Our flight was at 13:15 from Nelspruit Kruger airport and so we decided to leave Skukuza via the Malelane gate which meant about 70 kms of driving in the Kruger Park. It was our last opportunity for game viewing. We left at about 7am but it was already quite warm (25 degrees C) and game viewing was quite sparse until we got further south. While the game viewing did pick up, what also picked up was the amount of cars and private game viewing operators. We stopped at Afsaal (midway between Skukuza and the exit gate) and Helen counted 24 game vehicles parked there! It is quite incredible how they dominate the whole southern part of the Kruger.
We did see about 10 white rhino on the drive down and one sighting of them at a waterhole and it was just us present for that sighting. We also saw a buck in the tree which a leopard had put there. We couldn’t see the leopard – it was further back in the bush and our view was obscured by the multiple private game trucks in front of us. You edge forward, they edge forward. It is very irritating and reminded us why we so much prefer the north of the Kruger where you see no private game vehicles at all. We did add a few more birds to the trip list which brought our final total to 152 birds with 4 lifers.
We exited the park at around 10:30am and arrived at the airport about an hour later. Checked-in, Wimpy for lunch and then onto our flight which left on time and we arrived on time into Cape Town as well.
We had a fantastic time and it was very relaxing. We have already started to think about ‘next time’ and where we would go and how long we will spend! Highlights of the trip for me:
Helen’s cheetah sighting – still have no idea how she saw it!
Bird of the trip – White Stork (we saw so many!)
Lifer of the trip – Long-crested Eagle (we could ID it through it’s call in flight and we got a good look at it)
Best camp – Shingwedzi
Best meal – Steak salad (did I mention how good that steak was?)
160 km to travel and it was predicted to get to 36 degrees C so we decided to head out early. We left by just after 6am. About 5 kms outside Letaba our 3 day elephant curse was finally broken and the rest of the day yielded 100s of elephants (literally). They must have gone on a conference or something and came back today. We saw a reasonable amount of game and birds from Letaba to Satara when it was still relatively cool (we classify anything under 25 degrees C as cool). Some interesting sightings like a warthog family (mom, dad and 6 youngsters), a field full of maribou and white storks (no idea why they were altogether and nowhere near water – must have been 100 or more) etc.
The most interesting thing we witnessed was a KNP helicopter trying to chase a giraffe. The giraffe had gotten itself stuck on an island in the middle of the Letaba river. It was apparently there for 3 days already and they were trying to use the helicopter to scare it off the island across the river and onto the bank. But even though they got very close to the giraffe it wasn’t going to be forced across the river. They even tried shooting into the bank to try to scare it and that didn’t work either. Eventually they landed the helicopter and were obviously going to try something else. We guess that if it didn’t get off soon it would start to die from starvation as there was definitely no food for it on the small sandbank it found itself on. What I did find amusing was the Section Ranger from the region had his dog along for the trip. You can see he was well trained though!
We stopped at Satara for breakfast and then at Tshokwane to use the bathrooms and buy some drinks. Helen saw the notice about the coffee availability … one of those classic signs! We then drove to Skukuza and arrived at 1:15pm and fortunately were able to get into our hut immediately. It has a beautiful view over the river and while neither Helen nor I generally like Skukuza (it is very big and busy), this accommodation might be worth repeating.
We only added one new bird to the trip list today (taking us to 150 birds) and we only added Grey Duiker to the animals list (which we saw from the bench in front of our hut at Skukuza!). The drive from Tshokwane to Skukuza was particularly poor – we hardly saw any game as I think it was just too hot already at that point (33 degrees C).
We had dinner at the Cattle Baron at Skukuza (moved our anniversary dinner until tonight). That was a good decision. The food was good and it was a beautiful evening to sit outside. It has struck us that above Satara you don’t find any tourists – all the visitors are South African – but below Satara the majority of the people seem to be foreigners. Besides the ranger at one table with his guests, Helen and I reckon we were the only locals at the restaurant tonight.
