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Finding the Lion King in the Serengeti

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” (Karen Blixen)

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

* WARNING: There are a lot of cute lion pictures in this post!

When I’m on safari, I’m in my happy place. Sleeping under canvas, listening to the distant roar of lions in the night, driving in an open top car with the wind in my hair, the sun on my face and dust in my eyes… I love it all. Ok, I was kidding about that last one, but the rest, yes!

And a safari in the Serengeti, Tanzania is on of the best so eeven though I’d been before, I wanted to return. Matt hadn’t been, so I was really excited that we would be able to experience it together. Even though I was a teenager in 1994 when The Lion King movie was released, I loved it then and I still love it (I’m not alone here right?), and even though Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya is rumoured to be the main inspiration for the film, the Serengeti is the perfect place to see the real life Lion King play out in front of you!

Each year the landscape is transformed as the great migration passes through the Serengeti. Over a million wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, zebra and eland move through the park and the neighbouring areas of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Masai Mara in Kenya, taking a clockwise direction, in a never-ending search for food and water (see this great post for the route of the migration) The journey is treacherous and fraught with danger and many die in the process. The area they cover is huge with the Serengeti alone spanning over 12,000 square miles. The name literally means ‘endless plains’ in the Maasai language, Maa.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Serengeti means ‘endless plains’ in the Maasai language, Maa

I looked around, getting quotes from different companies, but I was drawn back to Absolute Africa, the overland company I’d travelled with for two-and-a-half months back in 2009. I write about them all the time on here and knew I’d have a great and safe time with them, plus they’re really reasonably priced!

They have a 5-day trip with a departure date that fitted in perfectly with our schedule so we booked our spots. I was so excited to be getting back to my overlanding roots, my only concern was the fact that I’d had such a great time on my previous trip with them, I was worried that a second trip wouldn’t quite live up to the first. But I needn’t have worried! Our new group were a lot of fun.

It was raining when our truck, Shaggy, picked us up from our Wilderbeest Eco Camp in Nairobi, Kenya. Our guide was Philippa, a fellow Brit with a cheeky grin and a knack for cooking chilli (although she warned us about her terrible baking ability – thankfully we had no oven) and I couldn’t have been more pleased, because our driver was Mugo, the very same driver I’d had on my last trip! We had a lot to catch up on and it was nice to hear my old nickname ‘Book Bus’ again. We climbed aboard and sitting in an horrendous traffic jam heading into Nairobi to pick up the final passenger, we introduced ourselves to the rest of the group and Philippa filled us in on what was what! There were eleven passengers on board, six were joining another truck that evening, whilst the rest would be going with us on safari. Once we were out of the city, we had a quick pit stop at a local supermarket before heading south towards Tanzania.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Wind in my hair, sun on my face, trying to keep the dust out of my eyes!

The sun was shining by the time we arrived at the Namanga border, so after crossing into Tanzania, we rolled up the tarps and continued on our way. The group had been pretty quiet for most of the journey, having been out the night before, but the sunshine seemed to perk everyone up and the cameras came out to take pictures of the beautiful Tanzanian scenery. Purple Jacaranda trees and the colourful shukas of passing Maasai added a sprinkling of colour to the otherwise earthy palette. We even managed a quick glimpse of the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro as we made our way towards the city of Arusha at the base of Mount Meru.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

The Tanzanian countryside on the road from Nairobi to Arusha

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Beautiful light patterns on the hills

Knowing we had a busy couple of days ahead of us, we had a pretty chilled first night. The girls bonded chopping vegetables for dinner, whilst the boys drank beer and gave us ‘encouragement’. We got our own back, by allowing them to do most of the washing up.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Preparing dinner for the group

After breakfast the next morning, two safari vehicles were ready and waiting to take us on our Serengeti safari. Safari simply meaning ‘journey’ in the Swahili language. Driving in convoy, we passed through towns and villages, including one village which Simba, our driver (yep, that’s his real name) told us was the homestead of a rich Maasai with 32 wives. He must be a busy man…

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Out on safari

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

The Ngorongoro Crater viewpoint

We stopped for a packed lunch at a picnic site on the Ngorongoro Crater rim, sheltering under a tree to avoid the black kites that were circling overhead, ready to steal our sandwiches, quite possibly taking a finger with them in the process. A lone Zebra (and a… horse) decided to join us, munching away on the grass.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Pesky black kites

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Not quite sure why this happened to be in my friends bag – although later in the trip she produced a hula hoop and tight rope too…

With full bellies and our digits intact, we carried on towards the Serengeti. Our campsite was within the National Park, which meant that we had an afternoon game drive to look forward to before we set up the tents for the night.

It wasn’t long after we passed through the Serengeti gate that we were treated to our first animal sightings.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

An Agama agama lizard aka Spider Man

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

A gorgeous pregnant zebra

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

A saddle-billed stork

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

A young elephant

We saw plenty of elephants, baboons, antelopes and spotted hyenas. They are strange looking creatures with long necks and sloping shoulders, not quite a dog, not quite a cat, and they have a bit of a bad reputation. Whilst their often thought of as just scavengers, there’s a lot more to them than that. They’re actually very intelligent animals and much more efficient hunters than some of the big cats. In fact, lions often steal food from hyenas.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

A young hyena – cuter than you thought, right?

