo (2 nights special campsite), Seronera (1 night special campsite) –Mara River area (3 nights) via air (fancy extension without the vehicle), Arusha (Twiga lodge final night).

    Who: Three dudes, myself, a friend (late 30s) and my father (mid 60s). Canadian. Lots of Canadian bush experience, and between three of us, one or more self-drives in southern Africa. We do NOT consider ourselves experienced overlanders or 4x4 drivers. We were anxious at the start of the trip – but gained confidence once we got moving.

    Planning: We booked our rented Land Rover via shawsafaris.com: they were excellent! Land rovers were in great shape, and the equipment well thought out and maintained. Erika and Paul took very good care of us, and Erika’s assistance with booking special campsites was awesome (we were not able to get through to the national parks on our own). We picked our route based on wanting to see the majority of the Northern Circuit – we choose to miss Manyara, but would not miss if we were to do this again. TZ topography and fauna change so dramatically that Manyara was nothing like Tarangire – (we stopped at park HQ enroute to Ngorongoro).

    Southern Africa vs Eastern Africa (I will also cut this section and paste it into a separate thread). I read many things about self-drive in East Africa and most of it was negative: too big, too hard, too….Africa. Here are my thoughts:

    Wildlife: When compared to my self-drives in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, the wildlife in Tanzania was ‘easy’ – ie everywhere. This has much to do with location and time of year. We hit the jackpot in Tarangire – due to the drought every animal in eastern Africa was there☺…that being said, we’ve been lucky with animals everywhere we’ve been (Chobe, SLNP, Mana Pools, Etosha, Nxai etc) but TZ was spectacular, in 12 days: 4 groups of multiple cheetahs, 10 full grown male lions, 4 leopards, 2 x black rhino, ungulates and giraffes everywhere. Elephant were not as numerous as in the southern parks (less Tarangire which was full of matriarchs and her herd. No big bulls though). Owls, flamingos, storks – the birds were amazing.

    Roads and Navigation: tougher in Tanzania. No doubt about it. That being said, the tarred road between Arusha and Ngorongoro is very very nice. There are few signs in the parks, and the roads can be very corrugated. Also, the distances in the Serengeti are VERY BIG. This was a shock to us. (I know, I know, look at the map, it is very big. But when looking at a map that includes Canada and Tanzania, the Serengeti looks very small! The advantage to this is that you can certainly avoid ALL other vehicle traffic unless you haul up at a cat sighting. Maps and GPS more than mitigate any signs issues – no issues with this at all.

    Camping: TANAPA offers special campsites. Can’t beat these. Really: your own site, in the middle of the park, perhaps 5 to 15 kms from other campsites. These are not campgrounds, but campsites. Can not be beat. Amazing. In our special campsites in three different locations we had lion roaring 50% of the nights, hyena in three nights, we were greeted by giraffes twice, woke up to elephants and had a steady stream of zebra, antelope and wildebeest to watch us make and tear down camps.

    Logistics enroute: The places I have been in Southern Africa are much easier for re-supply. Maun, Kasane, Windhoek, Lusaka, Vic Falls, Chipata etc all over the normal services that westerners are familiar with. Once you leave Arusha (which is similar to the towns/cities above) it turns into real Africa. The services are there, but you need to look for it. The ‘garage’ may be a dude with a tool box. The grocery store may be a shop off the main road. Everything is available, just harder to find than in those places listed above. Fuel is not a problem and we re-fueled twice at Seronera (at the park HQ).

    Park Traffic: Depends on where and when. In central Serengeti and Ngorongoro, traffic does get thick around cats and the key areas. Whatever, we were able to deal with it. When we got tired of it, we just moved on. There is something odd about lining up to see a cheetah…that being said, in Lobo – we saw no one. NO ONE. In southern Tarangire, we saw two or three vehicles, all with guides, who were kind enough to point out leopards that we could not see on our own. The traffic is only at the cats….and because the distances are so great, you can get a real feeling of isolation, even in the busy areas of the parks. That being said, the main road in the Serengeti is also a ‘main supply route’ – so be prepared to be passed by many vehicles skimming along the tops of the corrugation ruts. Not us, we preferred to hammer our way along….yup. Jarring.

