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Kruger National Park: 1st camp – Letaba, 2nd camp – Shingwedzi. 3rd camp – Olifants, 4th camp – Satara, 5th camp – Orpen, 6th camp – Skukuza and 7th camp Lower Sabie.

A life time dream was about to be fulfilled as we winged our way over the antarctic ice in a Qantas 747 on the way to Kruger National park via Johannesburg, South Africa.  Twenty-one days in Kruger watching wild animals doing their thing in their natural surroundings!!! Bring it on!

We had an overnight stop close to the airport in Joburg as there was only one flight each day up to Phalaborwa where we intended to enter Kruger park.  Also it would give us a chance to get over ‘jet lag’.  We were picked up from the airport by our accommodation and delivered back to the airport the following morning to catch the daily plane to Phalaborwa.  We also planned a one night stay in Phalaborwa to pick up our hire car, to shop and to further recover from mild jet lag.

Phalaborwa Gate into Kruger Park

 

Phalaborwa Airport

 

Rules & Regulations

Phalaborwa or Kruger airport was a delight – tiny, no waiting in line, unusual toilets and animal sculptures everywhere. you just knew you were close to Kruger National Park.

Our guest house – Llama Guest House  in Essenhout street was central and close to supermarkets and the Kruger gate.  It was very clean & comfortable and included a complimentary bottle of good South African red wine and a fruit basket. The owner was a lovely lady who had lived in Madagascar for many years and moved to Phalaborwa several years ago to avoid unrest but is disillusioned with SA, feeling it is going the same way.  Only in the country two days and already  we had many warnings about keeping our purses and ourselves safe.  We would have to get used to bars on doors and windows and gates with hook wire on top.  We ended the day with a wonderful meal at the Buffalo Restaurant down town. 

It is hard to get a clear idea of what the camps and shops in Kruger are like even from extensive google research. Months before we left I joined a Facebook site called ‘ SANParks – Kruger National Park’. The planning for our trip started about nine months before we hoped to depart. 

We needed to book the camps sites even before we booked flights so we could travel the park in an organised way. The planning was helped immensely by a book I ordered called – Tinkers Kruger Park Guide & Map .  It took three weeks to get here but was really worth the wait.  It had really detailed maps, photographs of wildlife, birds, camp information, the Do’s & Dont’s of Kruger and suggested itineraries.

We booked the campsites on https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger  The site is easy enough to navigate but does take a while to get used to.  You cannot just book one camp site if you have a set itinerary in mind – you need to make sure ALL the other campsites are available for your required  dates and hope by the time you get back to booking them they are still available!  The camp sites fill up very quickly especially the rondavels with ensuite.  You cannot choose a specific one as that is sorted when you arrive at the camp and you cannot check into the camp until 2pm.

Our rondavel at Olifants

 

Mastering the Braai

Not knowing what to expect in the camp shops we stocked up on food and drinks.  And because we knew some camp accommodation did not have basic eating utensils we bought all the essentials to survive – thermos, insulated mugs, plates, knives, forks & spoons plus a chilly bin to keep food in.  I can now confirm that the shops sell most things including a variety of boerewors which must contain at least 90 percent meat in flavours such as garlic, cheese, impala, kudu, lamb etc……  There was not a huge variety of other types of meat.

With our car at the ready and food packed into chilly bins we set forth through the Kruger Gate after a good nights sleep!  The excitement was palpable….what would we see first?  We stopped at the office to go through all the paperwork before we were allowed to drive through the gate.  The young woman behind the counter was less than friendly but we did not care as we were on our way to our amazing adventure.

Not a great pic but the only honey badger we saw!

The very first thing we saw after going through the gates was a honey badger which we discovered later was not a very popular animal in Kruger because of its bad habits and fearsome reputation! But not many people see them as they tend to be nocturnal.  I was not quick enough to get a good photo – I had not got my gear at the ready. One of the best tips for my long lens was to bring a beanbag to rest it on the window.  It worked a treat!

Next we saw lots of Impalas – male, female and young.  They are such curious creatures – not afraid to stare you out.  We were driving very slowly – 20 km per hour. One can drive at 50 km per hour on tar seal and 40 kms on dirt roads. We really had no clue where we should be looking or which area we were likely to see any animals.  It was fun just driving along anticipating……. Suddenly there was a large herd of zebras in front of us on the road.  Every zebra has unique markings – just like our fingerprints.

