The Great Migration 2015 Update!

It’s been a tough year for the migrating herds so far this year. Those hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle who had marched down from Kenya and Tanzania’s northern Serengeti towards the end of last year found that the short rains of November had been poor and whilst some expected rain fell in December and January, by February things were really drying up.

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If that wasn’t enough February is probably the most important month in the wildebeest calendar as the ‘synchronised’ calving takes place and around 250,0000 calves are born in a four week period. Along with the gnus, it’s peak time for zebra foals and gazelle fawns, not to mention lion and cheetah cubs and hyena and jackal pups.

It’s supposed to be a time of plenty when the herds can wander around the nutrient-rich short grass plains, following the rainstorms for the best grazing and water.   Not moving far gives the mothers the best chance to produce the most milk and for the young calves to gather their strength before the main migration north in May and June. But not this year as 2 million large animals quickly ate all the grazing available in the vicinity of the Ndutu woodlands and then were forced to move north in search of new pasture.

Large scale movement of the herds at this time is dangerous for the calves for two reasons: they are not yet strong enough move such distances and still thrive and the very fact of moving means that more young are likely to be separated from their mothers. In March we tracked the big herds to north of Seronera,, way beyond where they should have been, and even after this long trek, the grazing there was worse than the plains they had left to the south. There were some truly miserable looking calves!

And it wasn’t just the grazers, 3 five month old lion cubs among the rocks of the Gol Kopjes were also hungry and forlorn. They’d been born at the right time of the year, in what should have been the right place but the once lively plans were now empty of the great herds and it’s always the cubs that suffer first.

Fortunately the ‘long rains’ started in the second week of April, only slightly late and the herds immediately smelt the rain and moved south and are now back on the short grass plains. The calves will be happy, as will the lion cubs, but undoubtedly in years like this, the survival rate will be lower than the average – it’s al part of nature’s way of maintaining a balance.

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In spite of some struggling calves, the game viewing was as good as ever, a pack of 25 wild dog in Tarangire a particular treat and whilst most of the wildebeest may have been further north, the sight of tens of thousands of gazelle in the early morning light at Ndutu made for a stirring sight each morning, and the cheetah and the leopard were as photogenic as ever and these young cheetah eventually managed to dig out the hare that they’d chased into a burrow.

Elephant viewing in Tarangire was excellent and the rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater very helpful, whilst Masai dancing at sunset in a remote rocky kopje will always make the hair stand up on the back of your neck —there is never a bad safari in Tanzania!

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Join me to see the second part of Tanzania’s great migration, the river crossings, in September of this year, get in touch soon for further details – just 4 places left!

Andrew

Contact us at  info@journeyintoafrica.com for help in planning your perfect safari.  Bespoke safaris arranged for from 1 to 14 people – the options, and opportunities, are endless!

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The Serengeti National Park

Those of you who have spent time on safari with me will not be surprised by my final choice: no. 10 out of 10 on my Top Safari Destinations is Tanzania’s magnificent and awe-inspiring Serengeti National Park!12764

Where: Situated in north-western Tanzania, bordering Kenya’s Masai Marra to the north which is part of the same ecosystem, and reaching almost to Lake Victoria to the west and contiguous with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the east, the Serengeti  itself is over 5,500 sq miles but its complete ecosystem is very much larger.    You can fly in and out of the Serengeti via around a one hour scheduled flight from Arusha, but I generally advise driving one way in and flying out at the end, to see the people and cultures of northern Tanzania and take in a number of its other great wildlife destinations.

Why: Simply unmatched for sheer numbers of wildlife and spectacular and varied scenery.  The largest migration of large animals on earth is to be found here with an estimated 1.4 million wildebeest, 400,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 300,000 zebra, Grants gazelle, topi, impala and giraffe amongst many others.  This attracts plenty of predators and the Serengeti is an excellent place to watch lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and jackal during the day.  Irrespective of the wildlife, including terrific birding, it’s the sheer size, scope and beauty of the Park which makes it so memorable.