Unfortunately only tomorrow AM left of our 2 weeks …
We had elected to spend 4 nights at Letaba because it was Helen and my favourite camp. You might notice I used the past tense in that sentence. While Letaba remains one of our favourite camps, Helen and I think Shingwedzi has now clearly surpassed it. One of the reasons is that the game viewing has not been great. We have had 2 full days in which we did not see any of the big 5 – not even one elephant. For those of you who have been to Letaba you might know that the area is known for its large tuskers but they were nowhere to be seen. The whole of Monday and Tuesday was pretty much limited to birding. Helen said yesterday evening “I’ve given up looking for game, I’m now only looking for birds”. The birding has been excellent though. We are now up to 149 birds for the trip and we added another lifer today – Long-crested Eagle – which takes my lifers to 437.
The other reason that Letaba has gone down on our list is the quantity of insects we seem to attract especially at night when we are eating. The light on the balcony seems to pull them in and by the end of the evening the floor is crawling with them. We moved the table last night to try to mitigate against the insects – it did help but still not enough.
We did finally have a good sighting of a cheetah this morning. It walked along the road for almost a kilometer. It was marking out its territory as it stopped on a no-entry sign and urinated against that and then it crossed the road and headed off into the bush. We got some good shots with my proper camera so the one you see here was just a quick iPhone snap.
It has been a relaxing time though at Letaba. We have generally done a morning drive and then a short evening drive. Today though we decided to skip the evening drive as we have a long-drive tomorrow. The evening drives have also generally been less fruitful as it is quite hot still. For instance at the moment it is still well over 30 degrees and it is 5:45pm.
Today is actually a special day for us though the children all seem to have forgotten that they might not have been in existence if it hadn’t been for this day 26 years ago. I’ve spent the afternoon revising my will and watching cricket.
Helen and I have remarked on how many bushbuck there are in the Letaba camp. The place is almost overrun with them. I actually said that they surely need to remove some of them as there is over-population happening. Then this afternoon, sure enough the rangers are around darting the bushbuck and loading them into the back of the bakkie. The tranquilizer takes about 10 minutes to take full effect. The ranger said if he shot one of us with it, it would be fatal. He said it would be seconds before we were out and we would die shortly afterwards … reminder not to stand near the bushbuck in the camp when they’re darting them! The ranger said that there isn’t actually enough food in the camp for them and one was in very poor condition so they had to put it down. They take them and release them far from the camp. Helen asked whether they could adapt being out of the safety of the camp and he said their instincts were undiminished. They only removed ones that weren’t suckling young. They were very gentle with the buck and held their heads up to ensure they didn’t damage themselves in any way before putting them into the bakkie. It was quite an interesting discussion and thing to watch.
It rained most of last night and at times quite heavily. It must have somehow affected the electricity at the camp as it tripped out a number of times during the night (we know because the aircon went off and on each time). When I woke and ventured out the water was making mini-dams inside the camp. It clearly had rained quite a lot and as the soil is pretty hard, it wasn’t soaking in at all. It made us wonder what the rivers were going to look like.
The original plan was to have a quick morning drive and then come back for breakfast, pack up and head for Letaba. However, Helen groaned half-asleep that she wanted to sleep more and skip the morning drive especially as it was still raining. So we did just that. We had a leisurely breakfast and eventually left the camp at around 9am. We had decided to drive the dirt road along the Shingwedzi river as we had plenty of time to get to Letaba (check in is only at 2pm). It was probably one the nicest drives we have done in the Kruger. The game was plentiful and the terrain is absolutely beautiful. It is the road that lies the furthest to the east in the Kruger and basically runs along the Mozambique border. We didn’t see in predators but we saw tons of other animals and birds. Our bird list is up to 137 species now.
