Final Day

Cold ChloeToday was our last day of our short holiday. It was up at 5am again for another final morning game drive. It was also the coldest and least productive drive of the whole trip. Our ranger and tracker were trying to find a large herd of buffalo. They found their tracks and their droppings but despite searching for them we couldn’t find them.  What was very ironic was that when we left the Timbavati Reserve on our way to the airport we passed them (and it was really a huge herd – in the hundreds).

The highlight of the morning drive was probably seeing our first and only owl of the trip – an African Scops Owl (total bird count for the trip – 107). We also saw zebra for the first time in 2 days and that was particularly good because one of our overseas visitors had not yet seen zebra in the wild.  The real highlight of the trip though was that they laid out breakfast for us in a river bed. For some reason breakfast in the bush always seems to taste better. Eggs and bacon cooked on the Cadac gas braai, fresh fruit, muesli, yogurt, fruit juice, coffee … you name it and they had it there.  It was a really nice way to finish off the holiday.

After breakfast we went straight back to the lodge and quickly packed up everything and then back into our VW Kombi and to Hoedspruit Airport.  The drive took us an hour 15 minutes when we arrived and it was very bumpy on the dirt road in. It took us an hour on the way back and the road did not seem nearly as bumpy. Maybe it was just that we were used dirt roads after 2 days of game drives.

breakfast ngalaWe did unfortunately arrive at the same time as a large bus load of foreign tourists so we had to wait patiently behind them as they checked in. It was remarkable quick though. Maybe I was just chilled from 7 days of holiday in a game park. We checked everything in and made our way to the ‘departure lounge’. It is really just one big lounge which was pretty full as there was both a Johannesburg and Cape Town departing. Our overseas guests were on the flight to Johannesburg (along with all the foreigners) and that flight was clearly packed full.  Our flight to Cape Town was 45 minutes later and it was evident after the Johannesburg flight had boarded that our flight was going to be relatively empty.

The security at Hoedspruit airport was amusing. Firstly they called me back because when they scanned what they thought was our cooler box, they thought it had an explosive like item inside it.  They wanted me to explain what it was. I pointed out that it was in fact a travel/car fridge and not a cooler box and what they could see on the scan was the fridge coil/cooler. They gratefully accepted that explanation and thanked me.  When we boarded they made us walk through a scanner. When I went through it beeped but no one did anything – not even a pat down. No scanner for your hand luggage though.  They were checked by hand. They simply opened one zip, looked inside and said ‘Thanks’. Very laid back and not overly comforting though no one on our flight looked like Al Queda operatives (fortunately).

We left 15 minutes early because everyoHoedspruit airportne was on board and we landed 2 hours 30 minutes later in Cape Town.  It really is the way to visit the game park. Straight from Cape Town to Skukuza and then back from Hoedspruit.  No messing around with transfers in Johannesburg and really convenient. Definitely to be repeated in future.

Until January 2015 …

P, H, M, C (and S will be with us then)

Ngala Lodge Day 2

morning drinksWake up call at 5am this morning. Helen had decided that the early mornings were no longer for her and so she stayed in bed. Everyone else was up and ready to have coffee & crunchies at 5:30am and then onto the game vehicle for the early morning drive.  Given we had seen leopard and lion last night it meant we were tracking down the other 3 of the Big Five. Rhino was spotted almost immediately out of the camp and so that meant two to go only.

The game is relatively sparse around the camp at the moment because most of the bush is Marula trees and we discovered today that the animals don’t like the smell and the taste of the grass under Marula trees.  I have been coming to the game parks for probably 40 years now and that is the first time I have heard that.  It does explain why game viewing in Marula’s areas is always poor though.

We headed South and were soon out of the Marula trees.  It didn’t take us long to find Elephant and our ranger stopped right in the midst of the herd.  It is not something I would do while viewing elephant but he seemed quite happy and I trust their ability, knowledge and instincts while viewing game.  It was really interesting watching the elephants munch their way through the bush. A bushveld stop for morning tea, coffee or hot chocolate and then back onto the Landcruiser to head back to the lodge.  As we came back in we saw a small group of buffalo and so that was the Big Five complete in 2 drives.