    Tents: southern Africa tends towards roof top tents (RTT), while east Africa tends towards ground based. We’ve done both now and I can say – ground based tents ROCK for safaris where you stay in one place more than one night. You get up in the morning and off you go…leave your tent up in the site. Awesome…on departure day from the site, if you want an early game drive, go. Come back and break camp at 0900 instead…..I figure the main reason why RTT are not part of the 4x4 for hire scene is that the high weight load on top the already tall vehicles plus crater roads (up and down) make for higher roll risk.

    Self-Drives and Guides: over ten days, we saw only one other self-drive (another Shaw Safaris customer). This is good. It means, no big party groups, no caravans, no offensive and large “build a tent city” group like I saw in Mana etc. On the bad, you really feel you are out on your own…maybe this is actually a ‘good’. All the other vehicles are driven by guides. Mostly, (99%) these guys are good about ‘sharing’ the road and sighting. We found the Guides to be great. Helpful every stretch of the way. Perhaps, we brought that upon ourselves: we were friendly, smiled, used Swahili greetings, sought out advice at rest stops etc. After a few days in the area, some guides would recognize our vehicle and seek us out to give us sighting news. Without these guys, we would have missed all our leopards.

    Highlights:

    - Lobo Hills Lions. One day, in Lobo (northern Serengeti) after watching a lone lioness stalk a hartebeest (unsuccessful) we came across three male lions. Big boys. Full manes. We watched them for an hour without another vehicle in sight. Not quite like the cat-jams in Seronera. That night, while cooking, we had the ultimate in auditory experiences. Two groups of lions vectored right past our special campsite. So close at times things vibrated. Not sure which lions they were, but there were lots and they were close. It was amazing. Ahhhh – deep breath and back to my cubicle.

    - Shaw Safaris Support. Erika and Paul, owners of Shaw safaris are awesome. In addition to prompt assistance during the planning phase, they welcomed us at their lodge (Twiga Lodge) like family. We dined together and in between Tuskers, we went through the Land Rover and gear with Paul in great detail. The vehicles were well maintained and rigged up to meet the needs of a safari. We had one issue with the vehicle (some electrical issue affecting the starter which luckily occurred enroute to the Ngoronongo and not in Northern Serengetti). We phoned Paul on arrival at the Rhino Lodge, and the next day he arranged for a Karatu-based mechanic to drive to the Rhino Lodge and fix the problem while we were watching lions in the crater. Problem solved. We also arranged with Shaw Safaris to drop the vehicle in Seronera so we could then fly into the Mara Region. This tricky bit of logistics was pulled off without a hitch…

    - Tanzanian Topographic and Climactic Diversity. Tarangire north is distinct from the south. Manyara is different than Tarangire. The crater rim is a jungle. The crater floor is a desert. The southern Serengeti is a flat prairie and was dry. Central has some rivers. Northern has hills and it rained while we were there. My goodness, this place has it all. In a very small area.

    - Special Campsites. Awesome. You, the bush, the animals. A grid reference, no fences, no neighbours. Linked with this is the very real feel of it all. These parks feel like wilderness parks – lots of traffic in some areas, but for some reason, you still very much feel like you are out in the bush. This is not Etosha or Kruger (I am not knocking Etosha or Kruger at all, just saying that the TZ parks have a wilder, less infrastructure, feel to the them).

    - Rhino Lodge. A locally run lodge on the crater rim. At around 100 bucks per night per person, much cheaper than the other freaky expensive places. Good way to get to know some of the local Masaii working the lodge. We had planned on camping our second night on the rim, but because we had such a great experience at the lodge, and because we did not want to freeze (see below), we stayed two nights.

    - Tarangire NP. Animals galore. It almost ruined the rest of the trip it was so prolific. On our third day we had grown accustomed to eles, giraffe, ungulates, EVERYWHERE and were thinking “if Tarangire looks like this, what the heck is the famous Crater and Serengeti going to be like”. Luckily, we met some Kenyans camping who set us straight: apparently Tarangire was a gong show due to the drought. It was truly amazing.

    - Silale Swamp – Tarangire NP. See above: gong show continues. Silale is well worth the drive. You crest a hill and all of a sudden you see green forever. Full, and I mean full, of elephant. Mind blowing.

