Wildlife Up Close In Tarangire National Park

Have you ever had the desire to see exotic birds and wildlife up close, in their natural habitat? I was fortunate enough to do just that last year when we took a nine-day safari through Tanzania. We visited several of Tanzania’s national parks, and I’ll write about many of them over time. In this post, I’ll focus on the experience we had in Tarangire National Park.

First Impressions

My first impression of Tarangire was how rustic and remote it was, with very few signs of the intrusion of modern life and infrastructure. The preservation of natural habitat is an essential part of TANAPA‘s (Tanzania National Parks) mission:

The primary role of Tanzania National Parks  is conservation. The 16 national parks…have been set aside to preserve the country’s rich natural heritage and to provide secure breeding grounds where its fauna and  flora can thrive, safe from the conflicting interests of a growing human population.

At first it was hard for me to shake the idea that I was in a zoo – I really couldn’t wrap my brain around the wide open expanses and the free rein that the animals had in the park. But I got over that feeling fairly quickly, and was really taken in by the beauty of the wildlife in their natural setting.

Land and Roads

The park is roughly teardrop-shaped and covers 1,100 square miles in total. The northern part of the park consists mostly of flat scrub land and large stands of baobab and acacia trees. As you progress south into the park, the land becomes more hilly and is filled with rivers, streams and seasonal swamps.

Nearly all the roads through the park are for 4WD vehicles only. This is definitely not a place where I’d feel comfortable driving myself. Fortunately, we had a good guide who drove a modified Toyota Land Cruiser and who had extensive knowledge of the park itself as well as the wildlife and plant life we encountered. The roads were rough and were often waterlogged, but I had complete confidence in our driver. As an added bonus we visited the park late in the season, so we were the only two people he was escorting. This was great – because we got to stop wherever we wanted to for as long as we wanted.

Wildlife Up Close

Tarangire NP is noted not only for its baobab and acacia trees, but also for its large population of elephant. In addition to the elephant, the park is inhabited by waterbuck, giraffe, dik dik, impalaGrant’s gazelle, vervet monkey, banded mongooseolive baboonAfrican lion, leopard, cheetah and many more. The park also contains approximately 500 different species of birds, and is one of the premiere spots for birding in Tanzania – and, indeed, all of east Africa.

Wildlife Up Close in Tarangire National Park
Papio cynocephalus 'yellow baboon'
Aquila nipalensis 'steppe eagle'
Giraffa camelopardalis 'giraffe'

At the time we were there, there were relatively few tourists – we rarely saw another vehicle during the time we were there. Even in the high season, park rangers control the number of visitors allowed in the park at any one time. As a result of the low amount of traffic and the natural habitat, the animals appear to be extremely relaxed and at ease. Far from being afraid of our Land Cruiser, many of them were more curious than anything. In some cases, animals were just a few feet away from our vehicle. Of course, the animals are wild and so we were told to exercise common sense – hands, feet and bodies inside the vehicle at all times, no loud noises or shouting, and no throwing objects out of the vehicle. These warnings were given to avoid injury to us, as well as to keep the animals safe and friendly.

Tips for Photographers

I found Tarangire to be a real photographer’s paradise, and I was really happy with some of the shots I brought back. I also brought back a few simple tips to help others improve their experience:

  • Go light on equipment. You most likely won’t need a tripod while out on safari. In fact, trying to use one may just slow you down. I also found that a long (70-300mm) and short (28-80mm) lens were sufficient for me to capture everything.
  • Your guide will likely know this, but most animals in Africa are crepuscular and are most active in the morning and the afternoon. These are the times of day when you can catch animals feeding, hunting, playing, and generally being active. During mid-days the animals generally seek out shade and water, which gives you some great opportunities to photograph animals at rest.
  • If your camera allows you this option, consider using aperture preferred mode for most of your shooting. This allows you to use depth of field to draw attention to specific animals, or specific parts of their face or body.
  • Shutter preferred mode will allow you to capture action shots while animals are on the move. Consider setting your shutter speed to 1/500 to 1/250. This will allow you to pan your camera while animals are moving quickly, which will provide a blurred background and give your photo a sense of motion.
  • While animals will likely be the primary subject of a lot of your photos, don’t neglect the landscape. Baobab and acacia trees have interesting shapes and textures, and can make for great photos by themselves. Because of its position near the equator, most of the national parks in Tanzania have extremely colorful sunrises and sunsets. These can provide you the perfect photo to begin or end a photo essay.




National Park Road Trip

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enamored with America’s National Parks and the opportunities they offer to experience nature face to face. This summer, I took the opportunity to experience a few parks: The Badlands National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

I’m an avid and so that was the real focus (pun intended) of my trip. I also wanted to camp out, which I’d never done before. I also wanted to make good use of my time and decide ahead of time what I wanted to see and photograph. The research and pre-trip planning made everything go smoothly, yet it allowed me time and space to go “off script” and see things I hadn’t planned to experience.

