Usually we name our road trips (the last one we called chasing sunrise as we travelled from West to East across Southern Africa) but we can’t think of the right name for this one. “In a circle” or “round the lake” aren’t quite right. So for now it is a very literal “Clockwise we go”.
After coffee at a cafe ran by an NGO that helps to rescue girls that have been sex trafficked, Emma buying a clean t shirt for the cause and a dive into a small supermarket to try and fill out our provisions given we haven’t gone past a big supermarket to properly stock up, we hit the road about 9:30am. The roads were already getting busy. It reinforced what we had already realised – to make good progress we need to be up and on the road early.
Being on the road and heading west though meant that our journey had properly started.
They say that in Tanzania the rule of thumb is take the time google maps tells you it will take and add 1/3. It told us our next destination would take 4.5 hours. It took us 6, but to be fair we stopped at the only cafe we went past for coffee and found a little supermarket to get some lunch so it wasn’t quite an extra 1/3.
The cloud we woke up to had burned off quickly and by the time we got on the road it was blue sky with just white fluffy clouds, we had a clear view of Mount Kilimanjaro for the first part of the journey – we were stoked. We also had the sun behind us. It was slow but enjoyable. We took the bypass around Arusha. A perfect road (it must be relatively new) it barely had any traffic. It would have been bliss if it hadn’t been so bloody hot. Not only had the day fully heated up (and it felt the hottest yet) but the sun had risen so we were now in it. It was tough going and we were still only half way. It again emphasised the need to get up and on the road early.
Our destination was Tarangire National Park, or more precisely a campsite just outside it as the park was where we were going the next day. We found it easily enough thanks to a rusty sign on the highway that pointed to a track across the gravel expanse.
A local Masai owned campsite the caretakers were super friendly. It still being hot we picked a nice spot under the trees and got the roof tent set up and venting. There were 4 tents pitched in the middle, they arrived just before sunset, it was actually quite nice to have other campers around.
Whenever we are at camp early one of our tasks is doing the laundry, in an attempt to both stay on top of it and have as much as we can dry to pack up by bedtime. When we had it done and hung out it was our turn. The guys had filled the shower tank with hot water for us. It was bliss. We spent most of the time before dark getting the vehicle organised and some kind of system going. But managed to get out of camp for a walk before it went dark. We were surprised to find zebra wandering around. After dark it was making dinner and lunches for the next day and getting prepped to go into the national park (can’t get out of the vehicle except at public campsites so everything we needed had to be in the cab with us). We went to bed at 10pm, everyone else had gone to bed by 9. Clearly we’re not in the right routine yet.
It was so peaceful at night. The temperature dropped again, but not as much as the night before so we slept on the sleeping bags.
The gates for Tarangire National Park opened at 7am so we were up at 5:45am in the early dawn, packed down and there just after they opened.
The 6th largest National Park in Tanzania, Tarangire National park covers 2,600 square kilometers. It lies between the meadows of the Masai Steppe to the south and east, and the lakes of the Great Rift Valley to the north and west. It has a ‘mini’ migration in the dry season which sees about 250,000 animals enter the park.
We were amazed at the lack of vehicles. The gravel main road was horrendously corrugated, like the type to do damage to your vehicle, but within 10 minutes we had to stop for elephants to cross, then giraffes, we saw wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, antelopes of all shapes and sizes. Before long we turned off the main road onto a dirt road. Knowing how difficult it can be to navigate in national parks given their typical lack of signage at junctions we’d come prepared with printed maps. We had no clue where we were the moment we turned off the main road. We tried to reconcile the gps dot on our phones with the map, all we could work out was that we were still near the top of the park. We quickly ditched the idea of trying to navigate and took the approach of just driving and seeing what we found.
We soon found some of the largest herds of wildebeest we’ve seen, accompanied by a heap of zebra (they seem to enjoy hanging out as we often saw them together). Then we found a family of elephants and we quickly found the waterhole they were all heading for. It was quite a spectacle watching them all go down to drink. The elephants had moved off after having their fill but one hung back and clearly felt the watering hole was theirs as it chased off and wildebeest that dared to drink near it.
It was lovely and cool for the first few hours were exploring but by late morning the day had heated up. We found one of the public campsites in the park and decided it was time for coffee and a break out of the vehicle. While we were making coffee a monkey dived in the vehicle and stole Emma’s crisps. It happily sat in a neighbouring tree eating them whilst grinning at her and pulling faces at the salt and vinegar flavour. Emma was miffed but we were relieved that was all it chose to take.
We decided that while we could be out of the vehicle we’d have an early lunch. Then we hit the tracks again. When we unexpectedly popped out of a track near to the park gate we decided to suck up the main road and try and get deeper into the park. It was hideous driving. There were also now plenty of safari vehicles on it, they must have come from overnighting in other parks or on day trips from Arusha.
Anyone who self drives in African national parks knows that if you see a group of safari vehicles parked up together they have seen something (many have radios and drivers will share info as they pass each other). So we diverted when we saw this. It took us ages to see the 3 lionesses the first lot were looking at. They were a way off the road under a tree out of the heat, occasionally you’d get the raise of a head or a flick of a tail.
It became a complete cluster of vehicles, there is no etiquette as drivers try to get the clients a good viewing spot. We moved on and went up the hill and turned round. As we were coming back down we watched as the elephants that had been nearby decided they wanted that tree, interestingly the lions ceded and walked off. It was super cool to watch them walk off through the grass (everyone then lost where they went to).
We carried on and found elephants, different landscapes, and more of what we’d already seen. By late afternoon we were sunburnt and tired and decided we’d had our fill. We sucked up the horrendously bad road back to the gate. We had intended to go back via a detour to the waterhole but missed the turn off completely thanks to having our brains rattled out, and ended up back at the main gate. So we decided to do one last detour on a road the other way from the gate. It was a lovely not well used track and we saw stuff but mainly found tsetse flies. They hurt, it’s like being stabbed with a needle and they bite through your clothes, but for us at least there was no after effects of the bites, they just bloody hurt when they bit.
We left the park after 10 hours completely knackered. A stand near the gate sold coffee so we stopped and got one in an attempt to spark ourselves back up for the evening. The effect was short lived but it got us back to the camp we’d stayed at the night before.
Two more tents had been pitched while we’d been gone. We chose a slightly more set back spot than the night before. After showers dinner was toast and jam. We could have about cobbled together something better with the supplies we had, but the bread needing eating and it was pretty much all we were capable of making. After dark we backed the photos up and talked to the guy who is the main person dealing with guests and looking after the campsite. During covid they didn’t see a single tourist for 14 months. He had to turn to farming maize and apparently a lot is riding on this season and it sounded like the steady business they had just isn’t going to be enough.
It was warmer during the night than it had been and for no obvious reason we both slept pretty rubbish. There was a lot more unidentified wildlife noises in the night that disturbed us too. We had a long day of driving ahead so this was far from ideal.