If you have read my three previous blog post on Tanzania, you already know how much I enjoyed my time there. If you have not read part I, II, or III, I encourage you to do so in order to get a full picture of my photo safari experience there. But long story short: I really, really liked it.
In this blog post, I’d like to take you northwest from Ngorongoro Crater to the Ndutu area and our time staying at the iconic Ndutu Safari Lodge. It is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area at the edge of the Southern Serengeti plains, near Ndutu Lake and Lake Masek. The Ndutu Lodge is possibly the closest thing to what you’d picture an “old time” safari lodge would be like, charming but not lacking in modern amenities. All the other lodges we stayed at were wonderful places, but Ndutu Lodge had a different feel to it than the others. It has an indescribable vibe and ambiance that can only be truly appreciated by those who’ve experienced it for themselves. If I had to pick one lodge to use for my entire trip, this would be the place. Like all the other lodges we visited, the level of service was first rate and the food was excellent. Our daily schedule saw us on the road for the morning safari just before 6:00 AM, which meant we ate our breakfast in the field but always returned around 11:00 AM to rest up and have lunch around 1:00 PM. Then we’d head back out for our afternoon safari, usually leaving by 3:00 PM and returning again by 6:30 PM followed by dinner at 7:30 PM. The rooms themselves were smaller than any of the Sopa Lodges, but still big enough to suit our needs. Seeing as the only time we really spent there was to sleep and shower, this was not an issue at all. The beds were very comfortable and had more than enough storage for me and Dr Karl, my travel buddy on both my Safaris.
One of the best things about the Ndutu Safari Lodge is how the grounds were laid out. When you stepped out of your room, you were immediately treated to a gorgeous view of the landscape. At night, when you walked from the dining room or bar back to your guest room, the open evening sky was spectacular. If you were in the right place, you could get a perfect angle to see the Southern Cross constellation.
Looking back on both of my trips to Ndutu each of which were during late January into early February, I noticed some differences in what we photographed. On the 2017 trip, we spent four and a half days at Ndutu and it was very dry, which made it a bit easier to see and find some of the wildlife we were looking to photograph. We did much better with Cheetahs in 2017, but we had better luck with Bat-eared Foxes and Giraffes in 2019. The vegetation was much more lush on the 2019 safari and both lakes were considerably bigger. This meant that we were able to see more of the various bird species found in or near the lakes, including flocks of Greater Flamingoes. Keep in mind, we saw and photographed most of these species both years, but their quantity and number of opportunities for good shots differed between our two trips. I would not say one year was better overall, just that each experience had some highlights that were reflected in what we saw and photographed. Now, after having spent time in the Ndutu area twice, I would almost certainly schedule more dates at the Ndutu Lodge if I return to Tanzania.
Our photography was bolstered by a unique perk of the Ndutu area. Unlike all of the national parks of Tanzania, you are allowed to drive off road in the Ndutu area. This is one of the main reasons many photographers add this location to their itinerary. Without the restrictions of a set path, driver guides can sometimes position you in a spot to get a photo that would be impossible otherwise. That said, keep in mind you want to give your subjects some space. At one point, my group and I had a subject that only we were photographing, but after a few minutes we were literally surrounded by a dozen or more other safari vehicles. We realized this wasn’t good for the subject and instructed our driver, Joseph, to move on. However, that situation was exceptional and we didn’t encounter many like it during our trips.
For the most part, the animals you encounter are acclimated to the vehicles and go about their daily routine while you’re nearby snapping photos. It helped that everyone in our group was using a 600mm lens and could shoot from a good distance away. Nobody can leave Ndutu without taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. That goes for all of the other locations we visited in Tanzania as well. Make sure you have at least two portable hard drives with you, one plus a backup for all your photo and video files. Personally, I travel with a 13″ Mac Book Pro and two G-Tech 2TB drives. I do a minimal amount of culling, or deleting of “bad” images, each day so a 2TB drive has suited me just fine. I also have several CF cards of varied storage capacity, (2) 128 GB, (4) 64 GB, and some older cards if needed, including (2) 16 GB and (4) 8 GB.
If you have not photographed in Tanzania before, you may be surprised how “trigger happy” you can get. Especially when you see your first Lion, Cheetah, Elephant, or Rhino! It’s easy to get a little carried away but that just means you have a deep appreciation of the natural beauty these animals have to offer. However, it also gives you more work when you return home. But these photos and the memories they evoke will remind you why you went in the first place, why you are going to wish to return again.
Click here to view YouTube video with information on my photo safaris and interview with Joseph Ndunguru.
In my final blog post for Tanzania I will finish with Serengeti National Park.
A BIG THANK YOU to my friend David Clapp for recommending Ndutu Safari Lodge and all the help he provided me with planning this safari.
Check out David’s blog On the Road with DEC.
Once again special thanks to Mason Segall for helping as my editor for this blog post. Check out Mason’s web site, my man is a VERY good writer.
Take care and as always please remember help protect wildlife and help protect wild places, cheers!