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 Post subject: My first Kruger trip 6-7-07 through 12-7-07
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:33 am 
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Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:08 am
Posts: 29
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
I have learned so much from this forum, and I really would like to give something back. So, I have tried to write up some notes from my trip to the park in July:

Summary:
I was recently blessed with the opportunity to travel to Kruger on a quick solo trip. After accompanying me on a six week business trip to China and Malaysia earlier this year, and thus using her vacation time from work, my wife was left behind. I, on the other hand, had a lot of air miles and a chance to fulfill a dream- Africa! I schedule a last minute trip during the school holiday week, and I therefore could not take full advantage of the recommendations on this forum regarding lodging. What I wound up with worked very well, however. I had expected to see the elephants, giraffe, zebra, etc. I kept an open mind about the predators. I looked forward to seeing them, but if I did not I would not have been upset. To put this in perspective, after 8 or more trips to Yellowstone in the states, I have never seen a grizzly bear or a wolf. My unexpected sightings included:
• 7 leopards
• 5 sightings of lions
• 1 hyena
• 1 african wild dog
• 1 serval cat
• 8+ rhino (including two while I was on foot!)
Throughout this report, I will highlight some things I wish that I knew, or that I wish I had seen emphasized in the forums. Some of this may be obvious to others, and a lot of this just restates things I found in the forum. Please forgive the US-centric approach to the report.
General Lessons Learned:
• Try to pick an overnight flight from Europe. I arrived in JNB at 9:30am, and I had a very comfortable trip my first day, and I did not have to rush to get to my camp. I think that arriving much later than 10:30 or so would lead to a very stressful drive out to Kruger.
• Driving on the left is not that hard-by the time you are off of the highway at Nelspruit it will be a lot more comfortable. I was concerned about this, as I do not normally drive a manual shift car, and had never shifted with the left hand. Thanks to the travel instructions on the forum, I had no troubles finding my way.

Day One: Arrival at Melilane to Skukuza
Lesson Learned: If you are new to the park, you may see more on the busier roads. Spotting wildlife is a learned skill which only partially transfers from one region to another.
Lesson Learned: Holiday crowds are a relative matter. Aside from a couple of leopard jams, even though it was a school holiday I never felt crowded in Kruger.

After a short delay getting my car (Alamo), I left Johannesburg airport and headed east. Driving on the left, and shifting with my left hand, was much easier than I expected. The long highway drive gives you plenty of time to get used to the traffic. Just before the N4 split I had a 45 minute delay for road construction. I left the airport at 10:00am, and I was at Melilane gate before 3:00.
50 yards into the park I passed my first impala. Less than a minute later I passed some giraffes. Then, 5 minutes later some kudu and a large impala herd. During my two hour drive up H3 to Skukuza, I saw elephant, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, impala, white rhino, and two leopards! The leopards were perched on a rock about 100 meters from the road, and a kindly South African pointed them out to me.
I was in the park during a very busy time (school holiday), and given the struggle I had to make reservations I expected huge crowds. The 5:00pm check-in at Skukusa was simple, with no more than a five minute wait. The bungalow area was filled, but everyone was quite and well mannered.

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 Post subject: Day Two: Skukuza
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:41 am 
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Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:08 am
Posts: 29
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Lesson learned: It is not that easy to judge how much gas you will use idling along the park roads, and camps are pretty far apart. Fill up the night before!
I hit the road at seven, intending to drive to Lower Sabie. I forgot to fill the tank, so I turned at the bridge, returning to Skukuza via H1-2 and the S83 loop. Cresting a hill on the S83 loop, I had my first close-up encounter with an elephant. Fortunately, mother and baby slid off into the thickets before reaching my car. Lesson Learned: The driving time chart provided on the website is conservative but reasonable, and you should make allowance for the possibility of being stuck for an hour or so in a leopard jam.
Once refueled, I set out for Lower Sabie again. The Sunset reservoir was busy, with crocs, cape buffalo, kudu, impala, zebra, ground hornbills, hippo, and others. Great place to sit for a while and observe. After lunch at Sabie, I crossed the river and returned via S29/S90. Aside from warthogs and some giraffes, this was a long dusty drive. Large parts of H10 were burnt. I spent the last hour or so at the panic lake bird hide. Watching the hippos wake up and get ready for their nightly foraging, and taking the time to drink in the birds and other small creatures was a great way to end the day.
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 Post subject: Day Three: Skukuza to Pretoriuskop
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:44 am 
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Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:08 am
Posts: 29
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Lesson learned: At least at Skukuza, you buy phone cards at the post office, in minimum increments of 50 rand. The phone card is just a receipt, with the access number printed on it.
Lesson Learned: The additional charge for a bungalow with a kitchen is more than offset by the quality food you can cook for yourself. While edible, the cafeteria fare is not that great. By American standards, the meat prices at the camp stores were pretty low and the quality was very high.

