Kruger Park – Day 6

Today is a bit of a shock to the system. We are back in CT but the temperature on landing was 12 degrees versus the 36 degrees when we left. There is synergy in there somewhere but just not sure what it is.

We left this morning at 6am as we had to drive from Letaba out of the Park and then down to the Kruger International Airport. The GPS said it would take 4.5 hours but I know what the roads and traffic are like so we gave ourselves a little more time. We didn’t see much on the road out of the Park (we exited at the Phalaborwa gate). However after driving for an hour Chloe exclaimed that she had left her cellphone under the pillow of the bed! Heart sinking moment. Quick decision needed as well – turn back and risk missing the flight or carry straight on and hope we could get it back some other way. Initially I did a U-turn to head back but Michael & Helen pointed out that adding 2 hours to the journey would mean we would risk missing the flight. So another U-turn and back on the original route.

Helen managed to find the Letaba Camp number and as we had cellphone signal we called them. They put her through to lost property who said they would check and we should call again in an hour. That was just after we exited the park and Helen called back and they said they had found the cellphone and would return it to us.  The logistics of how we get it back still need to be sorted out but at least we can get it back (it is not a cheap one so definitely worth getting it back). We were REALLY impressed with the staff at KNP and how they handled this. It is SO pleasing to get service like this and for the honesty of the cleaning staff to return it to us as well. If only more South African’s didn’t conduct themselves like that.

We did stop at Hoedspruit for a quick Wimpy breakfast.  Fortunately they have re-tarred most of the road now from Phalaborwa to White River. No more swallow-your-car potholes. There are still the usual hazards of pedestrians and cows though. At one stage we had to stop in a 120 km/h zone as a few cows we just standing in the road. It didn’t seem like they were going anywhere until a truck hooted (honked for the Americans) and drove right at them and that did the trick. Helen said “Only in Africa”.  We also did see another “Only in Africa” thing – the Mpumulanga Premier racing past with police escort, flashing lights etc. He has a bigger escort than the Prime Minister of the UK has. I wonder how much is necessity and how much is ego?!

We got to the airport about 2 hours ahead of our flight. It would have made it VERY tight if we had turned around to retrieve Chloe’s phone so it was probably the right decision to leave it and hope that we get it back via post. The flight was uneventful. We are back to the reality of daily life again. Our thoughts will drift back to the bush, animals, birds and hot weather. Africa is in our blood – all of us agree.

PS: Next trip … Bahama’s business trip. Helen coming along for the pleasure. Upcoming in November.

 

Kruger Park – Day 5

I was wrong about yesterday. It wasn’t at all hot. Quite a mild day actually. Especially if you consider it was 39 degrees today at 4:20pm! Not kidding. Michael and I went out for an early morning drive this morning (everyone else was too lazy and slept in) when we left at 6am it was 11.5 degrees. By the time we returned at 7:15am it was 23.5 degrees. Now I studied geography and science at school and I am still puzzled how it can be possible that the temperature can rise that quickly in an hour and a quarter. Surely that is not possible?! By the time we were on the road heading south it was 27 degrees (at 8am) and it hit 30 degrees at 9am.

We had a drive from Bateleur down to Letaba for our last night stop before heading home tomorrow. It was about a 110 km drive. First 20 km on gravel to the main road. Would be ideally suited to allow someone like Michael to drive if he had a license.  As it was already very hot the game life was sparse and really only around the waterholes. There was quite a lot of game around the waterholes though including Elephant, Buffalo, Zebra, Impala & Warthog. We did add Tssebee to our trip list as well today (also seen at a waterhole). And after all the drives today we are at 105 birds for the trip and we still haven’t seen some common ones we ought to have seen (like sunbirds). It isn’t that we haven’t seen a variety of bird life, we have, the problem has been that as soon as it gets too hot you see nothing as everything is sheltering from the sun.

