BLOG Pt2 : Buckle up; Serengeti, here we come!


I by accident omitted a map of our entire trip’s route in the previous blog. It’s a long way to Tanzania…

Trip Route 13-22 July 2013 / 3062nm / 17h:33m / 1229 litres of Avgas


Club Makokola (FWCM) -> Dodoma (HTDO)
488nm / 2h:50m / 204 litres of Avgas

Dodoma (HTDO) -> Arusha (HTAR)
176nm / 1h:00m / 66 litres of Avgas

I woke to the call of a fish eagle. A big day of travel lay ahead. We had to get from Club Makokola to Lake Manyara, Tanzania, before sunset. To put the distance and terrain in perspective…according to Google Maps, the shortest route by road to Arusha from Club Mak is 1790km and will take you 23 hours and 18 minutes!! We would lose an hour of daylight, due to Tanzania being GMT +3 hours, so time wasn’t on our side.

V-Tail departing FWCM

After a quick breakfast we were off to the aircraft. We were third in line and opted to take-off on runway 17, just clearing the hill at the end of the runway before the blue lake opened up before us. Making a left turn we crossed the southern part of the lake and had a magnificent view of its vastness. We ascended to FL150, the highest I’ve ever flown unpressurised, and thus for that matter the highest I’ve been without supplementary oxygen. If you acclimatize properly, this height is normally not problematic for most humans, but it’s asking a bit too much if you’re coming from 1500ft ASL to 15000ft in just under 20 minutes. After a while I started to develop a small headache and opted for supplementary oxygen.

Crossing the Mozambique / Tanzania border at 190kts GS

The earth steadily moved backwards beneath us and once more we welcomed a lovely 10 knot tail wind. We crossed the Tanzanian border and shortly thereafter descended to FL135 as my dad also didn’t feel too great due to the altitude. The landscape was constantly changing and at one stage we flew over lush forests covering rolling hills. Unfortunately the visibility was poor once more.

After 2 1/2 hours since take-off we started our descent to Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania. This was the airport I had the most concern with regarding the availability of Avgas, but my correspondence with them seemed to have paid off. The only snags we encountered were the custom official and then the flight plan “officer”. Refer to my rant in the previous BLOG.

Dodoma fuel queue

The upshot of it all; we were losing time we didn’t have. After an hour and 30 minutes on the ground we were finally airborne again, but were jolted by the news of the lead aircraft having had an electrical failure. In a glass panel aircraft, definitely no fun and games. They diverted back to Dodoma but soon decided to rather head to Arusha, our intended destination, as there was a better chance of repairing the plane there instead of at Dodoma. They still had the unknown of whether their landing gear would protract correctly but they were luckily able to make it to Arusha and land the plane safely. A technician was flown out from SA to repair the fault and they continued the rest of the journey without a glitch.

Those who flew at FL105 and higher could see the top of Mount Kilimanjaro from very far out, but we opted for FL095, due to the leg only being an hour’s flying. Closer to Arusha we could see the pyramid shape of Mount Meru appear from the smog and haze. Mount Meru is an active stratovolcano located 70 kilometres (43 mi) west of Mount Kilimanjaro. At a height of 4,565 metres (14,977ft), it is visible from Mt Kilimanjaro on a clear day, and is the ninth or tenth highest mountain in Africa, dependent on definition. Much of its bulk was lost about 8,000 years ago due to an eastward volcanic blast, similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in the U.S. state of Washington. Mount Meru most recently had a minor eruption in 1910. The several small cones and craters seen in the vicinity probably reflect numerous episodes of volcanic activity.

HTAR / Arusha Airport

Arusha airport seems to be the home base for Cessna 208 Caravans, as there surely must have been 20 of them on the ramp, waiting for their next charter to the Serengeti, or Kilimanjaro International. Everyone unloaded and secured their airplanes. My safari agent, Karen, from African Eden Safaris had been waiting at the gate since 11am and it was great to finally meet her in person after our countless e-mail correspondence. British, enthusiastic, bubbly and passionate about her job, she quickly informed me of the planned proceedings for the day.

We were late. Due to us being held up at Dodoma everyone only arrived round 14:00 at Arusha. The plan was to still drive for two hours to Lake Manyara and visit Lake Manyara National Park before booking into Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge. First order of business though was to buy snacks and drinks for our five day safari in Arusha. It was a mad scramble for the four Land Cruisers, which each seated 6 passengers plus the guide. Arusha is a bustling African city. We got our supplies from a local supermarket, who conveniently also sold liquor. Local beers were US$2, which all things considered were a bit on the pricey side. At last we got on the road, but now it was already 3pm and time was not on our side to make it to the park on time.

The "Supermarket" in Arusha and our vehicles for the safari.

Our convoy again set off, west towards Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. But just as I was settling in to enjoy the scenery we pulled into a crafts store… I didn’t recall it being on the itinerary, and surely we were in a rush?? Under the guise of a restroom stop and enjoying our packed picnic box, it turned out these guys were also in on the deal as the parking area was packed with other tour operators’ land cruisers. After a 40 second tour of the shop I had seen and appreciated the incredible craftsmanship on display, but a few others were caught in the snare.

A family of 15! Imagine the shipping cost involved to UPS this to the UK. Photo by Andre van Niekerk

If you can think of an object, or living creature, A-N-Y-THING your creative mind can conjure up, it’s there, carved out of wood. There are even whole 15 member families carved out of a single tree trunk! The shop ships these trunks of art worldwide. But it seemed my straying flock weren’t interested in wood, oh no, they only had eyes for the tanzanite.

I don’t have many complaints regarding our tour operator; I was even pleased for the lucky ladies who sported their blue stones that evening at dinner; but I was really irritated that the tour operator prioritised their kickback before our itinerary.

Anyway, at 4 pm we were finally on our way. Now there was NO chance in hell we would make it to the park on time. Resigned to this fact I settled in for the drive to Lake Manyara. I didn’t expect a four lane highway, but nothing could prepare us for the state of the road. It was being rebuilt, which meant there were large dirt sections that were extremely corrugated. We also had our first introduction to the Serengeti dust…a fine powder that has the ability to seep through cast iron steel. There were sections where the dust was so thick that visibility was barely 5 meters. Quite stressful on an extremely busy, single-lane main road.

We also quickly learned that our guide/driver had a peculiar affinity for this powder dust, as he steadfastly drove as close as he dared to the back of the vehicle in front of us. This little habit of his would be the bane of our existence for the next four days.

At sunset we finally arrived at our lodge. The magnificent panoramic view it has over Lake Manyara would have to wait until the next morning. Wood features prominently in Tanzanian architecture and interior design and it showed at the lodge. It had been a long day and after a warm shower and hearty dinner it was time for bed. The next day we would have to fit Lake Manyara National Park into the schedule as we did after all pay for it in the package. Thereafter we’d climb to the Ngorongoro Crater and then head west towards Ndutu Lodge, located at the southern end of the Serengeti.

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