Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)





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    Default Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Hi all!

    I'm planning a 10 day trip through the northern circuit in late December / early Jan. Would love to get your advice on whether my itinerary seems reasonable.

    I'm aware that the migration is primarily in the Southern Serengeti during Dec / Jan. However, I would still like to visit the northern Lobo area to get a change in scenery. Plus, I know the herds don't follow an exact schedule, so this approach would seem to mitigate the risk of "delays" in the migration.

    Day 1: Arusha NP (stay at lodge in Arusha)
    Day 2: Tarangire NP (public campsite in Tarangire)
    Day 3: NCA crater rim (Rhino Lodge)
    Day 4: Serengeti (Sero special campsite)
    Day 5: Serengeti (Lobo public campsite)
    Day 6: Serengeti (Moru special campsite)
    Day 7: Serengeti (Moru special campsite)
    Day 8: Serengeti (Ndutu region)
    Day 9: Serengeti (Ndutu region)
    Day 10: Return to Arusha

    A few specific questions I would love your help with:

    - My wife won't tolerate more than 2-3 consecutive nights in basic campsites. So I'm trying to occasionally stay in "more comfortable", nicer tented camps (with beds) or lodges. The challenge is that I haven't found any such budget accommodations in Serengeti NP, so any advice on this would be appreciated.

    - Where would you recommend staying in Ndutu region? Are there special campsites here we should consider?

    - Are the driving times / distances doable with this plan?
    Last edited by kevinballa; 2016/10/03 at 05:45 AM.

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    I cant comment on the special camps in Serengeti as we have only ever made use of public campsites. I stayed at Rhino Lodge last year and that was really nice.

    I think all your driving distances are doable. The only red flag for me would be the one night at Tarangire. In my opinion, this reserve is definitely worth two nights. My concern for you is that you would need to leave Arusha pretty early so that you can try and see what you can of Tarangire on your day 2, because you wont have much time on day 3. You need to plan your arrival at Ngorongoro carefully depending on whether you would prefer to do your crater drive in the morning or afternoon. Remember the 24 hour entry for Ngorongoro and if you arrive late at Naabi Hill you will be charged for a second day.
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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    @AMacAfrica Thanks. Could you elaborate on the best strategy for touring the NCA? I was planning on leaving Rhino Lodge at the crater rim early on Day 3, spend the day touring the crater, and then exit at the Naabi gate towards Serengeti shortly before closing. Would you recommend something different?

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Quote Originally Posted by kevinballa View Post
    @AMacAfrica Thanks. Could you elaborate on the best strategy for touring the NCA? I was planning on leaving Rhino Lodge at the crater rim early on Day 3, spend the day touring the crater, and then exit at the Naabi gate towards Serengeti shortly before closing. Would you recommend something different?
    Because you are US based, you may not be as sensitive to the daily park fees as we are (RSA), and therefore if you go over the 24 hour period it may not concern you as much. If you want to stick within the 24 hour period then one needs to plan a bit better.

    You might get contradicting input, but looking at your schedule I would try and arrive at entrance to NCA about 14h00 (if trying to stick to the 24hr time, if not of course you can arrive earlier). This will give adequate time to get going from Tarangire and still stop at the lookout point over Lake Manyara and get any last minute supplies in Karatu (we found the entrance to Lake Manyara a good toilet stop and managed to tick off a few interesting birds at the entrance gate). Then when arriving at the rim, there is the famed lookout which is a nice spot for lunch. Rhino Lodge is not too much further and this will still give time in the afternoon to enjoy the Lodge and the animals which drift by. I agree with you doing the drive first thing in the morning (although it is spectacular any time) - try and get to the entrance as early as you can (at opening time), ask for breakfast packs from the Lodge, a nice sit-down breakfast cannot compare to the crater! This will give you time to explore and still exit and scoot along the heavily corrugated road to Naabi Hill. Remember your entrance to the crater is only valid for a certain number of hours (6 I think). If you enter the crater early and leave late you will have to pay twice and you are not giving your yourself much time to get to Naabi.