We did have one highlight from today and that was just outside Mopani camp. About a km outside of the camp we saw a number of cars parked. Sure sign of something big going on. As we got closer we saw a dead Impala but nothing else. After asking a grumpy continental European, it turned out that a cheetah had killed it 4 hours earlier (at 6:15am) but then had been frightened off by the cars and had not been seen again.  We searched for a while and didn’t see anything so headed into Mopani Camp for a pitstop and ice creams. After we were finished we went back to see if anything was happening and sure enough in the 15 minutes we had been away the cheetah and come and taken the impala and now we couldn’t see either. We drove up and down, reversed a few times and finally Helen spotted the cheetah under/behind a tree & bush eating. We all got to see her/him (not sure which but I will call it a she) and then she lay down not to be see again. I remember reading/hearing that when a cheetah kills she is so tired that she can’t eat for some time afterwards and that is probably what happened.  She was exhausted for 4 hours and then finally got her strength back to start eating. It did make a good highlight for the day.

We got to Letaba just after midday and fortunately we could get our rondavels immediately as we needed to be indoors with the aircon on! That wasn’t even enough for the boys who decided the freezer was the only way to resolve their heat problem! We have two rondavels (one 2 bed and one 3 bed). The boys are in the 2 bed and a reasonable distance away from us. The joys of having teenagers – they don’t care at all that we aren’t close by anymore. We did have supper together which was slightly challenging as there were only 4 chairs, a small table and 4 knives/forks but we still managed to make it work. And we were able to compare our fire with everyone else’s and of course ours was the best (though some guy did have an impressive bonfire happening!). As we had run out of foil we pretty much ate meat for supper but as it was so hot no one seemed to care.

As we have to be up early tomorrow to ensure we get back for our flight in time we are all in bed already. Until tomorrow (and the last blog for this trip).

PS: @Sharon – Stephen says he wasn’t looking at the cleavage. Not sure what he was looking at but I suggest you or Lara ask him when we get back.

Kruger Park – Day 4

Today could only be described using one of my father-in-laws choice words – Bl..s.m HOT.  By 8am it was 25 degrees and by 11am it was 30 degrees. We went out for a drive at 4pm and it was 36 degrees. Even now at 10pm it must still be 25 degrees outside. The boys and I went for an early morning drive to the two dams. I think they came to humor me or in the hope that they might get to drive (which I would never allow of course). The one dam was completely dry and so we went back to the other dam. Incredibly it was 13 degrees when we left (at 5:45am). We had to let ourselves out of the camp as the gate was closed still with no one to be seen. We didn’t see much new – 2 new birds for the trip (one a vulture) but otherwise everything else we had already seen.

It is incredibly dry up here. Have a look at our the cover photo of the blog and you will see what I mean. Dusty and dry. And so the game tends only to be seen at the water. We went to Shingwedzi today but even the river there was empty. There is also a dam there called Kanniedood – well I am afraid to say it was dood. I have never seen it so dry. The ranger here at Bateleur said it hasn’t rained for a very long time. I think a very long time must be at least 6 months given how little water there is.

The drive to Shingwedzi and back is about an hour and half and we needed bread for lunch (Helen managed to burn 4 pieces in a row yesterday in the toaster so we needed to replenish that). Nothing like a 3 hour round trip to buy some bread. We also were cellphone signal starved and so everyone was quickly downloading emails when we got there as well. As the majority of the way is on gravel road it would have been the perfect time for the boys to practice their driving skills of a manual car (though I would never allow that of course). If I had, I would have let Michael drive there and Stephen back. Certainly no game to see and hardly any cars so it would never have been an issue but as you all know I am very law abiding.

The only thing you could do this afternoon was lie on the bed and watch the ceiling fan go round and round. Or in my case listen to the ceiling fan go round and round. We did go out late afternoon though it seemed that we were the only idiots to do that. The dam did have the same wildlife we had seen previously. Nothing new. A pair of fish eagles doing some fishing; hippo’s frolicking and lots of ducks; geese; storks; herons etc all feeding.

We have enjoyed the exclusive and quiet nature of the bush camp and will definitely try to stay at them again in future. Only having 7 huts does make it seem exclusive even though you pay exactly the same for this as other camps. The only downside is that it is very dry and hardly any game to be seen but that is hardly a fault of the camp. The open WiFi connection makes up for it. The ranger must wonder why I kept having around the reception area pretending to read those boring wildlife posters. He even asked me at one stage if I got a signal on my cell as he heard it beep from a downloaded email. I told him we didn’t have any signal. He did seem puzzled that I was managing to get emails though. Fortunately he has not figured it out.

