We live in a time where the idea of coexistence with the environment is viewed only through the lens of the human being. It is very difficult to find places where there is a symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Almost devoid from the rest of the continent, there lies a land isolated from the world; a land with a unique topographical history; a land where you witness actual harmonious coexistence between man and animals – the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania. A world heritage site that literally houses the cradle of human civilization, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is probably the one place that each one of us should visit as a pilgrimage to our history and ancestry.
Situated approximately 190 kilometres west of Arusha in Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) covers a combined area of over 8,000 kilometres. It extends from the serene plains of the Serengeti National Park on one side to the eastern arm of the gigantic Rift Valley that spans along the length of Eastern Africa. The entire area is a mix of plains, savannahs, plateau as well as lush forests in certain patches. The NCA was part of the Serengeti National Park for a long time until an ordinance in 1959 which separated the NCA from the Serengeti, largely owing to the way it was affecting the native Maasai tribe. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) was established to safeguard the unique wildlife and ecosystems that entail the area and ensure that there would be no hunting or poaching that took place in the area. It was then made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 after the area’s vast wildlife diversity, as well as impact to human history, was recognized. The entire area is still part of the expansive Serengeti ecosystem and make part of the vast plains that run further north of the conservation area. It is best known for the famous Ngorongoro Crater as well as the Olduvai Gorge.
The Ngorongoro Crater
One of the main features of the NCA that attracts thousands of visitors every year is the Ngorongoro Crater – a vast caldera that houses some of the most diverse wildlife in the world and it truly isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, it is the world’s largest inactive, unfilled and intact caldera – a depression caused in the earth due to a previously-existent volcano collapsing on itself. The bottom of the caldera measures approximately 16 to 19 kilometres across, extending to a total of 102 square kilometres. The entire area feels isolated from the rest of the world largely because of the densely forested crater rim that rises a tremendous 600 metres from the bottom of the caldera. A short stop during your Tanzania safari at this crater rim gives some of the most awe-inspiring panoramic views of the vast pastures of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Most of the Ngorongoro Crater is filled with lush and endless grasslands. It boasts a spectacular landscape with one of the most diverse varieties of animals that reside here, making it a unique natural wonder. The lush grasslands and highlands are interspersed with water bodies like Lake Magadi which boasts a high number of flamingos during certain months. The entire conservation area boasts overlapping ecological zones that range from the grasslands to montane long grass plains to savanna woodlands that are very characteristic of the African mainland.
Apart from the main caldera, there are two other craters in the area from other extinct volcanoes – Olmoti and Empakai. These areas are adorned with waterfalls and deep lakes with lush shores that attract a variety of wildlife, as is the case with everything within the main crater area. Topographically, the windward side of the crater rim is filled with dense forest as well as high grasses based on the season as well as the specific area and the rainfall it receives. The leeward side of the highlands boasts of the Oldonyo Lengai – Tanzania’s third highest peak and an active volcano which last erupted in 2007! This is the same area where the Lake Natron is also situated – famously known to be one of the richest flamingo breeding grounds in Tanzania and all of Africa. Such diversity can simply not be missed while on a Tanzania safari.
The entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is known to be one of the richest ecosystems when it comes to vegetation and wildlife. The area boasts of approximately 25,000 large animals that include a lot of ungulates. Apart from these, this area boasts the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa, especially known to be the densest in Lion concentration in all of Africa. Not only this, the area is also home to some of the most endangered and cherished of land animals on the entire planet like the Black Rhino. If you’re in for the classic Tanzania safari, you will not be disappointed as all of the big 5 – Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant and Cape Buffalo are found here. Apart from the big 5, the NCA boasts an impressive range of animals that coexist in this land. More than 7,000 wildebeest, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland and 3,000 Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelles are just the tip of the animal congregation that makes this one of the most dense wildlife zones in the world. There were 62 lions counted in 2001, while more than 4,000 buffalos and other animals were also counted. Lake Magadi and Lake Natron are also world-famous for their flamingo numbers, while Lake Ndutu is also known for its cheetah population. It doesn’t take much to understand why the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is always packed with tourists waiting for a glimpse of these natural wonders.
While watching majestic and formidable land predators is part of every African tourist’s list, there is so much more to this area than just wildlife and stunning scenery. It is literally the cradle civilization as we know it, and bears proof to the history of the human race right in the heart of the conservation area – the Olduvai Gorge. This 14 kilometre long ravine that runs along the eastern edge of the world-famous Rift Valley is one of the most important places in human evolution history. West of the Ngorongoro crater lies a place called Laetoli. It is in this part of Tanzania that you will find the earliest preserved remains of hominid footprints which are 3.6 million years.
These form the oldest evidence of human beings anywhere in the world. Not only were there footprints, but excavations in the layers of the gorge revealed evidence of four different types of hominid including the Homo Habilis and the Zinjanthropus. Apart from giving you views of the stunning gorge that gives you a sneak peek into the landforms that are the spine of eastern Africa, a visit to the Olduvai Gorge will remain with you forever as you witness one of the most precious remains of human history the earth has to offer.
With myriad offerings that range from wildlife to human evolution, there is no doubt the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is one of the most sought-after tourist locations in East Africa. This is why you will find some of the most pristine lodges around the NCA area, made for the tourist to marvel at the majestic beauty the place has to offer. Some of the oldest lodes are the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge as well as the Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge located at the crater rim overlooking the vast caldera. Make sure you book early because you will be fighting an average of 450,000 annuals visitors. Also remember that the crater rim gets pretty cold during the winter months at night, so carry gear accordingly.
There is no doubt that the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of those places that you visit to be humbled and thrown back to the ground, thanks to the sheer enormity of the land and the impact on human history. Not only this, there are so many secrets kept within the crater that you will know of only when you make the trip – like the fact that Olduvai probably used to be a paleolake with humongous flesh-eaters trooping the lands around it. So clear your schedule, plan for a Tanzania Safari and find yourself amidst the most tremendous of natural events as you take a million-year-long walk through human history all at the same place. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area will certainly leave an irreplaceable impression on you!