    If you plan on visiting Olduvai Gorge and the shifting sands (also NCA), this will have to be done on the way back from the Ndutu area, unless you plan on returning via the track which joins the Ngorongoro crater rim from the west, a very pretty road, but may be tricky if wet.
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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Quote Originally Posted by kevinballa View Post
    @AMacAfrica Thanks. Could you elaborate on the best strategy for touring the NCA? I was planning on leaving Rhino Lodge at the crater rim early on Day 3, spend the day touring the crater, and then exit at the Naabi gate towards Serengeti shortly before closing. Would you recommend something different?
    This is not a bad plan, IMHO. Couple of warnings, though. Don't forget that you need to reach Sero campsite before dark and that roads in that area are dreadful. You need to be at Naabi gate not later than 3PM. Usually there are quite a long queues there as lots of operators are entering/exiting Serengeti at that time, so count on spending around one hour to sort your papers. And from Naabi it will take you around 2 hours to reach and find your Sero campsite. So, 3PM is a deadline to be at Naabi gate.

    Remember also that road from crater rim to Naabi Hill gate is the worst road on your whole trip. It will take at least 2 hours. meaning that you will need to leave the crater rim not later than 1PM. So, you need to plan to leave crater floor at around noon. That's not too bad as you will still have half day in the crater, but you need to start descending into the crater as early in the morning as possible - that way you'll have best light for photography in the morning plus you'll have that haven of Ngorongoro crater more or less for yourself for an hour or two, before the majority of safari operators get there.

    With this plan, you will also need to leave Serengeti at 3PM at the latest on your day 10. From Lake Ndutu it's only a short drive (an hour or so) to Naabi hill, so you will still have half a day on that last day to explore Ndutu region. But beware: this is only in case you will be staying inside Serengeti boundaries of Lake Ndutu region. Boundary between Serengeti NP and Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) runs very close around the lake and you are not allowed to cross it: if you are staying on the Serengeti side, you are only allow to drive within the park baounadries. And vice versa if you are stayin on the NCA side. If you will be camping, AFAIK the special campsites are located on the NCA side. In this case, you will need to leave Serengeti NP on day 8 at 3PM (i.e. not later than you have enetered the park on day 4. In this case, also take care to leave NCA area at Lodoare gate not later than you have entered it for lake Ndutu area in ordoer not to pay additional day fee for NCA. BTW, I hope you will need to pay NCA fees both on the way in as well as when exiting.

    As far as Tarangire NP is concerned, I agree with AMacAfrica, it is worth two nights stay at least. But with your time frame and with your planned itinerary, also one night as you have planned it will not be too bad. Leave Arusha early (preferably at dawn, when there will not be any traffic in the town yet), it will take you less than 2 hours to reach Tarangire and you will have whole 24 hours available inside the park. From Tarangire to crater rim is around 3 hours.

    EDIT: While I was writing this, AMacAfrica published his post, hence there might be some overlapping
    Last edited by ortelius; 2016/10/03 at 08:52 AM.
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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    As regards the 6 hours in the crater. This often comes up. The only "official" mention is a footnote on the tariff that says that "Crater tours are half day". We were getting conflicting information from research (some said this was the rule, some said they'd stayed the day with no issue) and so went to the HQ in Arusha where we were ushered into the office of the head honcho. He said there was no such rule, just opening hours.

    Likewise with the need for a guide. We really didn't want a guide so went to the park office near Simba politely explained we had limited room in the car, were experienced self driving in national parks and they endorsed our permit to say no guide was necessary. We went through the gate at dawn, where we asked once again how long we could stay and were told to be out by closing time.

    Reading between the the lines of other reports I wonder if the 6 hour "rule" might be used when the crater is more likely to be congested? Or whether it's a question of how long the guides expect to work for? Also if you do have a guide check out the official fee which I think is $20. I have heard of people being charged much much more.

    In summary it's worth asking if you want to be there all day and/or without a guide, especially since the fee is now $250...

    Otherwise my very general tips would be:

    - use the special sites where possible (seems as though you are) except on the crater rim where it's less conveniently placed than the public site,

    - it's a pain but as others have said work out your entrance exit times carefully and allow longer than you think for transiting. A lot of guides use the "no mans land" at Naabi for a break/lunch to maximise ticket time, you can do likewise.

    - spend the day in the crater if possible (though this will mean 2 nights on the crater rim). As the campsite there is pretty grim it might be a good spot for a break from the camping. The lodges there won't be cheap but you may get a late deal.

    Enjoy your trip.

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Both Ortelius and AMacAfrica have been to the Ngorongoro and the Serengeti more recently than I, but, for what it's worth here is my two cents.

