Satara to Skukuza and home

The wind on Thursday evening brought in a massive storm overnight and it bucketed down with rain (along with thunder and lightning). At stages I wondered whether the roof would stay on and when the water would start leaking through. Fortunately neither happened but when we got up in the morning the effects of the rainfall were evident. Michael of course said “Storm, what storm? Never heard anything”!

Our flight left just after 11am from Skukuza airport so we had to do the 90km drive from Satara to Skukuza. We left at around 6:30am. It was very overcast and for the first time it was actually cold (we were wearing long pants and jerseys). It rained very lightly for about the first 30 minutes of the drive. Very little game to be seen which we were surprised about because it was much cooler and expecting the predators to still be active. Unfortunately we saw no predators on way down to airport. We did add a few birds to the trip list and I added one more lifer (bringing the trip tally to two lifers and my total tally to 422). The trip list ended at 109 birds. Not terrible but could have been better. It seems many of the migrants had not quite returned yet. We are back in January and so I’m hoping we finally get to see all the migrants we haven’t yet seen.

The flight back was uneventful except before take off the pilot announced that he needed 8 passengers sitting in rows 1-4 to move to rows 11-18 to re-balance the weight on the plane. We were sitting in row 2 but we waited long enough to volunteer that sufficient other people moved and so we could stay put. Not sure why it mattered that much because the plane was only about 1/3rd full and we never used much of the runway to get the plane into the air either. Pilot being overly cautious I assume (which is generally a good thing when flying).

It was good, relaxing 5 days … just a pity it wasn’t longer and that the whole family weren’t there with us.

Until January (which will be longer!)

P & M

Olifants to Satara

We reversed what we did a few days ago and headed down from Olifants to Satara today. Before we left we did a quick morning drive around the loop near Olifants camp along the Olifants and Letaba rivers. Unfortunately nothing of note to see but we enjoyed our coffee/tea overlooking the Olifants river. We came back to the camp, packed up and headed out back to Satara. This time we took the dirt road for part of the way and added a few more water birds for the trip. Probably the highlight of the day was seeing an African Darter catch a fish about 5 meters away from us (as you can tell it was a slow day). We are now up to 105 birds for the trip which isn’t bad considering we have not seen some pretty standard ones (we haven’t for instance seen any bee-eaters). We also only saw a Martial Eagle for the first time today (though we have seen a lot of other eagles).

The trip down was pretty uneventful. It was hot (well into the 30 degrees again) and also windy (rain is on the way) and so bird viewing wasn’t great and nor was game spotting.  As you can see, most of the game (including elephants) were congregating under trees. We did see the usual (impala, kudu, giraffe, elephant, wildebees etc) but nothing really to add to the trip list. At one of the watering holes we noticed zebra all facing the same way and so we again followed their gaze and noticed numerous cars. It was clear from the zebra and the cars that a predator was nearby and it turned out to be two lions under a thorn thicket. They looked pretty similar to the ones we saw two days ago and might very well have been the same two (they were further South but it did look like a male lion and lioness again).

We then headed into Satara for our last night. We decided to ditch the evening drive this time because of the heat and the wind. One last braai (even though it was so windy) and now I’m ready for bed.  We have to get up relatively early tomorrow to ensure we get to Skukuza airport in time for our 11:20am flight back to Cape Town. Can’t believe how quickly 5 nights has gone past! We have booked for early 2018 already (this time Helen will be with me) and so already looking forward to that.

Until tomorrow …

P & M

Olifants

Today was a pretty low-key today. We only planned to go out early morning and late afternoon and that is exactly what we did.  The highlight of the morning drive was spotting hyena in the river when we stopped to scan the riverbed. We also had a plan to go to the low bridge crossing at Balule as we had read there were some good bird spotting possibilities.  We weren’t disappointed and added about 10 birds to the trip list (we are now at 99 birds for the trip so far).

The rest of the day we just relaxed around the camp and enjoyed the view over the Olifants River from our chalet. We obsessionally took out of our binoculars to see what we could see. Over the course of the day we saw impala, waterbuck, elephant & giraffe in the river bed without moving from our chalet. It was very hot today with the temperature rising to 37 degrees. Dare I saw a bit warmer than I would actually have liked. There also was not a breath of wind so it really was quite stifling at times.

