Kruger Park Day 6

As we are staying at Pretoriouskop for the rest of the time, we planned to do an early morning drive and evening drive only and to spend the rest of the day relaxing in the camp. We left at 6:15am for the morning drive but again (unfortunately) it was overcast which means it isn’t great for birding. That makes 4 out of 5 mornings. There are numerous circular roads around the camp and we took one of those. The bushveld is very thick and lush at the moment which makes it very difficult to see in very far and makes game spotting quite difficult.  We have now set our expectations quite low as we really haven’t seen much on this trip.

We saw a single male buffalo and then nothing else until suddenly out into the road trotted a hyena. For some reason hyena seem to be the animal for the trip for us. Shortly afterward another hyena appeared and they ran down the road a bit and then into the bush. A few seconds later I saw a leopard climbing up a tree right in front of us.  Clearly the two hyena had caused it to scale the tree. While we were watching the one in the tree, suddenly another leopard also scales the tree further back as well so we had two leopards in trees and two hyena sniffing around at the base of the trees. The one hyena went trotting off down the road and the nearest leopard came down the tree only to be chased up another tree a few meters away. Eventually the hyena both trotted off and the cautious leopards descended and vanished into the thick bush.

We were reminded again that it is entirely about timing because after that you could not see the leopard at all. It was a fantastic sighting and we got some really good photos of the leopard in the tree (and descending as well). We drove off thinking that regardless of what else we might see on this trip, the trip was probably made worthwhile just from that single sighting. Someone was just saying exactly that when not more than 300 meters down the road (not kidding) we saw a cheetah in the middle of the road sniffing around as well. Two hyena, two leopards and a cheetah within 300 meters of each other. Quite incredible especially for a trip that has yielded so little.

The rest of the day we just spent relaxing in the camp and then headed out again at 3:30pm for an evening drive. We were just discussing the fact that since Michael was driving we were likely to see elephant when we came across an elephant in the middle of the road and of course it was aggressive and started to make its way toward us. Fortunately Michael is a little more experienced in reversing these days. The elephant eventually turned and went the other way down the road but there was no chance of us passing it. It passed through another herd of elephant (including some baby elephant) and continued down the road. It eventually stopped on the side of the road at a large tree, leaned up and broke off a branch with a load crack. Ate a bit of those leaves and then repeated the procedure and broke off an even bigger branch. No way were we driving past it and so we turned around and headed back the way we came. All this consumed 45 minutes and it didn’t seem that the elephant was going anywhere in a hurry.

A very eventful day which we ended with a traditional braai (whole meal done on the braai including the vegetables). If you want to see more photos of the day including the full moon from last night – have a look at our Instagram photos (@templetravels).

P, H, S, M & C

PS: Happy birthday to one of our favourite blog readers and commentators.

Kruger Park Day 5

Only the men headed out for the morning game yesterday with the ladies sleeping in. Unfortunately we didn’t see that much again (or at least nothing too exciting). It was overcast though again and so the birding wasn’t great. That was 3 out of 4 mornings overcast so far on the trip and that does not help for birding as the morning is definitely the best time to bird. When we turned to head back to the camp at the turn, there were numerous cars parked to the right and so we did a quick trip to see what they were looking at. It turned out to be a bird of prey eating a scrub hare in the middle of the road (see picture). Pretty impressive sighting.

We had to pack up and leave Skukuza yesterday as our next 3 nights are at Pretoriouskop Rest Camp. It is only about 50 kms to Pretoriouskop from Skukuza. You have to check out by 10am and you can only check in at 2pm. So we left at 10am and took a slow drive with all the detours to the various dams on route.  We still didn’t see a lot on this trip either except what seems to be the now daily occurrence of hyena on the road. We arrived at just after 12:30pm and still had time to kill so we ended up at the Wimpy (yes there is a Wimpy in the KNP) for lunch.

After we checked in everyone (again except me) seem to head for their beds and by 4pm it was only Stephen and I left to do the game drive for the evening. We drove the first 10kms and didn’t see anything – seriously where has all the game gone too?! We didn’t even see an Impala. There was some bird life at the dam we headed to but otherwise it was a pretty unsuccessful trip again. We briefly thought we had seen a lifer but unfortunately that turned out to be that I just hadn’t recorded it in the bird book yet as we had seen it last June during our Namibia leg of our holiday.

We skipped the braai last night and had a vegetarian pasta instead (thought of you Oli). No grater so Michael cut the cheese for the pasta into strips/blocks – when in a game park you make do with whatever you can. Given it was completely finished by the end of dinner and everyone had seconds, I guess it was quite a good dinner.

