It rained overnight but it didn’t seem a lot. All the gravel roads are closed though at the moment as they are worried that they are too muddy and people might get stuck. It meant we had to stick to the tar road. We decided to head south and then turn east toward Mozambique. It was still heavily overcast and drizzling lightly so not really ideal birding conditions.
Just after we turned east we saw a pride of lions lying right on the side of the road. It seems that the lions have decided to oblige and stay right on the road for visitors to see them. They were also very curious and would get up to have a look at the cars who wanted to pass them. Lions are often just sleeping and so it made for a nice change to watch them being active.
The rest of the morning drive we saw a reasonable amount of the ‘standard’ wildlife like impala, elephant, giraffe, kudu and waterbuck. We also added numerous birds to our trip list. After our morning drive we were at 75 birds (basically in 2 days in park) and we subsequently added in some more on the evening drive. What has amazed us is the lack of water birds. It seems that the heavy rain has removed them from their usual places in the rivers and dams. We have been wondering where they have gone! The bird life at the dams and rivers is basically non-existent. It seems they must move somewhere else but given they are water birds, where do they go?!
We got back to the camp at around 9am and spent the balance of the day in the camp. It was relatively pleasant weather in that it was mid 20s (C) and at midday it started to also clear up. At 3pm we headed out south for our evening drive. The weather was beautiful and the scenery fantastic. We didn’t see any predators but we still enjoyed the tranquility of the drive.
We had our first braai tonight as well. The weather hasn’t really enabled us to braai until tonight. We had boerewors and lamb ribs with gem squash and potato (also done in the braai) and mushrooms. A lovely way to finish off the day.
Big thunderstorm overnight and we woke up to a wet Kruger Park and very overcast and relatively cool conditions. We were up at 5:15am and out of the gate shortly after 5:30am. We headed out west and soon into the drive saw lots of wildlife including wildebeest, kudu, warthog, impala, zebra, giraffe and then a cackle of hyena (yes that is the correct collective noun but you can also call them a clan if you’re interested).
The hyena had a stick (more like a branch) and were breaking off pieces of it and eating it. All in the middle of the road. It reminded us why we find the Kruger Park so special. You might have seen the animals many times previously (as we have) but their antics are always interesting. Just this morning we saw two zebra fighting (we couldn’t recall seeing this previously), the hyena eating a thorn tree branch (definitely hadn’t see that before) and two white faced whistling ducks in the middle of the road (nowhere near water). Every time you come here you see something different.
We were a few kms down a dirt road when one of the Sanparks officials came up behind us and flashed their lights and told us that they were closing the dirt roads due to the flooding. We had to turn back (which we did) and so we spent the balance of the day driving only on the tar roads. Hopefully by tomorrow they will start to open some of the dirt roads if it doesn’t rain more tonight.
We got back to camp at around 9am and after breakfast we headed to the shop to buy some wine and beer. For the non-South Africans, we had prohibition until this morning at 10am. As you were even allowed to transport it we had arrived in KNP without any wine or beer. We met most of the rest of the people staying here also buying alcohol in the shop! The rest of the day was just spent resting in the camp (I had a few meetings and calls to make for business unfortunately). We did a walk around the camp and added a few birds onto our trip list.
At 3pm we headed out for our evening drive. We headed north this time knowing it would be out and back on the same road. It was an incredible birding drive. We realised at some point that we stopped looking for game and were just birding only. We saw 2 lifers (Montagu Harrier and Fan-tailed Widowbird) and by the end of the day we had seen 57 unique birds so far since we arrived. Given the weather conditions (overcast, windy and raining) you would not think they are great birding conditions so we are very happy with what we have seen so far,
We are hoping that the weather improves tomorrow (it is meant to still be raining/overcast the whole day). It doesn’t really matter – we are just glad to be here given the circumstances!
The last time I posted a travel blog was 9 February 2020. Who knew at that point that the whole of 2020 would pass by with no further trips! We were meant to have been in Canada in June/July, and then in the Portugal and US in September and again in US in October (for my nephew’s wedding). Us, like everyone else, simply didn’t have any travel in 2020.
However, we are back. 357 days later we are back (finally) in the Kruger Park. This was H’s first flight for last 357 days (I have made some even late in 2020). Airport was quiet. Only 13 people on the plane with us to Hoedspruit. We landed just after midday and saw Impala at the airport while still in the plane.
