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Our January 2009 trip to Tanzania was another another wonderful trip. Each trip is different, even when going to the same places at the same time of year. For example, on this trip we encountered many leopards. The last trip we had more lions and cheetahs and only one glimpse of a leopard. This time in Lake Manyara National Park we encountered more elephants.
Conditions for the 2009 trip was very dry. The second half of January should have been much greener after the short rains the previous month or so.
A trip to Tanzania starts with planning with an outfitter. I use Roy Safaris out of Arusha. Very professional drivers and great company to work with.
Air travel to Kilamanjaro airport can be done from multiple directions. A common way, and the way I have done it is to travel from the US to Amsterdam, stay overnight and catch the next plane to Arusha on KLM. There is one flight per day on KLM. On this last trip other members flew Ethiopian Airlines from Washington DC to Adis Ababa, stayed overnight then on to Arusha through Nairobi, Kenya. Another person flew on United star alliance partners to Rome then Cairo then Nairobi, then Arusha, then a small plane to the Serengeti to meet us part way into the trip. It was amazing that everyone got there on schedule and with all checked luggage. Due to a delay out of Denver, two bags were not on our plane when we got to Amsterdam, but arrived about 4pm, so staying over that day allowed our bags to catch up.
We arrived in Arusha around 8pm and were met at the airport by our guides. They took us to our hotel where some of our party had arrived earlier in the day. We had a late dinner and a good night's rest. The hotel I would rate about 4 stars out of 5, e.g. similar to a better hotel in the US.
We had 3 vehicles with 7 people (2 non-photographers). Everyone had a great time and we had great opportunities, especially leopards. I literally got hundreds of leopard images on 3 leopards in 3 great encounters.
I took my new Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 1DII that I had taken on the previous trip. While the frame rate is only 3.9 frames/second on the 5D2, it became clear very quickly that the 5DII was so superior in accurate focus and stunning image quality that it became my primary camera. If I had to go back today, I would take two 5DIIs.
Lenses I took included 500 mm f/4 L IS, 300 f/4 L IS, 70-200 f/4 L IS, 28-135 IS, and 20 mm f/2.8, along with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. The only lens that I did not use much was the 300 mm f/4. I took the 300 on hikes and it was a backup in case the 500 developed a problem.
Conditions are very tough on people and gear. It can be wet, but usually you are on dry dusty dirt roads. The roads are often in poor condition so very bumpy and a lot of vibration to equipment. On me previous trip, I had thought my IS was developing a problem in my 500 mm lens but it turned out OK. I brought the 300 mm lens as a backup and also for use on our hikes.
The entire northern Tanzanian region was in a drought in January 2009. When we got to Lake Manyara, it was very dry and many animals had moved on. There were still many elephants and giraffes and we got great pictures of them. Also blue monkeys.
We moved on to Serengeti Serena. The lodge was nice. The central Serengeti was starting to get some rain so it was not as dry as Manyara. We had a great photo op of mother and cub leopard in great afternoon sun. Also some great landscapes with afternoon clouds and morning fog. We watched the Obama inauguration with local staff.
At Serengeti Serena we heard that Ndutu was a dust bowl and that they had not had rain in a long time. The Masai still had cattle in the area and there were no animals east of lake Ndutu. The migration was many km to the southwest, and the predators were far from Ndutu.
Fortunately, the night before we got there, there, there was a massive rain storm. As we drove in to the Ndutu area, the roads looked like lakes. It is amazing how fast things greened up; seemed like each passing hour it got greener. The migration started heading back toward Ndutu.
The cheetah with six cubs was not in the Ndutu region but was seen way to the west in western Serengeti. Apparently she lost one cub but as of December 5, 2008 were still healthy.
We had a wonderful leopard encounter one morning at Ndutu and the usual lions, cheetahs, and other animals. Ndutu was still the best location for animals and photography. The leopard encounter was before sunrise with the leopard in a tree having breakfast. As the sun came over the horizon, it nicely lit up the leopard. Our guides said they had never seen such a sight, and we stayed with the leopard for about an hour (I'll have to check times for an exact length of time).
We watched a mother cheetah with 4 cubs. On the first day, my son Chris with Sal saw the cheetah in a fight with a hyena and she was slightly injured. We watched for four days and she could not make a kill. She was looking pretty thin and on the 4th day we watched her get a small gazelle. We got great images of her bringing the gazelle back to the cubs in great afternoon light.
Ngorongoro was great too. They have really improved the roads with gravel and stationed gravel pits around for easier repairs. The only difficulties we had were the water at Ndutu was low quality (even smelled bad during a shower). Per was caught in a breakdown of a KLM plane on the way home that ended up being a 48 hour delay in Dar es Salaam. I had no dust on either sensor the entire trip. I think the 5DII sensor cleaning is very good. I made 3 new "todd-pods" with extending legs like a tripod for Chris, Dick and I. That allowed us to rapidly change configuration and not need wooden blocks. It also allowed new positions not in corners.
Susan, as a non-photographer, had a great time. She and several others say they want to return. We talked some about that and we would like to return every 2 or 3 years. There are many places to go in the world, but Tanzania is pretty unique. I've started a web page, but only a few images so far (see link below).
Hiking: we loved the hikes. The Lake Manyara hike was great with a local person. We hiked at Ndutu twice. The best was with a Masai ranger where we were dropped off 7 km SW from the lodge near where we saw lions the previous day and walked back to the lodge. We would do these and more hikes on the next trip. It's a great way to get some exercise and not be in the vehicle too much.
Arusha seemed like double the cars--really booming. But they were concerned that the tourists are about to drop way off with the US recession.
First night in Arusha: The African Tulip
Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge
Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge
Serena lodge gets mostly good reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293751-d569713-Reviews-Serengeti_Serena_Safari_Lodge-Serengeti_National_Park.html
Ndutu Safari Lodge http://www.ndutu.com/index.html
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge http://www.sopalodges.com/ngorongoro/home.html
Back to the Tanzania travel page.
First Published December 18, 2009
Last updated December 18, 2009.