Tom & Gav's Trip to Kruger 13th May - 21st May
First of all, a bit of background. Gav and I are both just the right side of 40 and married with young children.Gav has been an Africa Addict since 1994, myself since 1997 when I went on a one night safari to Taita Hills, Kenya.Between us,we have visited all the major East & Southern African National Parks and we try to get away every 16 months or so.Gav has been to Kruger twice before whilst I have paid the Park a fleeting visit.Gav is also a keen photographer and had possibly the biggest lens in Kruger!Since booking this trip, we have been counting down the days and have read books by Nigel Dennis and Leo Brack from cover to cover, as well as The Forum of course.Our Top 4 Spots on the wish list were: Wild Dog, Leopard, Rhino and Cheetah.Well, you have to aim
Day 1 - Lower Sabie
After the usual long flight with next to no sleep,we arrived at
Jo'burg and quickly made our way out on the road in our hire car and entered the Park via the Malelane Gate around 1pm.The aim was to driv leisurely up to Lower Sabie but we soon realised that although the maps are quite small, the distances are actually great so we had to go via
the main routes to ensure we could check in and go out for a drive.Still enjoyed a nice encounter with a breeding herd of elephants as they crossed the road.They were all so relaxed around the car, in marked contrast to the elephants we met further north but more of that later..After checking in, we drove down the H4-2 and then towards Duke
Water Hole.It was around this time that fatigue kicked in, along with 2 rapidly downed Castles, and the unthinkable happened. I fell asleep.Fortunately(or unfortunately), I didn't miss a lot as all was quiet other than the ever present impalas.We made our way back to Sunset Dam
to watch the sun go down.A Giant Kingfisher gave us a great view, perching on a dead branch close by, keeping an eye on the lurking crocodiles below.As we got back to the camp,we paused to watch as hundreds of bats poured out of a building close to the gate.That night, we ate in the restaurant on the verandah, surprised at how few people were eating there.It seemed good value to us and was just what we needed
after a long day.
Day 2 - Satara
After a good nights sleep,we were up at 5am and sat down by the restaurant to watch dawn break over the Sabie River.We left the gates just after 6, pausing to let a hippo cross in front of us as he made his way back to the river.We decided to give the famous H4-1 a go.I was expecting plenty of cars along this popular route but saw few.Alas, the game was few also and the only sighting of interest was a young male Nyala.We went as far as Nkhulu but gave up and went back towards
Sunset Dam.We stopped here again and were pleased to see some giraffe and water buck after our barren drive.We crossed the river below the camp and made our way north via the S29.The area was a lot more pleasing on the eye and more open than the H4-1 but game was sparse.We did stop to identify a couple of White Headed Vultures as they flew
over and eventually came across a female White Rhino and calf.Stopped at Nkumbe Lookout.What a view!Certainly up there with anything I have seen in Africa.In the distance,we could just make out a few rhino in the shade of a tree.Had our first boorwurst at Tshokwane before moving up to Satara.We opted for the H6/S100 loop in the evening.What a
disappointment and other than some Ground Hornbills we saw little.Enjoyed the N'wanetsi Picnic Spot and wished we had more time to spend there.We returned to Camp along the S100 along with 4 other cars, all working hard to find a good sighting to close the day but it was all in vain.We were a little low upon our return but at least had our first night drive. Now Gav had been on a night drive before and seen.....a
wildebeest and a nightjar.So our expectations were low as we left camp.We soon came upon a couple of Genets,one of which was climbing a small
tree.Then someone spotted African Wild Cat, a first for us both.It paused long enough for us to get a good look and I was surprised to see how closely it resembled a domestic cat.A short distance further, and suddenly, our driver accelerated and stopped sharply. A Serval-fantastic!
