Having returned from a nine day stay in Nelspruit during which my friend Mel and I went into Kruger on four separate days as day visitors, I thought I would write a trip report, only to find that my Internet was down, and there it has remained until yesterday, so my report is a little late, but for what it is worth, here it is:
– Having entered by Malelane Gate we drive up the main road to Afsaal, then take the H2-2, turn left up the S114 and drive up to Skukuza. We return to Malelane via the H3.
The first thing we see is a wild dog about an hour after we enter the park! Now this is really exciting – I have not seen one for five years and Mel had said wistfully ‘oh I do hope we see wild dog!” – and now here it is. I feel a little sad because Annie, another friend with whom I spend a week in Kruger every year, has wanted for so long to see them and never has. So I dig out my cell which normally remains off in the park and describe the scene. There are only two cars here – ours and a lovely vintage Bentley driven by two extremely smart looking guys who, it turns out, are on their way to play golf at Skukuza. Mel says to them “I don’t know whether to watch your car or the wild dog!” Anyway we follow it (the dog!) up the road for nearly two kilometers before it turns off into the bush and gradually disappears.
After this excitement we turn off for Renoster Pan. When we are near the waterhole we find a lovely group of Zebra and sit and watch them for a little while, but I see that they keep looking over towards the trough which is invisible beyond a whole lot of bushes, so we drive on and sure enough, there are two hyaena in the water having a drink! We are thrilled and get out our flask and have tea with the hyaenas.
Later another car comes along and they also stop at the Zebra, but they stay there, and by the time they come to the trough, the hyaena have run off so they don’t see them and we decide not to tell them they were there as it would be so disappointing. Having finished out tea we drive on to Afsaal and onto the dirt roads which will take us up to Skukuza. We see lots of nice sightings – elephant, buffalo, giraffe, wildebeeste impala and quite a few birds on the way up. We don’t stay in Skukuza long, but instead spend time in the bird hide at Panic Lake. If anyone knows why it is called Panic Lake, I would love to know! There is a group of hippo on the bank quite near the hide and lots of birds so we really enjoy our half hour here. Finally we get back on the tar and drive slowly down to the gate, seeing klipspringers, warthogs and more ellies and buffalo. Also some rhino,all white ones alas. ! have never seen black rhino in the park!
– we drive up the main road from the Malelane gate until we get to the Pretoriuskop turn –off (the H2-2); then from Pretoriuskop we do the second leg of a triangle by driving to Skukuza along H1-1 and finally back down the main road to the gate.
Two minutes after entering the park, we see a leopard on the side of the road! It has obviously just crossed over from the Berg-en-Dal side and we have it all to ourselves and watch as it saunters slowly into the bush. I did not see one earlier this year so this is a real thrill. We drive up as far as the Voortrekker Waterhole where we find about 40 ellies drinking – all sizes from tiny babies to really big adults. There are several cars and two large safari vehicles there and the safari vehicles are parked so that no-one coming in behind has a good view, so we go back to the road and drive on a bit further to where there is another little road (to a historical monument to the first concrete dam in the park). This road curves round towards the waterhole from the back and we have it all to ourselves! (There only other vehicle drives out as we drive in) Then the ellies start leaving the waterhole and walking towards us and diagonally across the little river-bed to climb up the bank passing to one side of us – and guess what – they flush another leopard!!! We can hardly believe our eyes! The leopard goes to ground again but we keep watching and sure enough another ellie gets too close and flushes it out again! This happens once more before we lose it for good, we think it has gone down into the dry riverbed below us but we are on a real high from having seen leopard twice and both times it has been a sighting with no –one else there! None of the Safari vehicles see it !!! (If anyone reading this was at the waterhole on Wed 18 Julywatching the elephants, I'm really sorry you missed it!) So eventually we move on to Pretoriuskop camp where we have ice creams , then set off along the tar road stopping at the two dams on the way. The first, Shitlhave (try saying this politely to old ladies) always strikes me as rather bleak looking, but we find the remains of a lion kill on which there are a whole mass of assorted vultures, plus a marabou stork and a tawny eagle. In front of us, very close is a family of waterbuck all sitting peacefully in the sun, and in a dead tree in the dam is a Fish Eagle While we sit there enjoying our tea, another one flies in and they call out to one another, higher and lower tones ringing out several times over the water. There are a few hippo in the dam - if only they would grunt I would get two of my favourite bush sounds together - and some impala drinking so there is plenty to watch and we stay there for ages. At the second dam, Transport Dam, there are more Waterbuck
and a family of warthogs, plus several herons some cormorants and quite a few visiting birds, so once again we settle down for a good watch. As we leave the dam we spot a lone Tsessebe with a herd of Impala
Later we are driving back towards Skukuza, when we see a couple of cars stopped so we ask what they can see: “Leopard” says the guy laconically, and we just start laughing. Surely this must be a record? A day trip and we see leopard in three different sightings!!! This one is lying at the base of an anthill, partly obscured by some little thorn bushes, but we can see it reasonably clearly and it has the most amazing markings. It is particularly pale, and in the middle of each set of black dots is a golden dot, and on the hind paws are the sweetest little black freckles. This pic is really poor but you can see the freckles!
