Lower Sabie & Home

We had one last full day in Lower Sabie.  It had rained on and off throughout the night and it was still heavily overcast.  It was also the coolest morning we have had (21 degrees at 6am). Unfortunately game wise the morning drive was unproductive except for the standard things we had already seen. The bird life though was incredible. It seems all the birds were out to play after the rain. And they were pretty frisky too. Numerous birds were displaying. I am not sure if it is the rain that does it or what but it seems almost all the birds were up to something.

Being Cape Town citizens, we spent the rest of the morning in the camp doing our washing for the last two weeks so that we could avoid using the water at home for that. The rest of the day we just spent relaxing in the camp – watching TV series, watching cricket, reading.  The same as what we had done for the other days preceding this.

It was our last evening game drive and we decided to head south for a quick loop. Unfortunately about 2/3rds of the way around we were warned that there were elephants in the road and not moving and were quite aggressive.  The only way back was to retrace. We decided to go look for ourselves.  They were right. Some of the males were fighting amongst themselves and it was a big herd and they were on both sides of the road. No place even to do a 3-point turn (narrow dirt road) so I reversed back about 800 meters at pace (Helen took the photo of the speedometer). No real danger from the elephants but now we had a time challenge to ensure we got back before they shut the gate. We made it back with enough time to go and take a few shots at the Sunset Dam before heading back into the camp.  Our last dinner was (of course) a braai while listening to the sounds of hippo and hyena.

This morning we packed up, had a late breakfast (7am which by our standards of getting up at 5:30am is late!), packed the car and left just after 8am. We had about 35 kms to the gate. We saw a lot of game but no predators.  Though 1.5kms from the gate we saw 5 rhino. We only had seen rhino on day 3 so 11 days later we saw some more and just before we excited the Kruger.

We got to the airport at 11:15 (2 hours before our flight) but that was planned to ensure we got some lunch (from Wimpy). We left early and landed early into Cape Town.

It has been a fantastic two weeks.  The best quotes from Helen over the last few days are:

“When are we doing this again?”
“Can we do this again early next year?”
“You looked more relaxed and healthy than I have seen you in years”
“I could have done 3 weeks instead of 2 weeks”

We definitely preferred the north of the Kruger to the south.  A lot fewer people. When you are out driving you hardly pass a car.  No tour operators. Smaller camps. We can reel off the reasons. Helen’s favourite camp was Letaba, mine was Shingwedzi.  Next time (which we hope there will be!) we want to spend some nights in Olifants & Punda Maria.

Until next time …

P & H

Satara to Lower Sabie (via Skukuza)

The kids were heading home today and so we drove with them down to Skukuza before heading to Lower Sabie where Helen and I will spend our last 2 nights. It was really good having the kids with us for the 3 days even though the game viewing while they were here was not as good as we would have liked. Unfortunately this morning was no exception to that. We left around 6:15am and drove down to Tsokwane and had breakfast there. Nothing major on that part of the journey and nor from Tsokwane to Skukuza though I reckon we saw more impala today than we saw in the other 3 days combined while they were here.

After saying goodbye to them, Helen and I went back to Skukuza for a drink (it was already 37 degrees at this point at around 10:30am – in fact it was 34 degrees at 9:10am!). We then headed down to Lower Sabie on the famous Sabie river road (which is meant to be the most productive road for seeing game in the KNP). As it turned out, besides seeing a massive amount of elephant in the river (about every 500 meters there was another herd), we didn’t see anything much else. Just before Lower Sabie is the Sunset Dam and we pulled in there quickly. We added a few birds to our trip list which is now at 160. The one notable achievement in this regard is that we have seen all the different species of vultures that you can see in the KNP.

As we arrived before check in time (2pm), they said the hut wasn’t ready yet and that we needed to come back at 1:30pm. We decided to go have lunch at the Mugg & Bean (yes there is one at Lower Sabie) while we waited. The storm clouds were gathering and as we paid it started to rain harder. When we got the key it was raining heavily and just the dash to the car resulted in us being soaking wet. Unpacking the car in the rainfall was a near impossibility and so we just went into the hut and watched and listened to the impressive thunderstorm.  At one point the lightning and thunder was almost simultaneous. For us Capetonians where water is very scarce and thunderstorms don’t happen often – it was an impressive storm. You can see how flash floods happen when it rains like that.

