An underrated little park
01.11.2018 - 01.11.2018
Fast forward a few hours and a lot of miles, and we have flown via Istanbul and Zanzibar and have now arrived at Kilimanjaro, the international airport that services Arusha and Tanzania's Northern Safari Circuit.
There is no Malisa (our trusty driver) waiting for us. All the other passengers are met and carted off to their hotels and/or safaris. There is only us left at the airport. We landed at 06:00 and it is now nearly an hour later. I think it is time to ring Tillya at Calabash Adventures (who we have booked through) to find out what is happening. The number I have for them is unavailable. I guess it is an old number from when we first used them in 2007, so I check the paperwork we were sent for a more up-to-date number. There isn't one; but I do notice that they have our arrival time down as 08:30. Oops. No idea how that happened (I take full responsibility for the error), but at least we know why Malisa isn't here. David wanders back into the airport terminal to use the wifi and contact Malisa via Facebook. He is on his way and less than ten minutes drive from the airport. Phew.
On the way from the airport we are very excited to see the snowy top of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. All the other times we have been here it has been well and truly smothered in mist, so this is actually our first time to see it from this road. A dormant volcano, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 4,900 metres (16,000 feet).
We also have a good view of Mount Meru
Arusha National Park
After a warm reunion with plenty of big hugs (this is sixth time we have arranged a safari through Calabash, and the third time Malisa has been our driver), we head straight for our first safari. Arusha National Park is one of the smallest reserves in Tanzania and a good stop-off point between the airport and Arusha Town.
Arusha National Park is not the place to go for the big cats, but it does have a couple of species that are not found in the larger parks here in the north, such as this Blue Sykes Monkey.
A troop of Olive Baboons hang out in a tree and walk by the car
Great White Egret
Woolly Necked Stork
Grey Crowned Crane with baby - look at its head-dress just starting to grow
Black Headed Heron
A new species to us, this colourful bird isn't very co-operative as far as photography goes, doing his very best to hide deeper and deeper into the woods.
But at least it means that I do get to see both the front and the back of it.
Black and White Colobus Monkey
Every time we go on safari, I have a wish list of animals that I would like to see, that I hand over to the driver. This year it contains the Black and White Colobus Monkey which I have only seen – briefly – a couple of times before: once in Mount Kenya National Park in 1986 and more recently here in this park in 2014 when I saw its tail as it disappeared into the forest. I have no clear photos of them and am keen to rectify that. No sooner has Malisa joked that they are going to come and dance for me on the bonnet of the car, than we see a couple of them lounging on the branches of a tree almost directly above the road. Very cool!
African Grey Flycatcher
We make our way to Ngordoto Crater for a photo stop before continuing to explore the park.
Baby Warthogs, referred to as piglets.
Helmeted Guineafowl ~ also known (to us) as “just a chicken” from an incident many years ago when David got very excited thinking he'd seen a “colourful bird”.
It is unusual to see a giraffe sitting down
Down on a marshy area we see several bushbuck, which in itself is very unusual as they are normally solitary. Two males are vying for the attention of a female, and after an initial staring contest they half-heartedly fight.
They both run after her across the marsh and into the hills beyond where she manages to shake them off.
Apparently bushbucks are rather short-sighted, and one of the males gets somewhat confused and starts chasing a warthog instead.
Female bushbucks are said to prefer darker partners as they are thought to be stronger and more mature (the antelope's colouration gets darker as they grow older).
White fronted bee eater
Only once before I have I laid eyes on this small, colourful bird, and then only briefly: here in Arusha National Park four years ago. I am therefore delighted to see a large number of birds just beside the road. These bee eaters live in colonies of between ten and thirty birds, creating nests on soft mud banks such as these.
Their homes are more like a commune, with all the birds sharing the parenting, feeding each others' chicks. They live in a close-knit community though, and fight fiercely to repel other colonies.
These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life, and raise their offspring together.
Malisa came prepared with a packed breakfast and lunch when he collected us from the airport this morning, and we stop at a picnic area overlooking Small Momella Lake to eat. It's a popular place, with several tourist vehicles here already.
As we wander down to the parking lot when we have finished, one of the other drivers is busy rearranging his clothing, having undone his trousers to tuck his shirt in. I shout out: “Do you need any help?”, to which he replies “No, it's fine, thanks”. My reply of “So everything is in the right place then...?” elicits a lot of laughter from everyone else. Thankfully the recipient finds it amusing too.
Little Bee Eater
Big Momella Lake
When we last visited Arusha National Park, the lake was home to some 20,000 flamingos. I knew that at this time of year many will have made the migration to Lake Natron, so I am pleased to see a few still feeding in the water.
Big Bertha, star of the show
There are a number of people out of their cars here (it is a dedicated picnic area), and when they spot me in the vehicle with Big Bertha (my massive 600mm lens), all attention is drawn away from the lake and the hippos and everyone photographs us instead.
This pigment-free monkey is very conspicuous in the environment, but his lack of colouration doesn't seem to hamper him as he goes about his day to day business.
Brown Snake Eagle
Once we leave the park and head out on to the smooth tarmaced main road leading to Arusha, I promptly fall asleep in the car.
Upon reaching town, our first stop is to find an optician as Chris lost one of the little plastic nose protections from his glasses on the flight.
We continue to one of the newer supermarkets, but David is disappointed to find that they don't stock his favourite South African cider, Savanna. Malisa comes to the rescue yet again and takes him to a local bar to get his supplies.
A1 Hotel and Resort
By the time we arrive at our hotel for the night (where we briefly meet up with Tillya, the owner of Calabash Adventures), we have been travelling for some 31 or so hours, and in our rush and tiredness we forget to bring the duty free alcohol in from the car. As do Lyn and Chris. Room service to the rescue and once we've had a much longed-for shower, we enjoy a couple of drinks and some snacks in our rather large but sparsely furnished room before going for dinner.
Our 'living room' with the bedroom behind
Although we did see another chap checking in to the hotel at the same time as we did, we are the only people at dinner tonight, which means they wanted us to pre-order our food as soon as we arrived. We all have chicken in a rich mushroom sauce which is absolutely delicious.
After a quick glass of Amarula in the room, we are all safely tucked into bed by 21:00, after a gentle, but good, start to our 2018 safari.
Our thanks go to Calabash Adventures who yet again have done us proud when arranging our safari in Tanzania