Sorry about the lack of photos – will try tomorrow when we are at the next (and last camp). Until then …

Kruger Park – Day 3

This morning was a repeat of yesterday in that we woke up at 6am, had breakfast and then left for our drive from Olifants to Bateleur Bush Camp. You might be wondering (or at least you should be) how I have managed to post a blog from a Bush Camp. The reality is that we have no cellphone signal and that was a loss to everyone. We all reckon we could manage for a day or so but anything longer than that would be a tragedy.  Incredibly though the reception her has WiFi (why on earth we don’t know) and even more incredibly it is unlocked. We are the nearest possible hut to reception and I have 2 bars of WiFi on my laptop (none on my iPhone though) so just strong enough to connect and send.

The drive from Olifants to Bateleur is about 120 km.  It was pretty uneventful in that we did not see anything major at all (unless you classify Elephants as major). We stopped for morning coffee at Letaba, Ice Creams and a few other purchases at Mopani and then onto to Bateleur. When we left at 7am this morning it was already 20 degrees and by 11am it was up to 28 degrees. Animals were scarce and even the birding wasn’t great. There were times when the bushveld was just quite – not a thing was heard at all.

By after Mopani the car inhabitants were dropping like flies and soon I could not even see Helen as she has become horizontal on the very back seat. Michael was examining the insides of his eyelids and Stephen was either nodding in agreement with me or nodding right off to sleep. Only Chloe was awake though she didn’t spot anything, but to be fair neither did I.  Under these circumstances you would think it appropriate to let Chloe try her hand with driving on my lap but I would never allow such a thing in a hired car of course. Neither would it be appropriate for Stephen later to have a go with driving a manual and trying a hill start.

We got to Bateleur Bush Camp at just after 1pm. When I walked into reception the ranger on duty greeted me by name. I was very surprised but he said we were the biggest group arriving today so he knew immediately it was us. There are only 7 huts at the camp. We have hut number 1 which is also nearest the bird hide. While we were having a late lunch a herd of elephant came down to drink at the waterhole which you can see from the hide and from our veranda. About 30 elephants including a number of very small baby elephants as well. I ventured to the bird hide and saw them up close (about 10 meters away) with only a flimsy fence between me and them. About the closest I have been to elephants and not in a vehicle.

Late afternoon we headed for one of the local dams. Only residents of the camp have access to these dams and as there are only 7 huts that means traffic is pretty limited. As it is very dry up North we were hoping to see some game there and we weren’t disappointed. There were elephant, impala, hippo and crocs. In addition there were lots of birds and we managed to add a whole lot of new ones to our trip list. Still no lifers for the trip even though we are up to 87 birds so far in 3 days. Our target for 5 days is usually 100 birds and so I would now be disappointed if we don’t reach that at least by tomorrow and hopefully pass it even. We did see at least 2 birds were could not identify and need some professional help with them (we have photos of at least one) so they might be the lifers we are hoping for.

On the way to the dam everyone was searching for a cell signal and Helen said if we get it everyone would be happy stopping there rather than at the dam! As it turned out, on the way back we did get a signal and did stop for a minute or so until another car started to approach and we knew we had to move off (the roads are pretty narrow and really only single lane). We also needed to get back to the camp as the gates close at 6pm (we got in at 5:57pm).

Braai, reminiscing, Michael mimicking the Spar announcer again (and his school teachers as well) and we all went to our respective rooms. 10:42pm. At 10:30pm I had finished the blog and tried to publish it and as I did it gave me a can’t find signal and I had to re-type most of it. It had fortunately automatically saved about 25% of it. I think the 2nd version is better than the first. Sorry – no pictures as connection too slow and camera in car.  Will try to upload some tomorrow assuming they don’t block the WiFi!

Until then!