Until later today …

P, S (for being the only one to do the evening game drive with me), H, M & C

PS: Sign at Skukuza camp … why on earth shouldn’t you be able to lean on the posts?

Kruger Park Day 4

We did the loop around the rivers at Skukuza yesterday morning. That is meant to be the best road for game viewing in the KNP. My grandfather and father swore by it. Someone stole the game off the road though we reckon. Maybe it was ‘Game Capture’ by Guptas? It is very green and thick (no water shortage up here) and quite difficult to see anything unless it saunters across the road (like another hyena did as we headed back into camp). Besides the hyena the game viewing was disappointing though.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was consumed by sleeping for everyone except me. It is amazing how much sleeping gets done when we come to a game park. Must be the fresh air. At midday we left to fetch Michael from the airport – the last one to arrive.  That all went very smoothly and we were back united as a family again for the next 4 nights.

For the afternoon game drive we decided to head west toward the exit of the park – it was the one route we hadn’t yet taken. The game viewing was much better and we did see a reasonable amount of game but again nothing spectacular or special.

We got back to the camp a little earlier than expected and so went for a stroll along the river and ended up having a drink at the restaurant (which overlooks the river) and watched the sunset. Braai (as usual) for dinner followed by watching some Master’s golf and an early night.

P, H, S, M & C

PS: Someone asked for a link to the video of the elephant charging … I’ll try to upload it when I have good enough connection.

Kruger Park Day 3

Yesterday Stephen and I had to drive from Satara down to Skukuza to collect Helen and Chloe who were arriving just before 1pm from Cape Town. We decided to start at about 6:30am and take a slow drive (it is about 100 kms) and have breakfast on route.

We didn’t see a huge amount again except a really good sighting of a hyena. It was on the side of the road and sniffing around, then would cross the road and then sniff around there and then back again.  We probably watched it for about 10-15 minutes.  It was clearly looking for the scent of something and couldn’t find it. When we first pulled up it was crunching through a bone as well and you could clear hear it. Incredible how powerful their jaws are. We did also see two more lifers (both water birds this time) at the dams on route to Skukuza. That took my lifer count up to 418 (Stephen saw 3 because he again saw one I had previously seen).

We had a late breakfast at a picnic stop as we headed south. We timed our trip pretty well as we got to the Skukuza area just before midday and so we did a trip over the Sand River, a small 4 km loop and then back to the airport.  We had about 20 minutes at the airport to wait for the plane to arrive. Everything went smoothly and we collect Helen and Chloe and headed to Skukuza camp to buy some food for lunch and then check in.

We are staying at Skukuza for 2 nights. We have two chalets which sleep 3 people each. Very nicely done and even have DSTV (can watch the The Masters tonight). Only downside is that they are building right next door and seemingly it doesn’t matter that it is either Saturday or Sunday because as I type this I can having them banging away. Sort of destroys the peacefulness of the game park somewhat.

We went out for an evening game drive (heading south) but again unfortunately didn’t see much. I’m hoping that when Eagle Eye’s Michael arrives today we will start seeing everything. Still no rhino unfortunately and last time we saw so many we eventually weren’t even stopping for them at all. We are up to 85 birds for the trip though (with 5 lifers) so at least that has been pretty decent (didn’t expect to see 5 lifers).

The difference of having Helen here was evident in two things. Firstly, when we arrived the first night Stephen and I looked at each other and said ‘Who is going to unpack the food into the fridge?’ – that is clearly always Helen’s role. When we arrived at the chalet in Skukuza she started doing it immediately (without request) and she remarked that she is happy to do that rather than unpacking the car. Secondly, we had vegetables for dinner that weren’t cooked on the braai only (broccoli, onion, mushroom stir fry).

Looking forward to have Michael arrive today (he had a wedding to attend yesterday) so we have the whole family together for 4 nights.

P, S, H & C

Kruger Park Day 2

Unfortunately when we woke up at 5:30am this it was still raining. We figured that birding wouldn’t be great in the rain and it was still quite dark because of the cloud cover. We didn’t rush to get out for the game drive. We ended up leaving at about 6:20am with the intention of heading East to Nwanedzi (near Mozambique border). It was raining for about the first 30 minutes and then fortunately it stopped.