There is also a bird hide on the road which, the author in a book we own on the Kruger roads, said is worth spending an hour at. He was right. The birding was very good and we added a number of new birds for the trip while sitting there. We had been there about 10 minutes when we heard voices. Helen and I couldn’t believe it. You’re in the middle of nowhere (nearest camp was probably 50 kms away) and right next to the Mozambique border. When we got out of the car at the hide there was a big sign up saying you should report poachers and the telephone was displayed who to call. The first thought through our minds was poachers. The second was illegal immigrants from Mozambique. Neither filled us with joy and so we high-tailed it back to the car. Just as we got into the car, two men appeared in army uniforms with rifles slung over their shoulders. They waved and greeted us. Phew … SA Army or anti-poaching! It really did make us wonder where they came from and how they got there in the first place until we were about 1km down the road and came across their bakkie parked in the bush. Our heart rates had declined to normal levels by that point. I was having thoughts of being hijacked by poachers and Helen and I having to spend nights in the hide waiting for someone to find us!
We stopped at Mopani for lunch as we both felt like toasted sandwiches and then we were back on the road to Letaba (which was still 47 kms away). The dirt road took us longer to drive than expected because of the amount of wildlife and the beauty. It was also very muddy and slippery in places so I had to drive cautiously at times. The rain had also caused rivers to flow where there weren’t rivers before and some of the causeways we crossed were under water as well. But we weren’t complaining because it was relatively cool (so much so that we had jerseys on – 22 degrees C) and it was a really enjoyable drive (have I said that before?).
About 10 kms from Letaba a leopard just appeared in front of the car. It came from my side (right side) and I called out ‘Oh my word’ and Helen replied ‘What?’ and I said ‘Leopard’ and she said ‘Where?’ and I said ‘in the road right in front of us’. She was admittedly looking intently out the left side that she just didn’t think to look in the middle of the road. It was incredible timing as the leopard (without any concern for us at all), just ambled over the road and wandered off into the bush. A minute later we wouldn’t have seen it. A minute earlier we wouldn’t have seen it. But God’s timing is perfect and we saw it!
The drive wasn’t finished rewarding us yet as about a kilometer before Letaba we also had a really good sighting of a caracal. They are nocturnal and so generally not seen during the day but we again had an excellent view of it before it headed into the bushes. We spent the balance of the day in the camp and just relaxed. We could hardly beat that day for excitement and interest!
We had three nights at Shingwedzi and after the first evening drive of seeing the 4 cheetah we remembered why we like it so much. There is significant game around the camp and the drives along the river always seem to yield a variety that you just don’t see elsewhere. There are also very few people so you are often by yourself at sightings.
The last 2 mornings we have driven on the road heading north to Punda Maria also along the river. Both mornings did not disappoint. The drive was filled with game and birds. On the first morning we saw hyena (only predator) but we did see tssebee and nyala both of which are quite rare in the park. There are only roughly 300 nyala in the KNP (and only 120 cheetah by the way) so they are generally pretty hard to see. There was also an interesting sighting of numerous white-backed vultures (even a Sanparks research team had stopped to watch those). On the 2nd morning we saw Eland (there are only 460 of those in the KNP and generally only found in the north).
Helen moans at me if I don’t pull into every pull off that runs along the river as she says she might miss something if I don’t so I have been dutifully doing that for each drive we do. As I did that yesterday on one occasion, Helen and both simultaneously saw a lion in the riverbed. It turned out to be 4 lions (one young male with 3 females). We watched them for about 30 minutes and no other cars joined us. They were active in that they went up the river bank, lay up there for a while and then came down again, lay on top of each other, got up walked a bit further, checked us out intently etc. Eventually they got up and walked into, under and behind a large tree and you could no longer see them at all. If you were driving past then you would not know that there were 4 lions there. It made us wonder how often we drive past lion, leopard etc.
Last year when we stayed at Shingwedzi, a honey badger came visiting at night and the same thing happened again the first 2 evenings. They are pretty aggressive and feisty and have been known to attack lion even. They are pretty much unkillable as they even have an immune system that can handle almost all snake venom. It came right onto our patio and I was able to take a photo of it though it was growling at me. It then did run away when it realised I was not going to feed it (or become food for it!). We have also had a squirrel visit us and a red-billed hornbill keeps coming and pecking at its reflection in the microwave glass!