Early morning at a waterhole
male impala with oxpecker bird!
Impala everywhere
Can stroll or run out on road

 Suddenly we saw some elephants on the road ahead and one large elephant started walking towards us.  Because it was our first elephant encounter we were pretty nervous so we drove slowly past well over to the other side of the road!

Strolling across the road!
Suddenly out of the bushes!

Elephant crossing the road in front of our car!

There were many beautifully coloured birds that we would get very familiar with during our three weeks but we could not name them just yet!  Passing by some water holes we were surprised to see so many dry but learned later that Kruger was very close to declaring a drought in August 2018.

We entered through Phalaborwa gate at 9am and arrived at LETABA Camp at 1pm having driven just 50kms. We were booked in for three nights but were too early for the check in time so went to the cafe and had a coffee and some lunch.  We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of both coffee and food – having had no idea what to expect.

Our rondavel was number 49 – circled in black!

Our rondavel was really quaint – it is a traditional circular African dwelling with a conical thatched roof, two single beds, toilet and shower and a well equipped kitchen.  However, we had to ensure we did not leave any food in sight as the baboons and vervet monkeys would grab and run.  In fact we learned that they could open the fridges easily and as we travelled through the different campsite each had a different way of coping with these naughty monkeys!

Vervet Monkey nicknamed ‘Blue Balls’
This is why they are nicknamed “Blue Balls”
Looking so innocent!
Breastfeeding baboon style!
Watch out for those teeth on the innocent vervet monkeys!!
Sitting happily in the middle of the road!
Where are those fleas?
More teeth – baboon this time!
Co cute but also so clever!
Baboons – mum and baby
Who needs a baby sling?

We sat in the restaurant for a few hours with coffee and drinks gazing at the amazing view over the planes and the Letaba river.  We watched waterbucks grazing and hippos slowly making their way down to the river for their evening frolic in the water.  Amongst the waterbuck were two silver-backed jackals, several Kudu and the odd egret or two drinking from the river.

Sausage fruit – Baboons can eat the sausage fruit . … but unripe fruit is poisonous, especially to humans. Many animals love the sausage tree flower
The warning not to park under this tree as the fruit is very heavy and will cause damage to your car

 

Our rondavel had a braai outside – a uniquely South African cooking tradition and one I hoped to master over the three weeks!  In fact everywhere we stayed we had a braai outside the accommodation just for us. At 6pm when the gates of the campsite were closed for the day we watched flame after flame light up the night sky as everyone lit their braai in readiness for their evening meal.  I watched my neighbours light theirs’ and asked lots of questions until I felt I could master it the following night.  I did notice it seemed to be the domain of the men. A SA friend on Facebook commented that her husband was most impressed with my efforts!!

After a really good nights sleep we were at the gate at 0615 with our drinks, rusks (not baby rusks, they are also like cardboard but some have nuts or fruit in them) and our flask with boiling water, some fruit and some sandwiches for lunch.  Gates open at 0600 and we were by no means the first out!

The first animal we saw was a very innocent looking spotted hyena looking as though he’d had a good night. Next, high on a branch we spotted a martial eagle – we only knew the name because a man stopped to see what we were looking at and informed us.  We learned very quickly that this was what everyone did – if you see a car stopped – stop and ask!

Hyena looking very content!
Spotted hyena & cub

Mother & baby hyena

We drove along by the Letaba river and saw some giraffe and kudu . We then turned into a dirt road and suddenly I looked over at my friend driving and could only see a mass of cream and brown ‘squares’ through the window – a massive giraffe was standing in the side of the road nibbling on the trees and we were so close we could have opened the window and touched it!  We got a fright but we soon got over it when we spotted several giraffe a few meters further on strolling across the road, we sat for ages just admiring the beautiful gentle elegant beasts eating from the tall trees and strolling slowly across the road.

