Wednesday, 10th December 2014
Travel blogger Andrea O’Hearne came with Aventura on a Northern Circuit Safari. Here she reports on the experience at Tarangire National Park.
I’d been expecting elephants. But I hadn’t been expecting this. There’s hundreds of them, rambling through the iconic baobab trees and heading in my direction. I try counting but somewhere between 40 and 50 I get hopelessly lost. Cute babies are charging around, waving their trunks around as if they’ve just discovered a new body part. Mothers watch over them with an endearing eye, bringing them back into the herd with an invisible leash. I’d also been expecting the elephants’ raw power, experiencing the great hulks of mammal that dominate this landscape. Yet, I’d never expected such grace. They must weigh four tonnes, yet there is something indelibly elegant about their footsteps towards the waterhole.
Tarangire Is Famed For Its Elephant Herds
Giant elephant herds are a huge part of the attraction in Tarangire. Ever since watching Dumbo as a small child I’ve had a fascination with the great pachyderms. This is arguably the best place in East Africa for intimate elephant encounters, and my guide says that herds sometime number up to 300 individuals (I’ve no idea how he counts them, but it seems very plausible). As mothers lead babies to water, the males are jousting, their trumpeted calls flickering through the trees. Meandering through the park is the Tarangire River, a permanent water source that attracts migrating herds. It’s the end of dry season and the river bed seems ready to crack and shrivel, the cheeky elephants digging holes with their trunks and sucking up the goodness from below.
Other giant sites keep grabbing my attention. Baobab trees punctuate the savannah, immense branches that provide the perfect contrast to every photo. Giraffe dot the horizon, epic towers that also blend elegance with size. With the sun slowly setting these shapes become gentle silhouettes, three iconic shapes juxtaposed with the burning red of the sky. Elephant herds, giraffe towers, baobab trees…what next?
Getting Intimate With Tree-Climbing Lions
I can hear the lions through the night, their voracious roaring providing a memorable natural lullaby. Bird song then flutters through in the dawn light, some 500+ species singing from the tree tops and flying off to the swamps. We head out into the trees, a swinging tail offering a natural dose of morning caffeine. It swishes again, then hangs limply from the tree branch. A leopard? They live in trees right? Wrong. The famous song says “in the jungle the lion sleeps tonight.” But I had always thought that lions lived on savannah and stayed on the ground. However, this small pride has been climbing trees.
Their eyes are half closed yet ever alert, a lucid shock of white indicating that the lions spotted me before I saw them. Nimbly it descends, onto the savannah floor and towards a clearing. A morning hunt perhaps? It’s not looking for impala or kudu. It’s coming straight for us! There’s an eery silence as the tree-climbing lion checks everyone out. Has all that chocolate dessert at camp fattened me up for the lions? A lioness reveals ferocious teeth with an epic yawn, then it meanders away to another tree. There’s only a few parks in the world where these tree-climbing lions can be found, so the spine-tingling intimacy had also brought surprise.
More Natural Delights in Tarangire National Park
When I booked a Northern Circuit Safari I’d been thinking about the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, two of the world’s most famous destinations. Yet starting the safari experience in Tarangire adds another dimension. A kaleidoscope of ungulates cover the vast grassy savannah and I indulge in the diversity. I photograph some zebra, their hypnotic stripes wonderfully vibrant in the morning light. Strange long-necked gerenuks stand on their hind legs and stretch skyward, precariously picking on high tree branches. Rumbustious buffalo charge past, leaving behind a trail of dust that causes the ground hornbills to start squawking and shouting. Fringe-eared oryx are beyond my elucidation, their bizarre faces seeming to oscillate between being hideous and strangely cute.
Following the Action Around the Swamps
I’d been told to be patient. That’s the safari way right? Keep your expectations low and be pleasantly surprised? But two days into my Northern Circuit Safari and I’ve almost ticked off my complete wish-list. And I’ve only visited Tarangire. I don’t even know where to look. Perhaps to the tree branches in search of lions and leopards. Maybe even higher and the delightful antics of yellow collared lovebirds. Along the horizon for the elephant herds and giraffe towers? Or down to the swamps where a pod of hippos grunts and snorts?
Yet my endearing memory comes from the landscape itself, from the captivating blend of rugged wilderness with serene beauty. Every angle is a photo, regardless of which four legged character is running across the foreground. Tarangire feels like my impression of untamed African landscape, yet the baobabs provide an inimitability that elevates the visual splendour. And just when I’ve framed the perfect landscape photo, a stealthy lion creeps down and changes my focus…