H got the luggage while I sorted out the car and then we did a quick trip into Hoedspruit to get supplies for next 5 days. After completing that high risk activity we got our traditional lunch of KFC (drive through) and then headed toward Orpen Gate. We stopped roadside to eat the KFC and got to the Orpen gate at about 2:30pm.
Shortly after the gate (within a km!) we saw a rhino and not more than a few hundred meters from that a pride of lions including two (very rare) white lions. They are the white lions of Timbavati. M & O saw them as cubs in Nov 2019 and they are in the Birmingham pride (or so say M&O). It was a fantastic sighting as they were lying under a tree on the corner of two roads. We couldn’t have gotten closer to them.
Not much further down the road we saw elephant so that was 3 of the big 5 within a few kilometers of the gate. We also added a lifer (Lesser Spotted Eagle) on the drive into Satara camp. Add to that impala, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, baboon and it was a pretty good start to the trip. We arrived at the camp just after 5pm. By that time a storm was brewing and while it hasn’t rained as yet, I think it will start later. It was oppressively hot – got up to 37 degrees C at 5pm – so some rain might cool things off. Not that they need rain as there have been floods over the last 2 weeks up here. It is the greenest I have seen the Kruger Park.
It’s 9pm and H is already asleep and I am feeling that I might head that way shortly as well. Fresh air & heat seem to take it out of you!
We headed home today. But first we had our last game drive. From Letaba to Satara (where we would have breakfast) and then from Satara to Orpen gate and out the park and then to the Hoedspruit airport. We decided an early start is better as it would give us plenty of time if we saw something on route and best game viewing (if you haven’t learnt this already!) is in the morning before it gets too hot. It was partly overcast as it had been raining most of the night but the birds were active and we the game was plentiful.
Not more than 15 kms from Letaba a leopard walked out into the road in front of us. Great sighting. It then headed off into the bush and within a minute it was gone. One car behind us barely saw it before it vanished. That car then passed us as they were wanting to drive faster than us. Not much further down the road and we came across another elephant bull in the road.
Yes I know what you’re thinking and yes we were suitably careful. The guy in front realised he couldn’t get past and did a U-turn to drive away. I just put the car in reverse and proceeded backwards. We reversed, the elephant kept coming down the road, reverse some more, elephant came some more. And so it went for about 500 meters. Eventually the elephant got hungry and headed off the road into the bush. But unfortunately not far enough away that we could get past. If you moved forward it turned and looked at you and flapped its ears – basically saying ‘just try’. This went on for 15 minutes. We fortunately had the time. Eventually the guy in front pulled forward slowly and got past. That gave me hope and we did the same. The elephant fortunately didn’t do anything – nice change!
We stopped for morning coffee at a viewpoint over the Olifants River – just reminded us why we love the Kruger so much – and then breakfast at Satara. From Satara we headed west and exited the KNP at the Orpen Gate. 11 days later, 3 pride of lions, 3 leopard, 2 sets of cheetah, 2 sightings of hyena and 1 black backed jackal sighting. Add to that 3 run ins with elephant, more buffalo than we have ever seen and plenty of all the other stuff including three separate sightings of the rare Tssebee buck. We ended the bird list at 141 (slightly short of last years 150 but a few less days than last year as well) and 4 lifers taking my total lifer total to 464 birds.
The flight home was uneventful and on time. We loved our time away but it is (as always) also good to be home again. Back to grindstone tomorrow!
Another day at Letaba, another run in with elephants. H now has a new view of Letaba and it has fallen from second best camp in Kruger now. Not sure we will be able to stay here again soon! We decided to go north (to avoid elephant in south). It rained last night and so we aimed for a slightly later start. It was still heavily overcast though and the bird life was unfortunately non-existent. Shortly after turning off the main tar road onto the dirt loop we saw our first elephant. No problem with the first few we saw actually but then we met a family and the family decided to walk down the road. Again, no issue except that suddenly the very young one needed to have a nap and just lay down in the middle of road and the rest of the family formed a protective curtain around the baby. All that would not be an issue had it not then been for two other elephants in front of us starting to fight and then some of the elephants that were behind us appeared out of the bush basically boxing us in!