Baby giraffe only few days old
Mother & Baby
So cute
Drinking at waterhole
Learning the skill of neck fighting!
Family of three checking us out!
This give you an idea of the size of a few day old giraffe
This bending down to drink is hard work!
Neck play fighting
Family heading for the waterhole

                                                                            

We stopped at one of the many bird-hides dotted around Kruger, most are situated by rivers. Some hides had plenty of water and were full of life others were dry and deserted. The whole of Kruger was pretty dry and they were close to declaring a drought when we were there. The Matambeni bird-hide  was full of life – large crocodiles, several hippos making honking noises, birds coming and going, kudu wandering down to the water and then an elephant walked right beside the hide down to the water and spent an hour eating and drinking – what a wonderful sight! We could not take our eyes off his beautiful long eyelashes (can be up to 12 cms long!). We also learned that elephants eat and drink between 16- 22 out of the 24 hours of the day and only sleep for up to two hours!!

We drove along the S62 on a very bumpy road to the Longwe Lookout – a sensational view over to the Lebombo Mountains and to Limpopo National Park and the Letaba river.

View down the Letaba river from the Letaba restaurant – way in the distance the hippos are come down for the evening swim!

There are not many places one can safely get out of your car in Kruger – several rest areas, some  picnic areas and the campsites of course but always at your own risk according to the signs!  But we were able to get out between yellow lines on the bridge over the Letaba river close to the campsite (again at our own risk of course!).  There were several water fowl including Egyptian geese, egrets and herons in the river and people told us about a leopard that had killed an impala the day before and had come back earlier to drag it away and hide it in a secure place, possibly up a tree as they can climb easily not like many of the other animals.  Later in our trip we spotted one dead impala hanging over a branch by it’s hind legs a couple of meters up a tree close to a main road – it was a pretty impressive that it was dragged up there by a leopard as it was a big impala!

There is also plenty of life within the campsite in the evenings when lots of small impala, bushbucks, monkeys, squirrels and even warthogs come out to play.

Warthog
Bushbuck at campsite

Our second night at Letaba we attempted a braai having armed ourselves with firelighters, wood and matches from the shop and of course the inevitable boerewors sausage!  We cooked corn and potatoes in tinfoil and cooked the boerewors on the braai grill once it had burned down for over an hour until the embers were glowing red then it cooked very quickly. 

We met our first large herd/gang of buffalo on our second day on one of the dirt roads south of Letaba – we first spotted them down by the river and saw several stare us out as we sat in our car taking photos. Finally we moved down the road and then saw a herd of over 100 buffalo cross the road just where we had been parked – that was what the stare from them was about!

Buffalo down by the river

Herd of buffalo crossing the road in front of us – could have been well in excess of 100!

After three nights at Letaba we headed north for three nights at Shingwedzi calling in at Mopani for coffee on the way.

Number 47 – circled in black!

 Today we were very lucky with our sightings – helmeted guinea fowl, large family of baboons, waterbucks, crocodiles, hippos, another buffalo herd, herd of zebra, lots of impala, huge herd of elephants of all ages, some wildebeest and very large birds – the secretary bird (a very ugly looking creature but with a certain poise) and a kori bustard.

We were told that one usually sees wildebeest with zebra and the reason for this is – if attacked the zebra can run faster than the wildebeest so the wildebeest become the prey! But the wildebeest also has a good reason to hang with the zebras – their stripes mesmerise and distract the hunter!

We stopped at the bridge over the Letaba river again and while out of the car a family of about 40 baboons came towards us with a mind to cross the bridge – luckily they crossed to the opposite side from us and went past us – mums carrying babies on their backs and under their bellies with dad bringing up the rear hunting all the little ones ahead of him.

Most days we would pack our lunch and our flasks with the intention of finding a waterhole to sit and enjoy the animals come and go.  Things change so quickly at waterholes – one minute there is a herd of elephants, then come the giraffes or the water buffalo or impala.   Many people came and went while we sat there for a few hours, they did not stay long enough to see who came next!

At the Middelvlei waterhole there were lots of struggles and skirmishes between a herd of zebra and a herd of buffalo, the buffalo were the more aggressive and seem to regard themselves top of this particular pecking order. When they were done they wandered off leaving the zebras in peace. Every waterhole was different and exciting – you did not know what would arrive there next.  And they come from all directions – you might even see a large elephant come by the back of your car, thankfully they are just interested in getting a drink or playing in the mud or swimming using their trunks as snorkels to breathe. 

I just love watching the baby elephants play and try to do everything mum and the rest of the herd do!
Locking their trunks: young elephants lock trunks, like humans might hold hands. Also when engaging in courtship behaviour, elephant couples engage in friendly trunk wrestling and entwine their trunks together.