Kruger Park – Day 2

We woke up at 6am this morning so that we could have breakfast and get on the road by 7am. We had to drive from Skukuza to Olifants which is about 150 km. While that might not seem a lot when you are traveling at an average speed of 30 km/h then it does take about 5 hours. We also didn’t want to lose the best part of the day (which is early morning) because we knew that it was going to get very hot later. And that is what it happened – the temperature got to 32 degrees at about 2pm today. It is still about 26 degrees outside and it is now 8:30pm.

We were on the road at 7am and whole day turned out to be a good game & bird viewing day. There was plenty of game almost from the outset of leaving Skukuza.  We added zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and waterbuck before we had crossed the Sabie River. We stopped even more times for birds and had added about 20 to the list by the time we stopped for earning morning coffee.  After our early morning coffee we has a quick glimpse of a female lioness. The sighting was not great but we all got to see her before she vanished. We also just before that had seen buffalo so that made it 3 out of the Big Five.

We drove to Satara for and got there just around lunch time. We made the mistake of ordering lunch at the Cafeteria and waited for 45 minutes to get our toasted sandwiches. We could have made them ourselves in a fraction of that time. Not sure what they were doing – maybe slaughtering the pig for the ham and cheese sandwiches? We are on holiday and not really in a rush so we didn’t really mind. On the way out we saw what is reputed to the be the most photographed Scops Owl in the world. It resides in a tree outside the ladies toilet.

After Satara when continued North towards Olifants. It was VERY hot and as we felt it was unlikely that we would see much game due to the heat I decided to drive a little faster. It turned out that we saw a huge amount of game especially around the watering holes. The first waterhole yield 4 lions drinking; about 50 vultures and 2 back blacked jackals (amongst other things). The next waterhole yielded buffalo, zebra and warthog (and lots of bird life). And at the next one we saw Rhino, Elephant and Giraffe. And incredible amount of game for the worst viewing time of the day especially given the temperature. I don’t believe I have ever seen so much game at that time of the day in the Kruger Park.

We did also stop again on one of the bridges coming into Olifants. You are allowed to get out of your car (and we did).  The bird viewing was ridiculously good and we spent about 20 minutes on the bridge just looking over the river in one direction. It was slightly spoilt by a drunk Afrikaner who was shouting at the top of his voice, hooting and just generally making a nuisance of himself. Why do people feel it is necessary to come to the Kruger if they are going to behave like that? What is the point?

We did eventually move on because it seemed that 3 of the family were getting bored while Stephen and I birded! In fact it was like that most of the day. Helen gave up the front seat after about 30 minutes of driving and the rest of the day Stephen was in the front with me and we just ticked off one bird after the next (and that’s ignoring the animals we saw). At one stage only Stephen and I were awake I think. They did all wake up at least when we saw the lions!

We got to Olifants at about 3:30pm and checked and offloaded. We have accommodation overlooking the river. It is a beautiful view and with the temperature at 30 degrees, sitting outside with the binocs and perusing the river was the thing to do. Stephen and I headed out for a quick 40 minute end of evening drive and when we got back we found 3 people all sleeping. They only missed an Elephant crossing the river (he went right under except his trunk sticking up) and we had one more bird sighting to the list. The bird list now stands at 69 – yes you read that correctly. That would be 51 new species just today. I reckon that is a record for us in one day (especially since it was Stephen and me for most of the day only). And we only have 3 raptors so far on the list and we are missing a lot of obvious birds that we should really see like Sunbirds; Kingsfishers etc. I am hoping that if it continues like this we will get close to 100 by the end of tomorrow (though that is probably ambitious). Unfortunately no lifers yet.

We had the mandatory braai tonight again and everyone is now already in bed. I am the only one left up at 9:20pm. I am going to send this and then head to bed myself. I was hoping to most more photos but the connection is very slow – it took about 5 minutes just to upload the Owl picture. Tomorrow we are heading to Bateleur Bush Camp. We have no idea whether we will have any cellphone signal. If you don’t hear from us you know why. It isn’t that we have been eaten by Lions.

