Written by: Jennifer Cole
Sometimes life presents an experience too tempting to pass up. If active explorations, an insight into the origins of mankind, a fascination for all things geological, and a yearning to connect with the wild are what turns you on – then you might just agree with me that I have discovered such a once in a lifetime experience.
The beauty of active volcanoes seduce mountaineers with the promise of an exhilarating adventure off the beaten track, and Ol Doinyo Lengai combined with a safari to iconic Ngorongoro and the Serengeti in Tanzania is no exception.
Ol Doinyo Lengai is the coolest volcano in the world, and its name in Masaai means the “home of God.” And I mean literally coolest, being the world’s only volcano to exude snowy natrocarbonatite – a highly fluid lava, which at 510°C is a mere half the temperature of the molten basalt that all other volcanoes eject. The unique composition of Ol Doinyo Lengai remains mysteriously fascinating to geologists, and climbing it is as highly challenging as it is mystically unforgettable. This god is alive; it breathes and it rumbles as it challenges adventure seekers to conquer it.
But there’s far more to be explored here than simply tackling a volcano. The easterly (Gregory Rift) branch of the East African Rift System reveals spectacular landforms that include iconic escarpments and alkaline lakes. The geo-tourism of some of Africa’s most famous parks and conservation areas – Arusha, Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti and the wilderness area around Lake Natron – is unparalleled.
The Archaean rocks of the Tanzania Craton and Oldupai Gorge, the important hominid sites of Homo habilis (1.9-1.6 Ma) and Paranthropus Boisei (1.8-1.2 Ma), Lake Natron teeming with thousands of pink flamingos, and the great plains of the Serengeti beckon those with a yearning to explore and discover more. This means more understanding as to the origins of the human race, more connection to arguably the best game viewing in Africa and more spectacular photographic opportunities.
Yet I still have not arrived at the reason I call this trip iconic, unique and enticing. To be led on this exploration by none other than Dr Roger Scoon, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading geologists, shifts everything to a whole new level. The journey becomes that much more captivating, intriguing and awe inspiring when guided by such knowledge and experience. Oldupai Gorge, one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world, comes to life here as we further our understanding of early human evolution.
Exploring the crater at Mount Meru with its ash pit, and picnicking in the largest unbroken caldera in the world, Ngorongoro Crater, are a few memorable experiences that will remain forever etched in your mind. Although perhaps to you, spotting a tree climbing lion in Lake Manyara National Park will rank among your own personal trip highlights.
This trip is really cool, but I know it’s not for everyone. If bubbling lava and trekking for endangered mountain gorillas is more your thing, perhaps Mount Nyiragongo, an active stratovolcano in the Virunga Mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo would appeal to you. This climb includes an overnight stay on the mountain, offering spectacular views as the red glow from the molten lava blends with the rising sun. Combined with a rare opportunity to trek gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, it’s one of those trips you will battle to find words to describe.
Unspoilt, absorbing, thrilling – all are fitting, but sometimes words really just aren’t enough.