It never really stopped raining until about 30 minutes ago. The rain did abate sufficiently for us to get our things in from the car at least. We didn’t go out this afternoon as there would have been no point given the torrential downpour. No braai tonight either – fortunately we had leftovers from last  night to eat.

Until tomorrow

P & H

PS: Thanks for the concern for Helen following yesterday’s blog post … she is fine now

Satara Day 2

Today was a significant day in our family’s life – 25 years of marriage. And Helen managed to do something she has not done in the 26 years I have known her until today. We went on our usual morning drive. We went to the Sweni Bird Hide. On route we saw 3 separate sightings of hyena and a variety of other game. While sitting at the hide and watching crocodile (out of the water) and a variety of birds (and some standard impala), Helen suddenly started feeling nauseous and was sweating.  She wanted to go back to the car and about half-way back I realised she wasn’t going to do it without my support and about a meter from the car I realised my support was not going to be enough either as she crumbled to the ground. I shouted for Stephen who came charging with the other kids and Michael and I managed to lift her and lie her down on the back seat of the Kombi.  She was sweating profusely.  She had taken medication for a sore back (in the middle of the night) and it clearly had dropped her blood pressure and pulse. When we took her heart rate it was 40 beats per minute.

Fortunately we had salt & vinegar chips with us and after she ate some of those (and some wine gums), her pulse went back up to high 50s and she started to recover.  While she was recovering, we took the opportunity to have our morning coffee and hot chocolate and the by the time we were finished she felt well enough to make the trip back to Satara. We unfortunately didn’t see anything on the way back.  Helen has fully recovered (don’t worry parents & parents-in-law) and she will avoid the medication in future. We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in the camp.

We went out at 4pm this afternoon and decided to take the road that people had seen cheetah and lion on this morning. Of course the animals move around but we were hopeful. Unfortunately at all the places other people had these sightings, we saw nothing.  However, when we got to the Girivani Dam (more like a waterhole) we finally managed to see two lion – one male lying in the shade of the water reservoir and a female on the other side of the road lying under a tree. The male was almost impossible to see until an elephant came to the reservoir to drink and chased the male lion (which was great for us). The lion then was forced to get up and came to the water trough to drink instead and we had a great view of him.  By this point we suddenly noticed the female had vanished from her spot and some impala and wildebeest were trying to come to the water to drink – until they noticed the male lion.

Interspersed with this a black backed jackal had appeared – checked out the male lion in the shade and then gone to the water trough to drink. The elephant also continued to drink from the reservoir (and probably spent 15-20 minutes drinking). Just when we thought the action couldn’t continue, some vultures arrived as well and then suddenly out of the bush walk another 2 male lions and come to the water trough to drink and the other male lion joins them for another drink as well. As we were 15 kms from the camp and it was 6:10pm we figured we had better drive back otherwise we wouldn’t make the closing time for the gate. A brief stop for another hyena on the side of the road was all we made (except for a few quick shots of the beautiful bushveld sunset and the almost ‘super’ moon rising). It was just on 6:30pm when we drove back in and the gate official had already closed one half of the gate by this point. She didn’t look impressed with us sneaking in at that time (though there were still a few cars behind us too). It was a great afternoon and Helen and I were particularly pleased that the kids saw such a great lion sighting eventually.

Champagne for the 25th anniversary toast and then a braai for dinner.  Michael kindly did the whole braai from lighting through to the cooking. It was a nice way to round out the day.

Until tomorrow

H (because after this morning she deserves first and also having put up with me for 25 years), P, M (for his braaiing tonight), D (because he washed the dishes tonight), S & C.

Satara Day 1

I was pretty tired last night (entertaining the kids took it out of me it seems) and so that is why no blog last night. Just didn’t have the energy to do it last night. Not that it was a particularly busy day. We did our usual morning drive (though it took some effort to get the 4 young ones up so we could leave at 5:30am). We went down to the N’wanetsi picnic & viewing site. Unfortunately for the kids we only saw hyena (no other predators) on the drive.  It was overcast and raining slightly on the drive which should be good for seeing predators but the weather conditions didn’t help us.