I left Skukuza too early to buy a phone card, so I decided to drive up the H1 to the S83 loop again. As I approached the low water bridge I could see it was clogged with traffic. A short time later I was on the bridge myself and saw the cause- a leopard perched on a rock over the river! Not bad, I thought. Three leopards in three days. Little did I know that I would average one leopard a day! After clearing the jam, I stopped near a commercial tour truck. Before I had a chance to turn the camera on, a lioness crossed the road at a lope, right in front of my hood. The animal seemed to be as big as my car, and made me aware that I had both windows down. I also had a nice elephant encounter, and saw baboons and warthogs on my return to Skukuza. After buying a phone card and some snacks and breakfast, I departed south on S114. I spent some time with a small herd of giraffe, and saw a lot of activity at the watering hole near the Hamilton Memorial. Zebra, Wildebeest, Kudu, Warthogs, and Impala took turns at the water. I also saw some dwarf mongoose near the road. The rest of the drive south, including the S26 loop, was pretty bare. I turned off on H2-2 to return to the main road. Not much wildlife, and very rough condition. After lunch at the picnic site, I drove south on H3 and almost immediately passed a white rhino walking parallel to the road. I soon turned off onto S118, and watched an elephant use its trunk to drink from the top of a water tank. At the end of S118 I turned around, and on the way back I had a very close encounter with a bull elephant. I did not see him until he was within 20 feet or so of the car, as the brush was pretty heavy. Fortunately, he waited until I had passed to cross the road just behind me. Returning to H3, I returned north to H2-2, and turned west to Pretoriuskop. This was a long drive, and it was edging into late afternoon. The scenery was great, as the road skirts around some foot hills there are some wonderful views. I saw a couple herds of giraffe, some zebra, and a large (20+) herd of Kudu. As I neared Pretoriuskop the terrain seemed harsh and unfriendly. Pretoriuskop was a pleasant camp, with impala on the lawns in front of my bungalow. Aside from intermittent power failures, I had a nice evening. This evening also marked the first time I cooked in Kruger.

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 Post subject: Day Four: Pretoriuskop to Oliphants
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:49 am 
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Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Lesson Learned: Allow extra time for unforeseen traffic congestion. You may not want to wait 45 minutes to see the leopard, but you may not have a choice.
This day would be my longest drive in the park. I started early, dropping down from Pretoriuskop towards Skukuza. Despite the dawn start, I saw only a few zebra along the way, and no action at the waterholes I passed. After a breakfast in Skukuza I headed north along H1-2. Once again, the section of H1-1 between the low water bridge and the main bridge proved to be infested with elephants. Driving north into the center of the park, I passed a number of groups of zebra, giraffe, kudu, and wildebeest. I visited the baobab tree, which is well worth the detour. I stopped for lunch in Satara, which featured a really good curry. This was the only good meal I had in the park which I did not cook myself. The game density in the immediate vicinity of Satara was spectacular. In rapid succession I saw my fist cape buffalo (I later saw many of them in the south of the park as well), ostrich, and secretary bird. North of Satara I paused for a half of an hour to watch two huge bull elephants destroy some small trees. Eventually, one of the bulls tired of me, and walked purposefully towards the car. I did not argue the issue, and soon passed several other elephant herds. Somewhere north of Satara on H1-4 my smooth journey came to an abrupt halt. A leopard was sleeping under a tree close to the road. The traffic jam was worse than anything I’ve seen, and I’ve seen rush hour in Shanghai. Traffic traveling both directions pushed and jostled to get a view, and then stopped. The two lane road was blocked with 4+ lanes of traffic, with no one even trying to move. I know it is futile, but when faced with a similar situation later in the trip, I chose to:
1) not block the opposite side of the road, so folks could still pass,
2) Take a look, get some pictures, but not “camp” on the animal if I could not get to the side of the road.
After 45 minutes or so, I was able to get around the jam and continue on towards Oliphants. I arrived at early twilight and was amazed at my bungalow. The view was near perfect, perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking the river and miles of veld. I felt that this camp was just the right size. They had a nice, fully stocked shop, but everything was convenient and quite. Well worth the drive.