Felt a little like a test again. This time I decided to do a U-turn and get out of there as quickly as possible. Made the U-turn without an issue and at least the two fighting ones and the family seem disinterested in us. We just had to then get past the other two (which were behind us) and as we drew level with them the one did a mock charge but fortunately we were basically past him and already toward the safety of another road. We abandoned that road as well which basically meant we only had west left as an option so we did that instead. There is a nice watering hole on that road and so we stopped there for coffee and noticed probably a close to 100 terrapin swimming in one corner. Never seen that ever before. Also a lot of hippo in the dam making a lot of noise. Much safer than elephant charging us and much less stressful watching all that activity rather.
It remained overcast and rainy for much of the day. Fortunately it was much cooler today as a result (still in the high 20 degrees C though). It pelted down with rain at stages today and some impressive thunder at points as well.
We went out again late in the afternoon for a short drive and while we did see a reasonable amount of game and birds, we didn’t see anything new and no predators. Tonight is our last night in the Kruger before we head home tomorrow. It has been an extremely relaxing time (as always). Until last night we had seen at least 2 of the Big 5 on every game drive we did. Last night broke that record and then on this evening’s game drive we didn’t see any of the Big 5. It has been another rewarding game viewing trip though and we still have a reasonable drive tomorrow AM to allow us to add to what we have seen.
It rained overnight and it was still overcast this am. We decided to just go out for a short drive. Our usual is to go to Engelhart Dam on the north side and so that is where we headed. Not far out of camp there was a grouping of cars and on approaching we saw lions. About 4 of them (at least). Not far off the road and somewhat active. We watched them for awhile and then moved on. Birding was very quiet as it was overcast. We saw a reasonable amount of game – impala, waterbuck, elephant etc – as per usual. There is a bird hide on the road to the dam and we stopped there on the way back and added a few birds to the trip list. It was also very peaceful and pleasant in the hide as there was a slight breeze coming into the hide off the water.
We had a baby (H called it a toddler) elephant decide to fake charge us and trumpet at us. More funny than anything. It clearly wasn’t going to do anything about us and was just trying to show off. It ran next to us at a safe distance from the car. The rest of the herd just ignored us and continued eating.
We spent the rest of the day in the camp relaxing, working, watching TV series – all the things that make time in the Kruger worthwhile. It was cooler today (temperature only got up to around 35 C) but it was humid for much of the morning. I sat outside working for a bit and eventually had to come inside the room as the sweat was running down my back.
This evening we decided to head south along the river – H’s choice of route. Not a lot of game around except for a reasonable amount of elephant. Letaba camp is known for it’s elephant and there was even one right at the gate when we left this evening. About 7 km from the camp we came upon a herd of elephant and passed them safely only to come to two elephant fighting about 100 meters on. They were pushing and shoving each other, stamping their feet etc. Only issue was that we needed to get past and we were basically trapped because the herd behind us (not very far behind us either) were now crossing or in road.
I moved forward slowly and eventually gauged that I had sufficient space to drive quickly past the two fighting elephants and get out of the trapped situation I was in. Unfortunately the car we have (Nissan Quashai – piece of rubbish – never think of buying one – hopefully none of you reading this own one!) basically makes a lot of noise but doesn’t actually accelerate (especially when the aircon is on). It soon became evident that the one elephant bull was now more interested in fighting us than the other elephant. This all happened in a few seconds but the elephant started to turn, to come at us but fortunately he had to backtrack out of the bush to turn around and I reckon that is what saved us.
By the time we were level with the elephant he was almost turned around enough to punch a hole in the car with his tusks. The accelerator was flat on the floor board, dust billowing behind us, elephant trumpeting and turning aggressively. I managed to keep as far left as I could possibly do without being off the road. It was so close I could smell the elephant and if I had put my arm outstretched out of the window I could have touched it. No I am not exaggerating. It really was that close. I have had a few run ins with elephants (generally when our son M is driving actually!) but this was by far the closest I have ever had. I would not want to ever get this close again. H was screaming/shrieking/shivering/shaking. We fortunately got past undamaged and alive.
We stopped down the road at the Engelhart dam (south side) and H showed me how she was shaking. It was impressive shaking – almost as impressive as my driving. She said “How on earth are you still able to drive?” … I’ll take that as a compliment! All we wanted to do at that point was get back to the camp – it took us another 30-40 minutes to do that as we certainly weren’t going to do a U-turn! A drink while starting the braai was definitely in order.
