3rd to 6th April: Seronera, Heart of the Serengeti.
It’s a long muddy drive to Seronera but plenty of game as the migration is moving from Seronera area to the south and east. The cloud at least acts as a “softbox” allowing reasonable photography opportunities throughout the day and plenty of drama in the skies above. We encounter numerous lion on the way to our camp and a leopard jumping from branch to branch in a tree, not so far away. As we near our camp, Nyeri, we find two pairs of mating lions by the side of the road that hardly budge for the next 3 days.
The Tanzanian roads have taken their toll on my brakes and I have to stop at the local garage for help. It’s bucketing down and they don’t have Landy brake pads! The bush mechanics do their best by machining brake pads from a different model to make them fit; no other option. It’s crude but it gets us back on the road. As we’re making our way back to camp we find two sub-adult cheetahs, no more than 50 meters from the camp. No respite from the rain, it continues through the afternoon and into the night. One small compensation – we’re indoors and dry.
The night is really noisy, lions calling, bullfrogs that sound like a Harley Davison and a large herd of anxious zebra braying all night.
Next morning we head off to an area where we’ve been told there’s plenty of leopards around. En route we pick up a pride of lion that has made a very fresh kill, there are 3 lionesses and around 5 large cubs……..and of course, the dead wildebeest! When we make it to the road we’re supposed to take across the plains, it’s deep mud and very boggy. I give it a whirl for about 500m and decide that this ain’t going to get any better; we need to abandon the plan and go elsewhere.
There is another road in the opposite direction that skirts Serena Lodge, let’s try that. The road is bevelled, high in the middle, low at the edges. A safari vehicle approaches us in the opposite direction and I move to one side to allow it through – bad move. I didn’t realise how deep the mud is! We’re up to the chassis in mud and not going anywhere. Eventually, after numerous attempts and using diff lock, I get us back on the road. Another safari vehicle approaches but this time, it’s once bitten! It’s High Noon, neither side is backing down, eventually, we arrive at a compromise and both just about get through. Next up is a truck that is stuck big time. The driver tries to usher me past but my judgement says the slope on the road is too steep and we’ll end up back in the mud. At this juncture, I decide to go off road and make a U-turn. The truck driver is standing there with a big chain in his hand, begging me for a tow. I feel really bad but know it’s an impossible task that will only serve to get us both horribly stuck. I decline, offer a sheepish apology and tell him he needs a tractor from the lodge to get him out. He shrugs, they don’t have one!
We get back to the central Seronera area and find a pair of lions. They are getting drenched in the pouring rain. The male is right next to the road so we get beside him to take some photos of his marvellous mane and Beatle hairstyle in the downpour. He then gets up and shakes an incredible spray that I manage to capture on camera – cheers Simba!
There are a few places I really wanted to visit when in the Serengeti, the Moru Kopjes, Masai Kopjes and Gol Kopjes. We tried the first two and the roads were impossible, just way to muddy to even contemplate. It’s quite disappointing as we like to get off the beaten track and explore a bit but we’re restricted to the roads around central Seronera, which are firm and navigable. They are excellent for game, it’s game central, and many safari companies don’t venture beyond this area as it’s guaranteed to deliver first class sightings. However, even in low season, it’s the busiest place.
I’m busy chatting to all manner of guides and officials in the park to get a take on where we can and can’t go. The general advice is to play it safe, ‘cos if you get stuck at the back of beyond, there may not be anyone around to get you out. Nevertheless, we decide to go south to Gol, (even though we’ve been told the roads are treacherous) and give it a whirl. It’s the afternoon of 5th April when we venture out to Gol Kopjes. There isn’t another soul in sight as we take the dirt road out to the Kopjes. We are expecting plenty of mud and slippy ride but to our amazement, it’s completely dry! The road out there is a doddle, even and smooth, I can’t quite believe it. As we approach the Kopjes, there are hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra dotting the plains everywhere. They have decided to camp out on these plains away from all the mud……..and people! As we drive up to the first large kopje, Emma spots a male lion atop it. Great start. We later find a lioness perched on a kopje. She’s spotted a lone wildebeest below and comes down to (unsuccessfully) stalk it. OK, the decision made, we are going to spend the next two nights at Gol Kopjes, can’t wait! This is quintessential Africa, vast plains, filled with gazelle, wildebeest, and zebra………..and, of course, cats! It’s the kopjes that make an otherwise plain landscape something special. They are dotted all over the plains like miniature citadels and provide refuge and home to the huge pride of lions
Back to Seronera………..On the last night, the whole lion pride around our camp in Seronera are calling loudly. They come through camp on several occasions, and are no more than 100 metres from the camp all night, just letting us know who’s boss I think. As we leave at first light, we find one of the two pairs of mating lions in the driveway. As we drive past them, we find another five members of the pride roaming around the area. We follow three of the lions but lose them. On the way back, the others have come across a leopard and treed it! (That’s a term used for when lions trap a leopard in a tree). The leopard bolts for safety up a tree and the lions hang around the base, giving the leopard no means of escape. This poor guy must have been in a hurry as he chose the smallest tree and was obviously in much discomfort, trying to find a place to rest amongst the tiny (and thorny) branches. He was hissing at the lions below, I think they were just having a larf, watching him wriggle his butt in the thorny branches!