And they’re actually pretty cute, especially the young ones.

At the beginning of the day, we’d told Simba that we all wanted to see a leopard so the he pressure was on. A couple of hours in, Simba began driving towards three jeeps that were parked up by a tree. We pulled up, followed closely by the other group. Looking up, there the sight we’d all been waiting for. He (or she) was around 30 metres away, but there in the tree, was the unmistakable markings of a leopard! We sat watching the leopard for a good twenty minutes or so, getting excited when he moved to a different position.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Perfectly camouflaged

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

So pretty

We went to sleep that evening to the sound of hyenas cackling and bellowing in the distance. If you’ve ever wondered what a hyena sounds like, take a listen to this. You get used to it, I promise.

The next morning we were up early and after a hearty breakfast made by our crew, we were back into the jeeps for our morning game drive. We were able to leave our tents up as we would be coming back for lunch in a few hours.

Turns out the morning was just as eventful as the afternoon before, if not more so.

Simba led our group towards some rocks in the distance. Driving around the first one we saw a gorgeous young male. it seemed like our Simba had a knack for finding simbas.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Did you know simba is Swahili for lion?

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Oh he just can’t wait to be King!

He paid us absolutely no attention as we snapped away, less than ten metres away from him.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Real beauty

Next up was a pregnant lioness, basking in the sun. She soon changed position, so we moved around to the other side for a better look. She looked so cute and peaceful with her tongue sticking out of her mouth, not a hint of the the predator she is.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

A pregnant lioness

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Mesmerising even in her sleep

We moved on and turning a corner we came across a male and a female lying in the grass. Not long after we arrived, they both stood up and walked a short distance and began mating. The whole thing lasted no more than a few seconds. The male lion let out a loud roar and moved away from the female, as she rolled out to her back, seemingly satisfied. The best 3 seconds of her life! Simba told us that if we waited fifteen minutes or so and they’d be at it again, and like clockwork, they were.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Can you feel the love tonight?

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

They certainly can!

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Fakin’ it?

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Can you spot them behind me?

They must have fancied some privacy and so disappeared over the hill.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Off for some private time

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, we drove to the next rock, and there were a ton of females and their cubs. This was definitely a real ‘Pride Rock’.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Lion cubs everywhere!

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

We were so close

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Sarafina and Sarabi?

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Pride Rock

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Lions sleep for around 20 hours a day – I sometimes wish I was a lion

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Happy on safari

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

A lioness watches over the Pride Lands

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

So much effort, back to sleep it is

Carrying on we came across our mating lions again. They climbed up onto the rock with the pregnant lioness, and after a bit of a cat fight (see what I did there?) between her, the faker and Romeo, she wandered off sulkily, leaving them to it.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

The dominant male and his ladies

The icing on the cake came when we saw a cheetah sitting in the shade of a tree. Cheetah’s are similar in looks to the leopard, but whilst their coats are spotted, the leopards is more like a flower shape.

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Notice the difference between the cheetah and the leopard?

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

The journey continues

We were a bunch of happy campers as we drove back to camp, having seen a leopard, a cheetah and around 30 or so lions – a very good turnout and it wasn’t even lunch time yet! It seemed our Simba was quite the expert at finding the real ‘simba’! Safari njema indeed.

It was time for lunch and to pack up our camp, for tonight we were sleeping at altitude,and tomorrow we’d be heading deep into the Ngorongoro Crater

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

The Ngorongoro Crater

Overlanding Absolute Africa The Lion King 1994 Lion Pictures Safari Serengeti Tanzania

Simba – The Real Lion King in the Serengeti

Read about the Ngorongoro Crater here.

Essential Info:

    • Tour Company: I did my tour of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater with Absolute Africa. Absolute Africa overland tours last from a few days up to 11 weeks visiting most of East and Southern Africa. This time I did the 5 day tour which starts in Nairobi and ends in Nairobi, visiting Arusha, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. I previously did the full 11 weekAbsolute Safari from Kenya to South Africa with them in 2009.
    • Price: £595 (correct as of December 2014), please check the website for current prices.
    • Accommodation: Camping – tents and roll mats provided.
    • Transport: Overland truck and safari jeeps.
    • Activities: You can bolt on other activities such as hot-air ballooning, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, trekking to see mountain gorillas, Masai Mara or Nairobi day trips.
    • Best Time To Visit: June to September are generally best for wildlife viewing although it can be very busy. March – May is the rainy season, and the landscape is beautiful and green and much less crowded than other times of the year. I visited in November and it was great!
    • Top Tips: It can get really cold around the crater, so take warm clothing and a good sleeping bag. Take a look at my comprehensive packing list for East and Southern Africa.

Is the Serengeti somewhere you’d like to visit one day? Or have you already been? What cool stuff did you see?