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Last edited by winnydpu on Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Day Four: Oliphants to Skukuza
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:56 am 
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Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:08 am
Posts: 29
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Lesson Learned: Satara really is in a great area for game.
Today I was to return to the southern part of the park, but I would take a detour along the heavily recommended S100. The drive south from Oliphants revealed a scattering of zebra, kudu, and giraffe. I slowed at the site of the previous day’s leopard jam, and to my surprise I found the leopard asleep under a tree. After a few minutes alone with the animal traffic began to accumulate and I moved on. The drive south to Satara was marked by many bird sightings, including many kinds of eagles, secretary birds, ground hornbills, and several ostrich. I turned off onto S100, and almost immediately stopped at a small cluster of vehicles. A lion was visible off in the distance, or would be if my car was not so low to the ground. I motored on in disappointment. Not more than 15 minutes later, a kindly South African family drew my attention to an entire pride of lions napping in the tall grass. After watching for a while, with no other traffic in sight, we saw a magnificent male lion walk up to the pride from the river. A couple of kilometers further on I saw a Serval cat walking through the brush about 20 meters from the road. Not quite close enough for anything but a blurry picture of the back of it’s head, but quite a treat. After a quick stop at Nwanetsi viewpoint, I returned to the Sartara area along H6. The highlight of this segment was a large herd of zebra crossing the road, and 30+ cape buffalo sleeping in the shade. The return drive to Skukuza along H1-3 and H1-2 were pleasant enough, but without major sightings. I was rewarded by the section of H1-2 just north of Skukuza yet again by a nice herd of elephant. I arrived a Skukuza with just enough time to book a night drive, grab a jacket, and climb on the truck. I was not really impressed with the night drive. We saw a leopard walking down to the river not more than 30 meters from the truck, and I saw my only hyena of the trip. Still, the way the trucks raced up and down H4-1 with floodlights zooming in every direction made me feel like I was dealing with a prison break. I will probably do it again, since this may be the only way to see the big predators in action, but it is not a very natural experience.
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 Post subject: Day Five: Skukuza
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 6:04 am 
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Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:08 am
Posts: 29
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Lesson learned- sign up for walks early in your trip, and schedule more than one!
I began my last full day in the park with a walk. The guests for this mornings walk were only myself and a gentleman from Italy. The rangers did a first rate job of preparing us for the hike. I can imagine the variety of guests they have to deal with, and I think they do a good job of emphasizing the realities of walking in Kruger without being melodramatic. I learned a lot about reading sign and spoor, and our guides lead us right up to a pair of white rhino! On the walk back to the truck, we stopped for a snack and watched the wildebeest watching us. My biggest regret of my trip was that I only took one walk. The experience of being on foot and part of the environment is very different from being in a car. In Yellowstone, I have always maintained that you can not experience the park through a car window. Kruger is better in this regard, but you are shortchanging yourself if you miss this opportunity.
I returned from the walk and climbed into my rented Fiat about 10:00am. Heading south on H1-4 I passed two clusters of cars in front of lion sightings. Both cases were a single female napping in the riverbed. Just before a bridge, there was a large traffic jam for some lions on a kill (again, my little car was too short to allow me to see the kill, although I could see some lions). After passing the lions, the jam got even worse! After almost an hour, I worked across the bridge and saw that a leopard was sleeping in the reeds below and downstream from the bridge. A double predator jam!
I stopped in Lower Sabie for lunch, and crossed the Sabie river to return along S128 and S30. I saw a few ostrich, waterbuck, and kudu along the way. I spent about ½ hour waiting for a large group of elephant to leave the road approximately across the river from the picnic spot. I turned north at the bridge over the Sabie, and stopped by a small cluster of cars a couple of kilometers up the road. An African wild dog was napping by the side of the road. Instead of blocking the opposite lane, I did the right thing and waited in line for my change to see it. I was rewarded when the animal woke up, walked right by my door, `and rolled in the dirt next to my car! I continued back to Skukuza along H1-2, which once again provided me with elephants.
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 Post subject: Day Six: Skukuza to Johannesburg
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2007 6:07 am 
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Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2007 7:08 am
Posts: 29
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Lesson learned- The walk down to the hippo pool by Crocodile Bridge is no more.
Lesson learned- Don’t think you can go to Kruger as a “once in a lifetime trip”, because you will immediately begin planning your return trip!

My last day in the park, and I had an 8:30pm flight to catch at JNB. I planned the day to include a loop around the extreme south of the park, with the intent of leaving through Melilane gate around 2:00pm. I headed south on H4-1, passing the cape buffalo on the road, and a lioness in the riverbed. I stopped in Lower Sabie for gas and souvenirs. I headed south on H4-2, passing small groups of kudu, waterbuck, and impala: but little else. I spoke with a driver who told me that I missed two cheetahs by a matter of a minute or two! Just before the turn onto S25, I stopped by a cluster of cars watching vultures and eagles work over a kill. Once again, the car was too short to see the kill. I did enjoy watching the huge, prehistoric birds coming and going.
S25 was a rough road, among the worst I drove. I took the short detour down to the hippo pool, but after waiting 15 minutes or so another drive confirmed that the walk down to the pool was closed. At many points S25 one can look across the river to see orchards and lodges. It must be pretty tempting for a hungry elephant. About 20 minutes down the road, I saw my 7th and final leopard lounging in a tree. Through binoculars I could see him staring back at me. Elephants and baboons, along with the ubiquitous impala, were the most common animals I saw on this road. At one point, I was chased in a fairly aggressive manner by a bull elephant in musth. Thanks to the forum advise not to turn the car off, I was never in any danger. I left S25 and turned onto S119, which did not product many sightings. S118, however, was as productive as I had found it on previous days. I saw a few elephants, giraffe, and antelope. I passed two white rhinos 20 feet from the road, and apparently just missed a herd of 50+ elephants at the waterhole. Reaching the pavement, I turned south on H3 and passed out of the park. A single giraffe was my last sighting, in just about the same place as I saw my first giraffe upon entering the park. It was a very sad drive back to the airport.
I would like to thank everyone who took the time to support this forum. I have neither the budget or temperament for a structured safari, and I never would have been able to take this trip without the information available here. Hope to see you all in the park someday…
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