Ndutu – Tanzania’s great safari secret

Two lionesses and cub in Lake Ndutu area, Tanzania

Every December the Ndutu plains begin to stir. Wildebeest arrive in their hundreds of thousands. Scraggy resident predators prepare for three months of abundance. The safari experience baffles the imagination and it’s superb value.

But where is Ndutu? And why do you need to know about it?

Ndutu – Between Ngorongoro and Serengeti

Wildebeest and calf in Ndutu, Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ndutu is a corner of grassland and woodland in northern Tanzania, contiguous with Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. Most northern circuit safaris in Tanzania will pass through it.

This corner of the Serengeti ecosystem is where wildebeest come to have their calves. Newborns feed on nutrient-rich volcanic soils, meaning they develop at up to twice the speed of wildebeest elsewhere in Africa.

Thomson’s gazelle also like Ndutu for raising their young. That means this tiny corner of Tanzania is populated by over a million grazers, many of them highly vulnerable to predators.

Seasonal Plains – Only Visit Between December and March

Cheetah hunting a baby wildebeest in Ndutu

For three months the newborns graze, developing strength for their journey ahead. These December to March months are usually considered the start of the great wildebeest migration, although given this is a continual journey does it have a start or an end?!

From December to March the safari in Ndutu is otherworldly. Resident predators spend nine months living off scraps, before fattening up on this seasonal abundance. With so many newborn calves there is food for a large number of hunters.

Both lions and leopards can use the surrounding woodlands to hideout before a hunt. Cheetah thrive as there are so many easy meals to take. Hyenas migrate here and feast on the easy food.

From March onwards the wildebeest herds move off. By April Ndutu is quiet. The grass has been grazed and only a handful of animals remain. It remains quiet until December. October and November are particularly lifeless, with sun-scorched grass and dusty emaciated predators.

Spectacular Off-Trail Safari – At a Very Reasonable Price

Ndutu Safari Lodge signboard

Mix lots of big cats with lots of newborn ungulates and there will be drama all over the savannah.

In most national parks it can be difficult to track predators on a hunt, as vehicles are not permitted to drive off the trail. Driving off trail is usually only allowed in the more expensive private concessions.

However, as Ndutu is a seasonal landscape, safari vehicles can drive wherever they like. That means you can go on a budget safari and get to bump across the grasslands, following all kinds of prowling predators.

Two male lions walk past a 4x4 in Ndutu

So a Tanzania safari that costs only USD 150 per day could immerse you in one of the most dramatic wildlife displays. And because nobody really knows about Ndutu, the area isn’t overly crowded.

There are lodges inside Ndutu, although it’s possible to safari in this greater Serengeti migration area by staying in a public camp. Most safaris will spend all possible daylight hours in Ndutu, tracking different predators.

To learn more about Ndutu watch the first half of David Attenborough’s documentary “Trek: Spy on the Wildebeest: Part 1 – The Journey”.

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