The Crater Highlands are part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is a reserve where the local communities live alongside the wildlife. The highlands consist of a range of Volcanoes-not all extinct-rising steeply from the side of the Great Rift Valley in Northern Tanzania. Hence they are more than JUST the Ngorongoro Crater with a number of impressive peaks, with steep escarpments, crater lakes, dense forests and grassy ridges, streams and waterfalls. one volcano the Ol-Doinyo-Lengai (2878m) is even active! It is also home to many Maasai people who have grazed cattle on the grasslands here for hundreds of years. Most walking is done at around the 3000mts mark. There are many options though available to the adventurous.
Day 1 – Moshi – Lake Natron (Ngare Sero)
Departing Arusha in the morning you drive to Mtu-wa Mbu (Lake Manyara) for lunch. After lunch you drive north along the bottom of the Great Rift Valley wall to Lake Natron and the village of Ngare Sero at the base of Ol Doinyo Lengai. Overnight at a campsite by the lake.
Day 2 – – Lake Natron – Ngare Sero to Ol Doinyo Lengai
From Lake Natron to Ngare Sero is a 3-hour walk. Lengai is best approached from the west. Between Ngare Sero and Lengai’s lower slopes is another 3 hours walk. The vehicle will go on ahead here so that it is there to take you up this large gully and so saving you at least 6 hours of walking. Overnight camp in the gully.
Day 3 – Ol Doinyo Lengai summit and back to Lake Natron campsite:
A very early start in order to gain as much height as possible in the cool of the morning. Sun hats and a large water in-take are essential. Descend by the same route.
Great care should be taken on the way down: loose volcanic gravel on bare rock makes it perilous going in places. Overnight at the Lake Natron camp site.
Day 4 – Lake Natron – Arusha Town:
Departing after breakfast you drive back to Arusha town. Drop-off.
“Oldoinyo Le Ngai” is a Maasai term meaning “Mountain of God”. This mountain is the only active volcano in East Africa. Volcanic activity on the mountain has been observed from as far back as 1883, and it is still active today. The Oldoinyo Le Ngai mountain reaches a height of approximately 9442 feet.
The Maasai Oldoinyo Le Ngai is the sacred mountain of the Maasai. The Maasai go to the mountain to pray and offer sacrifices to the god of the mountain. Reasons for going to the mountain include sickness, infertility, and other misfortunes, like if a person loses his livestock. The Maasai who go to pray on the mountain take with them a sacrifice: a flawless female black sheep (a young ewe) which has not reproduced. The sheep is kept in a specific place on the mountain, a dry water hole, and the Maasai sings songs of worship and praise to the mountain god late into the night. In the morning, when the Maasai awakes, he discover that the sheep has vanished, with no traces to be seen.
The Maasai who take the sacrifices are not allowed to eat until they have left the mountain, but those who have been to the mountain say that they wake up with full stomachs, belching meat and milk. The Maasai believe that God speaks to them on the mountain as they feel his presence and hear mysterious voices but do not see the person talking. The Maasai also believe that a bad person (like a person who practices witchcraft) does not dare to go to the mountain because the mountain god will strike them dead. (The elders I spoke to say no such incident has happen because bad people do not dare to go to the mountain, as they fear the god’s wrath).
Another reason why the Maasai are awed by this mountain is because the soil keeps changing colour from white, gray, red, brown, black and even yellow (because of volcanic activity). One American explorer referred to this mountain as the “Big rock candy mountain” because of its varying colors. Oldoinyo Le Ngai is the most sacred place of worship for all the Maasai from the whole Maasai Diaspora in both Kenya and Tanzania. The Maasai from both countries come to pray and seek Gods intervention in the mountain of God.
Climbing the mountain requires 4-5 hours moderate exertion. The ascent is quite difficult and challenging because the mountain is steep and climbers are exposed to the hot sun as there is hardly any shade. The best time to climb the mountain is early in the morning, before the sun gets too hot. Herds of zebra and wildebeest can sometimes be seen on the trip. A trip to the mountain can also encompass other nearby areas of interest like Lake Natron. Lake Natron is a breeding ground for flamingoes and other birds. There are several Maasai bomas (homesteads) which can be visited, and one can also visit the nearby Mount Gelai, which has geysers and a spectacular waterfall.