It was our last braai tonight (run out of meat). Unfortunately we picked the night to braai with a massive thunderstorm brewing. The clouds were impressive and so was the lightening. Fortunately I managed to burn down the logs and get the lamb chops & chicken wings cooked before the rain came down (it is raining now quite heavily).
Both a relaxing and stressful day … if that is possible!
Today was a fairly long drive of 170 km. We decided to leave at 5:30am as that really is the best time to be out game viewing given the heat. It was already 26 degrees when we left at 5:30am and it eventually rose to 46 degrees at 12:40 today – it was an absolute scorcher!
While yesterday was a good birding day and yet I only managed to add one lifer in Punda Maria region, the good news is that I actually did get two lifers yesterday as we also saw a Brown Necked Parrot (used to be called Grey Headed Parrot – who knows why they changed the name). Even better news was that this morning within an hour of leaving Punda Maria I had added another lifer – Greater Spotted Cuckoo – to the list. What makes it all the more pleasing is that it was not even something I was expecting to see.
By the time we stopped for coffee (which was just after 7am), the temperature was already in the 30 degrees C range and we can already see that the animals were choosing the shade of the trees. While we saw a reasonable amount of game over the balance of the drive, we never saw any predators and we were not surprised given the heat.
We stopped at a waterhole to have some breakfast (in the car) and stopped at Mopani camp to stretch our legs and buy an ice cream (at least for me) and arrived at Letaba at 12:30pm. Check in is only 2pm but usually we are able to get in earlier. They said they were still cleaning the place and we should come back at 1:30pm to get the key so we went to have some lunch at the restaurant that overlooks the Letaba river. Well H didn’t have any lunch unless you consider a Lime Milkshake lunch!
We were pleased to get into our hut and turn the aircon on and stay inside the balance of the afternoon. I need to do some work and speak to some people in the office (it is bonus & salary time) and H was reading and catching up on social media.
It was still well into the 30s C at 7pm tonight and so we skipped a braai and just had some leftovers and some pasta instead. It was a good choice as our neighbour was braaiing with a wet towel around his neck. You seriously don’t know how hot it is. It has been threatening to thunderstorm but so far no rain – hoping it does rain overnight to cool things off a touch – the heat is really oppressive at the moment and doesn’t make for good game viewing.
The intention of coming to Punda Maria was so that we could go to Pafuri to do some birding. There are some birds that are only found in this region and so it is an important place to come to do some birding. We headed out at 5:30am as is our practice. Pafuri is about 50 kms away from Punda Maria so it takes roughly 2 hours to reach (allowing for stops for game viewing). On the way there I did add to my lifer list – Broad-billed Roller – while Helen was overtaking another car!
We were not disappointed in the Pafuri region. The birding was exceptional especially along the river. We were the only people who stopped for coffee at the picnic site and we added a few birds to the trip list while drinking morning coffee. After the coffee, H finally broke her bogey and found an owl. H is slightly obsessed with finding owls when in a game park and we have done a few recently and she hasn’t seen one. This was a particularly impressive spot and I have no idea how she saw it because it (and actually it turned out to be they!) were tucked behind some leaves. Spotted Eagle Owl in case you’re wondering.
Pafuri is where 3 countries meet – SA, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. There is a corner called Crooks Corner. There used to be a beacon at that point and apparently crooks used to flee here when being chased by the authorities. Then they would simply jump over to another country and say to the police they couldn’t come over and arrest them because they were in another country! It was 10am by the time we left the Pafuri region and the temperature was 35 degrees C. We knew it was going to be another scorcher of a day (it did rise to 42 degrees C at 6pm this evening).
Helen described this AMs drive as one of the best we have done. That is despite seeing any predators. The bird and game viewing was excellent though in the Pafuri region even though we didn’t see a predator. It is quite special and definitely something we would like to do again. The only issue is that Punda Maria (a) isn’t a great camp and (b) is relatively far from Pafuri. There is a bushcamp in Pafuri but it has no air-conditioning and at this time of the year that is essential.
We spent the rest of the day in the camp and only went out late afternoon for a very short drive. We think we may have added another lifer on that drive but awaiting confirmation from a birding friend before I will count it. Our trip list is now over 120 birds.
Dinner tonight was surprisingly not a braai – we gave it a 1-day break – and rather had pasta for dinner. We are changing camps again tomorrow and a relatively long drive ahead of us so we are off to bed soon.