Even better,rather than run away,it carried on hunting right next to the vehicle giving everyone a great view.A real bonus.Incredibly, we found another Serval,this time a youngster shortly after.Again,it just sat in the grass by the road.It didn't stop there as we found a male lion in the middle of the road!Far from being intimidated by the large
Truck, he just sat down rather nonchalantly and posed whilst everyone got their pictures.As we left,he began roaring,the sound carrying above the noise of the engine.Finally,just before camp, a Civet Camp crossed in front of us to finish off a real highlight of our trip.
We headed west along the H7 and found a male lion just walking away from us the other side of the Girvana Water Hole.A good start.Dogs had been sen up the S40 the previous day so we decided to have a look up there.All was quiet so we headed back to Satara via the S127 & H1-4.A couple of cars had stopped at the junction.We had just missed a leopard
in this most unlikely of habitats.Drat.The H1-4 north of Satara is one of the few roads in the park where you can enjoy goodviews and see some distance and reminded us a little of East Africa.It was just crying out to be full of cats, but other than a couple of distant rhino and a very good sighting of Secretary Bird, there was not a lot about, 'You should have been here yesterday' a passing car told us.Thanks.
We headed up to Letaba and paid our usual visit to the Sightings Board to see what we had missed that day and torture ourselves.Whilst there,a lady approached and told us that she had just spent some time with a pack of at least 7 Wild Dog just 5 minutes away and showed us some pictures.Our hearts raced, we took details where they were and rushed to the car.Now Gav & I have spent time at the Painted Dog Research Project at Hwange, Zimbabwe *.Many times we have seen them hunt, find somewhere to rest,often in the middle of thick bush, and refuse to move until late afternoon.So we felt we had a pretty good chance of seeing
them.Alas, and to our utter disapointment,they had moved away, extremely unusual behaviour during the middle of the day.Perhaps a car had disturbed them, who knows.We went back to Letaba and had a beer.In silence.We searched hard again in the evening but with no joy.An evening night drive failed to turn up anything other than a few hippo and we went to our beds feeling pretty dejected.
*for more details, go to www.ecovolunteer.org.uk
and select African Hunting Dogs to see the amazing work these guys do in the most testing of circumstances.
A further look for the dogs was to no avail so we headed up to Mopani for lunch.This is a really nice camp where a lot of thought has gone into the design and layout.There is a huge dam where we spotted a pair of Fish Eagles and Black Winged Stilt.In the distance,we could just make out the neck and head of a giraffe rising through the canopy.When
leaving the camp,a huge herd of buffalo held up traffic as it crossed the road.It must have numbered a few hundred at least.We had been tipped off about a dead elephant on the S144.Apparently,it was a well known elephant in the area and had a decent set of tusks.We were warned of its imminent appearance by the largest congregation of vultures I have
ever seen, including Cape,White Backed, Lappet Faced and Hooded.A couple of cars were in attendance and we had a chat with the occupants of one.'You should have been here 10 minutes ago', he told us,'a Black Rhino came and sniffed around the carcass for a while before disappearing into the mopani.And there had been 3 lions coming to investigate'.A theme was beginning to develop with our poor timing!
Gav's 2 favourite animals are dogs and black rhino, and to be so close on 2 consecutive days was hard to take.We stuck around for a while before moving on to Bataleur via the Red Rocks South route, an attractive drive but not much game.We arrived at the camp to be told we had just missed a leopard in front of the camp.The final straw!#@!
Fortunately,this is such a nice camp that we managed to put this bad luck behind us and relaxed outside our relatively luxurious accommodation and watched the Hornbills and Starlings in our 'garden'.We had a look at the 2 dams close to the camp in the evening and found 2 very close Saddle Billed Storks at Rooibosrant, probably our best spot of the day.A small herd of elephants were close to camp.We noticed
they seemed a lot more aggressive and we were a little concerned when the family group were split either side of the road.We knew we had to go for it and kept a watchful eye on the large female who we could tell would have a go if she got the chance. Fortunately,we just about made it through.We sat in the hide upon our return and heard a loud rasping sound from the undergowth.A leopard?We'll never know.A suggestion for the Camp-why not keep the front of the hide and water hole clear of vegetation to give an unrestricted view?