It is wonderful to watch the herds all playing together and the tiny elephants learning how to drink water through their trunk.  If they cannot manage it they just put their mouth down an drink that way!  An elephant can drink up to 14 litres of water in one go through their trunk!!  Usually the elephants are top of the pecking order at most waterholes but one day we saw eight white rhinos drinking surrounded by lots of impalas and then a herd of elephants approached but were halted by some aggression from the rhinos and eventually they turned and left.  One guide called William explained that each breed of animal respects the other so the elephants were happy to step back and wait for the rhinos to finish.  At other waterholes we saw elephants chase giraffe and zebras away while they drank, swam and generally messed about! 

Some water holes were all dried up but there were several big round cement tanks (beside some of the dried up waterholes) that contained water – man-made for times of drought.  At these tanks the elephants put one foot on a cement block to reach into the tanks.  the baby elephants just run around the tank trying desperately to get their trunks to reach into the tank!  We saw some great challenges at some waterholes – young elephants chasing zebra, and a young elephant (short tusks – not fully grown) was playing with the water at a waterhole that had little water to spare – he was just squirting it everywhere and not letting anyone else share it!

Over the period of three weeks we saw lots of antelopes: hundreds of impalas male & female, big and small. Bushbucks often hung around the camp sites but we also saw them in the bush.  The Kudu, whose horns are the symbol of South African parks because of their magnificence and shape were fairly common! The horns can grow up to 1.8 meters long and are spiral, curving around and around to a final six spirals when fully grown, they usually reach their full length when Kudu is about 6 years of age.

Mature male kudu. The kudu’s horns are the symbol of South African Parks!
Mature male Kudu with six curves in horns (and oxpecker birds)
Male & female Kudu at waterhole
Female Kudu
This is the bronze sculpture at Skukuza camp site. Sadly once locked like this it is almost impossible to free themselves

The  steenbok are beautiful little antelopes, they move in pairs and graze together in open areas but graze separately in bush for safety.  If they sense danger they lie down and flatten their ears (they have very big ears) so they look like a stone! They measure 40-50cms in height.

Female steenbok
Male steenbok

As we were driving along from Shingwedzi to Letaba we spotted some klipspringers on rocks close to the road – they have very coarse rough hair which helps them survive in their rocky habitat. They are such cute little creatures but very timid.

Klipspringer(means ‘rock jumper’) on rocks – his natural habitat. His coarse hair is blown by the wind and is white underneath. He is also very small – about 50-60 cm height

Waterbuck were everywhere where there was water and tsessebe roamed around in the bush sometimes mixing with zebra & wildebeest.  The latter we saw a lot of, especially running with the zebra herds.

Waterbuck on Crocodile River
Waterbuck is easily identified by the white circle on their rump!
Another antelope – the tsessebe
Tsessebe
Tsessebe

We were lucky enough to spot a roan antelope in the distance when up near Shingwedzi but not close enough to get a good photo. We also saw nyala, duiker and many wildebeest

Common duiker
Nyala
Nyala
Wildebeest/Gnu
Herd of Wildebeest
Zebra & wildebeest sharing the waterhole
Wildebeest, zebra & elephant at waterhole

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It was a 110 kms from Letaba to Shingwedzi so we stopped at Mopani, about half way for coffee and a break. Everyone drives slowly and stops whenever anyone else is stopped – asking “what can you see?” or stopping to let herds of elephants, zebra, giraffe or buffalo pass.  We enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Mopani Camp and also the view out over the Pioneer Dam.   Just  past Mopani we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and then came across a traffic jam which meant that something very interesting was happening.  We managed to get ourselves into a good position and saw a carcass of an elephant with about 100 vultures feeding from it.  There were several different types of vultures sharing the carcass with three spotted hyenas and two black-backed jackals.  We learned later that the elephant had died of natural causes and this was the scavengers natural way of cleaning up the park!

