September 3, 2013
The travel agent at Africa Travel Resource (ATR) had warned me not to do the Empakai crater hike as a day trip from the Ngorongoro Farm House, explaining that it was a long, bumpy, dusty drive and would not be worth our time. Disregarding her advice (the travel agent from Roy Safaris told us it would be no problem) we decided to break up our 11 days of safari with a hike.
Empakai crater lies about 80 kilometers northeast of its big brother, Ngorogroro. The hike is a short 3 miles down and back and it took us 45 minutes to descend at a leisurely pace. The 300 meter ascent back to the top took us just over an hour. With an elevation of 2,500 meters at the rim, we felt the effect of the altitude on the climb back up.
The moderately steep trail through jungle leads down to a lake frequented by pink flamingos.
The skittish birds are better observed at a distance, so we sat on a hill near the shore with our box lunches to watch them in action. I was wishing I had brought my telephoto lens.
As the crater is also home to larger animals – we didn’t see any – the hike should only be done with an armed guide present. Our driver picked up a park ranger at the entrance to Ngorognoro Crater on the way to the hike. Our soft spoken escort stopped frequently on the way back up to tell us tidbits about the crater flora and fauna giving us a chance to catch our breath.
The two hour drive from the Farm House to Empakai Crater was bumpy and dusty as the ATR travel agent had said, but was also fascinating.
The dirt track passes through an expanse of grasslands surrounded by volcanic peaks. The region, mostly uninhabited except for the occasional village, is home to the Maasai who tend the flocks of sheep and herd of cattle that dot the plains.
All in all the day trip took an easy 8 hours, leaving the Plantation Lodge at 8AM and returning mid-afternoon. While I would not recommend this hike for those short on safari days, it was a great break in the middle of a longer safari trip.
Here’s a useful link I found: GPS Track