This evening the highlight of the game drive was rescuing three damsels in distress.  We did the same drive as last night and when we got to one of the pull off spots overlooking the river we found two ladies outside their car trying to place rocks under the tyre of the car while the 3rd was driving trying to get it out. Michael and I had been cautious yesterday when we did the exact same thing but our car has 4×4 and so we engaged that and we actually had no problem getting back up at all. They were however in a Renault and could not get the car back up. We told them to reverse as they needed it to hit the sandy patch with some pace but they were too scared and so they asked if I would be prepared to try. Being a kindhearted guy, I said sure and after trying with a short run in which didn’t work, I reversed further down the slope and hit it with pace and managed to get the car out for them.  They were delighted, thanked me profusely and they jumped in their car and headed off as quickly as possible (clearly to avoid further embarrassment).

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful after that. Another beautiful bushveld sunset with the almost full moon rising before the sun had set. A braai for dinner (chops, chicken wings, sweet potato, potato and ratatouille).  Inside the chalet with aircon running to cool off! It is still about 27 degrees outside (at 9pm).

Until tomorrow …

P & M

Satara to Olifants

We decided to wake up at 6am this morning for a slightly later morning drive. We did the same as we had done the previous morning and headed for the dam (where we saw the lions the previous day) but no lions to be seen. On route we did see a lifer for me though – Harlequin Quail. Pretty much impossible to spot because it is the same colour as the grass but Michael somehow managed to see it and we were able to positively ID it as well.  The rest of the drive was up to the other dam in the area (for coffee/tea & rusks) and then back again.  We saw the usual game – kudu; impala; giraffe; waterbuck etc but nothing much else.

We had to check out by 10am and so after breakfast at Satara we packed up and headed north to Olifants. It was already pretty hot at 9:30am (nearing 30 degrees) and so most of the animals were already finding shelter under the trees.  We still saw a lot of game on the way up to Olifants including a huge herd of wildebeest and impala (together – must have been about 200 impala and close to 100 wildebeest); plenty of zebra and kudu; a smattering of giraffe, waterbuck, steenbok etc.

The highlight of the drive was at Ngotso North dam. We stopped (as we usually do) to see what we could see at the dam and noticed a small herd of impala standing very still and all looking in same direction. I said to Michael they wouldn’t do that unless they saw a threat. He tried to dismiss me but I insisted there must be something around. So he took me seriously (fortunately) and scanned the direction they were looking in with his binoculars and sure enough under a tree he spotted a lion! There is nothing better than spotting something like this yourself and not relying on other people spotting it for you and you just having it pointed out.  And we were proud of ourselves for seeing the signpost the impala’s gave us! It turned out to be one male lion and a lioness with him. We probably watched for around 30 minutes and the male got up and adjusted his position but nothing much. The impala alarm called, kept watching, drank a bit from the water and wondered off. The lion weren’t interested in them. Too hot. What amazed me is that a lot of people came past and didn’t even stop to ask what we were watching! In fact many people were driving with their windows closed even – how can you do that in the Kruger – it’s a sin!

We got to Olifants around lunchtime and as we could only check in at 2pm we went and had some lunch, admired the view from the camp over the river, did some shopping and then at 1:45pm hoped they would let us check in (and they did).  We have a fantastic hut here with a view of the Olifants river.  You couldn’t really ask for a better view.  Just sitting outside looking over the river we added 5 birds to the trip list.

We went for a late afternoon drive but it was pretty hot (well over 30 degrees) and we hardly saw any game at all (waterbuck, herd of elephants and impala).  Braai for dinner (pork strips & borewors) with sweet potato; potato and ratatouille (made by Michael). Pretty nice dinner again if we say so ourselves.

Until tomorrow …

P & M

PS: This sunset is for you Helen!

Satara Day 2

We left the camp at sunrise (up at 5:15am). Michael was impressed with himself and took a photo of the time on the car as we drove out to prove to everyone that he can get up early if needed.  Admittedly we did go to sleep at about 9:15pm last night and Michael is again sleeping as I type this (it is 10:50am!).

It was a beautiful morning – 17 degrees at 5:30am – not a breath of wind. We headed for the dam nearby and on route added zebra to our trip list (we also impala; kudu; wildebeest; giraffe).  At the dam it was clear there was something good to see considering the number of cars and as we approached we spotted two lions (one male and one female). They got up and walked about 100 meters and then sat down again. A really good sighting of lion. We watched for a bit and then headed off to see what else was in store for us. We had early morning coffee/tea at another dam and saw zebra, wildebeest & impala at the dam while we drank our coffee/tea.

