Sardine Run, South Africa

Sardine run off the coast of South Africa is one of the largest marine migrations in the world. Between May and July billions of sardines move along the coast of South Africa towards Mozambique. Dolphins, sharks, and birds that eat sardines move along with them. At the same time whales also migrate in the same direction. We spent 6 days chasing sardines based out of Port St John in July of 2019.

Port St. John is a small town at the mouth of the river with cliffs on both sides making it look like some spectacular Lord of the Rings place. We did sardine run with Blue Ocean Dive who we also dove Aliwal Shoal from Umkomaas. Most operators actually offer a day or two of Aliwal Shoal diving as part of the sardine run package. We flew to Durban, dove one day on Aliwal Shoal in Unkomaas and then went to Port St John – about 4 hour drive.

Mzimvubu river towards Port St John, South Africa
Mzimvubu river towards Port St John, South Africa

Wild coast is spectacularly beautiful and spending a day on the boat watching whales, dolphins and birds was great fun. After watching all the amazing videos with huge bait balls where all kinds of sharks attack thousands of sardines in crystal clear blue water we kind of expected to dive on bait balls every day of our sardine run trip. Turns out it is not quite like that. The experience is more like going on a safari. While one hopes to see a kill one kind of knows it is not certain at all. Same thing with the bait ball. We saw lots of dolphins, “raining birds”, and tried to chase scattering “micro bait balls” of sardines but did not find a big stable bait ball. Perhaps sardines were late or maybe water was a bit too warm and they were further out. There seems to be a lot of variability from year to year and every sardine run season is different we hear.

Wild coast near port St John, South Africa
Wild coast near port St John, South Africa

There was lots of surface action though and in retrospect bringing the proper camera for surface photos would have been a good idea. The sea can be rough though so would definitely need a water proof bag for the camera to keep it dry. The dolphins, diving birds and all the breaching whales we saw would make for some fantastic pictures.

Sardine run boats, South Africa
Sardine run boats, South Africa

There are several short hikes around Port St John that one can do after the day of sardine chasing. We also went for sun downers on top of the hill where landing strip is to enjoy stunning view of the river, ocean and the cliffs.

Sunset over Mzimvubu river and ocean, near Port St John, South Africa
Sunset over Mzimvubu river and ocean, near Port St John, South Africa

After 6 days of chasing sardines we then went back to Unkomaas and did a couple more days of diving on Aliwal Shoal. There were lots of ragged tooth sharks on the shoal, we did a bated dive again and even here we saw whales breaching on the way to dive sites!

Amboseli safari, Kenya

Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli, Kenya
Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli, Kenya

Amboseli National park is famous for the beautiful views of Kilimanjaro and lots of animals especially during the dry season. We went in early March at the very beginning of the rainy season (the rain started the week we travelled) and saw lots of elephants, wildebeest, hippos, giraffes, lions and amazing variety of birds. Mount Kilimanjaro was hiding behind the clouds but you could almost always see part of the snow covered top.

We drove to Amboseli from Nairobi. On the way to the park it took us about 4 hours. Mombasa road is very busy with all the traffic going between Mombasa port and the rest of Kenya and countries further inland. On the way back, because of the heavy rains we hit a massive traffic jam about 60km out of Nairobi. All the trucks and cars were at a standstill. We ended up taking a detour and the journey back took us more than 6 hours.

One day Mombasa road expansion will be finished and then driving to Amboseli from Nairobi would be a reasonable option but until that day it seems the best would be to fly. Also, once the road is expanded, driving to Amboseli from Mombasa and combine Amboseli and Diani beach would be a nice option.

Access road to Amboseli park after unusually heavy rain, Amboseli, Kenya
Traffic jam on Mombasa road, Kenya

Serengeti Safari, Tanzania

Serengeti national park covers about 15,000 square kilometers bordering Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya in the north. Serengeti is most famous for the migration of more than a million wildebeest accompanied by zebra, gazelles and assorted antelopes. It has one of the largest populations of wild life anywhere in the world. Endless grassy rolling planes are perfect terrain for safari. Binoculars and 200m plus camera lens helps.

We left Lake Manyara for Serengeti early in the morning, passing through Ngorongoro conservation area, getting to the Serengeti gate at about lunch time and then heading to the west part of the park reaching at sunset time. Migrating animals were meant to be in the west of the park at the time of our trip in late May.

The drive through Ngorongoro conservation area is stunningly beautiful. As you descend from the crater Serengeti planes open up and you pass small Maasai villages where you can stop for a somewhat touristy experience. We saw quite a few giraffes on the way moving between Serengeti and Ngorongoro.

As we drove through the planes towards Serengeti gate we encountered the tail of migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra. Rains were late this year and animals were still on their way to the west. It is incredible sight – as far as you can see all the way to the horizon there were animals. We then came across a cheetah sitting 2 meters away from the road and watching intently a herd of impala. We waited hoping she would go hunting but she was not in the mood.

On we went and came across lions who just finished their lunch as evidenced by fat bellies of chilling out lions and meatless carcass next to them. Seeing endless herds of wildebeest and zebra, a cheetah and lions before even reaching the gate of Serengeti was very impressive.