We spent the day chilling in the camp. All the kids went back to sleep except Daniel when we got back and they slept to around midday.  Stephen and I went for a quick midday drive to the nearby dam (Nsemani) where we saw a few birds and some wildlife drinking but again nothing special.

Chloe opted out of the evening drive but the rest of us went however, we again, unfortunately saw nothing special. There are a lot of zebra & wildebeest around so you would hope that some predators might be around but if they were, they weren’t to be seen.  The book we own says that 80% of the wildebeest and 40% of the zebra in the KNP are found between the Letaba and Sabie Rivers (which is why we are seeing so much of those two in particular).

Steak and wors for dinner along with baby butternut, sweet potatoes, gem squash & potatoes all done on the braai. The red wine also seems to be going down a whole lot quicker suddenly … no doubt Stephen and Daniel contributing to that. It has actually been much cooler over the last few days (or at least feels like it). The overcast conditions have clearly helped too.

Until tomorrow

P, H, S, M, C & D

Shingwedzi to Satara

Another long drive today from Shingwedzi down to Satara (about 170kms). We decided to set out earlier rather than later so that we could get the majority of the drive done in the cooler part of the day. We woke up at 5am and were on the road at around 5:45am. At the junction of the road running from the camp with the north/south road were a clan of hyena (or a cackle of hyena). They had cubs which were still suckling and the mothers were lying down so they could do that. It was the first of three separate sightings of hyena this morning.  The next two sightings were all with them running up the road (heading north) like they were all heading to a hyena convention. The second sighting also had a cub with her.

Until we got close to Mopani, they were the most significant sightings we had. Just before we got to Mopani though we saw a herd of Eland. There are only 460 Eland in the KNP which again makes them harder to see than lion or leopard. It has probably been 5 years (at least) since we last saw them. What makes it even more difficult to see Eland is that they do not need to drink water and so are often not near waterholes and since the roads run past the waterholes, dams and rivers, it means that are often not near the roads either.

We stopped at Mopani for breakfast and did some birding over the dam again. Pretty much the same time we arrived, another couple arrived. It was clear they were serious birders when they just walked up and started sprouting bird names of things they saw (mostly without the use of binoculars – not only good birders but good eyesight too!). Only difficult was that they were doing so in Afrikaans and so Helen switched the birding app we have into Afrikaans so we could at least figure out what they were looking at.  The best sighting was a Western Osprey (a lifer for us) which is pretty rare (they reckon less than 500 birds in Southern Africa).

On the road between Mopani and Letaba we added another lifer (Temminck’s Courser) and also saw a Roan Antelope. Those are the most rare animal to see in the KNP as there are only 90 (cheetah and wild dog are 120 each). So this means we have now seen the three most rare things you can see in the KNP on this trip.  As we were approaching Mopani, the rest of our family (our kids + Daniel our nephew) were taking off from Cape Town to fly into Skukuza.

We did a quick stop at Letaba and then headed on towards Satara. On that section of the road the traffic increased significantly but so also did the game viewing.  It is open savannah grassland and you can easily see herds of buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and impala all grazing. These all make good food for lion and leopard and so it is also a great stretch of road to see predators on as well. It was clear that many people were trying to do that despite it being the middle of the day and it was very hot at around 33 degrees.  As we were driving along and noticed a leopard in the middle of the road. It just walked across the road, used the side of the road as a toilet and then walked off into the bush. Another great sighting and despite all the cars behind us, I think only use and 2 other cars actually saw it before we vanished out of sight. It reminded us how a few seconds makes the difference between seeing something or not.

We arrived at Satara at about the same time the kids had arrived in Skukuza. They got their rental car, went to get some food at Skukuza and then headed up to Satara (which is a 3-hour drive). Helen and I got our accommodation (3 bedroom house) and went to have some lunch and just relax until they arrived. They got in just before 5pm. They didn’t see any predators on the way up but did see elephant & buffalo so at least they have covered off two of the Big Five so far.

It was great having them here to start the fire this evening and help with the braai.

