The most popular entrance to the Serengeti is the southern Naabi Hill Gate, which opens onto the Seronera Valley, a vibrant wildlife area at the heart of the Serengeti. The Seronera is characterised by mainly wide open grassy plains patched together within a network of rivers that ensure year-round water supplies and keep this region incredibly rich in wildlife. This region in particular is studded with distinctive rock kopjies (pronounced ‘copies’, from the Dutch meaning ‘little head’), sporadic collections of huge granite rocks, weathered through the ages to form distinctive softened shapes rising out of the plains; a haven of shade and water for all animals through the dry season. The kopjies also make excellent navigational features: Simba, Gol, Barafu, Maasai, Loliondo and Moro kopjies are the most prominent and best known. There are Maasai rock paintings up to a couple of hundred years old still visible at Moro Kopjies, just about accessible through the surrounding bush during the dry season, (the path gets wildly overgrown after the rains), and only ever to be attempted after a thorough search for resident lion. The Seronera Valley has resident herds of buffalo, topi, hartebeest and impala, waterbuck, reedbuck and dikdik, numerous giraffe, warthog, and a rich pageant of birdlife of all colours and sizes. The large prides of lion here are so renowned that they enticed the first safari game-hunting expeditions here a century ago, and these rolling southern plains down to the Naabi Gate are the area in Tanzania in which you are most likely to encounter cheetah. The lines of sausage trees along the Seronera riverbanks provide the perfect environment for languid leopards to camouflage themselves on sun-dappled branch s, and lion roam at large throughout.
Serengeti Park rules and regulations are desperately strict, as they have to be in order to preserve this magnificent wilderness, though it does limit opportunities for taking much energetic exercise. Zooming around in the bush searching for wildlife action is adrenaline-inducing and tiring enough in itself, but for that real heart-stopping edge of extra excitement the only answer is a balloon safari. These are only operated in the Seronera region by Serengeti Balloon Safaris, The Adventure Centre, Po Box 12116, Arusha, Tel 57 508578, Fax 508997. The company has a desk at the major hotels in the Seronera Area, although your tour operator should be able to assist you in arranging bookings.
Balloon safaris take place in the early morning, and all the hotels and operators will ensure that you are picked up and transported to the launch pad during some dark hour before the dawn. Take a warm jumper for the occasion. The balloon is assembled in the gathering dawn, and passengers embark into a horizontal basket that is then gently puffed vertical as the vast bubble overhead inflates. This is a fantastic way to get an entirely different perspective on the plains below, giving you a true sense of the vast spaces below and providing fabulous photographic opportunities. A balloon trip is especially good if the migration is in the Seronera region: otherwise the game-viewing potential is slim. The trip is followed by a sumptuous champagne breakfast in the shade of a spreading acacia with great views all around. Breakfast is a lavish and jolly affair, spread along a long and sociable table with much merriment and warmth as the sun finds its heat. However great the lure of floating over the Serengeti in a hot air balloon, when you consider the price this is certainly a treat. The price changes marginally with the seasons, but generally allow around $375 per person for the whole trip.