In part two of my photo safaris to Tanzania, I would like to talk about Tarangire National Park, which I visited in January 2017 and again in January 2019.
Established in 1970, Tarangire Nation Park was named after the Tarangire River, the main source of water for the local wildlife. Many safaris in Tanzania begin there because of its relative proximity to the city of Arusha, where most visitors are likely to stay if they fly into Kilimanjaro Airport. The park is a home for two of the largest species in Africa, both of which can grow old in the safety of the reserve. They are the Elephant, which can live up to 70 years, and the Baobab tree, which can be over 1000 years old. The Elephant herds of Tarangire make up one of the largest pachyderm populations in Tanzania and may number as many as 2,500. They can be seen in large families throughout the park as they search for food and water. Baobab trees are ancient, somber, and striking sentinels of equatorial land. They remain leafless for most of the year but continue to serve as food, shelter, and mythical characters throughout the year.
It’s about a three-hour drive from Arusha to Tarangire, so there’s really no sense overdoing it to get up early and drive to the park on your first day. My advice is to sit down the first morning after you arrive and have a full breakfast. Try to depart around 8:30 AM. This should get you to Tarangire just before lunch, which you can have once you arrive. Plus, your guide will need to check in and pay the park fees which may take some time. This process took 40 minutes on our 2017 trip and 20 minutes in 2019. During this time, you can walk around the entry area and get some photos of Vervet Monkey and maybe some native bird species. There are also bathrooms, a small gift shop, and, as of 2018, a small snack shop.
Once you enter the park, there are several picnic areas with bathroom facilities. The picnic areas offer a great place to sit, relax and enjoy a bite to eat. Apart from the lodges, these are the only places inside the park where you are allowed out of your vehicle. While driving through the park, you must remain in your vehicle at all times and on the designated roads. Almost all of your photography here will be done from your safari vehicle so, you will likely be shooting from a beanbag. Our tour company, Nasera Safaris, provided each photographer with two bags. I know I mentioned this in part one but I must say again what a great job Nasera Safaris did for us on helping to plan both trips and handle all of our logistics.
Everyone I was with was using a super-telephoto, either a 600mm or 500mm, plus a 100-400mm. My equipment consisted of two Canon 1Dx II, a Canon 600mm f4.0 II, a Canon 100-400mm II, a Canon 24-70mm f.28, an external microphone with wind screen, a GoPro 5, a Nikon point-and-shoot, my iPhone, a travel tripod with a Unique Ball head, and my Swarovski 8×32 binoculars.
There are several lodges located inside Tarangire, all offering excellent accommodations. Both times we went, my companions and I stayed at Sopa Lodges. I found them to be quality establishments with excellent service, stellar food, spacious, comfortable rooms. We stayed at several Sopa Lodges during both trips and all meet the same elevated standard. One special note of interest for photographers, our rooms all came with a power strip fitted for charging all manner of batteries and smart phones. While it’s always advisable to bring a converter with you, Sopa Lodges will provide a power source for all your gear regardless.
Even though you are staying inside the park, it does not technically open until 6:00 AM and closes at 6:00 PM. Our daily routine was to meet our guides at the safari vehicles in the morning around 5:30 AM. This would allow enough time to load our camera gear and finish up our lodge-provided coffees. Then, just before 6:00 AM we would depart the lodge and start our morning photo safari drive. Sopa Lodge provided a box breakfast that we ate later that morning at one of the picnic areas, typically around 10:00 AM. After eating, we made our way back to the lodge, usually arriving sometime after 11:00 AM. Once back at the lodge, we unloaded our camera gear and returned to our rooms to get cleaned up in time for a nice, sit-down lunch next to the pool. I must stress again, the service at all the Sopa Lodges is excellent, as good as anyplace I’ve traveled in the world. We had some time after lunch to relax and get ready for our afternoon photo drive, which would begin at 3:00 PM and end around 6:30 PM. Upon our return from the afternoon drive, we repeated our routine from earlier in the day, taking our camera gear back to the room, only this time with a quick shower before dinner.
Our visit here was one of excitement and wonder as we explored this 1100 square mile park each day with our expert guides pointing out the diverse flora and fauna of the territory, including the many termite mounds which house the Banded Mongoose. On both trips, we had guide extraordinaire, Joseph Silvo. He’s the young man you see with me next to the safari vehicle in part 1 and wearing the red shirt in the photo above. He was one of four guides we used on both trips, all of whom were friendly, had good senses of humor, and were always willing to do what they could to make our day enjoyable. This was a common trait I found everywhere we traveled in Tanzania. Everyone we encountered was very kind and helpful, yet another reason people like myself want to return again. The attraction of the country is to see the wildlife, but having such positive interaction with the people is just as important and for me made a lasting impression.
For those with an interest in bird photography, you cannot go wrong at Tarangire National Park. It sports an impressive list of over 500 native species. Highlights for me were Red-and-yellow Barbet, Lilac-breasted Roller, and of course the Ostrich, the largest non-flying bird in the world. Sighting and photographing all three species are very likely if you spend a couple of days here.
In 2017, we spent 2.5 days in Tarangire. In 2019, we extended that to 3.5 days. The interesting thing with both trips was the vast changes that occurred in the two interceding years. In our 2017 trip, the park was dry with very little water outside of larger water holes and a few sections of the river. This allowed us to see and photograph more of the larger mammals at these water holes and some birds. Two years later, it was much lusher, with water running throughout the park. We could see, and more importantly photograph. many more bird species in this environment. My recommendation to wildlife photographers thinking of going on safari in the area would be to spend at least two or three days at Tarangire National Park as there is just so much to see and photograph here.
In part III I will talk at Ngorongoro Crater, stay tuned!
Take care, good shooting and please remember to help protect wildlife and wild places.
Shawn P. Carey