We saw quite a lot of bird life which was amazing given the weather conditions. Game was a little lacking though unfortunately. As we approach Nwanedzi we met an elephant bull in the road.  He was eating a bush on the side of the road and wasn’t going anywhere fast. We didn’t pressurize him at all but once he was done eating the bush (he basically flattened it), he start to become aggressive towards us and came straight down the road toward us. I am pretty used to getting charged by elephants now and so had the car in reverse quite quickly and backed up to give him so space. Of course it wasn’t just us at this point so we had 3 cars reversing and try to avoid crashing into each other as well.

The elephant kept coming and 2 of the cars managed to do 3-point turns so they could drive forward rather than reversing which just left me reversing. Stephen was making sure that this time (because if you’ve read any of my previous game park blogs you will remember this is not the first time this has happened to us) he had the events on video for all to enjoy. As you would have figured out given the fact I am typing this blog – we did manage to survive and Stephen has the footage. After reversing about 500 meters, he got distracted by his desire to eat some more and went off into the bush just off the road and we could get past him quickly.

Besides our elephant experience, we did manage to add 2 more lifers to our lists.  I’m now at 416 species in Southern Africa. We actually stopped to identify one of the lifers and while we were doing that we saw the other one too. So basically 2 lifers within a minute and at exactly the same location. That is not something that usually happens.

We got back to the camp around 10am for a late breakfast and then basically spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in camp. Stephen read, I downloaded emails (very slow connection) and Stephen slept. We then headed out again at 3pm. Game was pretty sparse to start with but toward the end of the drive we added another 2 of the Big 5 – buffalo (right next to the road) and Lion (quite near the camp but a little way off the road). We had cellphone signal and I was talking to Helen via whatsapp when we saw it and she asked for a picture which I duly sent.  No chance of her ever seeing it from my iPhone picture though!  We are up to 65 birds for the trip as well.

P & S

PS: Forgot to say that last night while we were eating supper an African Wild Cat came to check out what might have fallen from our braai. Pretty nice sighting of something you don’t often see in the Kruger.

Kruger Park Week

We have a week in the Kruger National Park. The original trip was meant to be 5 days with the whole family but I felt like going for longer and Stephen was up to join me.  So the two of us left yesterday morning from Cape Town. SA Airlink introduced a direct flight from Cape Town to Skukuza about a year or so ago and that was the flight we were on. You can tell that everyone is keen to get to Skukuza by the fact that the door to the plane closed 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time. Beside one seat, the plane was full.

We arrived at Skukuza just before 1pm. 32 degrees. A bit of a shock to the system especially since I was wearning jeans! Got the car we had rented and we headed to Skukuza itself to do some shopping for food for the next few days. At about 2pm we were on the road up to Satara. We had 4 hours to do the 92 kms and we pretty much used the whole time.

We didn’t think we would see that much because of the heat and it being the middle of the day but by the time we arrived at Satara we had seen 36 different species of birds and 2 of the Big Five (elephant & leopard). I also had a brief glimpse of what I think was a hyena and we had seen much of the usual game – impala, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, crocodile, hippo, zebra, wildebeest, mongoose, tortoise. Stephen had also added a lifer to his list (one I had seen before during another trip when he wasn’t around).

But probably the most spectacular part of the day was watching the thunderstorm approach. The lightning strikes were incredibly impressive and about 30 minutes outside of Satara it was very dark and started to rain quite hard. Game viewing quickly became impossible and the aim was just to get to the camp at that point. After seeing the effects of the earlier rains this season (road totally washed away in one place – have photo but connection not good enough to upload), it felt better to actually be at a camp rather in the thunderstorm.

When we arrived we realised no cellphone signal and while checking in they said the lightning seemed to have taken out both MTN and Vodacom. No means of communicating with the outside world and even in the Kruger Park that becomes an issue. No credit card payments at the store and neither would the ATM work. Fortunately I had cash but there were some pretty distraught looking people at the shop. By this morning Vodacom had been restored but still no MTN.

Despite the rain, Stephen and I made a braai (how can you do anything else when in the Kruger?) and fortunately the rain stopped long enough for us to finish braaiing the meat (chops and pork strips). Don’t worry Helen – we also had sweet potato and gem squash (also on braai). Beer and red wine to wash that all down.

No need for a jersey of any form as it was very hot and humid. We ran the aircon the whole night at 21 degrees which made sleeping bearable. It did rain much through the night but even when we got up in the morning the temperature was still 21 degrees (at 5:30am).

I will try post again later about this AM and PM (cellphone signal dependent). We are about to head out for an afternoon drive.

P & S