    Do read this recent thread on this forum about paying for the Ngorongoro Conservation area. http://www.4x4community.co.za/forum/...ees-Ngorongoro

    On that thread, I posted the link to the official NCCA website which details the fees payable. They are USD60 per person per 24 hours, TZ registered vehicle TShs 20,000 per 24 hours, camping in a public campsite USD40 per person per night. The fee for taking one's own vehicle into the crater is an additional USD250. The website says guides are obligatory, but others have been into the crater without a guide. I have never heard of a 6 hour rule in the crater but, certainly, a dawn entrance to the crater is essential and you are likely to find that 6 hours is more than enough to "do" the crater. As Ortelius said, you will need to have left the crater by 1pm at the latest in order to get to Naabi Hill gate by 3pm, and this advice is spot on. It will take a long time to process the paperwork for the Serengeti at Naabi Hill, and then a long rough drive to the Seronera area campsites.

    Also, bear in mind the logistics of paying the fees for the NCCA in Karatu and ensure you are not trying to enter the NCCA on a Sunday. Why don't you ask the company from whom you are renting the vehicle to do this for you and give you the relevant paperwork? As mentioned, you will need to have paid for the transit back through the NCCA from the Serengeti beforehand as there is no facility for paying those fees at the NCCA section of Naabi Hill gate.

    The words "budget" and "the Serengeti" do not go together! Have a look at the Africa Travel Resource (Google it) as there are some marginally less expensive lodges and tented camps on this agency's website.

    I reckon it will take all day to get from the Ndutu area of the Serengeti to Arusha on Day 10 - I think a 3pm exit from Naabi Hill gate will have you driving in the dark as it only leaves you 3-4 hours of daylight. Although it is only about 280 kms, as has been said, the road is appalling from Seronera to the crater rim, and even once at Karatu and back on tar, the road winds down the Rift Valley escarpment and the speed limit in Tanzanian villages is 50kph. You don't want to be driving into Arusha in the dark. I would reckon on an 8 hour drive to be safe.

    I agree that you ought to spend at least two nights in Tarangire National Park. It is the unsung gem in the northern Tanzanian safari circuit. I would forego one of your nights in the Serengeti in order to explore this lovely park.

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    I reckon it will take all day to get from the Ndutu area of the Serengeti to Arusha on Day 10 - I think a 3pm exit from Naabi Hill gate will have you driving in the dark as it only leaves you 3-4 hours of daylight.
    Absolutely correct! I have forgotten he wants to get all the way to Arusha on the last day.
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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Here is the link to the Africa Travel Resource's map of the Serengeti marking most (all?) of the lodges and tented camps in the Serengeti (and Ngorongoro). If you scroll down on the left hand side (and click on the areas e.g. Serengeti Central etc), a list of the lodges and tented camps comes up with prices - in GB Pounds. I see that the Serena Group's lodges and camps are pretty reasonable - and they are a good, reputable company.

    http://www.africatravelresource.com/locations/map/

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Great, thanks for the information! Based on the feedback, I'll plan to revise my itinerary to spend an extra night in Tarangire. This will hopefully be worth it for it's own sake, and also to reduce the time constraint of getting to the NCA.

    On the way back, we will be sure to leave Serngeti as early as possible for a long day of driving back to Arusha!

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    So, our safari operator came back with availability of Serengeti special campsites. We were able to get Sero 4, which I hear is a good choice.

    For the Moru site, our operator proposes something called "Olbaiyee 01". I can't find any information on this. Is it in the Moru region?

    For the Ndutu campsite, there is availability at Old Ndutu 01. I also can't find much info on this one either, so let me know what you think.

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Quote Originally Posted by kevinballa View Post
    So, our safari operator came back with availability of Serengeti special campsites. We were able to get Sero 4, which I hear is a good choice.

    For the Moru site, our operator proposes something called "Olbaiyee 01". I can't find any information on this. Is it in the Moru region?

    For the Ndutu campsite, there is availability at Old Ndutu 01. I also can't find much info on this one either, so let me know what you think.
    On my Giovanni Tombazzi map of the Serengeti, Olobaiye (which is the spelling on the map) is a rocky outcrop about 15kms south of the Moru Kopjes. Looks a good area to me and is near the Soito Kopjes - half way between the Moru Kopjes and Lake Ndutu.

