This area is dominated by the vast and seemingly endless short grass plains, stretching southwards from Naabi Hill farther than the eye can see - towards the extinct volcanoes of the Ngorongoro Highlands directly south, the Maswa woodlands in the south west and the dramatic Gol Mountains and open plains of Loliondo to the south east and east respectively. The southern plains are at their best between mid December and late May when this whole area comes alive as millions of wildebeest move onto the plains in search of the fresh green grass after the first rains.
Much of this area actually lies outside the boundaries of the Serengeti National Park, which allows an important element of freedom and flexibility - off road driving is permitted across the open plains, greatly enhancing game viewing opportunities and giving you a real sense of the vastness of this area. In parts you can drive for much of the day hardly seeing another human, at times almost wading through vast concentrations of plains games or sitting quietly, close to an isolated water pan way out in the plains, almost certainly home to its own resident group of lion or hyena and, with patience a very likely amphitheatre for some sort of predator action to play out.
These areas are rich in the phosphorous-rich grasses the wildebeest are after, but after the rains there are few if any sources of permanent water so the grasses rapidly dry out forcing the wildebeest to move on. Its on these surrounding plains that the wildebeest cows will congregate to give birth, in an extraordinarily effective coordinated bout of calving for a period of a month or so around early / mid February. The intention is to overwhelm the predators by sheer numbers when the young calves are at their most vulnerable so, as you'd expect there is lots of lion, hyena and cheetah action during this time and always plenty to see. In the midst of this space, the Ndutu area with its two shallow soda lakes, provides stark contrast, as the woodlands fan out over the otherwise treeless plains, where the headwaters of Olduvai Gorge have eroded through the hard volcanic pan
One of our own favourite times to be in this area is during the less fashionable months of March, April and early May, when the bulk of visitors are steered away by ill informed advice. The air is brilliantly clear from the sporadic storms that can sweep dramatically across the plains at this time of year but which are the saving grace of these months - when amazing flowers, insects & birdlife vie for your attention with the astonishing game concentrations. If occasionally having to batton down the game viewing hatches through a brief downpour or push your safari vehicle out of a mudhole is the only price you pay for having this almost to yourself, we reckon its a most excellent trade.
As things start drying out by mid May, the herds will start to drift off the plains, gradually heading north west through Moru Kopjes and, by mid June onwards into the Western Corridor.
Large numbers of gazelles will continue to hang around on the plains, and they in turn keep the cheetah here. Lion and even leopard are never far away, but by June you always have to work a little harder to see predators in this area, after the green months of plenty. Even as the plains start drying out, there's a good chance of decent elephant sightings in the woodland and cheetah around the edges and we quite often see the smaller cats such as Serval and Caracal, close to the lakes. The lakes are always sublime and in complete contrast to any other part of the Serengeti drawing large numbers of flamingos. There is always good bird life around the lakes and in the woodland it is superb so, often to people's surprise, even in the dry season we sometimes recommend a brief stop over in this area enroute north. The northern arm of Olduvai Gorge emanates from Lake Masek and the area where the Leakeys carried out their research to such great effect is not far away, so whatever your itinerary, if you are already in the area the visitor centre is worth a visit.