I was fourteen years old when I made my first travel bucket list, it was after a family holiday to Singapore which sparked my interest in culture, I found it amazing how one small country had such strong influences from India, China and Malaysia moulded into a unique culture of its own. As a teenager, my travel bucket list wasn’t so exotic per se; it mostly included major tourist destinations such as the Eiffel Tower, Disneyland and the Great Wall of China. However I do remember reading about a country I had never heard of before, somewhere in Africa – Tanzania. I learnt that this was the place where The Great Migration took place, a wildlife phenomenon where 2 million wildebeest migrate north into the Masai Mara in Kenya. Due to the timing of my arrival in Tanzania, I wasn’t expecting to see the Migration this year. But as our clunky yellow truck crawled its way over a hill during our second day in the Serengeti National Park – the horizon was covered in what looked like flowing black rivers – The Great Migration.
Flashbacks of watching The Lion King as a six year old were running through my mind as we passed the arched gateway into the Serengeti. ‘The circle of life’ was running on repeat in my head as the flat planes of this wildlife haven came into view. The 30,000 square kilometers of Serengeti National Park creates a home for 70 species of large mammals and over 500 species of birds. The day was hot and therefore our chances of seeing any predator action were low. But not to worry, we were camping inside the park for the night and had another day of game driving tomorrow.
Our campsite was right in the center of the park, a lonely patch of land where the 24 of us were left to our own devices. We had purchased some firewood from local rangers to keep us warm as we prepared the evenings meal. Lions and Hyena regularly make their way through the campsite at night, this had me slightly on edge and I was constantly shining light into the surrounding bushes, looking for any sign of eyes peering through. It was 4am when the low growling sound of the Lions could be heard, I laid in my sleeping bag listening and in awe of how intimate this experience was with the wild nature of the Serengeti. As we packed up camp early in the morning, Hyena footprints could be seen in the mud beside our truck and looking up, three giraffe’s were gracefully passing by with curiosity. It was a magical moment.
Going on game drives in Africa’s national parks is always a gamble, sometimes extremely disappointing or if your lucky, eventful. Today we were lucky. Within half an hour – we had stumbled across a large family of lions, witnessing the females on a hunt and the male walking right under the shade of our truck. Another half hour later, we rounded a hill and saw the vast plains ahead speckled in black – moving in closer – wildebeest covered the nearby land. Is this what I think it is? In fact, yes, this is The Great Migration. The sheer amount of animals covering the land was jaw dropping; I couldn’t see any ground ahead where they were not grazing, slowly on their way north to Kenya.
This proved to be the perfect hunting ground for predators and we were lucky enough to see several more groups of lions as well as a family of cheetah. Quite a few zebra had joined in the migration and they could be seen dotted occasionally between the wildebeest. I was filled with excitement as we continued along the road and into the depths of the migration, we travelled another hour and still, the wildebeest were at our side. Being lucky enough to see such a phenomenon made the Serengeti experience one of my favorite parts of Africa so far. The Serengeti is a sanctuary for wildlife, one that brings on nostalgia from watching Disney movies as a child and satisfies the inner urge to observe raw nature at such an intimate level.
There was a dramatic change in scenery as we left the Serengeti and made our way towards Ngorongoro Crater. Green, volcanic mountains were merging in around us and with altitude gain, the air became cool. Masai villages were sporadically seen in the valleys below, now a lush land with plenty of cattle and crops growing. We spent the night camped on the crater rim, a group of buffalo paid a visit to our campsite during the night to graze on the grass between our tents. We woke in the morning to the sun rising and piled ourselves into safari jeeps. It was a short drive to the Ngorongoro Park Entrance at the top of the crater, the location giving an incredible view of the oasis below. We descended down into the crater to be met with a flurry of animals at the base. Lions, Zebra, Elephant, Black Rhino, Gazelle, Warthog, Flamingoes and Hippos were seen in the following three hours we spent driving through the Crater. The highlight of the day was observing a newborn Gazelle taking its first steps.
I cant express the feelings associated with such close wildlife encounters, it’s a moment of pure appreciation of nature and something that I feel lucky to have experienced. Tanzania’s National Parks are something I had spent years dreaming about and my expectations were far exceeded. I will miss the thrill of being present amongst some of the world’s most unique animals.