The Shira Plateau area of Kilimanjaro offers a fantastic opportunity to get high on a big mountain and to hike around this impressive World Heritage Site as a day trip – it’s a fantastic area and there are some great day hikes – either a more strenuous day hiking up along the ancient rim of the plateau or something more relaxed sticking to the undulating floor – perhaps going as far as the photogenic ‘cone place’ or Shira Needles’ at the Southern end of the plateau. To the west the Kibo Massif of Kilimanjaro sweeps up to the glaciers near the summit, the rise scarred by deep valleys and eroded lava flows that stand like twisted modern sculptures in the harsh mountain weather. A number of streams tumble down this flank of the mountain, eventually joining together in a gulley that crosses the plateau before plunging down to the plains far below.
There is a fair amount of wildlife on the plateau however most of it is elusive and nocturnal but with care the events of the night can be reconstructed from the footprints around the watering points on the streams. There are herds of buffalo but also smaller gazelles and bushbuck, there is the carcase of eland and elephant higher on the mountain proving that these larger animals are occasional visitors.
The day starts early with a pick up in Arusha then a 3 hours drive through the rich agricultural area at the base of the mountain, this varies from hand tilled small holdings to large commercial farms before giving way first to plantation forest and finally to indigenous forest .
Once through the park gate the road climbs more steeply up a rough track moving quickly through the different layers of vegetation from thick mountain forest with towering trees gradually giving way to the giant heath. These giants initially tower ten to fifteen feet high but as we get higher they become gradually shorter, when we crest the final rise on the plateau they are only a few feet high.
From the parking area at the edge of the plateau we can strike out in any direction, following the myriad of small animal tracks to meander our way across the plateau. The guide will carry picnic lunch, each hiker needs a small rucksack to carry water, warm clothes and full waterproofs – the weather can change incredibly quickly as clouds swoop down from the summit. A pair of stout walking boots are needed as in some areas the ground can be soft.
Mid afternoon/evening return to the vehicle and bump back down the track and across the plains to Arusha arriving back at the hotel late afternoon or early evening.