Approximately 8,300km2, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area’s main points of interest are the Ngorongora Crater, Olduvai Gorge and the fact that it is the epicentre for a Masai culture that – despite the problems of drought, modernity and population growth – continues to endure.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has an altitudinal range of 960m to 3,648m, its climatic zones ranging from semi-arid to montane forest, all of which accounts for its widely ranging levels of precipitation (from under 500mm to 1700mm) and for the fact that temperatures oscillate between 2°C and 35°C.
The Ngorongoro Crater is – at 260km2 – the world’s largest volcanic caldera. At an altitude ranging between 1700m (the crater floor) and 2,235m (the crater rim), and subject to the vagaries of the easterly trade winds, rainfall levels depend on height and position, with the forested eastern slopes receiving between 800mm and 1500mm a year, the crater around 700mm and the western slopes 400 – 600mm. Average annual temperatures range from 14°C to 25°C, the crater floor much hotter than the rim, which is often swathed in morning fogs and, depending on the time of the year, can be anything from warm to chilly to freezing at night.
Fed by the Ngorongoro’s highlands, the crater floor’s habitat possesses a number of permanent water sources, making it less than dependent on its own levels of rainfall, though the western plains are particularly dry during February and between June and September. Consisting therefore of a microhabitat that includes a saline lake, swamp, plain and forest, the crater sustains a resident population of 25, 000 animals – including elephant, lion, wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, hyena, leopard and rhino. While the adage dry is best still holds true, the rain here tends to arrive in the afternoon, and takes the form of short and violent storms, thereby allowing for reasonably unaffected morning game drives. Nevertheless, January and February and June through to early October remain the most comfortable months during which to view game.