Lake Manyara National Park
Northern Circuit, Tanzania
Throughout the night I hear familiar environmental noises: traffic, dogs, roosters. No more wild animals for us. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or if I miss the possibly deadly creatures roaming by the tent.
It’s another 5.30 a.m. wake up call on our last day of safari. At 6.30 a.m. we leave camp, and ten minutes later we arrive at Lake Manyara National Park. We are the first visitors to arrive. The grey skies overhead don’t fill me with confidence that our final game drive will be a dry one.
As soon as we pass through the gate we enter a dense, wild forest - it is absolutely stunning. Danny and I agree that it would be a fantastic place to run through, if it weren’t for the lions, leopards and buffaloes. Baobab trees fill the slopes of the surrounding hills, their leafless branches standing out against the green foliage of the other trees. They seem more impressive, or maybe just more conspicuous, than at Tarangire. On the downside, it’s not an easy place to take photos, as the animals dart off into the thick vegetation as soon as they hear us coming.
Lake Manyara itself is flooded after the heavy wet season, limiting our movements significantly. We attempt driving down several side roads but the route quickly disappears under deep water, forcing us to turn back. Unfortunately we have to stick to the main road, which is not ideal for animal viewing.
Before long we encounter scores of baboons, who fill the roads, sit in the trees and chill by the river. They don't give us a second glance and instead concentrate intently on grooming each other. Danny picks out a blue monkey in amongst the pack, his long, dark tail clearly distinct to the baboon’s.
On our journey around the lake we also find:
Warthogs. Too quick for the camera.
Our first bushbucks. They scare easily.
Several groups of giraffes. One of the baby giraffes doesn’t know what to make of us, and stands like a deer in the headlights as its parents trundle away.
Dik-diks. Super speedy, as always.
Black vervet monkeys.
Hammerkop bird. Apparently the shape of it’s head is reminiscent of a hammer. I don't see it.
Buffaloes, including the cutest fuzzy baby buffalo.
We stop at various viewpoints of the massive lake. It is brown and dirty-looking, and when combined with the blanket of grey clouds overhead it results in fairly mundane photos. Richard informs us the lake is only 3.7m deep, which seems unusually shallow for a body of water this vast. It is probably a little deeper now with the flooding.
For a moment we endure a patch of tsetse flies, followed by a patch of misty rain. Thankfully neither lasts long.
Our next point of interest is the normally-popular hot springs, but the long platform jutting out across the lake is completely submerged. The best we can do is walk down to where the thermal water is flowing out of the rocks on the edge of the lake. It is boiling hot, and stinks of sulphur.
On the road ahead of us we spy an elephant munching away on a tree. We pull up to watch him for a while, waiting to see if he will do anything exciting. As if reading our thoughts, he starts stomping down the road towards us and passes within a meter of our car. Our eyes are level with each other, so close we could reach out and touch him (of course we don’t). We stay deathly silent so as not to startle him. It is a tense, but incredible, moment.
Frustratingly, blue skies appear as we are leaving - it would have made the lake photos much more attractive. In the end we spent five hours in the park, for not a huge reward. There were long periods of time without seeing any animals, and we didn’t spot any of the tree-climbing lions that the park is famous for (or any other cats for that matter). The flooded roads restricting our access didn't help this matter. On the plus side, we had the place to ourselves, with only rangers for company, and the scenery was beautiful, a welcome contrast to the plains. Overall, though, I would have preferred less time here and more time at Tarangire.