Starting My July Safari: Arusha, Mara River Crossings, Fuji X, and Lake Natron

by Dave Burns | Posted in Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , , ,
Loading up the Landy in Arusha
Loading up the Landy in Arusha
iPhone 6S

I don’t typically travel to Tanzania in July but when I mentioned to my Tanzanian operator that I wanted to see the migration herds when they crossed the Mara River and also that he had some new camps that I hadn’t seen yet, it seemed like a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

One of the camps is in the northernmost part of the Serengeti to allow easy access to the herds when they cross the Mara River. There was a bit of a gamble though since you can’t predict when the herds in the area will actually decide to cross. And in the bigger picture, you can’t predict the weather well enough to even know if the herds will arrive and cross in the weeks before or after you’re there.

Another camp new to me was on the edge of Lake Natron, an area I had wanted to see for a long time. The area is known for high concentrations of flamingos, lots of other wildlife, and stunning landscapes.

On the photographic side, the kit I brought was exclusively Fuji. I’ve had my Fuji gear on previous safaris but always had my larger Canon gear as well. What changed? I had the new Fuji 100-400 lens which would substitute for Canon’s huge 200-400 f/4 zoom that I normally bring and I had the Fuji X-Pro2 which was meant to have a superior autofocus system to the X-T1 I brought last time (and wrestled with in certain situations that I felt the Canon would have handled well). I brought my X-T1 as a backup and for shots where fast autofocus was not required.

I also brought a Fuji X-E2, newly converted for infrared even though I normally bring my Canon 5D2 that is also converted. I’ll make a separate blog post specifically to talk about my infrared experience but the short version is that my Canon 5D2 will go on eBay very soon.

Fuji followers might ask, why the X-Pro2 and not the slightly newer X-T2 which is supposed to have an even nicer autofocus system? That was my ideal but the way the timing worked out, the X-T2 was announced while I was in Tanzania. When I got home to the States, I had a voicemail that my dealer had already put me in the queue for one when they arrived. So it goes.

After I arrived at Kilimanjaro airport, we spent the night outside of Arusha in the foothills of Mt. Meru, then a few hours the next morning stocking up on supplies in town, getting a local SIM for data coverage, and taking care of logistics at the office before heading out. There was much talk about recent big news: the Tanzanian government had just imposed a 17% increase in VAT on tourists and the safari operators were all given about a week or so’s notice before it took effect. This applied even to clients who had booked ages ago. Not a lot of happy campers and every other operator we ran into wanted to talk about it.

I was happy to see we were heading out in a Land Rover Defender this time which gives a slightly softer ride than the usual Toyota Land Cruiser. We headed north on the road toward Kenya and passed many small towns, finally stopping in Longido for lunch. Then we turned west off the paved road, toward Lake Natron.

This part of the drive was beautiful even if a bit long. Some parts with lots of low bush, some parts wide open and pastoral, some small wildlife, and Ol Doinyo Lengai (the Mountain of God to the Maasai) growing larger and larger. We stopped for a short while at sunset to take a few pictures and then arrived late at camp to a hot dinner and comfortable bed.

In my next post: some Flamingos, infrared photography around camp, and a few ancient footprints.

Fuji X-T1, 50-150mm @ 64mm, 1/250 at f8, ISO 250
Sunset Approaching Ol Doinyo Lengai
Fuji X-T1, 50-150mm @ 64mm, 1/250 at f8, ISO 250

This is the first in my series of posts about my safari in July 2016. You can find all of them here:

  1. Starting My July Safari: Arusha, Mara River Crossings, Fuji X, and Lake Natron
  2. Notes from Lake Natron: Flamingos, Infrared, and Footprints
  3. Through Loliondo: from Lake Natron to Northern Serengeti
  4. Northern Serengeti: Wildebeest and Mara River Crossings
  5. Central Serengeti: Cats, Kopjes, Sunrises, and Infrared
  6. Tarangire: Wrapping up with Elephants, Zebras, and a Toast

About Dave Burns

Dave Burns is a wildlife, travel, and landscape photographer whose passions range from the beauty of the African savanna to the streets of Paris. He created Dave Burns Photo Tours to share his favorite places with other photographers, help them capture unique images, and learn more about photography and digital work flow. His next trip is an African photo safari to the Serengeti in February 2021. Dave’s images are in private collections and galleries. To contact him, use the contact page on this site.

One comment:

  1. Just ordered the 100-400mm myself and am also waiting for the X-T2 body. I’ve been out with the X-Pro2 as well in the meantime. I was thinking of you when ordering the new glass, wondering if you had made the jump yet.

    See you soon!