After the gate there is a large resting area where most vehicles going in and out of the park stop, get permits sorted out and eat boxed lunch. The resting area is at the foot of a hill from which you get a nice 360 view of the planes. From here we continued on what now was a “proper” game drive since we were inside of the park, towards our lodge in the west. All along the way we saw herds of impala, wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, all sorts of birds, troop of baboons and even jackals. We made it to the lodge just in time for sunset. Sleeping in the tented camp to the purring of lions nearby was surreal.

The next day we went for game drives all around western section returning back to the lodge for dinner. After the second night in the west we headed to the central section of the park.

On the way to the central we came across a troop of baboons feeding on the white flowers. In central part we saw a leopard in a tree with its half finished lunch of impala hanging on a branch. We came across a pride of lions chilling out on a rock outcrop. And saw plenty of elephants, buffalo, giraffes, wild hogs, zebras, gazelles, and all sorts of birds.

We spent a night in the central part with stunning views of the planes around. Next day we headed back to the gate and towards Ngorongoro crater coming across migration on the way back again. Serengeti lived up to high expectations.

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Tarangire safari, Tanzania

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire national park is about the same distance to Kilimanjaro airport as Manyara but for some reason does not seem to feature as prominently on tourist itineraries. The park is located along the river Tarangire and attracts a lot of wildlife during the dry season. We were traveling at the end of May and rainy season was just starting. We only had one half-day game drive in the park but got to see lions, giraffes, all sorts of gazelles and excellent bird life.

We spotted a lion in a tree – similarly to Lake Manyara lions here climb in the trees which they do not do in most other places. We then came across three male lions resting on the road. We followed them as they went towards the river later. On the river we saw a big group of giraffes – apparently properly called a tower of giraffes. At some point we counted fourteen of them coming down to the water for a drink.

Tarangire was a nice end for our Tanzania northern circuit safari. Lake Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire are each brilliant with lots and lots of wildlife. After spending all the time driving around we were also ready to head out to Zanzibar for some underwater time.

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Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Ngorongoro crater has the highest density of wild animals anywhere in the world. It is also the world’s largest inactive, intact volcanic caldera. Topography is stunning and you can get really close to the animals. We reached Ngorongoro from Serengeti driving through some very nice scenery and coming across giraffes moving between Ngorongoro and Serengeti.

We arrived to the lodge on the rim of the crater as the sun was starting to go down. Sunset over the Ngorongoro crater was spectacular as we watched clouds pouring over the rim and rays of lights reflecting in the lake at the bottom of the crater.

After very nice breakfast watching the sunrise over the crater we started the game drive. Ngorongoro is a very popular tourist destination and the crater does get quite busy with the vehicles. Animals do not seem to be disturbed by this though and we could get very close to them. We saw herds of wildebeest, zebra, all kind of antelope, wild hogs, buffalo, black-backed and golden jackals.

We were lucky to see caracal though it was a little in a distance. Then we came across a lion on the road walking past parked vehicles. We saw a pride of 8 or 9 lions in a distance and they went hunting wild hogs. Wild hogs got away and looked hilarious running with their tails straight up like antennas. We then saw 3 more lions sleeping. Elephants and hippos are plentiful and we saw a rhino but it was really far away.

Bird life is very good as well with all the greenery and water.

We had only one day in the Ngorongoro and had to leave the crater by about 1:30 since we had to be out of the park gate by 3pm as we had one 24 hour permit. We overnighted in a hotel not far from the gate outside of the park and then headed past Lake Manyara to Tarangire national park for one more game drive and 4th park on this trip.

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Lake Manyara Safari, Tanzania

Lake Manyara national park is about 3 hours drive from Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. We visited it on the way to Serengeti and Ngorongoro parks in late May. We stayed at a lodge on top of the hill overlooking the lake with phenomenal views.

After overnighting at the lodge we went for a game drive down at the lake. Lake Manyara and nearby Tarangire national parks are less known than their famous neighbors Serengeti and Ngorongoro which means there are not as many tourists and excellent wildlife – not the least due to the permanent sources of water.

The drive starts through the jungle forest where we saw blue and velvet monkeys, baboons, elephants, wild hogs and impala. Animals seem to prefer to use the road rather than making their way through the thicket of the forest.

Once past the forest the drive heads to the shore of the lake to the flat grassy areas with some bush. There are lots of zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, more elephants, hippos and all sorts of birds

Lake Manyara is known for the unusual behavior of lions who climb the trees along the shore of the lake – something they do not normally do. We saw two lions sleeping in the trees – or rather a part of a paw of one lion barely showing between the branches of the tree and a tip of the tail of another lion.  

The most exciting sighting of the trip was the leopard. Unlike normally sleepy cat, this one was a restless one running up and down the tree, then settling briefly on a branch and staring at us and then running around again. All the cars actually put their roofs down and kept windows closed just in case it decides to jump on a car. Leopard eventually just left but we got some very nice shots.

Leopard, Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Leopard, Lake Manyara, Tanzania

After a full day drive through the park – with lunch boxes provided by hotel – we returned to overnight again at the same lodge before driving off early next morning to Serengeti

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