One of Tanzania's smallest parks, Arusha National Park was established in 1960 and is also one of its most beautiful and least-visited. Dominated by Mount Meru (4, 566 m), an extinct volcano that is the fifth highest mountain in Africa, the park offers three dramatically distinct zones: the Ngurdoto Crater (often called ‘Little Ngorongoro'), the startlingly blue-green Momela Lakes and the forests, rock and spectacular crater of Mount Meru itself. Easily reached from Arusha, the park offers an exceptional diversity of wildlife, 400 species of birds and some excellent walking, hiking and mountain climbing.
Vegetation includes olive thickets, cedar forests and bamboo forests at the higher elevations. The fauna of the park includes leopards, zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, reedbucks, klipspringers, hippos, buffaloes, elephants, hyenas, mongooses, dik-diks, warthogs, baboons and vervet and colobus monkeys (no lions and no rhinos) with over 400 varieties of birds.
The Ngurdoto Crater
The 15-million-year-old Ngurdoto Crater was formed when molten rock was forced to the Earth's surface by super-heated steam, which slowly built up a core around its vent, imprisoning gases from the Earth's core. Eventually, the trapped gases exploded and the present crater was formed. Today the former volcano is a steep-sided bowl three kms in diameter and its lush swamps and riverine forest are home to rhino, elephant, buffalo, baboon warthog, olive baboon and the black and white colobus monkey. The moist and misty atmosphere provides an ideal habitat for mosses, ferns, lichens and orchids, which give way to mahogany and olive trees and wild date palms.
The Momela Lakes
The seven Momela Lakes (El Kekhotioit, Kusare, Small Momlela, Rishateni, Big Momela, Tulusia and Lekandiro) were born when water filled the depressions left after volcanic mud and rubble spewed out from Mount Meru. Fed by underground streams, the lakes are all alkaline, but thanks to the different species of algae that live in them, each has a strikingly different shade of blue-green. There are 380 species of birds living on the lakes, to include: little grebe, African pochard, ibis, heron, egret and Egyptian geese.
The second highest mountain in Tanzania, Mount Meru has a circular base some 20km across and rises steeply above the plains as an almost perfect cone with an internal crater surrounded by a steep wall of cliffs. It was formed some quarter-of-a-million-years ago when a massive explosion blew out its whole eastern side, leaving a distinctive asymmetric caldera in its wake.