It wasn’t a great day for birding yesterday but we did see Great White Pelicans (which I don’t remember seeing in the KNP before) so that was a pretty unique sighting. We are now up to 128 birds for the trip.
In between our game drives we have maybe to do a lot of relaxing. Helen has managed to get in some runs (she ran yesterday morning after we got back and it was 30 degrees then). We, like most people, have braaied most nights but we have kept it quite simple and eaten pretty healthily (steak salad twice so far and yesterdays steak salad was probably the best steak I have eaten in years).
Until tomorrow (or later today depending on my energy levels to blog!)
We woke early so that we could set off by no later than 6am as we were driving from Olifants to Shingwedzi. We figured it was better to get as much of the drive in as possible before it became to hot as it was predicted to hit 37 degrees C again. It was still relatively cool at 22 degrees C when we left Olifants. The terrain is mainly Mopani trees/bushes between Olifants and Letaba and that is attractive to elephants but not a lot else. It has been measured that more than 50% of the elephants in the Kruger Park reside between Olifants and Shingwedzi and there are 12 000 elephants in the KNP. Our sightings matched the statistics as we reckon we saw more elephant on the drive to Shingwedzi than we had the other 5 days so far in the park.
We stopped at Mopani for breakfast (we got there at around 8:30am). The view from the restaurant is over the dam. It is a beautiful view with elephants having a morning bath and numerous birds around (including some right in the building – that’s a barn swallow in its nest in the photo). The staff at the restaurant are also very friendly and so it makes for a pleasant stop. We were on the road again at around 9:45am but unfortunately the temperature was already into the 30s by that point and so while we did see some game, most of the animals were also looking for a place to shelter from the heat of the day.
We arrived at Shingwedzi at 12pm and unfortunately our accommodation wasn’t available yet as they were still cleaning it. So we decided to have ‘lunch’ at the restaurant. Helen had a lime milkshake and I had a waffle & ice cream. Healthy lunch as you can see! We were able to get into the hut at 1pm and so we relaxed for the balance of the heat of the afternoon.
We decided to go for a short drive at 5pm before the gates closed. There are numerous loops and roads around the camp and we did our favourite one that runs along the river. The river is not really flowing but there are patches of water (enough for hippos even). The bush is very lush around the river and the game seem to like it too as the drive was just teaming with game. Giraffe, waterbuck, impala were seen in abundance. The drive brings good memories for us because last year we twice saw leopard on the drive and in previous trips we have also seen leopard on that road regularly.
We usually turn around and head back at a particular point. Just before that point Helen asked me to reverse as she thought she saw something but it might just have been logs. So I dutifully reserved about 100 meters and I saw what she saw and thought ‘yes logs’ and then Helen looked through the binoculars and said ‘cheetah’. And sure enough, when I looked, cheetah! An incredible spot as there were at least 100 meters into the bush. There was a road with a no entry sign on it and so we drove down until I was right next to the no entry sign (being law-abiding) and watched the four cheetah for about 20 minutes. Other cars drove right past and despite Helen and I trying to get their attention to show them the cheetah, they either ignored us or didn’t see us. It reminded us again why we so like Shingwedzi camp.
We have also added substantially to our bird trip list as we are now up to 123 birds for the trip including 4 lifers (which takes my tally to 436). We saw a lifer on our last drive around Olifants on Wednesday evening (Little Stint). We also have maintained our record of seeing one of the Big 5 every day since we have been here. In fact most days we have seen two of the Big 5 as we have generally seen buffalo and elephant everyday.
Until tomorrow (or when I feel like blogging again!)
We are staying at Olifants Rest Camp for 3 nights. It probably has the best view of any camp in the Kruger Park but unfortunately the game viewing around the camp isn’t great. I last stayed here with Michael in October 2017 and we had the same experience. On all the drives we have done so far (morning and evening) we have only seen hyena by way of predators (and we did see hyena during both morning game drives). We have seen at least one of the big 5 every day since we arrived except so far we haven’t seen one this morning (but hopefully we will shortly when we go out this evening).