    Is the Ndutu campsite in the Serengeti National Park or the Ngorongoro Conservation Area?

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    On my Giovanni Tombazzi map of the Serengeti, Olobaiye (which is the spelling on the map) is a rocky outcrop about 15kms south of the Moru Kopjes. Looks a good area to me and is near the Soito Kopjes - half way between the Moru Kopjes and Lake Ndutu.
    Good to know!

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    Is the Ndutu campsite in the Serengeti National Park or the Ngorongoro Conservation Area?
    I specifically requested that our Ndutu campsite be on the Serengeti side, since it seems like a waste to pay the NCA park fee (assuming there's not much difference between the two sides). So my hope is that the tour operator followed my guidance. But this needs to be confirmed...

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    This Google Earth map has some of the special campsites marked - although they are not necessarily in the right place or, indeed, the correct names, but something for you to work on. It does not, however, have either Olobaiye or "Old Ndutu 1".

    https://www.expertafrica.com/tanzani...rea/google-map

    Do you have Tracks4Africa on your GPS? I think it will help you enormously not only with your planning, but also when you are there.

    I hope it isn't raining in late December/early January. Those plains will be seriously muddy if it is wet...

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Kevinbala,

    Olobaiye region in the south of Moru kopyes is a breathtaking, as far as scenery is concerned. We didn't drove all the way to there from Moru kopjes airstrip, but it looked amazing from the elevated level of Moru kopjes: endless grass plains, spotted by fantastic stony kopjes formations. In fact, the view from Moru in the direction of Olobaiye has set in my subconscious as an epitome for Serengeti landscape.

    Btw, don't be deceived by Wazugu Wawili's decription of Olobaiye being half way between Moru and Ndutu lake: that was only meant as describing its geographic location. You can't drive from Olobaiye directly to lake Ndutu! There is a track on some maps from Olobaiye to Ndutu, but that track is off limits for tourists. You have to go back from Olobaiye all the way up to Moru kopjes and down to lake Magadi, from where you fork East to Naabi gate in order to reach lake Ndutu. It's a half day's drive.

    As far as "Old Ndutu 1" campsite is concerned, I beleive its in the NCA side of the park boundaries. On Veronica Roodt map of Serengeti, special campsites in the south shores of lake (in the vicinity of Ndutu Lodge) are marked as Special Campsites #1 to #7 and I believe those are Ndutu special campsites. All the campsites in the Serengeti side of the boundary have more "exotic" names (Nyumba, Mbwena, Muanga, ....). Actually, there is one campsite on that map in the Serengeti part that is named "Ndutu Extra Campsite" - don't know if this is what your operator is referring as "Old Ndutu 1".

    Member of this forum Anne_w published her trip report from Tanzania last year and they were staying exactla at Ndutu Campsite #1 (without "Old" in its official name). And they loved it. But it was definitely inside NCA area. You can read her trip report here: http://www.4x4community.co.za/forum/...nce?highlight=

    Quote Originally Posted by kevinballa View Post
    Good to know!
    I specifically requested that our Ndutu campsite be on the Serengeti side, since it seems like a waste to pay the NCA park fee (assuming there's not much difference between the two sides).
    I hope you are aware you will have to pay NCA fees in any case, whether you will sleep there or if you will merely drive through. So, you will not save any money by staying on the Serengeti side of the lake Ndutu as opposed to staying on NCA's side. You will have to pay to one or to another. In fact, when we were there last year, daily conservation fees for Serengeti NP were 60$, as opposed to 50$ for NCA. But the timing of the transitions between NCA and Serengeti and vice versa need carefull planing in order to optimize your expenses in any case.
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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Ortelius, we are, indeed, both map fanatics! I looked in detail on Google Earth (which zoomed right in can even show the tyre tracks in many satellite images and we use this a lot for off-the-beaten-track Africa and make our own maps - although, of course, this depends on the date of the satellite imagery), and could not see the track shown on the Tombazzi map from Moru to Lake Ndutu. I thought what you said about this route/access must be true - and you have confirmed it. Thank you.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2016/10/08 at 11:40 PM.