At these lodges you basically spend your day eating and so it was back for breakfast were Helen was reunited with us. And then we could chill for until lunch time. A few of us managed to get in a nap before lunch and then back for lunch, another nap for those that wanted to after lunch and then back for afternoon tea at 3:30pm and off on the evening game drive.

drinks at ngalaIt was a scorcher of a day today with the temperature getting to around 34-35 degrees C and this evening’s drive was also very hot even though we were on an open game vehicle.  The best part of the drive this evening was after we had stopped for drinks (and watching the sunset) we went to a hyena den and heard them whooping and then saw a number of hyena.  Our ranger (Dyke) said there are 10 teenagers (around 4-8 months old – from different mothers) and 5 adults.  One of them walked right past the vehicle.

I did eventually add a lifer to my bird list tonight – Jameson’s Firefinch.  We have seen other Firefinches but not that one yet and we managed to see it right on the road in front of us.  We are also up to exactly 100 bird species for the trip. I am sure if Stephen had been here we would have been up at least 20 birds.

It was then back to the lodge for dinner and some traditional dancing and singing as entertainment. It really is a fantastic way to spend a day.  It is just a pity it had to end.  I could do this every day if you gave me the chance. Africa is in my blood …

Until tomorrow, P, H, M, C, the in laws and JB and HW

Talamiti to Ngala Lodge

This morning we left Talamiti and headed out of the Kruger Park.  While Talamiti was a nice bushcamp, there is not a lot of game in the area and there are only dirt roads (which are in poor shape) to get to and from the camp (and it is about 20 kms to the nearest tar road). So we never went on a morning game drive and rather just left the camp at around 8am. We headed back to Orpen and then out of the Kruger Park.  We didn’t really see much this morning and really only a few birds for the trip.  Along with a few birds we saw this evening we are now up to 91 for the trip but still no lifers which is quite disappointing as I had hoped to make my 400 mark on this trip.

leopard ngalaWe headed out of the Kruger Park to Hoedspruit as we were collecting two friends from the airport there who would be joining us for the next 2 days.  They arrived on the flight in from Johannesburg which landed at about 11:20am. We got there with plenty of time to spare and explored the whole airport in about 2 minutes. It only has 3 flights in and out per day and pretty much everyone is coming in or out of a game lodge. They bring the luggage from the plane with a tractor and just stop in front of the ‘terminal’ building and everyone just helps themselves.

We then headed into the Timbavati Nature Reserve to go to Ngala Lodge. It is one of the &Beyond lodges (http://www.andbeyond.com/ngala-safari-lodge).  It took us about 1 hour 15 minutes to reach the lodge even though it is only about 50 kms from the airport.  The reason being that the road is very rutted and slow going especially when driving a VW Kombi.  We arrived just before 1pm and so were perfectly in time for lunch. At 3:30pm we met up again to go for the evening game drive.

As we had seen a lot over the last 5 days we were hoping to add leopard to the trip but not expecting it.  We have been to Ngala before and struggled to see any leopard. Our ranger is Dyke and he has worked at Ngala for 24 years (starting out in the kitchen and working his way up to becoming a ranger).  There was not a lot to see to start with on the drive but then one of the other vehicles found a leopard (fairly young one at about 18 months) and we had an excellent sighting. It was just lying around until we arrived but then it decided to get up and immediately saw a warthog which is stalked and then chased. Our ranger was just laughing and saying there is no chance he will take out the warthog and it was just for practice/fun rather than a serious attempt.  He said a male warthog male lionswould win against a young leopard. The leopard did give up but then walked off and saw Impala and tried to surprise one of them until they spotted the leopard too. It was a lot of excitement especially since the leopard walked right past of the vehicle.

We headed off and almost immediately ended up with a sighting of 3 male lions. They also were just chilling but occasionally one of them would get up and walk around.  When they did you were reminded of how powerful they are. A stop for sundowners and then back to the lodge for the Boma dinner (with a choice of pork loin, ostrich sausage and oxtail). We are now in the room and about to lay our heads down on the pillow for night as we will be waken at 5am for a morning drive again.

Until tomorrow … P, H, M, C, the in laws (and JB and HW)

Orpen to Talamiti

chloe in bedIt cooled off considerably overnight as it became cloudy and started raining the early morning. It was an interrupted night of sleep not only because of the rain but because the honey badger came back and try to raid the cupboards and did raid the dirtbin. It has about 2am when I heard crunching and figured it had somehow managed to get some of the chicken bones from our meal last night.