On our way back we passed the lions again (who were just sleeping) even though there was a herd of impala not much more than 100 meters from them.  As they were doing nothing and didn’t seem to be interested in doing anything we headed off again. About 1km or so down the road we saw two male giraffe fighting and stopped to watch them for some time. The one was trying to get his neck under the others leg to lift him up and throw him over and eventually he managed to achieve that.  I got some really good photos of the fight and if I’m able to I will try to upload one or two to blog and Instagram.  We got back to camp at just before 9am to have breakfast and spend the rest of the day just relaxing. Michael took that literally and slept from about 10am-12:30pm.

Unfortunately while typing this earlier today the electricity went off.  I thought that it would be short-lived but it’s now 8:10pm and we still have no electricity.  What is even more irritating is that it seems the majority of the camp is restored but not our block of huts. Doesn’t look like power is coming back on tonight for us – at least we moving on tomorrow! Still would have been nice to have had coffee tonight. Whole meal done on the braai again (fortunately we were prepared for that). That’s a photo of us eating by laptop light – romantic father/son dinner!

We did go out for a drive this afternoon and saw tons of game again but nothing significant. The closest we came was driving up next to a stopped car and asking them what they were looking at and their reply was “a lion just took out a zebra and then went into those thickets and we have seen it again”. When I asked how long ago was that, she replied “about 4 minutes ago”! So if only we hadn’t stopped to ID that one bird or stopped to check if that was a log or leopard we might have seen it! Someone famous in our family once said “you can’t fine tune life” and he was right .. #noregrets

Most importantly the electricity just came back on – so I was wrong on that front! But while I was hoping to upload the photo of the giraffe fighting – I realised that I have left my card reader at home and while I thought I had a cable to connect my camera to my laptop that thought couldn’t be realised either. Where is Stephen with his cables when you need him?!

Until tomorrow then …

P & M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kruger Park Impromptu

This wasn’t planned but I needed a week off before the end of the year and so I decided to fit in a quick weeks break in the Kruger Park. Company was restricted because of other family members’ commitments but Michael (kindly, sacrificially or maybe just with glee and rubbing his hands together) agreed to come with me for the week.

We left this morning from Cape Town on the direct flight into Skukuza. Slightly late departure because they were adding water for the toilet (I swear they should get the water from somewhere else on their flights and not from drought stricken Cape Town). My mood changes immediately you touch down inside the Kruger Park – such a great thing that there is an airport inside the Park with scheduled flights.

Michael and I were so organized in getting the rental car and park permit sorted out when we arrived that we had to wait about 10 minutes for the bags to arrive.  Getting the luggage off the plane isn’t done at a fast pace but then again you’re in the Kruger so who really cares.

We headed into Skukuza camp to do some food shopping for next 2 days … essential items like biltong, droewors, beers, crisps etc (and some vegetables of course). On the way into the camp (which is only 4 kms) we saw two of the big 5 (elephant and buffalo) and added some birds and other game to the trip list. After the shopping was done we headed out to our first overnight stay which was at Satara camp. About 90 kms drive which usually takes around 3-4 hours (allowing for stopping for game). As it was just past 2pm and the camp gates close at 6pm it was just the perfect amount of time not to have to rush.

The game park is very dry still as the summer rains don’t seem to have arrived yet.  It makes game viewing very easy and the game viewing was prolific on the drive up.  Massive herds of impala, more kudu than I have ever seen on one game drive, giraffe … journeys of them on the journey, wildebeest, elephant, buffalo, hippo (outside of the water), baboon, vervet monkey, warthog, waterbuck, steenbok, grey duicker, bushbuck and numerous birds.  The birds included a pearl spotted owlet which I have no idea how I spotted it because it was blending in to a grey tree. Two other cars stopped and one had foreigners in it and they just say ‘oh’ and drove off.  The other guys were clearly birders and they were more excited than we were and congratulated me on spotting it.  Still not sure how I saw it – it really was blending in. 32 trippers on the bird list so far without really looking much.

About 20 kms before we arrived at Satara we saw a den of hyena’s including some cubs. One of the cubs was very small still and suckling on the mother. Two were slightly older (like young children). There were at least 3 adults and at least 4 cubs that we could see.  And they were right on the side of the road.

