Lake Manyara National Park
Lake manyara National Park one of the most diverse of Tanzania’s national parks, a tiny (325km²) combination of rift valley lake, dense woodlands and steep mountainside. Made famous by elephant researcher, drain Douglas Hamilton in his book, ‘among the elephants’. Manyara was established specifically to protect the elephant herds that have made the area world-renowned. But heavy poaching in the 1970’s and 1980’s decimated the herds, although they are now recovering and returning to their former strengths. Manyara is a birding paradise (more than 380 species), especially for waterfowl and migrants, and the forests are one of the best places around to see leopards. Lions hunt on the grassy shores of the lake, and were once known for their habit of climbing trees, although this behaviour seems to have been dropped in recent years.
The park can easily be seen in a day. Best game viewing months are December to February and may to July, tapering off in august and September. Most visitors will tailor a visit to manyara to fit in with a trip to one of the big three parks (Serengeti, tarangire and ngorongoro). The kirurumu tented lodge at Lake Manyara has been nominated for an award for its efforts as a conservation project involving the local community.
Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”. Lake Manayara is situated on the base of the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. It derives its name from the Masai word ‘manyara’ which is a plant known to us as Euphorbia tiraculli. This plant is used by the Masai as a hedge to form a stockade for their cattle. As you approach the village Mto wa Mbu (pronounced mtowamboe) from Arusha, the rift wall provides spectacular viewing. Whilst driving up the rift wall, Lake Manyara appears behind you. The view is breathtaking, as you take in this massive lake with its silver shimmer and surrounding vegetation.
Flora and fauna
Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Masai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.
Inland of the floodplain, a narrow belt of acacia woodland is the favoured haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions and impressively tusked elephants. Squadrons of banded mongoose dart between the acacias, while the diminutive Kirk’s dik-dik forages in their shade. Pairs of klipspringer are often seen silhouetted on the rocks above a field of searing hot springs that steams and bubbles adjacent to the lakeshore in the far south of the park.
Manyara provides the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s birdlife. More than 400 species have been recorded, and even a first-time visitor to Africa might reasonably expect to observe 100 of these in one day. Highlights include thousands of pink-hued flamingos on their perpetual migration, as well as other large water birds such as pelicans, cormorants and storks.
Like most Rift Valley lakes, the water is alkaline. This attracts vast flocks of flamingos, which form pink foam against a silver background of water. There are numerous water birds in the area, including pelicans that waddle around next to short grasses on the shore of the lake. The park is a bird lover’s haven with a variety of local species inhabiting the forest and bush. The best time to observe these birds is in the late afternoon and early morning. The park authorities have recently allowed for tourists to canoe along certain portions of the lake, enabling bird and animal watching to become another experience altogether.
Animals found in the area include zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck and warthog. Manyara is also known for its tree-climbing lions. These majestic animals find shelter in the branches of trees from the heat and biting flies. There is a particular belt, which they frequent along the woodland, south of the Msasa River. These lions also have a peculiar specialization of killing buffalo. An adult buffalo weighs in the proximity of one and a half tons, being far larger than the average weight of an adult male lion. On the southern side of the park, you will find the hot springs of Maji Moto. This word directly translated from Swahili means hot water, and is about 60ºC.