Lake Manyara is a small National Park on the way to the famous Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, and as such is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be! The park is a stunning combination of densely wooded areas that open up into wide open plains running along the banks of the lake. Within the forested areas are elephants hiding in plain sight and large troops of baboons that often bring travel to a stop as they take over the roads. Every now and then within the troop that you are watching you will notice a slightly different face staring back at you. Blue Monkeys are gorgeous featured tree dwellers who forage in the trees overhead, their long black tails support them as they swing from one branch to the next.

When one exits the wooded areas and enters the open plains the first thing that you are confronted with is the sheer volume of birds. Thousands and thousands of birds! This place is an absolute heaven for bird watchers, and perhaps one of the best places to recruit newbies. The species that are confronted will take you hours to identify and note, with some rare stars in amongst the large numbers of water birds. Great White Pelicans hang out in numbers larger than could possibly be counted as the landscapes turn white with these tightly packed bodies. The sky swarms with gracefully gliding dots, yellow billed storks, marabou and pelicans, and their shadows fall over you as they soar above. Along the water’s edge bright pink flamingoes wander up and down, their beaks in the water, filtering food.  When first encountered, this awesome sight is almost overwhelming, and it takes a moment to simply absorb the “big picture”.

Only once you have taken that moment to let it all sink in, can you start to pick out the individual highlights. In amongst the tall green reeds you start to notice large black shapes that, when focused on, take shape into lazy buffalos, chilling in the refreshing shady waters, and taking the occasional mouthful of lush green grass. Wildebeest graze slowly amongst large herds of zebra and impala.

And what is that incredibly large strange shape?? Massive rocks with tall trees on top? Binoculars come out and the unbelievably strange image of giraffe lying down come into focus. Never do you see giraffes drop their guards down enough to lie down! One of the most sought-after sights in Africa are the quintessential images of the giraffe bending down to drink. But actually, lying down in the open grass? Never.

As we travelled through the park we saw many of these scenes. As one approaches, their long necks crane towards you as they calculate the risk. If you come too close they pick themselves back up to their feet, more secure at their usual height. But this fabulous scene will remain with us for some time.

In addition to the large herds, abundance of birds, and horizontal giraffes, Manyara is home to yet another unique animal behavior. The lions in this park have decided that they like to climb. Not often does one drive along looking up in the trees looking for a cat that is not a leopard, let alone several cats in one tree! An entire pride will hangout (literally) in one giant tree, with the odd tail dropping down from a big comfy branch. Contented purrs and grunts drift down from branches above, and when one glances up, not one pair of golden shining eyes looks down upon you, but many. It is a wondrous experience and one that will be retained in the memory ‘Hall of Fame’.

As the sun sets behind the mountains fringing the lake, the light fades, a dusk quality spreads over the plains, and a sense of peace settles over the landscape. The birds go quiet as they settle down for the night and a sundowner overlooking the endless views ends a wonderful day in a park.

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