We drove the Redrocks north route on our way out and met another grumpy elephant,this time a male.He did not give us any warnings and just charged us!Gav is always wary of elephants and quickly slammed the car into reverse and got us out of danger.I am a pretty rubbish driver so luckily it had not been my turn at the wheel at the time!We took a drive down the S50 in the vain hope of finding cats but although this
was another nice route,we found only hippo and elephant.So after yet another Carnivore Breakfast,we continued to Punda Maria.After a much needed rest and swim at the pool,we drove the Mahonie Loop but again drew a blank.We were on the Sunset Drive here and the prospects were not
good, though the Sightings Book had included Lion and Leopard on recent drives.Sadly,other than some nightjars and Sharpes Grysbok, we saw little.The drive did end on a high when we stopped to look at the incredible night sky.To one side,we could hear the camp(?)church choir which was being accompanied by the wailing of bush babies in some
We headed for Pafuri immediately.First impressions as we drove along the S63 was what is all the fuss about?But as we turned towards Crooks Corner,we realised that this was a place very different to the rest of the park.The Forest and Limpopo River areas were particularly pleasant and the sound of the birds magical.The call of The Trumpeter Hornbill
really stood out and we kept our fingers crossed that we would see these.The picnic site,which is immaculately maintained and cleaned, does not look especially promising,and had we not read The Forum and learned about Frank, we probably would have hung around for a bit and left
disappointed.Fortunately,we were able to collar Frank before anyone else and he happily showed us around.The guys eyesight is incredible.We would stand in front of a tree, I would see nothing, but he would pick out bird after bird after bird.Most I just cant remember.He assured me that a couple of good spots were a bird that looked like a swift with a
really short tail and a type of Flycatcher.More memorable were Gorgeous Bush shrike, Paradise Flycatcher and a really god sighting of Trumpeter Hornbill.He is just in the final stages of training to be able to conduct walks from the campsite.There had just been a survey on Pels Fishing Owl with 5 pairs found between the picnic site and Crooks Corner so you must have a chance of seeing this bird walking with Frank.What a top bloke.We left pleased we had made the trek this far north
and aimed for Sirheni.This is another great Bush Camp.From our chalet,we had a direct view to the dam and could see Bee Eater, Pied Kingfisher, Paradise Flycatcher & an elephant drinking from the comfort of our balcony.The 2 hides are also excellent to while away some time.We had a drive along the Mphongolo Route but despite our best efforts,the only sightings of interest were a distant pair of saddle bills and
a large herd of buffalo crossing the dry river bed.It was interesting to watch the level of organisation used by the buffalos-they clearly positioned large bulls strategically to protect the herd.
We were now getting a bit anxious about our lack of daytime sightings of the predators with only a couple of days to go.We had another fruitless drive along the Mphongolo Route before heading for Letaba down the S50 and spotted a Side Striped Jackal on the way.Apparently, this was quite a good spot?We pulled into Grootvlei Dam, and unlike the majority of water holes where we had seen little or nothing, this one had impala and zebra along with 4 spoonbills.From Letaba, we moved on to Olifants, our next camp, via the S44. Now Olifants has the most impressive view,up there with Nkumbe. We spent a
good couple of hours watching Eagles, Vultures, Giraffe etc from the viewing point.Someone with ken eyes spotted 2 lions by the river below,but we were booked on the sunset drive and had to leave.Our driver told us the good news that a pride of lion had killed a buffalo on the H1-5 near Letaba (Gav wanted to get to Olifants down this road but I
overruled him-yet another poor decision!). Now you would think that all on board would not want to miss out on seeing this, but no, we shared the bus with an American who, to our utter frustration and annoyance, seemed to think he was in a competition to see who could ask the most stupid and pointless question.He asked about spiders, impala horns, why
hippos live in water and so on.All fine when you are having a quiet drive but there were lions to see!These cretinous questions meant that we did not find the lions until it was pitch black and it was fortunate that we found them at all as they had dragged the kill behind a bush.We did not have much of a view but any enjoyment we might have at listening to 4 lions feast on a carcass whilst hyenas whooped and
jackels called was dashed as this guy would not shut up.When he asked who would win in a fight between a jackal and a hyena, I nearly threw him to the lions.C'est la vie.