The wind has picked up and is whipping around the house we are staying in. As Chloe would say ‘Quite Freeky’. Sleep tight, hope the bed bugs don’t bite (and in our case the Mozzies don’t bite).

 

 

Kruger Park – Day 1

We are back! This morning we were up at 4am for a collection at 4:30 am to get to the airport. We had a 5:45am flight to Johannesburg and then a connecting flight to the Kruger International Airport (KIA). We got to the airport just before 5am and the check-in process went smoothly.  Two family members didn’t remember much of the first flight. Helen woke on landing and asked “Did they serve breakfast?” and Michael – well that is best illustrated by the photo! All the flights were bang on time and we arrived at KIA earlier than expected but only to get to the baggage belt and find one piece of our luggage MIA.  We always take a car fridge with us which we use while traveling around the Kruger and of course that was the item that was missing. Even more importantly it contained our flasks (for coffee) and my wine for the 5 days we are here. Fortunately the baggage lady was very pleasant and helpful and we discovered the missing item was on the next plane arriving about an hour later.

We went off to do a quick shop in White River. Shopping at Spar in White River is another whole experience. Just getting there means evading potholes which are strew across road and some of them are so big you could lose a Mini in them. We did through the shop in relatively quick time but not before they announced the daily specials. The accent was just so typical of English being spoken by an African gentlemen that Michael & Helen could hardly keep from wetting themselves. What made it even funnier was that he was standing right behind Helen was doing the announcements. And then when we got back into the car Michael copied him perfectly and we were in stitches.  And then Stephen told us that he noticed that all the women store their cellphones in their cleavage. He said they must have Nokia’s because only a Nokia would work after being kept there.

We got back to the airport and picked up the fridge, re-packed the VW Minibus and headed for the Hazyview and then into the Kruger.  We had a quick stop for lunch at the Wimpy in Hazyview and then to the Numbi gate.  The roads are in a terrible condition. I know I have said this before but I can’t understand why they don’t fix them in such a tourist area. I have very little doubt that a whole lot of money that was meant for roads in the province has ended up in someone else’s house or back-pocket.  The other thing that strikes me is that there aren’t shacks. Everyone has some form of permanent house (from mansions for some to basic 4 walls, roof and a door for others). Everyone has a permanent dwelling on a plot of land though. Not like in CT or Jhb where there are squatter camps. So at least they have gotten that right.

We entered at the Numbi gate and headed for Skukuza.  It is about a 50 km drive from the gate to Skukuza and it took us just under 2 hours to do it. As it was after 1pm when we entered we didn’t really expect to see much as it was middle of the day and already quite warm (27 degrees). Animals don’t have aircon like we did in the VW Combi so they tend to lie down at that time of the day. However, we did see quite a lot of game on the whole route. We have already seen one of the Big Five (Elephant) and a whole host of buck (antelope for the foreign readers!).  We have seen Impala (as you would expect as there are more of them that ants in the Kruger); Kudu (we almost saw as many of them as we did Impala); Steenbok; Common Duiker; Klipspringer (on a rock in the traditional pose – we upload the photo tomorrow) and most importantly Roan Antelope. Roan Antelope are incredibly rare in the Kruger.  There are only about 70 in the Kruger Park and we saw two of them. There are 50 times more Lion in the Kruger which hopefully illustrates how rare they are and how fortunate we were to see them.  We did also see Zebra and Warthog and Elephant (mother and her baby). It was a slow start to the Birding but by the end of the day I had ticked off 18 species seen so far (at least a third of which I saw in the Skukuza).  We didn’t really consider today a game viewing day and really will start in all seriousness tomorrow am.

We got to Skukuza at about 3:30pm and after checking in and settling in it was time to watch the Springboks demolish the Wallabies. My only question is why they don’t play like that every week! The mandatory braai for supper (chops & wors) followed by marshmallows on the braai and a family chat; a quick episode of Leverage (DVD series watched on the laptop) and then everyone abandoned me for their beds while i completed the post. It is now 9:30pm and I feel like I have been up since 4am (oh that’s right I have been up since 4am!).  And so I apologize for the lack of photos – I will upload them tomorrow.

Sleep well – I certainly will!