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When: The Serengeti is dominated by the great migration, which is a year-round search for food and water, so the great herds can be found at any time of the year, but there are easier and more dependable times than others.  Most people choose to avoid the ‘long’ rains of April and early May and the ‘short’ rains of November into December, and the most dependable times for finding the big herds are on the short grass plains of the south in December to May and the dry season grazing grounds to the north in July to September. Having said all of that, one of the most exciting times is the movement off the plains during the wildebeest rut, in late May to June, when the herds form massive groups and collect on the edge of the woodland.  The difficulty is that the timing of the movement is weather-dependent, making it a matter of luck when you’re arrangng a safari many months ahead.  Calving time for the wildebeest is in February, when around 250,000 calves are born in a four week period, making February and March one of my favourite times.

Where in the Park: Again, determined by the great migration, but in general in the early part of the year, December to May you should be on or around the short grass plains to the south, where the wildebeest calve, whilst in the dry season of July to September you should be in the northern Serengeti, where you can see the zebra and wildebeest crossing the Mara River and braving the crocs and strong currents.  The western corridor is good in the June to August time and central Serengeti around Seronera is particularly good in the dry season.  Don’t forget, being in the right part of the Serengeti at the right time of the year is critical.  It seems a lot of visitors are told ‘it’s all the Serengeti’ or even that Kenya’s ‘Masai Mara is part of the Serengeti’; that might be true in ecosystem terms,  but in terms of wildlife viewing, you should maximise your chances by being in the right place – you really don’t want to be a four hour drive from the heart of the action!

How long: You need at least 3 nights in the Serengeti, 5 if you’re going to visit more than one camp and area.  You could however spend a lifetime here – I’ve spent over 2 years of my life in the Serengeti and there are many, many places I have yet to see!

What to do : Game viewing by safari vehicle is the main activity here and it has to be remembered that walking is not allowed in most areas of the park.  Game viewing by 4 x 4 vehicle undoubtedly gives the best opportunities to game view the wildlife and to see as much of the  park as possible, but if you want a real wilderness walking experience there are now just a very few operators with a licence to guide walking safaris within certain areas of the park.  If you do this, you will see no one else for the whole of your walking safari – exclusive wild Africa at its best!

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My View:  Simply the best!  The variety, the scope and the sheer numbers of animals is unmatched.  The Serengeti has become more popular, so you don’t want to spend your time there in a large lodge, game viewing along the popular roads, you need a small camp and do your game viewing in the remoter areas – then you are in for an unmatched treat!  This takes planning and attention to detail but you will have seen the ultimate wildlife destination!

For more information on the Serengeti and Tanzania’s other destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or to see the Serengeti in the right way, contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com
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The Selous Game Reserve

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Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve has gained almost mythical status within safari circles, as the largest game reserve on the continent, home to the most animals and was always renowned as a place with very few visitors.  Great numbers of elephant and lion, as well as hippo and crocs on the Rufiji River.  Named after the famous hunter turned conservationaist, Frederick Selous, it was also home to some action during the First World War.

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Where:   Located around a one hour flight or an eight hour drive west of Dar Es Salaam in southern Tanzania, with easy access by scheduled flights to the other southern Tanzanian parks or the island of Zanzibar.

Why:  The scope of the Selous is huge : over 22,000 square miles making it almost four times the size of the Serengeti, with many opportunities for game walks and, boat trips as well as game drives.  It is this range of activities along with the relative remoteness and exclusivity of the safari experience that makes the Selous such a draw.

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When: The Selous is more geographically and climatically similar to Southern Africa than the rest of East Africa, and so its game viewing is at its best during the dry season from June to October.  Even then, be aware that the sheer size of the Reserve makes statistics deceptive: the Selous might have the biggest populations of elephant and lion in East Africa, but the elephant herds are much smaller and often shyer than in other areas and there is a huge amount of cover to hide in – even for an elephant!