We stay here, too for ages, and when we eventually look up to leave we find that we are totally hemmed in by cars and the entire road is blocked! Of course we have prime position, so everyone is only too keen to joggle around and let us out and we quickly escape before a fight for the new viewpoint breaks out. There is a queue of cars all down the road, all waving us down, so at each one I have to stop and tell them it is a leopard and how to find it when they get to it! Mel thinks this is very funny. On the way down the main road, we stop at De Laporte waterholeand find three beautiful Kudu – all covered in red-billed oxpeckers; Mel counts eleven on one Kudu
On the way down to the gate we see more rhino, impala, wildebeest, dwarf mongooses and tree squirrels and drive back to Nelspruit aglow from our exciting day.
– We travel along the Crocodile River Road taking in the loop round Gardenia Hide to Croc river Camp, then back up the tar to Sardelli's Store, past Gayisenga and so back to the gate.
This is the one day that we do not see much for most of the day. We stop at the hippo pools and have a walk out to the hippo with the armed guard. Whilst we are on the rocks something crashes through the reeds to our left - turns out to be a large leguavaan and we see it leap (well that's what it looks like!) into the river. The hippo are all in the water and there is very little else around. On the way back we see lots of elephants, and at Gayisenga we see:
but not much else UNTIL . . . we decide to do part of the Berg-En-Dal road in the afternoon as we had heard that there had been a lion kill the day before. We don’t think there will necessarily be lion there but we hope there may be hyaena and jackal. But when we drive up the road, we find the kill right next to the road – a buffalo, and there are at least six lions lying around as fat as ticks in the thorny bushes. We can only see bits of them at first, but soon one gets up and walks across the road to flop down on the other side, then another gets up and comes to the carcass which is right next to us, and then tries to drag it into the shade!
It is of course too heavy for her but we have ringside seats and are able to appreciate her huge muscular strength and the clever way she works out how to obtain the best purchase. First she tries from the outside of the carcass in various positions, then suddenly she plunges her head centrally right into it, gets hold of something in there that we cannot see, bunches all her not inconsiderable muscle and p u l l s. Amazingly it moves a little, but she just cannot shift it to where she wants to go, and she looks round accusingly at the other somnolent forms before going to flop in the shade right opposite us. A couple more come out to join her and she gets up again after a whle, hoping to show them what she wants to do. The digestive process is not over however and they can barely move. We spend an hour or more here, watching the interaction but sadly have to leave in order to get back to the gate before it closes.
–We travel on the Berg-En-Dal loop along the tar and up to the Matjulu waterhole before taking the S110 back to the tar, and then up past Asmaal to the S113 and along the Bume road and across to Mpondo Dam; then back the same way to the main road and down to the gate.
Overnight there have been huge fires to the west and east of Nelspruit, in which 12 people have lost their lives (we later find that at the same time there are huge fires in KZN in which 13 people lose their lives, amongst them, six firefighters.) and the air is so thick with smoke we can hardly breathe. Kruger is almost hidden under the smoke and we have difficulty in focusing our binocs and are both coughing constantly. However, we see four of the lions that we saw the other day, lying on the other side of the road looking like barrels, with paws flopping weakly in the air; there is nothing left of the buffalo but the head. We also see some lovely ellies, including a couple of youngsters who stand right by the edge of the road browsing on some tangled vegetation and not in the least concerned by us; then a secretary bird which obliges by spreading out its wings and stamping on its prey although we can’t see what it is! Unfortunately there is so much smoke that photography is not very successful.
Later we drive right into a herd of peacefully chewing buffalo spread across from one side of the road to the other and sit with them for a while
and then come across two Martial Eagles, calling to one another from two trees - wonderful sight and great sound effects. On the way to the dam we are delighted to see not one but two groups of Southern ground Hornbills, both foraging; the second group is foraging along the edge of the road and is being followed from tree to tree by a Lilac-breasted Roller which is hawking all the insects the hornbills disturb - interesting sort of commensalism.
Mpondo Dam is huge in comparison with all the tiny puddles we have seen everywhere, and, again there is the remains of a lion kill on the far side - looks like Buffalo again and it is still being eaten by vultures. We find the only bit of shade and settle down for a couple of hours and have our lunch here., being WATCHED . . .
The whole time we are here, things come down to drink! It is like a procession – giraffe, zebra, warthogs, Impala, more giraffe, more zebra, Kudu, vultures etc etc – no space in between, it is quite wonderful. The smoke has lifted by now so we can breathe again which is quite nice, and eventually we drive back absolutely satiated with all that we have seen.