Vultures, Black-backed jackal & spotted hyena cleaning up the elephant carcass
Two hyenas
There were about 70-80 vultures either eating or sitting around waiting for the next course

Having left Letaba we arrived at Shingwedzi at about 15:30.  Shingwedzi, our second campsite, was a lovely campsite right beside the Shingwedzi river that flows into Mozambique and the Limpopo National park.  As this was as north as we were staying we decided that we would drive north the following day toward the most northerly campsite – Punda  Maria – on the main H1-7.  We often took little loop roads off the main roads as they were quiet and sometime there were more animals to be seen. Along the Mphongolo loop (S56) we came across a water hole with about 20 hippos, lots of crocodiles and many birds – the regal African fish eagle was perched high on a tree overlooking the action at the waterhole. 

Oxpecker birds sitting on top of the hippos

Hippos grazing
Hippos playing and making lots of noise
Hippopotamuses playing – third largest mammal and showing their teeth!
We counted about 25 hippos at this spot! They are most vulnerable in drought as they depend hugely on water. Hippos are most active at night, when they forage for food, they eat mostly grass – and can eat up to 35kg. They can hold their breath for up to FIVE minutes under water

There was a large herd of buffalo drinking alongside a herd of elephants – coexisting amicably. A large herd of zebra had just left the hole before the buffalo arrived – not sure whether they were finished drinking or had been driven away but thats life in Kruger.  While we sat in our car mesmerised by all the animals at the waterhole – suddenly a large grey elephant strolled up behind our car and -whew- she and her herd following walked straight past and down to the waterhole.  As we drove around Shingwedzi we were sad to see many of the river beds and waterholes dry.  Even the bird-hide Kanniedood hide near the Kanniedood Dam was deserted but we did find some waterholes with water further along the S50

Elephant & buffalo sharing drinking rights at a waterhole

Baby elephant enjoying the mud – it protects his skin from sunburn!
Leaning into the mud!
Baby learning how to drink from his trunk – takes up to two years to get the hang of it. If he cannot get his trunk to work he just bends down and drinks through his mouth.
After a good old roll in the mud

Herd lead away from the waterhole by the matriarch. Baby is never far from mum’s side

Each campsite is different – all the camps except Orpen had a restaurant and all that we stayed at had shops.  Each camp had a ‘Sightings Board’ which the rangers fill in with coloured buttons that represent each animal.  The only animal whose position is never identified is the rhino because of the poaching which unfortunately still happens in Kruger.  These boards can be useful as a guide to where you could possible see a specific animal.  The best way to know where animals are is to talk with people who have just come back to the camp site from a days adventure.

Each of the ‘big five’ have their specific colour on the board but the sightings of rhino are not recorded

Most of the restaurants serve good food and drinks and usually have a lovely view out over the river or plains.  They also have laundry facilities, some have pools and one or two have ‘day spas’ where you can get rejuvenated for your next adventure!  We made use of the spa in Skukuza – we had been on the road for 16 days so were ready for a break and it was so very enjoyable!  Skukuza camp was the biggest in Kruger and had every facility one needed.  Orpen on the other hand was small and intimate and right beside a waterhole where you could swim in their swimming pool and watch the elephants stroll to the waterhole!

Each day was more exciting that the last and each day became a day of – ‘Elephants’ or ‘Giraffes’ or ‘lions’ depending on how many we saw.

Our first view of lions was six days into our time in the park.  We stopped where a few cars had stopped along the road and one driver pointed to where the lions were – they were a long way away but we could see them through binoculars – we saw three lionesses and several cubs, one of the people there told us there were 11 cubs altogether but we only saw a few. .  The lionesses tend to gather in groups when their cubs are young so they can share caring and killing food for the cubs.

On the S50 road we came to Dipene Outpost, where an old cement bath was used for several years  from 1938 as a foot-bath to disinfect  illegal immigrants coming across the border from Mozambique with the aim to curb a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.  We then drove on to the bird-hide at Nyawutsi where we spotted a beautiful fish eagle!  On the way home we nearly ran over about a dozen banded mongoose crossing the road!

Dipene Outpost
The old cement bath (1938) that illegal immigrants had to dip their feet in before entering South Africa.

Our third camp site was Olifants for three nights – 141 kms (our longest drive within the park) so we took our time driving there and again spent some time watching the scavengers continue to clean up the elephant carcass we had seen three days earlier.  The carcass was much cleaner and there were less vultures around but several black-backed jackals and a few spotted hyena were still enjoying their find.

