2012.12.31After returned to the main road, B144, we were leaving Serengeti National Park and entering Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Along the rugged road that we came three days ago, we arrived at Ngorongoro Crate at 9:30am.

Ngorongoro Crate was created by the volcano eruption and collapsion 2 to 3 million years ago. The original volcano could be as high as 19,000 feet. Today, it is the largest and the best preserved volcanic caldera in the world. Visitors can only enter the crater from the north entrance and are allowed to stay up to 6 hours on the crater’s floor.

Overlook Lake Makat in Ngorongoro Crater from the north entrance
Overlook Lake Makat in Ngorongoro Crater from the north entrance
Drive down to the floor of Ngorongoro Crater
Drive down to the floor of Ngorongoro Crater from the rim, which is 2000 feet above the floor. Stopping during descending is prohibited.

Because of the large size of the crater and the natural enclosure created by the volcano caldera, Ngorongoro crater forms its own ecosystem. For 25,000 large animals living inside the crater, mostly ungulates, don’t leave the crater in their whole lives; but some, for example, a portion of wildebeests, zebras and buffaloes, do migrate according to the season. The major animals that are missing in the crater are impala, giraffe, cheetah and leopard.

Zebras, Ngorongoro Crater
Zebras, Ngorongoro Crater
Lake Makat in Ngorongoro Crater
Lesser Flamingoes on Lake Makat, a seasonal salt lake in Ngorongoro Crater
Buffaloes, Ngorongoro Crater
Buffaloes, Ngorongoro Crater
Hyenas, Ngorongoro Crater
Hyenas, Ngorongoro Crater

A species that is critically endangered and can be found within the crater is the black rhino. We were very lucky to see one of them, although in a very far range. The population dropped rapidly because of poaching activities. The government has to take serious steps to protect endangered species. We often saw armed rangers patrolling the area.

Black Rhino, Ngorongoro Crater
A black rhino in very far range. It looked white because of mud on the body. Ngorongoro Crater.
Lions, Ngorongoro Crater
A adult male lion in Ngorongoro Crater

The sheer size of the crater and the panorama view of the caldera wall are overwhelming. We roamed around for 3 hours within the crater, then we ascended from its east wall, drove a quarter of the cycle and returned to the south entrance.

Panorama view of Ngorongoro Crater from the floor
Panorama view from the floor of Ngorongoro Crater
Ngorongoro Crater's own weather
The crater has its own weather – sunshine and storm in Ngorongoro Crater

We’d still have almost 10 hours before our flight took off. On our final leg, we drove through all the great places we have been to. A while after we descended from the Rift Valley, a typical early afternoon thunderstorm came and lasted for about an hour. As we turned to the road to Arusha, the rain stopped. It looked like nothing would prevent us from having a very smooth trip.

Tanzania's Staple Food - Bananas, Mto wa Mbu
Tanzania’s Staple Food – Bananas, Mto wa Mbu near Rift Valley
Maasai's village, near Arusha
Maasai’s village, near Arusha
Maasai's market, near Arusha
Maasai’s market, near Arusha
Rainbow over North Tanzania plains, near Arusha
Rainbow over North Tanzania plains, near Arusha

Things started happening after we stopped to take pictures for this beautiful rainbow. The car just couldn’t start. It’s only 30 to 40 miles from Arusha. Justin called the office but they didn’t have a car immediately available to take us. We anxiously waited in the car for 40 minutes, luckily another car of the same company passed by and the driver must be more experienced than Justin. He in fact removed something from the car under the hood then the car just started fine. Right before we enter Arusha city, the rare-left tire got flat. We had backup, so we got off the car and Justin changed tire. It’s almost 6pm now. The city streets were just jammed. After we finally drove through Arusha and left all the noise behind, it already passed 7pm. Although we knew that we’d still have enough time, everyone couldn’t help getting a little nervous, because it’s getting dark, another car problem would cause us missing the flight.

In the end, nothing happened. We arrived at the airport at 8:30pm. The only thing we probably missed was, if without those issues, we’d have a good chance to see Mt. Kilimanjaro on our way to the airport. What we had seen actually was the dimmest hint of the mountain body, which we couldn’t even convince ourselves. We thanked Justin for his wonderful work and said goodbye to him. We would have a long trip back home.

We had a great safari trip that is much exceeded our expectations. We knew we would visit great national parks and see wildlife, but we didn’t expect wide variety of landscapes, including lakes, forest, mountains, endless flat plains and rolling savanna, and rich history of natural environment and human kind. With the world-class safari lodges, we were able to experience all these wonders in comfort. Northern Tanzania is one of our dream destinations and we had our dream come true.

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