We have added to our trip birding list and are now up to 103 which is pretty good for 4 days. I have also added 2 more lifers (Spotted Flycatcher & Dusky Lark) while staying at Olifants. That takes me to 435 lifers now. Interestingly, we have seen 4 lifers this trip and 3 of them have been while we were in the camp. We saw the Spotted Flycatcher while sitting on the veranda of our hut this morning! In fact, without moving from the veranda we have seen bushbuck, baboon, waterbuck, elephant, crocodile, giraffe and impala.
We haven’t really felt we have needed to move much from the veranda or hut actually. Currently the temperature is 37 degrees C (3:45pm) and yesterday it was the same. My app says ‘Feels like 40’ … that’s pretty accurate. We also have the noisiest air-conditioner known to mankind. It rattles, shakes, stutters … you name it, it does it. It generally only starts doing that at around 9pm just when you’re thinking about going to sleep. Right now it is purring but past that 9pm mark and it changes its demeanor. Last night I woke up suddenly thinking we had been caught in the middle of a war, only to realise it was the aircon clanking its way through the night.
The park is relatively quiet in terms of visitors. It seems the majority of the people visiting currently are foreigners. We seem to be magnets for them too. At Lower Sabie our neighbour (single German man), asked me what the weather prediction was going to be for next few days and then promptly proceeded to tell us his life story. At one point Helen and I thought he was going to pour himself a drink and settle down with us for the evening! He told us that he has stopped bringing his girlfriends to the KNP after doing it twice and having them moan constantly after the spiders, bats etc. He said one year he took the one back to Skukuza airport and told her to make her own way home 🙂
Last night the male of the neighbour species came over and asked what I was braaiing (lamb chops & wors) and then proceeded to tell me he was from Wales (not England – and how much he doesn’t like people confusing Wales and England), how often he comes to SA and then asked me for hints for driving around the Kruger (I’m a good person to ask in that regard). I see he followed my advice this morning (though he did stay out longer than us). I’m sure he will be over again tonight to admire my braaiing skills and check up on what we saw today. I may be kind and offer him some more tips.
Yesterday we spent the majority of the day in the camp. At around 4:30pm we headed out for an evening games drive. We didn’t see a lot of game but did find a hippo in a puddle of water right on the side of the road. It was barely big enough for it and it definitely had a monopoly on it. It was obviously too lazy to wander back to the river after it had been eating overnight. We saw no predators but did see elephant drinking from the Sabie River just as we were about to get back into the camp.
The wind was still blowing quite strongly but fortunately it finally started to subside around the time I started making the braai. Helen went for a run to keep her Discovery points up while I got the braai going. The temperature was around 26 degrees and with the wind blowing it felt much cooler so really not bad conditions to run in. Braai of chicken wings and boerewors (with mushrooms also done on braai), melon and salad.
This morning we woke slightly later (I woke up at 5:30am and Helen at 6am), had breakfast and then packed up as we were heading up to Olifants which was just over 120 kms away. We left Lower Sabie just after 7am. The drive up to Tsokwane was pretty quite game wise but enough to keep us interested. It was still relatively cool at around 22-23 degrees C most of that part of the drive. The wind has unfortunately picked up again which meant only one of us could have our window at a time otherwise we felt like we would blow out of window.
Quick stop at Tsokwane picnic spot for a coffee and then up to Satara. Again no significant sightings on that road except quite a lot of elephants including a very large herd (or possibly two herds) swimming in one of the dams and fighting a lot. I will post the video on our instagram feed again if you want to see what I’m talking about. A stop at Satara for an ice cream and then back in the car again heading up to Olifants.
Just outside Satara we saw a male giraffe very interested in a younger female. He kept following her around but she was not interested in doing the deed though and kept walking off. It clearly was mating day as we did witness two bateleurs mating earlier in the drive. We did see two lionesses under a tree but as it was now around 30 degrees C they weren’t doing anything and so we didn’t stay long.