Where in the Reserve: Don’t be fooled by the size of the Selous.  Although it’s over 22,000 sq. miles in size, in reality it’s only the portion, around a sixth of the Reserve, north of the Rufiji River which is readily accessible to visitors, whilst much of the southern portion is relatively uninteresting and hard to get through, miombo woodland.   Most camps are therefore located along the river and beautiful floodplains that surround it,  This is also the most game-rich area with good numbers of predators including opportunities to see the endangered wild dog.

How long: You need at least 3 nights in the Selous, 4 or 5 if you want to visit two camps.

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What to do: Game viewing by open safari vehicle, as well as escorted game walks and boat trips on the Rufiiji River.  Longer walking safaris and fly camps are also possibilitiies from some camps.  Terrific bird watching particularly in the flood plain areas and along the river.

My View:  A place for the safari connoisseur!  You need to want to use the activities on offer in the Selous: walking and boats as well as game drives and to be prepared to work a little harder for your game than in the parks to the north. In short, that you are prepared to sacrifice the big herds and easier game viewing of the northern parks to enjoy a more pristine, wilderness safari experience  with extra activities.   Easy access to Zanzibar makes the Selous an ideal choice if you want to combine safari and beach and are short of time.
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For more information on the Selous and Tanzania’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Zambia’s Luangwa National Park.

Tarangire National Park

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Tarangire National Park is fourth on my list of  Top Ten African safari destinations, and is a firm favourite with many visitors, often surpassing its more famous neighbours the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.  The combination of awesome scenery, baobab trees and the best elephant viewing in Tanzania is hugely popular.

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Where: Located in northern Tanzania, 1 & 1/2 hours drive west of Arusha along an excellent road., Tarangire is an easily accessible part of Tanzania’s northern circuit.

Why: Elephants and baobabs amongst others!  Tarangire is a fantastic place to watch elephant with many family groups visible in open parkland type habitat, and when coupled with the hugely characterful baobab trees offer great photographic opportunities.   Lion and leopard are present year round along with buffalo and giraffe with large herds of wildebeest and zebra entering the park in the dry season.

When: Tarangire is lovely at any time of the year and there are always elephants present but during the dry season, particularly from July into October, the game viewing can be truly exceptional, with grass cover lower and huge herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and elephant coming to the waters of the Tarangire River off the Lolkisale and Simanjiro Plains to the east.

Where: Anywhere in the park is great, the camps to the north near the main entrance gate experience more visitor traffic.but are easier to get to and have less of the annoying tsetse flies particularly outside the dry season months.  Further south in the park the camps are smaller and more exclusive.  Personally I always choose a camp in the park over one outside, even allowing for some very lovely camps on the eastern side of the park – it’s just better to be at the heart of the action!

How long: A minimum of one night outside the dry season, but 3 or 4 is great during the July to October period.

What to do: Game drives are the main option in Tarangire, but some of the smaller exclusive camps in the more remote areas have licensed walking guides for walking safaris.

My view: Fantastic!  Go and see it for yourself!

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For more information on Tarangire and Tanzania’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Chobe National Park and the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers.

The Ngorongoro Crater

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This is the second of my Top Ten African safari destinations, and one which seems to divide opinion these days!  Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is frequently cited as the one place you’d go to if you had just one day to spend on safari in Africa; in many ways this is true: the Crater has phenomenal scenery, fascinating geology and you are virtually guaranteed to see perhaps four of the ‘Big Five’ along with great herds of wildebeest and zebra, good jackal and hyena, hippo and great birdlife in a single day at virtually any time of the year.

But this wealth of treasures has brought its drawbacks:  too many vehicles on too restricted a road network and a, necessarily, much higher level of stringent park regulations has made the Crater a less satisfying safari destination than in the past for experienced safari travellers.   I well remember camping on the floor of the Crater in the 1980’s and had some of my most dramatic wildlife experiences in camp there, but now I recommend just one day on the Crater floor and leaving as early as possible to stay ahead of most other visitors.   Even now, the Crater leaves an inspiring impression on virtually all who go there.