We changed camps today as we went from Shingwedzi to Punda Maria. It is only about 70 kms away and as you can only check in at 2pm (usually) we decided to take a slow drive to get there. The problem is that the best game viewing is definitely early morning so we didn’t want to leave too late either. We compromised slightly and got up at 5:30am and packed up and left just after 6am. As our favourite road heads north (the direction we were going) we took that.
Not far in at one of the sections along the river with a reasonable amount of water, we spotted 4 hyena (the spotted hyena variety in case you never got that). A lot was going on so we stopped for our morning coffee and watched them for awhile. There were clearly a few youngsters among them as they were incredibly curious about everything including of the crocodile. They at least were sensible enough to jump back when it moved its tail but it did get annoyed by the harassment and slipped into the water. They also tried to get closer to some Egyptian Geese (and their youngsters) but they just waddle away and also went into the water. It was some good entertainment while we drank our coffee.
We saw quite a bit of other game on that section of the road (as we always do) including numerous birds. We are now over 110 birds for the trip and tomorrow we are heading for Pafuri which is meant to be the best birding in the Kruger. Time will tell!
We did get close to Punda Maria quite early (and well before 2pm) so we decided to do some of the loops that a bird book I own had recommended. They give specific birds on specific routes and sure enough the first one we took said we should White Crested Helmetshrike and that is exactly what we saw. The book is one of the best gifts I have been given by H. It also was the book we used on the recent road trip we did and again it was pretty accurate about what to see on which roads. Once we had finished that first road we still had more time to kill so we headed north to Pafuri with the plan to loop another road back down to Punda Maria (again which was recommended by the book). On the way up, we managed to see two cheetah just lying right next to the road!
We got to Punda Maria at 12:30pm and tried to check in but they said come back at 1:30pm. We went to have some lunch at the restaurant and then the manager came to say it was fine we could check in actually. We still had the lunch though and then got our accommodation. It turns out the place we have is actually outside the camp gates! The manager said exit the camp and turn left and you will see a white house – that is where you are staying. Of course while we were braaiing tonight we could hear a lion roaring! Definitely didn’t sound too far away either. First time I have stayed in the Kruger Park with accommodation outside the main camp gates. Does seem a little surreal.
We did go out for an evening drive. It was 38 degrees C still so not many animals doing too much. The road we took was meant to be excellent for birding but we only managed to add one new bird to our list for the trip. It is incredibly green and lush though around Punda Maria. H says it looks like what she would imagine the Garden of Eden to have been – without the dead trees!
As we had seen the pride of 20 lions at Kanniedood Dam, we thought this AM we should head back there and see if we could see them again and maybe they had killed overnight. So at 5:30am that is the way we headed with the plan to drive the 6 kms quickly, check if we could see them and then head back to our favourite road for the balance of the morning drive. I was driving relatively quickly on a dirt road (but below the speed limit in case you’re wondering!) when I saw a leopard just lying there right on the side of the road. Slammed on anchors and that caused said leopard to get up and wander off into the bush. We got a great sighting though still and could watch it for a few minutes as it walked parallel with the road and then deeper into the bush. So much for driving the road to see the lions – which by the way we never did see.
We then took our favourite road north along the river and we saw tons of game this morning. No more predators but animals and birds aplenty. At the end of today we were over 100 birds and our likely best 2 days of birding are yet to come as we are heading further north tomorrow. Our biggest issue this morning was congestion Kruger style – giraffe on the road! It was overcast this morning and so much cooler for much longer. In fact by the time we got back (which was at around 10am) the temperature had only risen to 26 degrees C. Normally overcast conditions don’t make for good birding but this morning was the exception.
I needed to do some work this AM/early PM (bonus and salary time for my paying job and so that can’t get neglected) and Helen did some reading and then catching up on some sleep. We headed out again at 4:30pm – the temperature had risen to 33 degrees C by that point. While we saw the standard on the evening game drive (buffalo, zebra, giraffe, elephant, impala, waterbuck etc), we saw no predators. I reckon it was just to hot again – in fact in places the temperature was up to 37 degrees C.
Braai again for dinner – lamb ribs & chicken wings with stir fried veg, gem squash and a potato for me. In case you’re wondering why I give what I eat each night – it is especially for one of our readers who complains if I don’t tell her!