We got up at 3:45 for a Satara morning drive. I am NOT a morning person. I hate mornings. But it seemed very worthwhile to skip the snoozing in order to get an early start. (Or perhaps I was still on California time, which would have 6:45 the night before.) The only other place I have ever willingly (even happily) gotten up that early is Yosemite National Park, but sadly Yosemite has no ellies.
Anyway, the morning drive was in a 20-seater truck, but we were the only two signed up for it. (Maybe everyone else in Satara that day also hated mornings?) Our guide, Maurice(sp?), was very knowledgeable and had lots of interesting commentary. It was fun manning the spotlight, but I felt pretty incompetent for the first half hour or so since I couldn’t spot anything. I like to think that all the animals on my side of the truck just had their eyes closed. Maurice, luckily, was infinitely better at spotting things, so we saw a giraffe, impala, and this little guy:
I can’t remember what this was—looking at my guide now, it looks like a bushbuck or steenbok. Can anyone tell from this not-so-great picture?
And then, finally, I managed to spot some eyes, and was ridiculously proud of myself. It turned out to be a single male buffalo, and I was kind of depressed to hear that old male buffalo just kind of wander off on their own. What a sad end. But I suppose that’s nature. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have finally spotted something! After an hour or so, it was light enough to turn off the spotlights, and we got a bit luckier with the sightings. I didn’t have my map with me (stupid mistake!) so I have no idea where we were, but we stayed mainly on dirt roads near Satara. I think some of them were closed to the public, but I’m not sure. Soon after sunrise, we saw our first 2 white rhinos, which was very exciting. Naturally, I have dozens of pictures, even though they were way far away and hiding behind bushes. I have to explain to people that there are rhinos somewhere in the pictures. As we were busy watching the rhinos watch us, a mini-herd of wildebeests wandered by in front of us (very fun to look at), and then some buffalo. And we finally learned what a waterbuck is (thank you, Maurice!). We also saw several birds, including a southern yellow-billed hornbill. Then we continued along, and saw our first kudu! Naturally, it was very shy so I have only a blurry shot of it staring at us briefly before bounding off.
Next came a female waterbuck followed by a baby waterbuck (awww . . . )
Then a giraffe family and some zebras. Giraffes are so amazing, even when standing still. I love how they just stare at you with their giant eyes. Just before we got back to Satara, we saw a big ellie eating along the side of the tar road. This was our first up-close ellie, and it was fantastic to be close enough to hear it eating. (Considering our first one had been spotted from half a mile away!) Ellies look so blasé when they’re eating, but you can tell they’re still eyeing you.
When we started driving away Maurice tried reassuring me that I would see plenty more ellies, but, to be honest, I didn’t believe him. Little did I know! After the ride, I was eager to put lots of pins on the sightings board, but, thanks to my complete geographic ignorance at that point, I really didn’t know where anything was. So I only put in one pin for the ellie, since his location had been pretty clear. Still, it was very exciting.
After breakfast, one of us (not me) decided to take a nap, while I explored Satara and read on the great little porch. And took lots of pictures of various birds on the braai. (Sadly, the only excitement the braai saw during our visit.)
As fun as this was, I could no longer resist the lure of the wild, and dragged Portero back out into the great outdoors. We went up H1-4, and this time I thought to bring the map and began faithfully marking down every sighting on it. (Now the maps is basically a smeared jumble of ink, with "IMPALA!!" pretty much everywhere, but it’s great fun to look at.) Anyway, on the map I see: impalas, zebras, wildebeests, zebras, ellies, and a female kudu. But looking through my pictures, I see this critter:
Forgive my ignorance, Forumites, but what is this? The closest match I see in my guide is a common reedbuck. Is that right? Or just a very fancy impala?