    - Leaderless Wildebeest – we spoiled ourselves by heading up (flying up) to the Mara River at a tented camp in order to see the gnus cross the river. For those that have never seen 3000-5000 wildebeest jammed against a river bank, staring at their dead mates, crocs and hippos, it is….okay…if you like that kind of thing. It is amazing! We spent 1.5 days watching them NOT make a decision. They grunted and groaned (now I know where their name GNU comes from) and ran back and forth. The tension is unbelievable. Three times a few went down into the water, but turned back, before they ‘pulled’ the rest of the herd past the line of departure….But they did not cross the river. No doubt, they crossed with gusto once our plane took off. Still, watching those crazy buggers was an amazing experience. But seriously, could someone take charge?

    - Watching my dad negotiate (or try) with three Masai men after taking their photo along the main road in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The deal here is simple: they want you to take their picture, and they also want you to pay for it. No issues with that – but I’d recommend you agree to a reasonable price before taking the pic!

    Things that I might change:

    - Manyara - it is sooo different than the other parks…worth a visit.
    - Arusha NP – worth a look, flamingos and giraffe. I’d make sure to spend some time here.
    - Crater Expectations – pretty awesome, but it was not the condensed Noah’s Ark that I was led to expect. I was expecting to see cheetahs on my car, lions eating leopards, and elephants mating with giraffe – well not really, but I had let the hype drive my expectations too high. Still very much worth it. Finally on this point, we hired a guide a to take us into the crater – 3 folks in one land rover can be a bit much for extended periods, so we splurged and let someone else do the driving while we stood up and took pictures. I’d plan for this next time.

    Things worth noting:
    - Cost: the parks are very expensive. Special campsites – 35 or 50ppd, park pass - 100ppd etc. Our rental was TZ registered which lowered costs.

    - Cash or card. Pay attention to the various, and well detailed posts, re which parks need which type of payment (Tanapa = credit card only, Ngornongo = large NEWish denomination USD etc).

    - Temperature. The rim is cold. I am a Canadian and when I read “the rim is cold” I thought…whatever. So I brought my fleece jumper. Not good enough. The rim IS COLD. Too cold to camp without a proper sleeping bag. To all you Canadians out there: the RIM IS COLD.

    - Re-supply. The parks have basic supplies at the gates, at Lobo and at Seronera where you can buy beer and water. I don’t remember the cost as quite frankly we were not driving on a long expedition and were not trying to stretch the money bag…hence I would have, and probably did pay a lot for beer. There are staff villages at Seronera and Lobo as well. Very interesting to head into these areas for supplies (much cheaper) plus you get to meet the staff – they don’t see to many mzungas wandering around their staff village so they had fun with us too. Arusha has everything you need.

    - Road Conditions.
    o Arusha to Tarangire – paved. Very good.
    o Tarangire to Karatu – paved. Very good.
    o Karatu to Rim – paved. Very steep and good curves. Good condition but ongoing traffic make it interesting.
    o Rim to Serengeti – gravel. Good enough. We were in the dry season so certainly no mud or crossings.
    o Serengeti gate to Seronera – dirt. Massive corrugation. According to guides we’d chat with, we hit it at a bad time (long time between grading). It was pretty tough. Other vehicles drove much faster than us.
    o Seronera to Lobo – dirt. Good. No issues.
    o Tracks in the parks – not too much to choose from (ie not like the little side tracks in SLNP) but lots of road to drive. Very enjoyable driving in the dry season.

    The parks and highlights:

    - Tarangire: outstanding. High numbers of animals, low numbers of visitors = awesome. The baobab trees are beautiful. Silale swamp was mind blowing. Lions, leopard, eles and the rest of the stuff.

    - Crater: excellent. It was much bigger than expected. Much bigger than expected. It was also exceptionally dry, which is not that appealing to look at. Lions, including 7 fully grown males (3, 2 and 2). Rhino. Cheetah on a kill. Large herds of wildebeest and buff. We did not see the renowned big tuskers (too busy seeking cheetah).

    - Southern Serengeti. Very dry. Very little game. Some lion. Some giraffe. Lots of dust (we drove straight through).

    - Seronera. Very dry. Cat jams likely (but not always – we watched a cheetah mom and two youngsters bound and play for an hour without another vehicle). Lots of cats but the other game is very light (less the antelope which had completed their annual migration into the seronera valley area and were in massive numbers).

    - Lobo. Hilly and greener. Big kopjes. Very few visitors. Lots of wildebeest (tail end of migration). Lobo hills very scenic. Lions again…ho-hum.