We got up for a morning game drive and it was still drizzling. In the end everyone but Michael and I chickened out of the drive. I had read up the previous afternoon that one of bird specials you could see at Orpen was Senegal Lapwings and they were often found at one of the crossroads. When we went past this morning sure enough there were a couple of them right on the crossroad. They are pretty rare to see but we have seen them before and in fact I had seen another one earlier in the trip as well but still nice to see them again.

Given it was only Michael and I, if I wasn’t a law abiding citizen I might have been tempted to let him drive. Of course, if I did we would no doubt encounter an elephant near the road. Always a little more tricky when driving a manual car versus an automatic but no doubt he would have been able to handle it. We didn’t see anything unusual but did stop to look at one of the earliest entrances into the Kruger Park – the hut is still standing and is now a monument. I also managed to add a few more birds to the list for the trip which now stands at 87 including adding two more Eagles today – Wahlberg’s and Lesser Spotted (right at the Talamiti Camp).

We had a late breakfast and then stayed in the camp doing nothing until check out time at 10am as Talamati (the bush camp we were heading for is only about 30 kms away from Orpen). We decided to take a long way to get there as check in time is only 2pm and so we headed East back to Satara. It turned out to be an excellent decision as only about 5 kms from Orpen we came across two Wild Dog running up the road. Wild Dog are incredibly rare (about 250 in the whole Kruger Park which is the size of Netherlands) and so to see them is really something special. We decided to follow them. They were sniffing around and we figured they must be trying to locate their pack. We probably followed them for about 20 minutes as they ran down the road stopping to occasionally sniff and then finally the one urinated on the side of the road and then they ran into the bush and were gone. Our font of knowledge on the trip (Michael) then read up and discovered that an Alpha pair dominate the pack and mark out their territory so we had probably witnessed them doing that. Given there is a photographic competition just started on Wild Dog, I managed to get off at least 100 photos and hopefully one of them will be a winning one! Michael also go some with Helen’s camera as there is a separate competition for under 18s.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful except for the occasional bit of rain. We stopped at a picnic spot for some lunch and then back onto the incredibly poor and rutted dirt road to the camp. By the time we arrived my hands felt like they had been shaken to pieces and my right hand in particular was quite sore from the vibrations.

We are staying at Talamiti which is a bush camp.   It has only 15 units but is really nicely laid out. There are two bird hides and one of them is floodlit. Michael and I went down to the floodlit one tonight but no action there at all tonight unfortunately.

Helen, Michael and I went for a late afternoon drive and of course if Michael had been driving then we could be guaranteed to meet a herd of elephant just as we approached a sharp bend and a narrow bridge.   Besides the elephant we did add another very special sighting of Sable Antelope. They are even more rare in the Kruger Park than Wild Dog so it was clearly a day to see rare species.

Back to the camp for the evening braai and then to write up the blog. You won’t get to read this until tomorrow though as there is no cellphone signal here except if you go and sit in the bird hide and then even this evening it was a very weak signal. I will try and send it tomorrow when I get cellphone signal again.

Until tomorrow …. P, M (because he has come on every morning drive with me), H, C and the in laws

Pretoriouskop to Orpen

If yesterday was a day for seeing Rhino, then today was a day for seeing Lion.  We surpassed our Rhino count with 14 Lion today. In fact we did so well with Lion that in the afternoon when we were at one of the watering holes someone said they had seen a lion in the bush and we weren’t bothered even to stay and look for it.

We had a long drive today from Pretoriuskop to Orpen.  It was about 180 km and when you only drive at around 35-40 km/h that makes for a drive that takes the whole day.  We left just after 6am from Pretoriuskop and arrived at 3pm at Orpen.  It was however I very productive game viewing game especially if you measure it by number of lion seen.  Fron Pretoriuskop to Skukuza took us about 2 hours and we saw a reasonable amount of game but no lion on that leg.  We stopped for breakfast at Skukuza and then headed further North to Satara.  The road from Skukuza to Satara was packed with game and we saw our first pride of 8 lion (including 2 cubs) on that road.  Shortly afterwards we stopped at dam and it was teaming with game (including some birds we which had seen for the first time on the trip).  Michael was scanning the tree line when he suddenly shouted out “Lion” and sure enough there was a big male lion under the tree. It didn’t seem that many of the other cars had even seen it.  We even lent our binoculars to a foreign couple so that they could see it (and they were delighted).