Getting There

Google Maps is a great resource for planning your driving route. I was able to create a map and download it to my iPhone – using the Google Maps app on my phone, I had excellent directions during the entire trip.

Coming from the Midwest as I did, Interstate 90 is the easiest and fastest way to get to all these destinations. I followed it from Illinois up through Wisconsin and Minnesota, then headed west toward South Dakota. 90 continues on into Wyoming – and at Buffalo, Wyoming you can pick up Route 16 to head directly into the park. If your trip originates in or near Colorado, take Interstate 25 north and join up with Route 16 in Buffalo, WY. If you’re coming from the northwest or southwest, take Interstate 84 or 80 (respectively) east to Interstate 15.

If you choose to fly, consider heading to Bozeman, MT or to Jackson, WY. Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is located in the Grand Teton area and provides service to/from Denver, Salt Lake City, and other major hubs for most airlines.

Badlands National Park

07-28-16-badlands-np-110-hdr-1The trip started with an overnight stay in Badlands National Park. I rented a space in the Cedar Pass Campground. The campground is for tents as well as campers and RVs. Since I went in peak season it was pretty full, but I had no trouble reserving a spot ahead of time. I arrived just in time to set up camp and to capture a beautiful sunset.

07-29-16-badlands-np-20-hdr-2-edit-edit-1I awoke the next morning early enough to catch the sunrise – and I’m really glad I did. The approach of a cold front made for some really beautiful colors during the sunset, and they were enhanced by light fog that was rolling in.

I found that a single day in the Badlands was enough for me. I planned my visit around photography, and I knew I would get most of my good shots at night or early in the day. If you plan to visit for hiking, you may want to consider a longer stay there.

Yellowstone National Park

After leaving the Badlands I headed out toward Yellowstone. It’s a long drive (about 9 hours) but a beautiful one. Wyoming has a lot of wide open spaces, and towns tend to be few and far between. If you need gas, groceries or other supplies, consider making a quick stop in Cody, Wyoming. It’s about an hour outside the edge of the park and is the last major town for supplies before getting into the park.

I chose to stay at the Canyon Village Campground for this trip because it was well-located for the things I wanted to see. The Canyon Village area also contains stores and restaurants and a gas station. The gas station has a mechanic on staff in case you have any car trouble during your trip. If you plan to travel during peak summer season as I did, plan on reserving your lodging at least 8-10 months in advance, as the sites book up quickly.

brink of the Upper Falls, Yellowstone National ParkAfter a quick stop to set up my tent, I was off to explore. I wanted to spend most of the first day around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone area, and I arrived at the perfect time as the lighting was excellent. Plan for a drive – or better yet, a hike – along both the north and south rim trails.07-31-16-yellowstone-np-215-hdr-3

I found that the best time to venture out and explore was in the morning and I was usually on the road between 6AM and 7AM daily. As a photographer I’m always looking for the best light, and mornings and afternoons tend to have the softest and warmest light to cast everything in a beautiful glow. From a practical standpoint mornings worked out well – most visitors to the park are not up and about until 9AM or later. I found that being among the first ones out meant I had my choice of parking spots and that the vistas were largely uninterrupted by cars or other people. It’s also the best time to see wildlife – most of the animals in the park are active at morning and at night, and tend to rest during the warmer parts of the day.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I had a well-thought out plan to see everything that I was interested in. I found several useful guides and resources that helped me make the best use of my time. I really wanted to see the iconic spots like Old Faithful, the Norris Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Seeing all these areas exceeded my wildest expectations – they were absolutely breathtaking, and the views will stay with me forever. But I also made time to stop along the path at several places that just looked interesting and I found some beautiful surprises, like the Twin Lakes area.

I planned a full day in the middle of my trip to visit Grand Teton National Park as well – it’s a beautiful drive and a fantastic destination.

Grand Teton National Park

The drive from Yellowstone to Grand Teton takes you down the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway – a beautiful and convenient route. If you’ve only got a single day or limited time to visit the park, this is an excellent way to see it. There are great vistas and viewpoints along the way, both outside and inside the park.

Another “must see” for me was the area called Mormon Row. It’s in Moose, WY and is just south of the main part of GTNP. Mormon Row is the remainder of a colony of Mormon pioneers who landed in this area in the mid-1800s. There are several iconic barns and buildings in the area, and the skies are big and open – evoking thoughts of the wide open spaces that one sees in this part of the world.

Another “can’t miss” site is the Church of the Transfiguration. It’s a very small Episcopal church located near the south entrance of GTNP. The church has a large picture window in the front area and it’s got a breathtaking view of the Tetons. It’s so relaxing and inspiring to sit for a few minutes and contemplate the view.

My time here was much too short – if I ever visit the area again, I plan to stay in Grand Teton longer to see more wildlife and take in more beautiful vistas.

Summing it up…

Because of careful planning and lots of reading and research, this trip was everything I hoped it would be. All the parks I visited are vast and have tons of things to see – I literally only scratched the surface of what was there to see. Plan your time well, and reserve your lodging well in advance – and you’ll have a great trip.