The game viewing was incredibly good for our first drive and has set my expectations high for the rest of our time here.  The lack of water must be driving the animals to the waterholes and that is a good thing for game viewing.  Dinner was the obligatory braai (chickens wings, beef strips, gem squash, corn on cob, veg skewers) and now we are both in bed already (we are both pretty tired).  I am going to post this and then go to sleep (it is 9pm).

Until tomorrow …

P & M

PS: That sunset was for you Helen (we stopped to take it especially since we knew you would have insisted we stop if you had been here)

Last Day

Sunday was our last day in the USA before we headed home (sorry for the delay in posting). We didn’t have much time in Greenville on Sunday am as our flights back started at 2pm. We did however want to have breakfast at IHOP (International House of Pancakes). Every time we are in the US we end up eating there at least once for breakfast. So we found the nearest one to us (about 4 kms away) and drove there.

The menu at IHOP is just ridiculous.  There must be at least 50 different options for breakfast alone. Of course most of them are Combos (pancakes + eggs + bacon/sausage + hash browns etc). They kindly have now put the calories next to each option. Most options started at 650 calories and given most women should eat about 2000 calories per day (and men 2500) that is a fairly sizeable part of your daily allowance (and note I said start at 650!). We came for the pancakes so we all had some option that involved pancakes. I did a combo of pancakes/bacon/egg; Helen had peach cobbler pancakes and Chloe chocolate chocolate chip pancakes. Chloe was disappointed in her choice (we will have to go back next time so she chooses more wisely).

People watching in the IHOP could keep you occupied the whole day. This was genuine Southern territory and the size of some of the people definitely matched the calories on the menu. The accents were also so Southern it was almost as if they were speaking another language. Talking about accents, Chloe has the Southern accent perfected.  Next time you see her get her to bring it out for you … she’s pretty funny.

Back to the hotel to pack up and then head for the airport. We had issues checking in online (in that we couldn’t) so we got to the airport a little earlier to get our boarding passes. You have to check yourself in at the airport even (no check in clerks) but midway through the process it told me to seek help anyway. They needed to verify we had visas for the UK. We finally got our boarding passes and headed for the gates.

Greenville is a pretty small airport and so no real lines at the security. Chloe for some reason is TSA Pre-Check which means she can go through another channel and doesn’t have to take out her laptop or take off her shoes.  Helen and I are not. We have no idea how she managed to get that status (maybe because she is below 18?). Helen’s suitcase was pulled over and unpacked. Apparently it was the choc chips or bake mix or something they didn’t like. Swabbed for explosives and then cleared (fortunately). We had time for some lunch at the only restaurant in terminal (I’m not kidding about it being a small airport).

We had a flight from Greenville to Charlotte, NC. If I had known how close Charlotte is to Greenville I would have driven.  About 150kms. As you can imagine flying that distance takes longer than driving it. At the gate they offered $500 for anyone wanting to fly later because the flight was overbooked … seems to happen on every American Airline flight. We left late, sat on the tarmac just off the runway for 15 minutes because they were switching around the runways at Charlotte and by the time we landed in Charlotte we were probably almost an hour late. Fortunately we had a reasonable time before our flight to London.

The London flight actually left 5 minutes early. I hate the overnight transatlantic flights as they take too little time to enable you to get a proper nights sleep. 7.5 hours of flying time but the flight takes 12.5 hours on the clock. Once you have had dinner (the flight left at 7:55pm), you can only get 3-4 hours of sleep (I got about 3 hours, Helen says she slept 5 hours) because they turn the lights on to serve you breakfast about 1.5 hours before you land. By the time we got to the flat in London I was needing to sleep again and so managed to get another 3 hours.

Helen and Chloe left Monday night for SA and I have stayed in the UK to work. Their flight home was uneventful and they seem to have gotten a good amount of sleep. Seemingly didn’t help the jet lag though as both Helen and I couldn’t fall asleep until 2am (UK time) and 3am (SA time) – and we only discovered that the next day when we were chatting on WhatsApp.

We all really enjoyed the time in the US. Seeing family and catching up is always special. But we also really enjoyed the ease of traveling in the US. Everything is very easy there (I suspect living there you just take it for granted). The short trip has made us want to go back for a longer holiday there again!

Until next time …

P, H & C