Not very long after that and we came upon a 5 lion at the next watering hole. Our fount of knowledge (Michael) who has been reading the mammal book told us that prides can be apart by 50 kms and so it is likely that they could all be part of the same pride.  Neither the 5 nor the 8 seemed to have a male present so the the male we saw definitely could have been with either batch.

temperatureAdd to the 14 lion, great sightings of buffalo, elephant, giraffe, kudu, some more rhino, wildebeest, zebra and we really did see a huge amount today.  Add in that the temperature reached 40 degrees after lunch and it was a very surprising day really. In that short of heat you really don’t expect to see much wildlife but we really did extremely well.

The Kruger Park seems to now be outsourcing it’s restaurants and so we ended up having lunch at the Mugg & Bean at Satara.  Much better than the previously run national park restaurants.  And then also had a Debonaire’s pizza at Satara.  It was not particularly cheap but portion sizes were generous and the quality was good and that certainly made up for the cost (though to be fair my mother-in-law paid so who I am to complain!).

I was also impressed by the stick-ability of my mother-in-law today.  She and I were the only ones to be looking the whole day.  Everyone else dosed off at some stage. Admittedly Michael was next best in that he probably only dosed off for about 10 minutes (just before we stopped for a morning tea break – or ice creams actually would be more precise).

orpenLate this afternoon Helen and I went for a quick drive out of the camp and we were pleased to add Black Backed Jackal to our growing list of animals seen.  It was also a good day for adding new birds including a number while I was just sitting on the veranda of the hut we are staying in at Orpen.  We are now up to 78 trippers but I am still missing Stephen as I am sure we would have seen more if he was with us.  What I have noticed is that we can now ID birds relatively easily and often don’t even need to look them up anymore.  We did have a good day of seeing birds of prey including seeing Brown Snake Eagle, Steppe Eagle and Tawny Eagle.

It was still 35 degrees at 6pm and only now (at 9:30pm) is it starting to cool down.  It is meant to rain tomorrow am and I think that will hopefully cool things down a little.  A lot of the Kruger Park has had substantial fires recently and many places are still smouldering even as you drive. You can smell it in the air even and so a little rain will no doubt bring all the green shoots out after the fires.

sunset at orpenWe had another braai tonight and enjoyed the falling temperature.  As you can seen Michael and Chloe got in some more maths studying before dinner. Just as we finished eating dinner Chloe spotted a honey badger.  They had warned us not to leave any food out because of the honey badgers and baboons.  So that adds another species to our growing list. And just as I type this the honey badger has tried to get into our cupboards (the kitchen is outside and has locks on all the cupboards). They clearly are quite clever animals. The wind has also picked up a lot and so maybe that promised rain is on route.

Until tomorrow

P, H, M, C and the in laws

(And as I finish the electricity has just tripped … and come back on again … must be the approaching storm/rain)

Pretoriuskop

We have 2 nights accommodation at Pretoriuskop and so we decided today we would take it easy.  We still got up for an early morning game drive and left at sunrise (6am). To start with the drive did not yield much but then suddenly we started to see Rhino and ended up seeing 10 Rhino in about 30 minutes. At that point we had seen more Rhino than we had seen Impala!  It included a sighting of a crash of six Rhino together. That means Michael and I have seen 13 Rhino so far (and the rest of them have seen 11). You wouldn’t say that they were being continually hunted and that over 400 have been killed this year in the Kruger Park alone.  The rest of the game drive didn’t yield much except that we added Klipspringer, Duiker and Reedbuck to our list of animals (and Mongoose). We also added a few more birds to the list and including the evening game drive we are now up to 60 trippers but unfortunately no lifers yet.

We came back for a late breakfast and then spent the day in the camp.  Some reading, some sleeping, some watching of Ryder Cup Golf (the wonders of modern technology and being able to watch Supersport through my cellphone). Lunch and then some more reading, some sleeping, more watching of golf and Michael and Chloe did some Maths exam questions/papers (both are writing Maths exam shortly after we get back).

