Sunrise from the Roof of Africa

Sunrise from the Roof of Africa

14/01/2016 0 By Gayle Dickson

Words and images by Natalie Tambolash

Sunrise or sunset is a question that has long been debated by travellers and photographers the world over. Which is better? Are they the same here as well as in other parts of the world? If you have seen one, haven’t you seen them all?

The debate will linger on I am sure, but one thing is for sure…an African sunrise and sunset are equally and captivatingly beautiful in their own way.

On this journey I have experienced several stunning sunsets from the depths of South Africa to here in Tanzania. The colours are extraordinary. Rich, vibrant, vivid hues that cast a glow across the vast expanse of land. The shadows created by the fading light are contrasting to the surrounds creating haunting images and captivating silhouettes. These images linger on minds, but also take a hold of your heart. You never forget an African sunset.

As I am walking through the cold, dark depths of night on our ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I try to think of images of the perfect sunrise.

At this hour, with a lack of sleep, a fierce wind howling across the mountaintop and the ever-increasing cold, the thought process is a bit muddled and hard to come by. I know from past experiences and travels that there is something magical about a sunrise. Sunrise brings a sense of renewal, freedom, solitude and anticipation. They may not often be as spectacular as a sunset, but they are sometimes more beautiful and surreal and the colours more vibrant and clear.

Sunrise for many around the world symbolises a new day and a continuation of life. On Kilimanjaro sunrise tends to mean only one thing ‘warmth’.

Kilimanjaro to this point has been six days of beauty and landscapes to rival those of any other mountain around the world. Although the meaning of Kilimanjaro is not exactly known, versions include “Mountain of Greatness”, “Shining Mountain” or “White Mountain” and each one is true to form. This mountain stands out from the crowd. Reaching almost 6,000m into the sky, it is often hidden from view unless you are above the cloud line yourself. If you are lucky enough to see it from the ground, it is an imposing figure on the horizon. A towering giant that sits looking out over the land. It is an unmistakable figure that simply holds its own and shines with the glint of the morning sun on its sweeping slopes.

There are many ways to head up Kilimanjaro and a couple of ways down. My chosen route was the Shira Route with extra acclimatisation days compared to the Rongai Route and the avoidance of crowds of people at Barranco Camp compared to the Lemosho. Initially I thought how it was that

I was on the opposite side of the world yet felt like I was back home in New Zealand. The plateau was a steady walk with the trails surrounded by low shrubs, heather and beautiful everlastings, much like the beautiful Tongariro Crossing. Over the days, this low plateau changed time and time again, evolving into landscapes that had you travelling from the heart of New Zealand to the surface of the moon and everything in between.

The Shira Cathedral could have had you taking part in Gorillas in the Mist. The scenery exuding an eerie backdrop where on one side you could be on the Inca Trail emerging out at Machu Picchu with the stunning green mounds in the background. On the other, the slopes of Kibo, calling you to come closer through the trees of wispy lichen that adorn this rise and provide the area with stunning photographic opportunities.

Around the Western Breach you head into remote, barren lands. Lands that are so sparse and empty that you feel like you are in a land that time simply forgot. The views from the top of the barren and rocky outcrop that are the Lent Hills is remarkable, leaving you feeling like you are on another planet and approaching the ever changing faces of Kilimanjaro. The lungs and legs are screaming as you reach the top of these rises but as you take in a deep breath of air, you appreciate how alone you are in that moment and how far away from anything and anyone.

Kilimanjaro has surprises in store around every corner. There are hidden waterfall oases tucked into small pockets in the vast valleys, lush vegetation, ever changing scenery and inquisitive bird and wildlife.

The rainforest on the descent is lush and filled with flora that is unique to the region, with final views of Kibo peaking out through the branches of the trees. Everywhere you look, you discover another hidden gem, another view of Kibo that is unlike the other, another changed landscape and another trail that snakes off into the distance leaving you wondering what exactly is at the end of the road.

I talk about it like it is a walk in the park and for those at this point thinking that it is, it definitely is not. There are many challenges encountered along the way and a love/hate relationship to be had. Many steep ridgelines are to be climbed.

You think you are at the top only to get to the top and realise that there is more top to now be seen. The mountain is an illusion. It doesn’t seem to get smaller but rather stands as tall as it did from the ground, calling you, taunting you, making sure that you are still willing to climb. There are such gems along the way as “kissing rock” where yes, you must give it a kiss and a hug to get safely around and where looking down is not recommended for the fainthearted.

The trails some days seem like they will never end and the summit night is a long, hard, steep climb that has you wishing that you were in your warm, cosy bed, rather than hoping to see sunrise on the roof of Africa.

Sunrise on Kilimanjaro is ‘warmth’. As it starts to creep up over the horizon, and the colours of the dark depths of night start to change to blues, reds and oranges getting ever slowly brighter and brighter, a smile creeps across your face. After hours of not seeing where you have been heading, you finally see the roof of Africa in all its glory. You see the diminishing ice-caps, the peaks, the crater rim and the exhausted and elated looks of those that have made it up there before you. A smile creeps across your face and you know from this moment, you’re ok. There is something special about a sunset, but there is something even more special about a sunrise from the roof of Africa.

Sunrise from the Roof of AfricaSunrise on Kilimanjaro means warmth…even more so…sunrise on Kilimanjaro means ‘victory’.


Kilimanjaro – Shira Route – 10 days – Moderate to Challenging – from NZD $4,750 per person, twin share

Other routes available – Rongai Route (slightly shorter than Shira), Lemosho (quicker altitude gain to start and busier camp than Shira) and Northern Circuit (extremely remote full circuit of Kibo)

Best times – June to October and December to February

P: + 0800 350 354


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