OnSafari: Kilimanjaro’s Foothills

OnSafari: Kilimanjaro’s Foothills

Debbie Weingarden with the camp's bushbaby.
Debbie Weingarden with the camp’s bushbaby.
A large private ranch on West Kilimanjaro was the perfect place for my group to shake some jetlag and ease into safari.

Ndarakwai Ranch is one of many private concessions in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Its 11,000 acres of beautiful undisturbed veld where wild animals and Maasai herds have coexisted for years.

We spent the morning walking, after I determined that there were no elephants in the area, and because it was so cloudy.

Lyle and Jane Krug hiking in the Kili foothills.
Lyle and Jane Krug hiking in the Kili foothills.

We walked past several dozen giraffe, dozens of zebra and wildebeest, impala, and an amazing number of eland. There was also warthog, Grant’s gazelle and lots of baboon.

From the earliest traditional days with the Maasai herders and continuing uninterrupted today with safari guests the animals are unmolested and have become pretty tame. Most of these animals are spillovers from nearby Amboseli National Park, but their behavior and acceptance of us walking near them suggested they were more sedentary than transitory.

West Kili is pimpled with old ash cones that over the eons have formed into beautiful hills with considerable vegetation. We climbed one, following an animal path, until we were about 400 feet above the slopes on which the ranch was located.

The views were superb, of course. To the west was towering Mt. Meru, over 13,000′ high. To the northwest was the great pan of Amboseli and we watched dust devils twist across it.

To the east, of course, was the granddaddy of them all, Kilimanjaro. Throughout this cloudy day it cleared by for a few minutes, but most of the day quite a lot of the mountain was available with the clouds forming gorgeous wraps around its peak.

Hope Koncal, Mark Weingarden and Dave Koncal.
Hope Koncal, Mark Weingarden and Dave Koncal.

We had good birding, too, including lammergeier, fully feathered breeding steel blue whydah, several types of rollers, waxbills and finches, plus a wonderful array of raptors including augur buzzards, black-crested hawks and tawny eagles.

When we descended the hill I called for our rovers to drive us home and in the afternoon we took a more extensive game drive, seeing a considerable number of wildebeest and zebra. These are not a part of the great migration, although they probably move between Amboseli and possibly Tarangire via Meru.

Our day ended at the ranch’s tree house, which overlooks a beautiful vlei that had zebra, warthog and baboon, and incredible views of the Kilimanjaro landscapes.

“Can we say that we climbed in the Kilimanjaro foothills?” Hope Koncal asked anxiously.

Absolutely, and it was wonderful exercise and a wonderful way to slip into the magic that Africa holds you in.

We took a rather creative way here from Arusha, traveling through Arusha National Park from its southern to northern gate. It was a great game drive itself, with waterbuck, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and impala.

But there were three really great bonuses!

The first was when we saw a red duiker in the deep forest. This animal is growing increasingly endangered because of the erosion of forests. I hadn’t seen it for several years, and I was surprised how literally red it seemed. About the size of a small pig, it moves stealthily and quickly when noticed, so we had but a few minutes to enjoy it.

We also saw the prized colobus monkey that the park is so famous for. These are probably East Africa’s most beautiful monkey, with their long white tails and flowing black-and-white manes.

And we lucked out big time when the Momela Lakes gave us probably 30-35,000 flamingoes! We sometimes see them here, often not at all, but rarely have I seen so many.

And now, on to Tarangire!

Thousands of flamingoes in the Momela Lakes.
Thousands of flamingoes in the Momela Lakes.