At 3:30pm we headed out for another drive.  The temperature had risen considerably over the day and when we headed out it was 30 degrees again.  Not a lot of game to be seen but we did finally add Wildebeest to the list of animals seen.  It amazingly took us over 2 days to see our first Wildebeest.  We did have some really close sightings (separately) of Kudu, Giraffe and Buffalo (right next to the road and they were bothered by us at all).  But it was a no predator day even though some people we spoke to at the cPretoriuskopamp said they had seen Wild Dog and a cheetah was spotted on the same road we had driven in the morning.  It is all a matter of timing though and we clearly didn’t have it today.  It was a very relaxing day though and that is probably what we all needed.

The mandatory braai to end off the evening with some good company and good wine (I made sure they brought it from Cape Town). We bought some Impala Chops from the shop today and gave those a try on the braai.  They were a little tough but quite tasty. Seemed fitting to eat Impala in the Kruger Park. We are staying a family unit (3 bedrooms) and interestingly we discovered (courtesy of the plaque outside) that they were originally built for the Royal visit in the 1940’s from King Edward.  They were especially mosquito proofed for their visit (I assume that meant they put up mosquito nets over the doors and windows). Not particularly luxurious for a King but we are content with it.

Until tomorrow …. P, H, M, C and the In Laws

Skukuza to Pretoriuskop

early morning coffeeWe got up at 5:40am this morning so that we be out of the camp for an early morning sunrise drive.  We went to a bird hide called the Lake Panic Hide. I am not sure if it is the birdlife or the viewers who should be panicking.  There was only one car when we arrived and 8 when we left. We definitely got the most peaceful viewing for about 10 minutes before the hordes arrived.  There was a Black-headed Heron in it’s nest with at least 2 young ones. They were making an awful racket but did eventually calm down.  Numerous hippo’s and quite a lot of other bird life to be seen as well. After the mandatory coffee & rusks (and hot chocolate) it was back to Skukuza for breakfast.

We then packed up as we had to be out of our accommodation by 9am and made our way to our next camp – Pretoriuskop. As you can only check in at 2pm we took the long road to get there by heading south-east to Lower Sabie first. It turned out to be an excellent decision because the Skukuza-Lower Sabie is famed to be the best for game viewing the Kruger Park and it lived up to it’s reputation. It was teaming with game of all sorts – impala by the thousands, kudu, nyala, giraffe, elephant, huge herd of buffalo, zebra, steenbok, waterbuck, warthog.  We also saw another hyena (that is now three sightings). Add to that 2 lionesses lying on a rock and our first 2 hours out of Skukuza was pretty impressive.

We then turned west onto a gravel road to cut through to Pretoriuskop camp. The road was very rutted and was about 30 kms so everyone took a bit of a hammering on the road.  Chloe kept asking ‘How much longer on this road?’ I think it was worse the further back you sat but my hands felt like they were shaken to pieces as well from holding the steering wheel. We were rewarded though with another sighting of Lion – this time a very large male (with a beautiful mane) and his female companion. It was midday and around 30 degrees though so they weren’t doing anything but lying around.  There were also numerous Rhino middens (their piles of ….) and we hoped we would add one of them to our sighting list.  We were eventually rewarded when we got to Renosterpan (for those who don’t understand Afrikaans that means Rhino pan). You would hope to see Rhino there and we were suitably rewarded.

We stopped briefing at another dam for lunch (this time inside the car as we couldn’t get out) and then on to Pretoriuskop.  We arrived at 2pm exactly so that we could immediately check in and unpack into our chalet.  We are here for two nights. We all loafed for the afternoon though Michael was impressively studying for his Maths exam which he will do shortly after we get back.  He even tried to study for some time in the car on the dirt road!studying in kruger

Michael and I went out for a late afternoon drive and we managed to see three of the big five in just over an hour.  We saw three Rhino (including a baby), Elephant and Buffalo (right on the side of the road). Add to that some more birding trippers and we are now at 44 trippers.  Still missing Stephen in this regard because we definitely don’t stop as often for bird sightings and so the birding is almost incidental when we stop for something else.  Of course with only Michael and I in the car it would have been an ideal time for him to practice driving a manual but I would never allow that in a rental car and in a game park (with things like elephants around).

Back to the camp where Brian already had the fire going for the mandatory evening braai.  Michael and Chloe both now were impressively studying in the fading light with the LED torches. By 7:30pm the dinner was finished and Chloe and Michael were braaiing marshmallows on the fire.

Another early night as the early morning and fresh air has caught up with everyone.  It is now 9:30pm and everyone except me is in bed.

Until tomorrow

P, M (because he came out with me this evening), H & C (and the in laws)