The smallest of the camp sites we stayed at – had swimming pool and waterhole just outside the fence where elephants visited regularly.
Our rondavel & view!
Sunrise from our rondavel in Olifants

Along this route we saw a few magnificent baobab trees, one or two were devastated probably by elephants trying to get water from them.  The elephants use the tree for shelter, food from fruit and water in times of drought by ripping the bark away and drinking the stored water.  They also use it as a scratching pad!!

Baobab tree
Baobab tree often scarred from elephants trying to get moisture from the tree.

We had booked a river walk at Olifants so we were up and ready for off at 8am. We had two local guides Moira & Dennis who carried rifles.  We drove in a safari vehicle to the river where they loaded their guns and were very forceful about what we could and could not do!.  Single file, no stopping unless they do. Keep up with the person in front…….  They were pretty knowledgable and explained about different types of animal dung – shape size and texture. Elephants have a very poor digestive system so their dung is full of fibre and thorns from the trees they consume.  People are warned not to drive over elephant dung or you may get a puncture!!! I won’t go into detail of all the other dung we learned about!  They showed us a hippo’s skull from the previous drought and said that they are very vulnerable in drought as they depend so much on water. We noticed two large herds of elephants come down to the river on the other side from us but when they started to come over to our side the guides quickly gathered us together and set off back to the truck.  They told us later that we were on one of the paths that the elephants often take.  The whole event lasted three hours from pick up to drop off.  We did enjoy it but it really was a little bit of an non-event!

Our river walk
Our ranger Moira and her loaded gun!
Dennis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herd of elephants heading down to the river
The herd of elephants crossing to our side. Our guides quickly moved us on!
Swimming close and keeping a closer eye on us!

Our feathered friends in Kruger were numerous so armed with a good pair of binoculars and Kruger National Park Map book with its drawings/photos of 238 bird species we were able to name/identify quite a few.  Mind you, we did need photos as well so we could peruse the pictures in an attempt to identify them.  In truth we probably managed to identify only about 50 birds.  The very ugly secretary bird, kori bustard, the lilac crested roller, storks of every description, the goliath heron, many species of starlings and the aptly named “Go away bird” plus many many more including the common southern yellow-billed hornbill nicknamed the ’banana bird’.   My favourite was the beautiful lilac crested roller especially when they spread their wings in flight and reveal exquisite teal coloured wings!

Lilac-breasted roller
Black-shouldered kite
Crested barbet
Southern ground hornbill
Yellow-billed stork
yellow-billed storks
African fish-eagle
Grey Heron
Juvenile Bateleur
Juvenile Bateleur in flight
Goliath heron
Red-billed hornbill
Southern yellow-billed hornbill – ‘banana bird’
Greater blue-eared starling – they are everywhere!
Bateleur
Southern ground hornbill – parent & juvenile
Saddle-billed stork
Kori bustard
Kori bustard
Secretary Bird
African hoopoe
Southern Black flycatcher
Immature Martial Eagle
Egyptian geese

Secretary Bird

Satara was our fourth camp site and we had booked for two nights – we had hoped to stay three but there was not one available space for the third night so we opted for two night in Orpen following our stay in Satara.  Olifants to Satara was a short 54 kms so we took our time and found several waterholes and decided this was the ‘day of the giraffe’ as several herds came and went at one waterhole. They shared the waterhole with a family of about 30 baboons.  We loved to watch the giraffe bending down to drink – they look so graceful and so awkward at the same time!  We also were lucky enough to see several young male giraffes using their necks to fight – it was only a play fight but when a female is involved it can be very serious  if she is the only female in the area.  Their necks are surprisingly strong despite only having 7 vertebrae.  They go “neck and neck” into a fight and usually strike the rump, the legs or the underbelly and the victor get the woman!

Our accommodation was down in circle A

After leaving Olifants we drove to the ’N’wamanzi lookout’ just a about 5 kms from Satara.  The view was amazing and there were about a dozen vervet monkeys sitting very innocently in the trees.  We opened our window just to take some photos but kept a very close eye on the monkeys.  Soon after another couple arrived in their range rover, the man got out to take some photographs leaving his car door open……. and then his partner also got out and left her door open….remember these monkeys look very innocent!!!!  But they are not.  As quick as a flash they were into their car grabbing what they could and came away bearing food and fruit when the couple ran to the car and chased them out.  The couple  laughed about it but I dont think they will leave their car door open again!  One unusual aspect of these monkeys ais that they have ‘blue balls’ and their nickname is just that!  The bluer the scrotum the higher they rank in their group !!!!

