Safari at Lake Manyara
The journey began early in the morning, I woke up in Arusha in northern Tanzania; the orange hues of dawn still thick in the air, the iron shutters of local shops still firmly shut. Our group was small, only five of us, and we smiled at each other and made as much small talk as you can expect pre-espresso, before piling into the Landcruiser. The plan was to head to Lake Manyara National Park today, before heading to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area tomorrow as we complete the northern safari circuit of Tanzania.
The sun was nearly at its peak when we arrived at Lake Manyara. Entering the park, you’re immediately struck by the size of the lake - its huge surface taking up roughly two-thirds of the park’s total area. It’s a soda lake - meaning it’s very salty - but it has a productive ecosystem. There was no wind today, and so the surface glinted smooth and silver under the midday sun.
As we drove further into the park, you began to see the different landscapes and ecosystems jostling for position. Ahead of us sat marshland, to our right the dense woodland, and the horizon was blotted with the shadow of rocky slopes.
The car slowed, and I readied my camera. Although smaller than other national parks in Tanzania, I was well aware that Manyara had some of the best densities in East Africa. I was particularly keen on spotting the tree-climbing lions.
Before long, one of the others inside the Jeep quickly jumped up, waving her hand to signal she’s spotted something. The guide stopped the car for the rest of us to get a better look. A whole dazzle of Zebra grazed barely 10ft away from where we were parked. There were about fifteen of them, and they paid us no mind, wandering around the grasslands looking for the best grazing spots. We watched in silence, careful not to scare them. Slowly, I raised my camera to my eye, breaking the quiet with the soft tic of the shutter.
Not even a few minutes later, we were stopped again. Just beside the road ahead were two elephants - a mother and her child. Taking turns moving towards the front of the Jeep to get a better look, I raised my camera towards them. Our guide reached out with his right arm, and it took us all a second to register that he’s pointing at something else inside the dense woodland beside us. With binoculars, we peered in, trying to spot what we could amongst the brown and beige boscage. It felt as though we all saw them simultaneously, all inhaling and pointing in unison. Blending in with the woodland were giraffes, tall and statuesque. Cameras were raised once more, almost automatically at this point, tic tic tic.
We drove not far from the edge of the lake, at this point the quiet of the early morning had been replaced by laughter and big grins. I stared out to my left, over the water, and my eyes settled on thick blanket of blossom that took residence over a portion of the lake. It moved slightly, almost deliberately, despite there being no wind. I stared for some time before raising my binoculars for a closer look. As my eyes readjusted, what once appeared as rose blossom petals revealed themselves to be a group of flamingos - hundreds of them.
A crackle of static came over our guide's radio, and he promptly returned the sounds with words of confirmation. He turned in his seat to face us and quickly said, ‘Lions in trees, right ahead.’ Excited chatter filled the Jeep as we pressed onwards, cameras readied, heads turning left and right, scanning the trees for any big cats.
After a few long minutes, one was spotted in the nook of a tree where the trunk broke away into two branches. The lion’s tail hung down, and moved in a slow arc from left to right. His eyes were either closed or squinting in the midday sun. Another sat in a tree just behind him, perched in a similar position. Her eyes were open, though, watching us closely as we photographed, her ears pricked up at the slightest noise.
We drove on, taking a break for a picnic lunch. The afternoon continued like the morning: incredible views punctuated by picture book wildlife sightings.