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Where: Located in northern Tanzania, between the city of Arusha and the Serengeti National Park.

Why:  Some of the highest concentrations of lion, hyena and jackal in Africa, easily seen during the day, with great herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and gazelle.  The backdrop of the 2000 ft Crater wall make a stunning backdrop to every picture and the scenery is surprisingly varied with lakes, marshes, woods and plains.  The wildlife is very habituated to vehicles which makes this the place for wildlife portraits.

The Crater is also the best place in Tanzania for seeing the endangered black rhino and the Conservation Area as a whole is home to the Masai people; having time to get just off the main road around the Crater rim will lead you to some wonderfully pristine Masai communities and countryside.

When: Most of the wildlife in the Crater does not migrate so game viewing is pretty consistent throughout the year.  Heavy rainfall during the ‘long rains’ of April and early May can make access to certain areas of the Crater more difficult, but you’re less likely to run into more visitors then, a definite advantage!

Where: The Crater is small enough that a full day of perhaps 6 to 8 hours game driving will allow you to see virtually all of the Crater floor.   If you have time for a second day, you can visit one of the less seen regions of the Conservation Area:: the beautiful extinct volcanoes of Olmoti or Embagai and take a hike with an armed ranger.  Further, longer hikes with Masai and donkeys are also possible for the more adventurous.

How long: You need a two night stay with one game drive on the Crater floor, and a third night if you want a longer hike in the surrounding areas.  Good safari accommodation is more of a problem at the Crater and most times I use the rather large and impersonal lodges which have a great view and access to the Crater floor.  My view is that you need to be close enough to the Crater to get down there early – it makes a big difference to the wildife experience, so I avoid the small lodges around the town of Karatu which have become more popular.

What to do: Game drives are the only option on the Crater floor with escorted hikes in the surrounding areas of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and visits to Masai villages and schools.  Just south of the Conservation Area is the Lake Eyasi region where hunting with the Hadza hunter-gatherers is possible.

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For more information on the Ngorongoro Crater and Tanzania’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Kenya’s Masai Mara!

The Top Ten Wildlife Areas of East & Southern Africa!

Actually they’re my ‘Top Ten’ as like all choices it’s all subjective and highly personal, however after nearly 30 years of taking groups on safari in East and Southern Africa I know what works and which areas make for a great safari destination!

Of course, there’s far more to it than simply the destination: you have to be there at the right time of the year, in the right part of the park and doing your safari in the right way, but if you end up visiting a combination of any of my Top Ten, you’ll have a wildlife experience to savour!

Over the next month or so, every few days I’ll be posting a new blog with the next entry on my list, with information on why the area is such a great safari destination, when and where to go, how long you might want to stay and what to do there.

Starting tomorrow with the jewel in Botswana’s crown –  The Okavango Delta!

Talk tomorrow – and to make sure you don’t miss any of the ten, click on the Follow button at the bottom of this Blog which will alert you when a new blog is posted.

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For further details on African photographic safaris or on any of the areas mentioned in this blog visit:

www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact Andrew on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Where should I go on safari?

This is probably the question I get asked most, swiftly followed by  ‘and at what time of the year?’

The truth is, it depends on what you want from your safari, when you are able to go, and inevitably, how much money you want to spend.  The answer will be different if you’ve been on safari before, and whether you want to combine a safari with other areas and activities – the coast or Victoria Falls for instance.

But if the safari is the prime driver, to me there are two countries that stand out above all others: Tanzania and Botswana.  Yes, if you want mountain gorillas you must go to either Uganda or Rwanda, if you want vineyards or cage diving with great white sharks head for South Africa, for game walks and great chances of good leopard sightings Zambia is renowned and for spectacular desert scenery try Namibia, but for the whole safari experince I believe Botswana and Tanzania have the edge.