View from N’wamanzi lookout
View from N’wamanzi lookout with Vervet monkeys sitting on the tree
Kanniedood Dam

We also had a ‘cheetah day’ it was so exciting. First we saw one laze in the long grass, get up wander around and drop back down again. What magnificent creatures they are.  Later we spied three younger cheetahs sitting together under tree.  Suddenly one sat up with his ears pricked and got up and sank down to a crawling, hunting preying position having spotted an impala in an open area a few hundred meters away.  His two mates also sat up but headed off in a slightly different direction.  You could imagine their plan – cheetah 1 will drive the impala around into the paws of cheetah 2 & 3 and that is exactly what he did.  We did not see the final kill but it looked pretty fatal for the impala.

Relaxing under a tree
Cheetah checking us out
Something stirs his interest
He is onto it! – a lone impala

Orpen was our fifth camp and we stayed two nights.  It is a very small but intimate camp with shop and swimming pool and a great waterhole just outside the fence.  We swam in the pool and watched several elephants come and go. We then drove 145kms from Orpen to Skukuza where we were booked for four nights and our full day safari with Legend safaris. 

The smallest campsite – quiet with swimming pool and waterhole outside the fence

There was a lot to see on the drive from Orpen to Skukuza including a huge Kudu that ran straight out from the bush and leaped right over the 4WD vehicle in front of us.  It was both terrifying  and exciting at the same time, but luckily neither car, man or beast were injured.  We were within 10kms of Skukuza when we spotted two rangers carrying guns and decided we would stop and ask if we could take a photo. 

The two rangers we gave a lift to

They were happy to oblige but they also had a request – would we give them a ride to their camp a few kilometres this side of Skukuza – they had been walking for hours in the heat of the day???   We were a little hesitant as our back seat of the car  was full of food, photographic equipment and other stuff but we managed to move things about to fit them in.  They were very pleasant young men, one spoke English to us but the other said little except ‘ thank you’.  We dropped them at the road up to their camp, about 4-5 kms before Skukuza camp.

A very large and busy campsite. Lots of schools and locals come in for a day trip and are educated on the ways of Kruger and its animals

Skukuza which was by far the biggest and busiest  camp we had stayed at in Kruger.  We had also booked our one and only full day safari with Legend Safaris who operate from outside the park – very good reviews on Trip Advisor.  They were really helpful when we asked if we could change our day  – “no problem, let me get back to you” said Shaheen, from Legend Safaris. Our safari began at 0600 in front of reception at Skukuza camp.  There were only two of us and William, our guide, arrived promptly so we were on our way by 06:15. It turns out that William Hlatshwayo was the very first black African guide in Kruger forty years previously, Has since formed his own Tour company called Crowned Eagle Tour & Safaris.  He was also a private game guide to Nelson Mandela when he visited game parks and tells the story that Mandela said one day to him – all countries should be like zebras – where black ,white and coloured all live in harmony.   Every country should be a ‘ZEBRA’ country!

Zebra in Kruger National Park
Zebra in Kruger National Park
Zebra in Kruger National Park
Zebra in Kruger National Park
Zebra – pull me-push me
Zebra, wildebeest and buffalo have a few skirmishes at waterhole
Its OK I will wait!

William turned out to be worth his weight in gold, the sun rose as we left the campsite.  All rangers and guides have ‘walkie talkies’ and communicate about sightings, so within half an hour of driving William picked up that there was a leopard a few kilometres away and took off in that direction stopping briefly at a waterhole to admire some white rhinos.  He managed to position his truck in just the right spot so we could see the leopard clearly.  He was sitting down when we arrived he then stood and moved around eventually crossing the road right in front of us and dropped down in a sitting position again.  It was an amazing view from the high safari truck, (an aside – the one mistake we made was to hire a small car and not a high vehicle with good visibility.)

Our first sight of this beautiful creature – the leopard!