Until tomorrow

P, H, M (because he did most of the braai), S (because he washed the dishes), C (because she helped H with the vegetables) & D (because he mainly hung in the hammock)

Shingwedzi Day 2

We didn’t have high expectations after yesterday as we could not possibly see how we could have had another day like yesterday. As far as game & bird viewing were concerned we were right. It was very much a low-key day but then we also didn’t spend much time out game viewing today but spent more time in the camp.

Helen wanted to get another run in and she did that before we headed out this morning. That meant we left a little later than usual (probably around 6am).  We decided to do the same route as yesterday but exit out of the loop earlier (there are two places you can do that). We saw a reasonable amount of game and bird life but much of what we had seen previously. On the birding front we only managed to add two new birds in the morning.

We stopped for our morning coffee at one of the pull off spots around the dry river bed. There is very little water up here despite it being the rainy season. In fact, the Kanniedood Dam (which translated into English means Can’t Die) is Dood. Not a drop of water in it.  I never said it yesterday but that’s what makes the bird hide a little superfluous except to spot leopard (it seems). However, I digress. The point of me mentioning morning coffee was that we had just made our coffees (we travel prepared … I have Aeropress … google it if necessary) when a foreigner pulled up and asked what we saw.  We politely told him we were just having coffee and he wished us well drinking our coffee and pulled off.  Not 30 seconds later I see something walking across the riverbed, pull our my binoculars and sure enough – hyena. But that plus the 2 new birds for the trip were the highlight of the morning drive.

Helen tried out the pool facilities which were needed by midday when the sun was beating down. It got up to 37 degrees today (the hottest day so far for us). In the sun it is oppressively hot. In the shade it is just very hot.

We went out for a late afternoon drive at 5pm and it was still showing 36 degrees at that point. The highlight of the evening drive was seeing a Giant (Verreaux) Eagle Owl. We have seen them before but Helen and I had remarked earlier in the trip that we hadn’t seen one recently.  It was also the first owl we had seen this trip (we have been trying desperately see one but with no joy until now). Helen spotted it in a tree alongside the river and given it was on my side of the road I will have to promote her tonight on the blog side off.

Dinner was a steak salad (3rd time in the last 8 days!). Steak was perfectly cooked again (especially for you Stephen).

Until tomorrow … (a few extras are joining us)

H & P

PS: Picture of leopard from 2 days ago and cheetah from yesterday (just downloaded my photos from my decent camera) but the other picture is from just outside Shingwedzi as we drove back in tonight.


Shingwedzi Day 1

We have a book called Kruger Park Drives (recently published) and it rates each of the roads in the KNP. The road we planned to take this AM was rated 5-stars. And they were spot on.  We headed north toward Punda Maria and then took the dirt road (S56) that runs along the river (though only patches of water). The game was consistently spread over the course of the travel north. It started with the usual game but after about 10kms we took a slight bend and sitting right on the side of the road I saw a lioness.  We watched her for about 20 minutes as she got up, walked across the road, settled down again, got up walked further etc. It was clear she wasn’t going anywhere soon so we eventually left her.  Less than a kilometer down the road Helen said ‘Stop, reverse’ which I dutifully did and she cried leopard. It wasn’t a leopard actually but I forgave her because it was 3 cheetah in the river bed.  Not a bad start for the day.

We stopped for morning coffee at a picnic site and then turned back south toward Shingwedzi again. The terrain is more open with plains away from the river.  We saw 3 Tsessebe shortly after we turned south on these plains.  The most recent census showed that there are only 220 in the KNP. That is about an 1/8th of the number of lions and an 1/5th of leopard.  That’s just so you appreciate how rare sightings in the KNP are of Tsessebe.

We did also see a lot of buffalo on the drive this AM. I was just remarking on how big they are and how incredible it is that a lion can take one down when mid-sentence I stopped to cry ‘Lion’.  I reversed quickly but the one I saw has vanished and Helen hadn’t seen it! There was a ridge and it was walking along the ridge line. As I pulled forward we saw it again and then suddenly another 6 appeared as well. We spent another 10-15 minutes watching them until other cars came and then majority of the lions had gone over the ridge.  That just made it a ridiculous morning. Especially when you also add in that we saw an elephant shrew on the side of the road (after we had stopped to identify a bird) and a leopard tortoise walking across the road (two of the Small 5).

