ARUSHA NATIONAL PARK
The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful turacos and tragons- the only place in northern circuit where the acrobatic black and white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurudoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog. Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one of a different hue of green or blue. Their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection or resident and migrant water-fowls, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glides across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.
Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha national park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It’s also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is mostly like to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Mountain Kilimanjaro, only 50km (30 miles) distant. But its Kilimanjaro’s assuming cousin, Mount Meru_ the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 MASL meters (14,990 feet) – that dominate then park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern foot slopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbor, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.
Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Meru leads into forests aflame with red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching high open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the hike’s progress. Astride the craggy summit, Kilimanjaro stands unveiled, blushing in the sunrise