We turned off onto S127 to go to Timbavati. Here we saw one of my favorite ellies of the trip, snacking by the side of the road, and eyeing us. He had one tusk broken off all the way at the top; the other was also broken, but still about a foot long. We watched for a while, then he very leisurely crossed the road in front of us and continued on his merry way. At Timbavati, I was very surprised and excited to see a Baobab tree, which I have wanted to see ever since reading The Little Prince 20 years ago. From Timbavati, we took S39 and saw giraffes (hooray!!), impalas, more giraffes, zebras, lots more impalas, wildebeests, and a snake. Also some vultures, vervet monkeys, and female kudus. Then our luck ran out when we crossed the Satara Road onto S36. The only thing on my map for S36 is “very friendly staff!” at Muzandzeni Picnic spot, where we stopped for drinks (which, of course, is great, but I must say the map looks naked other than that one notation!). Luckily, all the animals seemed to be hanging out on the Sweni Road: impalas, zebras, giraffes, Southern ground hornbills, a turtle, zebras, and baboons. Turning onto H1-3, we saw another ellie, very active baboons playing in the road (including one baby baboon riding piggyback), and waterbucks. And, very exciting: our first warthog! I think warthogs have an unfair reputation as ugly and muddy, which perhaps they are, but I really liked them. Their ugliness makes them even more appealing.
Anyway, because of our great luck at Nsemani Dam the day before, we decided to head back there. Along the way, we found a herd of zebras, including a very curious baby zebra. I got so excited by the zebras that of course we stayed there for quite a while, while everyone else zoomed past us to get to the dam. Eventually we moved on, but Nsemani wasn’t quite the hotbed of excitement it had been the day before. We saw turtles, a saddle bill stork, and an African fish eagle. And there were still hippos there, but they appeared to be in no rush to exercise.
After dinner, we went on a night drive with 18 other people. Once again, I have no idea where we went, and I wish I’d paid more attention to what roads we were on. It started off pretty slowly with the sightings. I hate to admit it, but I even started to fall asleep (sort of—it was that half-asleep head-bobbing state).
Aggghhh! That sounds horrible, I know, as if I were bored. In my defense, I’d had a total of 16 hours of sleep in the last four days, but still, the excitement of being out in the middle Kruger should have been more invigorating than a gallon of coffee and a dozen Cadbury Flakes. This was especially embarrassing because there were several small kids on the ride, and all of THEM were wide awake, even though it was probably way past their bedtimes. Every now and then someone would say “Ooohh . . . a nightjar!” and my head would snap up and I would mumble “OOOHHH!!!” with great enthusiasm so that people would think I was wide awake. (But, to be honest, even with all the talk of nightjars on different drives I don’t think I ever saw one, because they always seemed to fly off before I saw them. I feel badly about this, but I wouldn’t know a nightjar if I fell over one. Anyone have any pictures?).
But, before I could fall completely asleep, we happened to drive right up to a pride of about a dozen lions lounging by the left side of a tar road (sorry, not sure which road). This woke me right up. I am not as big a cat person as say, a giraffe or ellie or baby zebra person, but it was still REALLY exciting to see lions in the wild for the first time. And I was completely amazed at how unperturbed they were by a truck full of hyperactive spotlight-wielding tourists. Behind them in the distance was a lone ellie, and across the road was a giant herd of buffalo. I was amazed that the buffalo also seemed unperturbed by a truck full of us, but I was even more amazed that they would lounge around, unperturbed by the pride of lions 50 meters away. How did the buffalo not notice the lions? Why wouldn’t they run away, right away? Ahh, the mysteries of nature. Thankfully, I was actually wide awake to witness the excitement (and yes, it was very exciting, even though pretty much the only creatures actually moving were those of us on the truck straining to get a better picture).
We finally left and headed back to Satara. And of course I resumed my near-snoozing, despite all efforts to stay awake. Is it just me though? I have to say, bouncing along in a truck in the middle of nature, on a warm night, with incredibly fresh air and animals noises in the distance, is really soothing! I think it would make a fantastic cure for insomnia. I know that this is not the purpose of night drives, but it is a really relaxing side effect.
Oops, now I’m going to get thrown out of the forum for admitting this, aren’t I?