When it came time for the evening drive we had low expectations because we (a) had seen so much in the morning and (b) haven’t had great evening drives so far because it is still so hot. We decided just to drive down to the Kanniedood dam & bird hide. When Helen and I came to KNP before we had kids (about 23 years ago now!), Helen twice spotted leopard on that road and so we figured we should try again. While there was quite a lot of game scattered on the way to the hide, we didn’t see leopard. Helen wasn’t keen to get out at the hide as she said it was too exposed but I coaxed her out. We got into the hide and before I even had time to put my binoculars to my eyes, I saw a leopard walking out of the riverbed heading straight for the bird hide. Helen and I agreed best to get back to the car while we could still and so made a dash back. Of course Helen said ‘I told you I had a bad feeling’. We did unfortunately not see the leopard again.

This morning the lady in the shop asked whether we had seen the Wild Dog. They had been at the back gate of the camp but unfortunately we went out the front gate so we missed them. Turned out they too hadn’t traveled very far as they were lounging around in one of the pull-off spots on the road. There are only an estimated 120 wild dog in Park. Given there were about 10 of them in the pull-off, we almost saw 10% of them.

What an unbelievable day – tsessebe, lion, leopard, cheetah & wild dog! It will be hard to beat that day easily over the next week we are still here.  And what I forgot to say is that we saw another 5 tsessebe on the evening drive.  We are also now at 135 birds for the trip and 3 lifers.

This evening while I was braaiing, Helen shouted and I turned around to see a honey badger climbing the stairs of our hut. I know they can be quite vicious and so she tried to chase it but it simply ignored her (never a good tactic with Helen – I know!).  They can be quite a pest and it simply would not leave.  You had to aggressively chase it before it would leave (and it came back at least twice while we were finishing preparing and then again while we were eating.

Helen almost earned the top spot on the blog after spotting 3 cheetah. However, I think my 2 sets of lion, tsessebe & life-saving leopard spotting still keeps me ahead of her!

Until tomorrow

P & H

Letaba to Shingwedzi

We changed camps today going further north to Shingwedzi which is 108 kms from Letaba. Helen wanted to fit in one more run this week so she decided to do it before we left today. We also figured that leaving early is better than leaving late even though we would probably arrive well before the 2pm check in time. The early mornings are much better for game viewing. We headed out at 6:15am and the temperature was already 27 degrees. It was predicted to rise to 39 today.

The initial part of the game drive out of Letaba camp didn’t yield much but from about 10 km north onwards we were blown away by how much we saw.  Without a doubt the most game we have seen on a drive. I always remembered the road between Letaba and Mopani to not yield much in the way of game but we saw big herds of elephant, buffalo, impala, zebra and wildebeest. We also saw black backed jackal at one the watering holes (along with warthog, zebra, impala, wildebeest and elephant).

The highlight of the morning drive was seeing a large male leopard walking along the side of the road (toward us), crossed over the road in front of us and then continued walking down the side of the road.  As he headed toward a thicket, a grey duiker bolted from under a tree. It surprised Helen and I (because we hadn’t seen the duiker at all) and it seemed to surprise the leopard too. He just continued walking and then eventually settled into another thicket. He was so well disguised that if you were driving past you would never have seen him, yet he was only 5 meters from the road. We stayed for a few more minutes but it looked like he was settled in there for some time. I got some really good photos but I need to download them from my camera (which I will try to do tomorrow).

We stopped at Mopani for breakfast (it was 9am at this point). The view from the restaurant is over the dam. There was a herd of elephant swimming and frolicking (yes hard to believe but they were frolicking) in the water. It was quite entertaining to watch. The drive from Mopani to Shingwedzi yielded the same amount of game as the first part of the route. At one stage we couldn’t go 500 meters without seeing an elephant. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn – stopping briefly for a selfie – while keeping an eye open for the elephant crossing in front of us and behind us (not kidding).

We got to Shingwedzi at 12:30pm and fortunately they gave us our key straightaway so we could unpack and spend the rest of the afternoon resting (Helen got 3 hours sleep in). Simple dinner of spaghetti Bolognese. I’m feeling pretty tired so finishing writing this and then off to sleep!

