JO­HAN BADENHORST

The man from Voet­spore

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

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.

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