We got to Olifants at 2pm (just when check in opens) so we timed it perfectly. We have had a late lunch and now just sitting at our hut looking over the Olifants river. As we sit here we can see giraffe, hippo (some in the river and some out), waterbuck, white stork, egret and a black kite keeps flying past at eye level. Besides being a little buffeted by the wind, this is as close to heaven for us both!
Helen and I so enjoyed last years’ 2 weeks in the Kruger Park that we decided to repeat it again this year. It set the year up so well for us and we are trusting it does the same for 2019!
We left yesterday morning at 10am to fly into Nelspruit Kruger airport. We arrived 30 minutes early (strong tail winds) and had our car and were out of the airport before we were originally meant to land. We headed to Malelane to do some grocery shopping (selection inside the park is poor), bought some lunch from Steers and then headed to the Crocodile Bridge gate.
We were surprised by the weather. It was drizzling slightly when we landed. It was humid and warm though (26 degrees C). It remained overcast the whole day and became increasingly windier as the day went (and unfortunately the wind has still not stopped yet). This morning when we woke up it was around 20 degrees but with the wind blowing it actually felt quite chilly. We were also surprised how green everything is up here. They clearly have had significant rain so far this summer.
Last year the drive in from Crocodile Bridge gate to Lower Sabie yielded a lot of game. There was an elephant at the gate and Helen said she would be disappointed not to see one again. Her expectations were set high (and is it turned out they were met and surpassed). Not 5kms from the gate we saw our first lioness relatively close to the road. A little further down the road we found 2 more with one of them VERY close to a herd of impala and zebra. She was down wind and clearly interested in hunting. We probably watched them for close on an hour as we hoped to see them hunt. At one point a warthog family came running past and the other lioness thought it was a take away delivery and came running toward them. They scattered immediately they saw the lioness though. She was not patient enough. The other lioness kept crawling closer and closer to the impala but they did spot her and watched her very carefully.
We eventually moved on and as we drove another few hundred meters the remainder of the pride were heading to join the other 2 and crossed the road right in front of us. I lost count of how many we saw but it was a significant pride. One of the rangers said they believe there are 20 in the pride. What I forgot to say that while we were watching the lion, on the other side of the road we had seen two separate crashes of 3 rhino. 2 of the big 5 within 5 kms of the gate. We also saw Southern Ground Hornbill (one of the birding big 5 and on the endangered list) while we were watching the lions.
About 10 km from the camp we spotted a male leopard walking alongside the road and so we reversed with it and watched it until it headed into a thicket and couldn’t be seen anymore. It was a very good sighting of a leopard walking (and it was walking quickly). Just before we got into the camp we saw elephant and then just 1 km shy of the camp we found another lioness just lying in the middle of the crossroads (causing a traffic jam). The game viewing was quite incredible and by the time we arrived in the camp we had seen a lot of game already including lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu (though only one so far) and baboon.
Mandatory braai for dinner (pork ribs & sausage). We were both exhausted and probably asleep by 9:30pm. We were up at just after 5am and on the road at 5:30am (the gate opens at 4:30am but the sunrise is only 5:20am at the moment). We didn’t see much game this morning (impala, elephant & waterbuck) but we saw a huge amount of birds. The swallows all are sitting on the road and we have seen three different types at one time on the road in front of us. We saw a Red-crested Korhaan doing its call (will try post the video on our instagram).
Just before we got back into the camp we went up to the Sunset Dam which is about a km outside the camp to the north. We added numerous birds to the list and also saw a crocodile with a Carp in its mouth. We watched for a long time (over 30 minutes) hoping to see it eat it but it never did. By 9am we were wanting breakfast and so headed back into the camp. After breakfast we walked around the camp and managed to see numerous (we reckon well over 20) birds including 2 lifers (Trumpeter Hornbill and Greater Southern Collared Sunbird). We have already seen 60 species of birds since we arrived yesterday (in less than 24 hours). To put that into perspective, we only saw 61 species in 6 days in Kglalagadi in June this year!