Until tomorrow

P & H

Letaba Day 3

It was predicted to be the hottest day today since we arrived and it didn’t fail to deliver. Helen went for a run at before 5:30am and it was already well into the 20s at that point.  We went out for a morning game drive at about 6am and by the time we climbed into the car it was 24 degrees already. At one stage today my weather app said 37 degrees but feels like 43 degrees … no kidding! Helen walked outside the hut at one stage and came back in and said “It’s not like walking into an oven out there, it’s like walking into a furnace”. At dinner tonight (after I had braai’d), the sweat was running down my back, front … actually everywhere. Helen said it was even running down her legs. The thunder clouds had built up this afternoon and we thought we would get some rain as relief but in the end they dissipated and no relief gained.

The morning drive reinstated our belief that the animals and birds hadn’t vacated the Kruger Park. We headed north following the Letaba River and then continued to follow the river on a road leading to Mingerhout Dam. We had been led to believe the road in that direction wouldn’t be too productive but it turned out to be the best morning drive since staying at Letaba.  We saw hyena and two of the Big 5 – elephant (a massive heard) and buffalo (and a lot of other standard game). Unfortunately it turned out to be a no-predator drive (and day) again.  However, we did see a Greater Painted Snipe (in fact we saw 4 of them).  They are very rare birds and near-threatened. A lot of longstanding birders probably have never seen them. They are definitely harder to see than lions, leopard and cheetah. And we had a great view of them and even managed to get some photos (they were that close). That sighting alone would have made the morning drive for us.

By the time we got back to the camp (before 9am) it was already 29 degrees. We had no plans to do anything but stay in the air-conditioned hut.  Well maybe that’s not entirely true – I had plans to watch the cricket and fortunately the cellphone reception is that good I could stream it live without any issue at all. Helen went to the river for some bird watching at one point but the cricket trumped that for me.  She did see a few trippers but I am sure I can catch those up in the next 8 days still.  In fact during the evening drive we saw one of them. We are now at 123 birds for the trip (Helen probably has a few more).

We did do an evening drive but it was pretty fruitless (except added 3 trip birds). We have come to the conclusion that it is just too hot still during the evening game drives. The morning drives are the best for both animals and birding.

Braai (chicken wings and vegetables) for dinner (with sweating pouring off me while I did it!) and then as quickly as possible back into the hut with the aircon on!

Until tomorrow …

P & H

Letaba Day 2

We decided today to drive down to Olifants and breakfast there. The dirt road down follows the river all the way to Olifants.  Unfortunately the game was not co-operating this morning (or for that matter the whole day).  We saw very little and in fact concluded the day with having seen only one of the Big 5 – buffalo.  It is not often that I can remember a day in the Kruger Park without seeing an elephant.

We did enjoy a nice breakfast at Olifants camp at the restaurant before heading back up to Letaba. We took the tar road back (the shortest route) and unfortunately didn’t see much on that road either.  We did add a few birds to the trip list but even those were not significant. We are now at 110 birds for the trip (not bad after 4 days).

By the time we got back to Letaba the temperature was almost 30 degrees already (and that was before 10am). We spent the remainder of the day in the camp – reading, watching movies etc but all within the confines of the air-conditioned hut.  Every time you ventured out it felt like you were opening the oven door while the Sunday roast was cooking. Helen remarked that it was so hot that we managed to defrost the steak for dinner today in the fridge! We did venture around the camp again and were blown away by the one set of campers (see photo).  It was like a mini house and even included a car port and DSTV satellite dish.

We went out late afternoon for a brief drive but quite honestly had low expectations of seeing anything.  It was 35 degrees at 5pm and no self-respecting animal would be trying to do anything in that heat.  We did watch a baby hippo playing in the water though at one dam.  It was very entertaining.  He/she would get out of the water then run back in with a big splash, would jump on his/her mother and then over her and then back out again. It was like a hyperactive kid. We have never seen anything like it before and it was hugely amusing and entertaining. Probably the highlight of the day.

Dinner tonight was a repeat of our first nights supper – Steak Salad. Once again perfectly cooked steak (medium rare Stephen!) on the braai.

Until tomorrow …

P & H