Our next stop was at a waterhole I mentioned earlier where there were eight white rhinos drinking and the elephants came down to the hole but they stood back and retreated as there were so many rhinos there.  This was a new experience as up until now the elephants has always dominated at the waterholes!  William explained it was about numbers and respect amongst the larger animals – whoever gets there first and has the most in their group gets to finish!  We then stopped beside the road to see three lionesses in the long grass. 

Elephants standing back until Rhinos finished drinking!
Mother & young rhino
Rhino dont mind sharing with impala!

William then drove us up to Mathekenyane  lookout – a 360 degree view over the plains – with Mozambique only 8 kms away! We saw a ‘tower’ of about 30 giraffes big and small strolling and eating down near the road we had come up. Having seen all the giraffes from above, William drove us down the hill and here we saw several young males neck fighting again. William assured us it was just play but also it ensures they know how to do it when needed.

Close to where the giraffes were we saw two tiny steenbok – male and female grazing together in the open plains.  We learned that snake eagles and bateleur eagles are not true eagles as they have no hair on the lower part of their legs so snakes can not grab and hold them down.  William then drove us a long way down a very rough corrugated road and informed us  as we rattled along that we were now having an ‘African Massage’!  He took us to a waterhole with lots of elephants and giraffe drinking and we sat and watched them all in silence for a long time. 

We had told William earlier that the one thing we would ‘love’ to encounter was a pride of lions just wandering along the road towards us.  It was getting late so we headed home and OMG we came around the corner and there coming towards us was a pride of 12 lions!  One large male ‘daddy’ and 11 cubs about one year old – a mix of male and female

This beautiful face gazing up at us in our jeep! So very close! Our guide said this boy was just under a year old!
This was our ‘WOW’ moment – our first sight of this pride
The leader of the pride – the proud dad!

 We were just stunned and could say little but OMG, wow, wow and more wows.  They just sauntered along the road and flopped down on the tar-seal right beside our truck – I could have reached down and patted them.  They were so close that I could not use my Canon 100-400 lens!! I had to revert to my smaller camera.  We were overwhelmed by it all and just kept saying ‘wow’ ‘amazing’ ‘OMG’.  We had to pinch ourselves to make sure we were not dreaming.  William told us that this same pride often wanders down the road H4-1 in the afternoon.  They kept getting up and flopping back down again and looked very undernourished, the young males were just beginning to show signs of growing a mane.  What memories and what a truly amazing day.  It would be hard to top that experience.  It is truly etched into my memory! 

After four nights in Skukuza we headed to Lower Sabie for two nights and on one of these nights we went for a organised ‘night ride’.  We saw several animals fleetingly, porcupine, hyena, two scops owl, spotted eagle owl, giraffe, civet and genet.  It was a little bit of a let down as one had to hold the spotlight for the two hours and try to spot anything moving. I decided I was not good at this and so missed out on few things. I felt the driver and the co-driver’s hearts were not in the drive.

View of Lower Sabie campsite from the causeway

We enjoyed Lower Sabie and especially the ‘sunset pool’ very close to the camp where the bird life was fantastic and varied and the large pool was lined by over 16+ crocodiles.  We spotted a heron hitching a ride on the back of a hippo and two yellow-billed storks fighting. 

Some of the Hamerkop nests
Sunset lake just beside Lower Sabie camp site -teeming with life

In several of the waterholes and pools there were dozens of Hamerkop nests in the trees in the middle of the water, this African bird’s nest is a massive, roofed structure set up in the fork of these trees. It takes about 8 weeks and 10,000 twigs to build, and is lined with mud for water-proofing and insulation.  The male and female build them together – it is a huge effort but they don’t just stop with one, they often build up to four nests a year!

Several of the many crocodiles we saw!

One large crocodile

We were very sad to leave Kruger but on our way out to Crocodile Bridge Gate we passed 11 lionesses and lions stretched out on cement steps looking very sated following a kill. 

A pride of lions resting after a kill
Pretty relaxed !

The cement steps were below a dam wall and they lay there with their legs up in the air totally relaxed just like cats!

Sunset on Kruger
Celebrating 21 wonderful days in Kruger
Last night at Crocodile Lodge outside Crocodile gate – beside Crocodile river.
Sun going down on Kruger National park

We had booked two night at Crocodile Safari Lodge just outside the gates so we sat on our deck, looking back over to Kruger, a glass of wine in our hands, reminiscing.  Magical!!

 

 

Lucy Casey

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