The man from Voetspore
Ngorongoro Crater: worth the money
East Africa, with its abundance of wildlife, is a major attraction for people on safari. Compared to South Africa and even Botswana and Namibia, it is exceptionally expensive. One of the gems of the region is the Ngorongoro Crater, adjacent to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Is this worth the hundreds of dollars, or is this just a massive zoo?
The first thing that strikes you about Ngorongoro and Serengeti is that the park fees and method of payment is pretty confusing. Next thing you notice is that it is very expensive.
Recently, in an effort to fight corruption and theft of cash, a new payment system was introduced. In future, no one will pay an entrance fee at the gate. It has to be prearranged through the Ngorongoro Wildlife Authority (NWA) in Arusha. Hereby visitor numbers can also be controlled.
I went to the NWA, only to be told the payment has to be done at a specific bank. The NWA gave me the exact amount for our group. After payment at the bank, with the proof in hand, the NWA would issue entrance permits. Problem was, the nominated bank did not accept credit cards. They wanted cash. US dollars! So much for migrating to a cashless transaction...
The fee: this increased because the Tanzanian government increased VAT to 18%. Then, as usual, there was the normal annual increase. When I visited Ngorongoro 15 years ago, the vehicle access fee to the crater was $100. Now it stood at $350. Camping at Simba is $30 and the daily entrance fee is now just over $70 per person. Foreign registered Land Cruisers had an additional charge of $150 (this is a one-off charge, and not a daily charge like the rest of the fees). I managed to get the cash and paid the fee. We drove from Arusha, past Mto wa mbu, to the gate at Lodoare. Here it was established that the calculations at the offices of NWA were in fact, incorrect. To be in the area, you need to pay the daily fee which applies to a 24-hour period. Entering the park late in the afternoon, going down the crater the next day and consequently staying for two nights, implied two 24hour periods. I had to make an additional payment. This time, no cash, only plastic. And, so they told me at the gate, it is probably better to come directly to the gate
and not first try and make arrangements at Arusha.
By now you have serious doubts about the visit to one of the natural wonders of the world.
The next morning, it was time to enter the crater. There is only one access road, and only one exit. At the top of the access road you are stopped at a boom gate where paperwork is checked. Officials ensure you are accompanied by a guide.
How else would you be able to distinguish between an olive baboon and a giraffe, or between a hyena and an elephant. This time, as with previous occasions, I managed to convince the officials that I was quite capable on my own. The other trick is to pack your vehicle in such a way that there is no room for an extra passenger. This ensured a saving of another $100.
And so we went down the steep road that gives access to Ngorongoro. Soon all the memories of confusing payments and excessive fees were forgotten. We were immediately aware that we were in a very special place, a place like nowhere else on Earth.
The name Ngorongoro was derived from the sound of the bells of the Maasai cattle as they walked down the crater rim to feed during the dry season. Today, the Maasai are not allowed to bring their cattle into the crater. Many of them now live in small villages on the crater rim. Ngorongoro is for wildlife only.
This system has, over the centuries, remained a self-contained ecosystem. Only primates seem to have developed the skill to enter and exit the crater. Elephant, lion, hippo, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra... they all remain in the crater. The crater is 600m deep (implying that this is the height of the ‘wall’ around Ngorongoro) and consists of an area of 260 square kilometres.
From anywhere in the crater one can see the crater rim, which forms a backdrop to some exquisite game viewing. The animals just cannot hide. Water is provided by the Magadi Lake in the crater, and by two natural springs.
The $350 access fee allows for one entry and one exit only. This implies staying in the crater all day. At two designated picnic spots, with adequate facilities, lunch can be prepared. As for the rest of it, it is driving from one gameviewing opportunity to the rest.
You observe a herd of buffalo until you have taken enough pictures and have seen enough of their behaviour. Then you look for a pride of lion, perhaps an elephant, grazing on the acacias, or hyenas, rolling in the mud. The zebra are always beautiful and so is the birdlife which is in abundance, especially in the Lerai Forest, which is to the south of the crater.
A visit to Ngorongoro reminded me to a certain extent of the gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda. It is excessively expensive and the fees limit the number of visitors while paying for wildlife conservation.
But, after the visit, I have never heard anyone complain. This is not just a big zoo. This is one of the Seven Wonders of the natural world.
Johan Badenhorst is probably South Africa’s best-known overlander, with his amazing adventures televised on SABC2. He also knows a lot about patience – probably the best attribute if you plan on travelling the African continent.
Opposite page: The famous Ngorongoro Crater, in Tanzania… where you have to cough up hundreds of dollars to access this amazing place. Above left: Like a picture from a fairytale storybook. Above, right: If there is a Garden of Eden on Earth, this may very well be it.