Great lumbering grey green clouds, light whispering showers of drifting manyunyu, a charcoal black blitzkrieg of thunder and lightning proclaim the emerging onslaught of heavier intense rain. Swollen rivers and flooded roads greeted us as we descended the slopes of NgoroNgoro heading for Kakessio!
I have for many years, glanced longingly at the prominent kopjes that line the road from Endulin to Makau. Last year I had the chance to take a quick look around. Largely influenced by the fact we saw Wild dog and Cheetah on the open plains. I decided this would be the place to relocate our Serengeti Camp to for the birthing season of the Wildebeest (Jan – March). The prospect of an all weather road for simpler access appealed, some really dramatic storms litter the skies early on in the year. Immediately we climbed towards the crater rim we experienced heavy rainstorms. The rivers swelled and stopped us for several hours on our journey in. The second day in a hard storm caught us setting camp. The truck hampered by sodden black cotton was stuck and took two of the land cruisers in line to drag it sleigh like to camp on every journey. A scenically beautiful site, but we were soon flooded and quickly retreated to higher ground, seeking out our current site. Protected by the hills in the south and a bush-clad ravine slightly raised on harder ground.
My tent is pitched again! More precisely, under a band of umbrella thorn that forms a bay on the southern shores of the short grass plains. The trees discreetly frame my view north to Kimuma. Some two hours distant towards the sunrise I can see a clear outline of NgoroNgoro crater and Oldeani (11500 ft). Southwards the comiphora clad slopes climb to a plateau of short grass, dramatic gorges and distinctive kopjes. Half an hour from us is a view to take ones breath away. A composition of limitless expanse of wilderness and distant hills surround broad the salt encrusted lakeshores lake Eyasi.
Immediately to our west and over the ravine lies a small settlement of fiercely traditional Masai, whose cattle graze in the plains until the wildebeest populate them. Afraid of contracting Mucal Catarrh Fever from the Gnu, they retreat into the hills leaving the open plains to be filled by a flowing tide of wild game. Charming and gentile the sounds of their moonlit dances drift across the air to camp carrying on them the distant roar of a large Lion.
This walking country is second to none, despite not having a permanent river the Kakessio ward of the NgoroNgoro Conservation area is tucked away in the western corner bordering the woodlands of Maswa. Hosting great swathes of open grassland reaching north to Lake Ndutu and the beginnings of the Oldupai Gorge. The broken woodlands and dry river beds provide retreats for a number of unusual species and in the last week we have caught glimpses of Roan, Side Striped Hyena, Wild Dog, Leopard, Lion and Cheetah. Walking with Jackson, Singi and Saibulu I have once again been intrigued by the wealth of knowledge and vital store of bush lore these diminutive and gentile bushmen hold. Dredging up experiences from years of tracking and observation they live with the natural world, traditional cures, wild fruits and hidden caves.
Dry weather followed the initial outburst of rain and though the leading herds of wildebeest drifted in the edge of the tree lined valleys of kakessio a majority fed into maswa and settled in the plains west of ndutu. Recent heavy storms have brought the core herds an implausibility of wildebeest towards us. Last night from the hillside above camp I could see several hundred thousand.
The local dam hosts a single hippo deposed from the larger pod at Losinoni. Yellow throated Sandgrouse (firigogo) chuckle as they flight in to store water in their feathers for onward delivery to their chicks left in the open plains some miles distant. Cerulean blue woodland kingfishers call to each other from the branches of the yellow fever trees. Resplendent startling red Narinas Trogan settle in the deep wooded ravines and large Kori bustards dominate the grasslands.
Flocks of migratory Steppe Eagles float overhead. Pallid Harriers, Auger Buzzards and Bateleur eagles vie for space in the million acres of sky!
The first births are taking place and soon the savannah will be swamped with the frenzied diminutive sounds of young gnu. Struggling to stand, tottering, balancing, skittering, skipping their way within 15 minutes. The phosphorous rich grasses of the plains provide the rich milk necessary for strong bones that will all to soon carry them northwards on their Great Migration. A never-ending quest for grass and water!
A large African antelope with a head resembling that of an ox, short mane, beard, downward curving horns, and tufted tail. Latin name: Connochaetes gnou Connochaetes taurinus
Also called wildebeest, Ngati (Maa), Nyumbu (Swahili)
“It is obvious that you have made an extraordinary effort to create an atmosphere here at camp that is not only welcoming, but also encouraging and energetic in the effort to introduce the traveller to an unfamiliar world, but a world that perhaps represents common origin.”