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Excellent news regarding Olobaiye! Major thanks to both ortelius and Wazungu Wawili for confirming that Olobaiye is a good choice. I will ask for a bit more info on Old Ndutu 1 and revert back :-)


    Quote Originally Posted by ortelius View Post
    I hope you are aware you will have to pay NCA fees in any case, whether you will sleep there or if you will merely drive through. So, you will not save any money by staying on the Serengeti side of the lake Ndutu as opposed to staying on NCA's side. You will have to pay to one or to another. In fact, when we were there last year, daily conservation fees for Serengeti NP were 60$, as opposed to 50$ for NCA. But the timing of the transitions between NCA and Serengeti and vice versa need carefull planing in order to optimize your expenses in any case.
    I think the issue is I had assumed it's not possible to exit the Ndutu NCA area (on the road back to Arusha) without re-entering the Serengeti. If that were true, then presumably we would bay the NCA park fee for our last night, and then pay another Serengeti fee on the drive home just to pass through. From your responses, it seems likely that my assumption was wrong and that we wouldn't need to re-enter the Serengeti.

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Yes, you don't need to pay fees for Serengeti at your way out of Ndutu area toward crater rim, even if you choose to return toward Naabi Hill gate and from there toward crater, despite the fact that you will be technically driving through Serengeti NP territory.

    But you also have another road from Ndutu directly toward Serengeti national park entrance sign that follows the boundary between NP and NCA all the time on NCA's side. This one is even shorter and quicker than the one via Naabi Hill, it's just a question in what condition it will be then.
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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Hi Kevinballa,

    Just arrived from a 18 days self drive, on a RFT, on NT and just hope this, still will help you with your planning. Have done a considerable amount of self drive trips in SA, Namibia and Botswana, but Tanzania is on a separate league. Ortelius and WW have given you precious input.

    1. Do consider Tarangire. A beautiful Park, with plenty to see, and relatively easy to drive. It will put you on the mood for the rest of the trip. Two days minimum. One day is not enough and it will prove you a waste of time and money.
    2. The roads in the Serengeti are really bad, specially the main roads. The road from Naabi Hill to Seronera is terrible. The road from Seronera to Lobo, is ok until past the Togoro plains. From 15 Km before Lobo, going North, becomes a nightmare. Lobo scenery is beautiful, but the game tracks are difficult. The main road around Lobo until past the Grumeti river bridge is a nightmare.Way worst then the B114 ( Naabi hill road). If you plan to visit the Mara region, the Bologonja road is a dream, and is a very good road. The best I found in the Serengeti. A proper game drive. At this time of the year we found huge herds going around. You get into the Mara in no time. The west road to Kirawira is a killer. In summary, I would skip Lobo if not visiting the Mara. If you would just go as far as the Togora plains, I would stick to a Seronera / Central Serengeti base and explore the region on a day trip.

    My advise would be : Try to get out asap from the main roads and consider moving from A to B through the side game tracks, considerably better. If you plan to move from A to B and on the way, do a game drive, that will be impossible, as not paying attention to the road can be disastrous. Try to stick to a few "base" places in the Serengeti and investigate the area around.
    In December/ January, you will probably find the big herds coming to the south (Central Serengeti, Moru Kpjies, Oogol Kopjies and Ndutu).
    Regarding the constraints you have pertaining to camping, PCs are the only places where you have minimal conditions (toilets and opportunity to shower), and they are very basic. I think the Ndutu lodge will be a good option, as they do cater of self drivers (either in a room or staying on their camping grounds).

    Finally Ngorongoro. If you pay the fees, might as well use them. Enjoy the Crater as much as possible. There is no 6 hr rule. I spent the whole day there and believe me IT IS WORTH it. A GEM of itīs own, and unique. We spent two days in NCA. Descend as soon as possible ( no vehicles before 6) and come out before 6 PM (we started our ascent around16:30 as the ascent road might get congested with the safari operators). Rhino Lodge is good value, and we spent there two nights. On the first day consider doing the Empakai road as the scenery is beautiful. On the second day crater visit ( full day) and on the third leave as early to Naabi Hill. It will take you around 3-4 hrs.

    Considering maps/ guidance utilities we found T4A and GT maps quite accurate and useful. Veronica Roodt Maps are as well good and precise, but outdated.You always find more tracks on the terrain then they are described on any map.

    Hope this helps and give to a good GO.

    AP.

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    Default Re: Critique Northern Circuit itinerary (late Dec / early Jan)

    Hi AP, sorry to butt in from the side. When you mention nightmare roads, do you mean sandy 4x4, perhaps muddy or badly potholed firm roads (worse to drive)?

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