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Botswana offers great predator viewing, including good chances for the endangered wild dog, huge numbers of  elephants, varied safari activities and a pristine safari experience.  You can take game drives, including night drives in some areas, boat trips on the Chobe, Kwando and Linyanti Riverr, dug-out canoes in the Okavango Delta, and experience game walks in many areas.  It can also be combined easily with the fantastic Victoria Falls and South  Africa.  Good infrastructure and mainly small, high quality camps, easily accessed by light aircraft make for no long drives and safaris easily arranged for as few as two people.  Botswana is at its best, (with high prices to match) during the dry season from June to October.

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Tanzania on the other hand has the greatest density of large animals probably anywhere on earth; this is the country to see the huge herds of migrating wildebeest, zebra and gazelle, which in turn attract many predators particularly lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and jackal.  The scenery of northern Tanzania is also hugely varied, from the bulks of Mts Kilimanjaro and Meru, across the Masai Steppe into the Rift Valley, over the Ngorongoro Crater Highlands and down onto the Serengeti Plains, and driving one way of this circuit gives a great insight into the country and its people.

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There’s no doubt though that Tanzania is becoming a more popular destination, so if you want to get away from the bulk of other visitors, and experience the magnificent wildlife, scenery and cultures of Tanzania in the best way, you need to plan your safari right.  Tanzania is at its best from December to March and from the end of May to October, but the recommended itinerary will be very different depending on the time of the year.

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For more help on planning your personal, perfect safari, get in touch at:

andrew@journeyintoafrica.com

For more information on the major wildlife areas on Tanzania and Botswana see: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Trekking Mount Meru, Tanzania

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Just got back from Tanzania where we spent four days walking up Mt Meru before our safari.  If Meru was positioned anywhere else it would be a major trekking destination, but it has the misfortune to be situated 50 miles from its more famous big sister – Kilimanjaro, which attracts all the headlines and most of the visitors.

For Meru this is a pity, as it’s a stunningly beautiful mountain, more wildlife on its lower slopes than Kili, a lovely forest trail up the mountain and a more varied ascent to the summit, along a sometimes quite tricky path, with a bit of scrambling and a real pull to the top.  For those that do get up here, they’re rewarded by phenomenal views down into the Ash Cone, the sheer, rocky eastern face of the mountain the Masai call Ol Donyo Orok – the Black Mountain, and great views of Kili and across the Masai Steppe and into Kenya.

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We started at 5,000 feet, walking up a trail with colobus monkeys above and the crimson flash of turacos flying between the trees of the ancient nuxia and juniper forest, it’s a hugely atm0spheric place, festooned with lichen and mosses and you half expect an elf or goblin to appear from behind every tree!  Our first hut was Miriakamba Hut at around 8000 ft with fantastic views of the top of the mountain as the cloud lifted.

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The following day it’s a full morning’s hike through more beautiful hagenia forest up a good trail to Saddle Hut, from where you can take an acclimatisation walk up Little Meru in the afternoon, before an early night and a good meal prepared for you  by your cook, in readiness for the hardest day of all.

From Saddle Hut it’s the big push to the summit, done at night with a headtorch to reach the 15,000 ft peak at sunrise, and a huge sense of acheivement at the top.  Fron there it’s downhill all the way and you see the path that you ascended at night – good thing it was in the dark!  Congratulations Joyce, Nick and Shelly for summiting in style!

The final day is a different route down, stunning scenery and a lovely path.  Meru is a great alternative to Kilimanjaro, yes, it’s lower and it’s not the highest in Africa, but in many ways it’s more beautiful and it has the attraction of fewer people – so don’t tell everyone!

If you want to discuss a trek up either Meru or Kili, perhaps in combination with a Tanzanian safari, do get in touch at andrew@journeyintoafrica.com

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