    - Mara Triangle (TZ side). Green, rolling hills, winding, full rivers. Out of a dream. Incredible. Been to a lot of national parks, and this section of Serengeti was emotional. And of course, the wildebeest in fantastic numbers. The zebra in big numbers. The lions looking like middle-aged men at a good buffet. The river littered with dead wildebeest. Hippos surfing in the rapids. Wow.

    - Arusha NP: dry due to the drought. Very wooded in places (which is different than the other parks visited). Flamingos. And angry eles bursting through the forest.

    - Park Admin. No issues. Bring the right paperwork, pay the right amount with right method and you have no issues (some people have issues…the complain, they haggle, they want something for free). We changed multiple special campsites numerous times, and at one point, we were given the ‘overflow’ special campsite in seronera (we had booked at Hembe mid-way up the western corridor, but wanted to stay closer to the seronera valley). The site was not on the map, so one of the game wardens escorted us to the site…very nice! Speaking of the quality of the guides and staff – 4 days later, on our way back from Lobo and stopping at the seronera visitor center for something or other, the same park warden approached us and asked us how things were going, and recommended a good afternoon game drive route…very nice.

    The conclusion: an outstanding trip. A mini adventure. Very impressed with the diversity of TZ. Would go again in a heart beat. Probably would not be able to afford the fancy lodge at the end twice in my life, but if I could – perfect way to end the trip. Thanks to Paul and Erika for running a great business and outfitting us with our vehicle and equipment, and their wonderful hospitality at Twiga Lodge.

  2. #2
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    Great report !! Really enjoyed reading it !

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    Great report, but we do not believe a single word you said! Has to be accompanied by visual proof!

    Louis


    Stock standard 99 Pajero 3.5

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    Excellent report and info, thanks. You must definitely do Lake Manyara as well next time, some of the best birding around, and the mix of wetland, mosaic woodland and fever forest is magical. For people on an extended overland trip, your point about shopping at the staff shops in the camps (and at the luxury lodges throughout East Africa) is a good one - especially when it comes to re-stocking with beer!

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    Really enjoyed your report. Can you advise why you selected the month of August?

    Gene

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    As new member and currenltly embarking on planning a trip to Tanzania this is very helpfull. Anyone else outhere with advice, it would be greatly appreacited.

    Regards,

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    Default Planning an overland trip to Tanzania from SA

    Hi Japie
    Did you do your trip? Have you reported on it and , if so, we are looking for advice for planning camp bookings (we are self-driving) and how to find out approx dates for 2015 Mara crossing in Northern Tanzania?

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    Hello, I see it has been almost 4 years since your epic trip, but I still really enjoyed reading all the relevant information. We are going beginning of August for 24 days, including 9 nights in Serengeti alone. Two land rovers, two couples. Like you, we have southern Africa experience and are excited to try TZ this trip.

    We are just now trying to use Basecamp to plan our route and we noticed that some of the special campsites do not show up on Tracks4Africa map.
    Having trouble finding Lobo 1, Sero 06 and Moru 04.
    Is this anything you could help me with?
    I'd appreciate any other tips you might think are of help to us.
    Take care, K.
    If life is a journey, be sure to take the scenic route!

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    Default Special campsites

    Quote Originally Posted by KaliCA View Post
    Hello, I see it has been almost 4 years since your epic trip, but I still really enjoyed reading all the relevant information. We are going beginning of August for 24 days, including 9 nights in Serengeti alone. Two land rovers, two couples. Like you, we have southern Africa experience and are excited to try TZ this trip.

    We are just now trying to use Basecamp to plan our route and we noticed that some of the special campsites do not show up on Tracks4Africa map.
    Having trouble finding Lobo 1, Sero 06 and Moru 04.
    Is this anything you could help me with?
    I'd appreciate any other tips you might think are of help to us.
    Take care, K.
    I will send you a scan of a Serengeti map which shows all these special campsites in a day or so. If you send me a PM with your email address, i will send you the scan. There is, of course, copyright issues if I posted it on this forum.

    You do realize that you need to book special campsites through TANAPA?

    I do know that Lobo 1 is near the public campsite at Lobo and almost on the eastern boundary of the park. Sero will be the abbreviation for the Seronera area and Moru for the Moru Kopjes area, I would imagine.

    Check out other threads in Tanzania on this forum as I have replied on the subject of campsites in the Serengeti before.

    Safari njema.

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