We had pinned our hopes on a good sighting on the H1-4, our favourite road, but hopes faded when we saw cars passing us in quick succession suggesting nothing had revealed itself.Now desperate,we went down the S10, up the S41 and across on the S90 but other than some nice scenery, we could not find any cats.All hopes now lay with Talamati.We had heard
good reports of this camp but it just did not have the feel that
Bataleur or Sirheni had.The chalets had not been designed particularly well and our seating area looked on to the side of the chalet next to us.Also,the hides, which overlook a large area of grassland in front of us could have been done being placed closer to the waterhole.We had booked
on to the sunset drive again though our expectations were low-the highlights from the previous evening included scrub hare- we were pleased when at 4,we were the only ones onthe vehicle.Then the stuff of nightmares.A car pulled up with 5 children under 10.Our hearts sank.We nearly got off,but this being our last night,we thought we would stick it out in case.But it was everything we feared it would be.
The kids were all nice,but singing nursery rhymes as we drove along was never going to be helpful for finding game!To be fair,the driver,Porsche,did her best and we did find a Puff Adder, but it was an even worse experience than listening to the American the night before.And almost to add insult to injury, when we put our cooked steak on a plate ready to eat, there was a flash of wings in front of us and the plate
jumped up in the air.What the hell was that?The culprit was revealed on a nearby branch-a Pearl Spotted Owl.Luckily,he had not quite been able to take the meat!Then a nice touch.Porsche had told the manager that the drive was not quite what we had hoped for.The manager came over and
said she would take us out at 4.30 the next morning.Why not we thought?
Porsche was there bang on time and off we went.We did not see a lot until the way back to camp.I spotted some eyes at the bottom of a bush.As we reversed,a leopard came out the back and sauntered off into the bush.I was at the back and could see nothing more than the bush but Gav had a reasonable if fleeting view.We then could not stop seeing eyes! Most were too obscured to identify but it is great fun using the spotlights and seeing the reflection back of the eyes.I then saw a light that seemed tobe moving around quite erratically. Was this an insect?We got the lights on it and there were in fact 2 bush-babies that were bouncing from a branch to the ground and back up, almost as if on
elastic.We then disturbed an elephant that we found sleeping against a termite mound,something I had not seen before.So,a good last drive before we had to make our way home.Of course,our journey out of the park was based around all of the major viewing routes, but apart from some
distant lions at one of the dams, there were no good spots. By the time we left via the Phabeni Gate,we were exhausted. We had covered a huge distance during our time in the park and had been on the go from dawn til dark each day.God only knows how many trees we had looked up and river beds we looked along.True, the amount of sightings we had did not live up to our admittedly high expectations,and it is easy to think that you have been cursed with bad luck when you look at the Sightings Board and see what everyone else has seen along all the same routes you have driven with little return, but hey, wildlife watching is all about right time, right place.
The Park is a real credit to South Africa.Unlike in East Africa where roads criss cross everywhere,the animals definitely come first and the range of species you have is incredible.All the camps we stayed at were clean and well looked after and the whole trip represented excellent value for money.You South Africans are incredibly lucky to have such a place and
I can see why the Forumites love it so much.We are already planning our next African trip,this time to Etosha, but we are both sure that we will be back to Kruger in the next few years, though next time, we will not cover such huge distances and focus on our favourite camps.
This is my first post and will try to stick some of the better pics up soon.
Regards to all.