Name ID 474
Empakaai is most easily reached by driving through the Ngorongoro Crater to the track that leaves its north-eastern side. Beyond the red thorn (Acacia lahai) woodland that spills over the rim, the country opens out into tussocky mountain grassland, composed of tall makutian (also called manyatta grass) and wire grasses. Games is sparse - the odd bushbuck or mountain reedbuck will appear - but there are plenty of Maasai. The road goes through the Maasai hamlet of Nainokanoka, where the Munge River waterfall can be seen plunging from the flanks of the nearby Olmoti Volcano (10,167 ft.). To the east stands Lolmalasin (11,969 ft.), tallest of the crater peaks. Soon Empakaaiís cone comes into view, and the track narrows as it runs around the circumference of the craterís knife-edge rim. (The track may no longer be open beyond the Empakaai Ranger Post and picnic site, but the most scenic views are to be had from there).
The rimroad is often shrouded in mists but, when clear, the views are astounding. On one side, you look straight down into the Rift Valley. The cones of Lengai and Karamasi volcanoes are immediately below, with Lake Natron close behind. Further to the east is Mount Meru, with Kilimanjaro visible a hundred miles away. Just on the other side of the track, Empakaaiís thickly forested walls plunge to a crater floor shared by a 259-foot deep lake and virgin grasslands. You must bring along an armed guide if you want to hike into the crater, which is heavily grazed by buffalo. The trip to Empakaai is long and rough: when clouds close in, as they often do, the moorlands take on a sombre mood. A round trip from Ngorongoro can be done in a day, but an overnight camp is recommended if you want to do the crater hike and catch the best Rift Valley views, which are most reliable at dawn and dusk.
Although not as spectacular as Ngorongoro, the extinct craters of Olmoti and Empakaai to the North-east are worth a visit for their scenic beauty and sense of solitude. They are not on the regular tourist trail and permission is needed from Ngorongoro Conservation Area HQ before visiting them. Both are reached from the ascent road on the eastern side of Ngorongoro Crater through thick strands of Acacia lahai trees.
To reach Olmoti Crater either ask for directions at Nainokanoka village or take the last track leading left at the end of the village. This will take you past the Ranger Post where you can leave your car and hire a guide for the rest of the thirty minute walk along the cattle tracks through buffalo country to the summit.
From the crater rim at about 3700 metres, eland and bushbuck can be seen grazing the shallow floor of the grassy caldera. Water collects in this natural basin and flows out of the south side as a waterfall, just below the path to the summit. This cascading sheet of water is known as the Munge Stream, named after the Maasai word given to their ceremonial anklets made from the skin of the colobus monkey. The white water falling down the dark escarpment is analogous to the black and white monkey flashing through the high forest branches.
Oddly though, colobus are not found anywhere in the Ngorongoro forest, even though it is quite a suitable habitat. It may be that the monkey has never crossed the open plains from its nearest home, the western Serengeti.
Whereas Olmoti Crater is relatively shallow and dry, Empakaai's 300 metre deep caldera is dominated by a soda lake. Unlike most soda lakes which are quite shallow, Empakaai's measures 85 metres in depth. Even so, familiar waterbirds like the black-winged stilt, cape teal and flamingo still dot its shores.
The crater rim of Empakaai can be walked (32 km, 20 miles), with spectacular views along the entire trek. The walk begins outside of Nainokanoka village, gradually ascending though silent stands of Nuxia, figs, crotons, and the high-altitude Hagenia abyssinica, with its feathery eaves that collect and drip water from the misty atmosphere.
When skies are clear there are views of the still active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai to the north, Lake Natron, and even Kilimanjaro far to the east. From the eastern section of the rim a path leads to the crater floor through woodland where sunbirds feed from bright flowers. Beware - buffalo and bushbuck are not uncommon......
Camping is permitted at ....Empakaai crater, with a number of basic accommodation options...Spring Water is available....All food and provisions should be brought with you.
The Crater Highlands is a range of extinct volcanoes that rise steeply from the side of the Great Rift Valley in Northern Tanzania. ...
To the north and south of Ngorongoro are several impressive peaks, with steep escarpments, crater lakes, dense forests and grassy ridges, streams and waterfalls. There's even an active volcano. It's also home to many Maasai people who have grazed cattle on the grassy hillside here for hundreds of years. This part of the highlands is an excellent walking area, but is very seldom visited, and is completed upstaged by the Ngorongoro Crater just a few km to the south.
The Crater Highlands range is roughly oval in shape, measuring about 80 km by 40 km, and is pinched at one end. The range rises steeply from the surrounding plains at about 1500 metres to heights of between 2500 and 3500 metres.
Like many of East Africa's mountains, the Highlands are volcanic in origin, although the different peaks were created over many millions of years by a series of eruptions connected with the formation of the Great Rift Valley. The older volcanoes have been eroded and most have collapsed to form the craters (more correctly known as calderas) from where the range takes it name. ...
To the north of Ngorongoro Crater is the main part of the highlands, where the trekking described in this section takes place. Only a few km away, the mountain of Olmoti rises to 3100 metres on its western side, with a flat topped peak which can easily be seen from Ngorongoro. This mountain also has a small crater. ... North is Empakaai (also spelt Embagai), with a steep sided circular crater, half filled by a lake. In between the peaks of Olmoti, Loolmalasin and Empakaai the ground dips to form the large Embulbul Depression.
... Beyond lies Ol Doinyo Lengai (2878 metres), a classic volcanic cone ... still active. The last eruption was in the mid 1960's, and at the top of the mountain today you can see hot steam vents and growing ash cones. ...
After driving from Arusha, it is usual to camp or stay at one of the lodges at Ngorongoro village on your first night and go down into the crater for a few hours wildlife viewing. Late afternoon or early morning is best, as this is when the animals are more likely to be active. On the second day you can drive across Ngorongoro Crater and leave by the Northern Track. Here you will meet your Maasai guides and donkeys.
... From the northern side of the crater you walk through the forest on a good track to reach the ranger post near the village of Nainokanoka. From Nainokanoka you can side track up through open forest to reach the summit of Olmoti Mountain where there's a small crater and the spectacular Munge Waterfall. Water collected in the Olmoti Crater flows down this waterfall and eventually into the lake in Ngorongoro crater. ...
From the base of Olmoti, continue on the track, aiming north around the edge of the Embulbul Depression, towards Empakaai Crater (20 km, 6-8 hrs). As you gradually gain height, the forest thins out and you pass through open grassland on the dry side of the mountain, to reach the highest point of the western rim. The view from here down into the crater is stunning. The steep inner walls are densely forested and drop to the flat crater floor, partly covered in grass, and partly submerged under a lake. The Maasai are not allowed to graze cattle here, and there's a good chance of seeing wildlife. ...
You could do a complete circuit of the spectacular rim. This is about 32 km, mainly on good paths and tracks, and takes all day. The northern side of the mountain is particularly impressive, with great views down into the crater to the south and north to the conical peak of Lengai some 13 km away, with Lake Natron and the flat plains of the Rift Valley sometimes visible beyond.
its Maasai name means 'Cooking Pot'.