|Arriving at this campsite which overlooked the crater below we felt like we had come to our favourite place already and that was without even getting into the crater, which we would be doing in the morning.
We awoke during the night to the sounds of what we thought were big animals walking past our tent but when we listened carefully we realised it was animals chomping at the grass, they sounded huge and we thought they might be hippos, lay there awake for a couple of hours nervous in case they stood on us in our tent!!! We eventually fell asleep listening to them and when we awoke there was an amazing sunrise over the rim of the crater and clouds spilling over the top of it into the crater,it was quite magical and you really felt like you were on top of the world. At breakfast that morning there was lots of talk of the noises heard through the night, one guy said he got up and looked out his tent to see what was out there and that he saw an elephant (our guide said no way there was elephants imagination goes a bit mad in the pitch black!!) so more likely buffalo or bush pigs..... either way bizarre to awake to something eating just outside your tent!!
The crater itself was our highlight of all safaris by far, and that is on top of everything else we have seen which is saying quite a lot.
It was not that we saw so many of the major animals up close here - we only saw lions in the distance - another 18 of them!, and we saw black rhino for first time, again in distance -(but that made the big 5!) Saw 6 of them, including a little baby which is great to see them growing in population again after so many years of poaching.
The thing about being in the crater is that you can not describe it without you being there, and no photos do it justice.
You descend 600m down the steepest rockiest road cut out of granite. (this is an old volcano after all), and drive into a perfectly formed caldera which provides life to masses of hoof animals - and of course their predators! The animals some how come and go out of this crater, so the population keeps changing, but when are in there, it seems like a huge open air zoo, with all animals intermingling and some looking very nervously at each other. Thats what happens when you put this many 1000s of animals into a a plain which is only 20kms wide and surrounded in massive volcanic cliffs! The crater contains a massive soda lake full of flamingoes, a number of fresh water lakes and a small forest (but not big enough for giraffe - the one animal missing here.)
But some highlights were the bull elephants who had come down from the forest into a swamp area, seeing the rhino obviously and seeing plains with buffalo, antelope, ostrich, rhino and cheetah or lion in background looking for lunch. Probably the biggest highlight was the backdrop of flamingoes which we got close enough to get some great photos (see above).
Lunch was also a highlight as the picnic was next to a beautiful lake full of hippos and zebras grazing nearby but poor Nancy lost her chicken leg to a large brown kite (like an eagle) that swooped from nowhere to scoop the chicken from her hands without laying a scratch on her - she got a big fright though - quite funny to watch though!! hence I ate my chicken in the landrover! (-:
Only slight disappointment was that we had to leave this wonderland after 4 hours because the rains were coming and it would be nearly impossible to drive out again. Did make us realise how lucky we had been with the weather on this whole trip. It poured on the way back to Arusha that afternoon.