Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has long been referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the Natural World.The area was formed over centuries of volcanic activity dating back more than twenty-five million years. This activity developed after shifts in tectonic plates created a rupture and split in the land that is now the Great Rift.
There are several extinct volcanoes in the Conservation Area, but perhaps the best know of them is the Ngorongoro Crater.At 102 square miles (264 sq. kms.) on the floor, it is the world’s largest intact and un-flooded caldera. The view from the 8,000 foot (2,436 meter) rim is breathtaking.
At the crater’s floor, some 2,000 feet (610 metres) below, more than 30,000 resident animals carry on the daily struggle of survival. Here, the big five are easily spotted with leopards protecting their kills in trees and massive rhinoceros in search of fresh grass. Cape buffalo are easily spotted with oxpeckers perched on their backs.
Lake Magadi, the Swahili word for soda lake, is at the centre of the crater. It often provides home to thousands of lesser flamingos as well as a variety of other waterfowl. There are also a few hippo pools where the massive hippopotamus spend their time relaxing and keeping cool. Huge bull elephants come to the crater’s floor in search of minerals from the soda lake. The females and young remain behind on the rim.
The management plan for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area allows for the use of the land by both the wildlife and the indigenous Maasai and other tribesmen that have resided in the area for generations. Visitors often awake to the sound of bells on cattle as they are led by Maasai warriors down the wall of the crater to the floor below. Here the cattle find minerals not available in the grazing areas on the rim.
The Conservation Area is also home to Olduvai Gorge. Known as The Cradle of Mankind, the gorge is the site of the famous archaeological work of the Leakey family including the discovery of Zinjanthropus Bosei or Nutcracker Man.
More adventurous travellers can trek to smaller craters such as Olmoti and Empakai. Some also choose to descend to Lake Natron, passing the still active Ol Donyo Longai. In the northern area of the Conservation Area along the border with the Serengeti is Lake Ndutu. This popular soda lake is home to a number of waterfowl including flamingos and is along the wildebeest migration route.
There are currently four lodges on the crater’s rim with varying standards of service.