Northern Circuit Tanzania National Parks
Northern Circuit Tanzania National Parks
ARUSHA NATIONAL PARK
The closest national park to Arusha town – northern Tanzania’s safari capital – Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by safarigoers, despite offering the opportunity to explore a beguiling diversity of habitats within a few hours.
The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful turacos and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.
Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one a different hue of green or blue. Their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.
Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, only 50km (30 miles) distant.
But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru – the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 MASL metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern footslopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.
Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Meru leads into forests aflame with red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching high open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the hike’s progress. Astride the craggy summit, Kilimanjaro stands unveiled, blushing in the sunrise.
MANYARA NATIONAL PARK
Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”.
The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience. From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush junglelike groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside, blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy.
Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.
Inland of the floodplain, a narrow belt of acacia woodland is the favoured haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions and impressively tusked elephants. Squadrons of banded mongoose dart between the acacias, while the diminutive Kirk’s dik-dik forages in their shade. Pairs of klipspringer are often seen silhouetted on the rocks above a field of searing hot springs that steams and bubbles adjacent to the lakeshore in the far south of the park.
Manyara provides the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s birdlife. More than 400 species have been recorded, and even a first-time visitor to Africa might reasonably expect to observe 100 of these in one day. Highlights include thousands of pink-hued flamingos on their perpetual migration, as well as other large waterbirds such as pelicans, cormorants and storks.
TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK
Day after day of cloudless skies. The fierce sun sucks the moisture from the landscape, baking the earth a dusty red, the withered grass asbrittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shrivelled to a shadow of its wet season self. But it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parchedkilometres knowing that here,always, there is water.
Herds of up to 300 elephants scratch the dry river bed for underground streams, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland crowd the shrinking lagoons. It’s the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem – a smorgasbord for predators – and the one place in Tanzania where dry-country antelope such as the stately fringe-eared oryx and peculiar long-necked gerenuk are regularly observed.
During the rainy season, the seasonal visitors scatter over a 20,000 sq km (12,500 sq miles) range until they exhaust the green plains and the river calls once more. But Tarangire’s mobs of elephant are easily encountered, wet or dry. The swamps, tinged green year round, are the focus for 550 bird varieties, the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world.
On drier ground you find the Kori bustard, the heaviest world-flying bird; the stockingthighed ostrich, the world’s largest bird; and small parties of ground hornbills blustering like turkeys. More ardent bird-lovers might keep an eye open for screeching flocks of the dazzlingly colourful yellow-collared lovebird, and the somewhat drabber rufous-tailed weaver and ashy starling – all endemic to the dry savannah of north-central Tanzania. Disused termite mounds are often frequented by colonies of the endearing dwarf mongoose, and pairs of red-and yellow barbet, which draw attention to themselves by their loud, clockwork-like duetting. Tarangire’s pythons climb trees, as do its lions and leopards, lounging in the branches where the fruit of the sausage tree disguises the twitch of a tail.
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
A million wildebeest… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.
Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, also a World Heritage Site and recently proclaimed a World Wide Wonder, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.
The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzania’s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the insectivorous aardwolf to the beautiful serval cat.
But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Gaudy agama lizards and rock hyraxes scuffle around the surfaces of the park’s isolated granite kopjes. A full 100 varieties of dung beetle have been recorded, as have 500-plus bird species, ranging from the outsized ostrich and bizarre secretary bird of the open grassland, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.
As enduring as the game-viewing is the liberating sense of space that characterises the Serengeti Plains, stretching across sunburnt savannah to a shimmering golden horizon at the end of the earth. Yet, after the rains, this golden expanse of grass is transformed into an endless green carpet flecked with wildflowers. And there are also wooded hills and towering termite mounds, rivers lined with fig trees and acacia woodland stained orange by dust. Popular the Serengeti might be, but it remains so vast that you may be the only human audience when a pride of lions masterminds a siege, focussed unswervingly on its next meal.
KILIMANJARO NATIONAL PARK
Kilimanjaro. The name itself is a mystery wreathed in clouds. It might mean Mountain of Light, Mountain of Greatness or Mountain of Caravans. Or it might not. The local people, the wachagga, don’t even have a name for the whole massif, only Kipoo (now known as Kibo) for the familiar snowy peak that stands imperious, overseer of the continent, the summit of Africa.
Kilimanjaro, by any name, is a metaphor for the compelling beauty of East Africa. When you see it, you understand why. Not only is this the highest peak on the African continent; it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the World, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding savannah elevation around 900 metres – to an imperious 5,895 metres MASL (19,336 feet).
Kilimanjaro is one of the World’s most accessible high summits, a beacon for visitors from around the World. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing and determination. And those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, Stella Point or Gillman’s Point on the lip of the crater, will have earned their climbing certificates. And their memories.
But there is so much more to Kilimanjaro than her summit. The ascent of the slopes is a virtual climatic World tour, from the tropics to the Arctic. Even before you cross the national park boundary (at about 2700m), the cultivated foot slopes give way to lush montane forest, inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates. Higher still lies the moorland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with other worldly giant lobelias. Above 4,000m, a surreal alpine desert supports little life other than a few hardy mosses and lichen. Then, finally, the last vestigial vegetation gives way to a winter wonderland of ice and snow – and the magnificent beauty of the roof of the continent.
MKOMAZI NATIONAL PARK
‘The area was proposed to be up graded into a National Park status so as to regain wildlife population and secure their land from other incompatible uses.
Mkomazi’ comes from Pare vernacular: one of the biggest tribes in the Kilimanjaro Region in Northern Tanzania, meaning ‘The source of water’. Indeed as the name befits, the only permanent and reliable source of water in Mkomazi National Park is the Umba River which also forms the boundary to the South – East of the protected area.
The National Park was commissioned as a Game Reserve in 1951 following the degazettment of the much larger Ruvu Game Reserve.
It was declared as a Game Reserve to preserve both flora and fauna and utilize them sustainably through tourism, game hunting and wildlife viewing.
Tourist attractions: Diversity of Fauna and Flora, the only protected area in Tanzania with large and visible population of Gerenuk.
Endangered species particularly Black Rhino and Wild dogs.
Large population of big and small mammals including Wild Cats, Silver Backed Jackals, Lions, Cheetah, Leopards, Lesser Kudu, Giraffes, Grant’s gazelle, Hyenas, Hartebeest, Warthogs, Buffaloes, Elephants and Zebra.
Reptiles; Crocodiles in Umba River, Python and Agama Lizards.
Birdlife; More than 450 Species of birds, including the Tawny Eagles, Go away birds, Ostriches, Parrots, Pelicans, Cormorants, Flamingos, Kingfishers, Plovers, Ducks, Hoopoes and more other species.
Scenic beauty of Landscape including Kilimanjaro, Eastern Arc Mountains (Pare and Usambara) and associated hills. Acacia commiphora woodland.