After spending 10 great days in the Okavango Delta in Botswana with friends, I looked forward to my trip to Kruger where I would explore this Park alone. Some of you may think that going on Safari without friends or family could be awkward since you cannot share emotions about great sightings with anybody. However, I thoroughly enjoy these "one-man-holidays" as I can head for whichever place I feel like and can stay at a certain sighting as long as I choose. As I had two weeks I decided to cover the whole Park. I started at Numbi gate, went up North to Pafuri and returned to the South to eventually leave the Park at Malelane Gate. I expected Kruger to be as green as I experienced northern Botswana on the days before. To my surprise many places were quite dry and the grass had turned yellow, even though mid-January should be the peak of the rainy season. I began my Safari in the Berg en Dal area which turned out to be as exciting as I hoped for. Besides the common White Rhino and Elephant, I came across a pack of four African wilddogs lying on the S114 close to S118 turn off. After watching them for an hour or so, completely on my own, I had to move on to arrive in Berg en Dal in time for the booked Sunset drive. With the vehicle of SanParks we found them again right at the same spot. Around dusk the four dogs became more active and eventually moved off into the dark. On the way back to camp we also found four male lions on the S110 tar road - what a nice first eve in Kruger!
On the next morning I again headed for the S114 hoping to see the wilddogs. However, they remained hidden and instead I came across an adult leopard (junction H2-2, S114). Unfortunately, it quickly disappeared into the thicket. A bit disappointed that I just got a glimpse of it, I carried on driving on the S114 to Skukuza. Skuks was busy as always but birding in camp and in the surrounding riverine forests including Lake Panic and Skukuza Golf course was stunning - African goshawk, crowned hornbill, cardinal woodpecker and black-collared barbet, just to name a few. Beside some spotted hyenas I failed to spot any large predators there. Instead, I could watch a group of elephants coming down to Lake Panic for a bath from inside the bird hide. It was fascinating to see these huge creatures jumping for joy in the water while being just less than ten meters away, inside the hide. I left Skuks to head North via Muntshe Hill. These open plains around there are one of my favorite areas in Kruger. Bird life was exceptional with many Amur falcons roosting close to the road, marsh owls on the road (S29), a mocking cliff chat at Mlondozi and even a male Montagu's Harrier towards Tshokwane viewed from the H10. As the road ascended towards Nkumbe lookout I found a pride of lions with two adult males, four females and some offspring walking right on the road. I followed them on my own for quite a while before a second car appeared. The pride walked slowly but steadily uphill. The pride members seemed well-fed and relaxed. The lions passed close by the parking area at Nkumbe viewpoint, though luckily no visitors were there at this time. With time more and more vehicles turned up, so eventually it was time for me to leave them.
Continuing my way up North I found the Satara area to be particularly dry. Apart from the good numbers of Zebra, large animals were not common in the region. However, I found a cheetah and her cub just beside the H7, close to the junction with the S36. Further north, the Olifants area was stunning as always, but very dry too. Good sightings in the area included spotted hyena, black-backed jackal at the predator front and white-backed night heron and Temminck's courser for the birdies. Continuing to the North, the Mopani area was quite green and rewarding in terms of animal life. There were plenty of waterbirds at the Nshawu Dam including a single greater flamingo. After branching off to the west, the S143 up to Tihongonyeni waterhole, was marvelous! Serengeti-like open grassland with wildebeest, zebra, tsessebe, ostrich and kori bustard - stunning! On the way back, I came across 4 cheetah on the S50 close to Mooiplaas. I could follow them for quite a while and nobody else was around. I very much enjoyed my time in the Mopani area and particularly the night I spent at Tsendze Camp. It was just me and the camp staff - nothing spoiled the night sounds of the bush. Further north, the loops along the Shingwedzi river were beautiful and birdlife prolific with dozens of white storks on the H1-6. Apart from spotted hyena, the predators remained hidden which changed further north. In the early morning of the next day, a leopard and her two cubs crossed the road in front of me on the Mphongolo loop (S56). Afterwards, the Babalala area provided some good sightings: tsessebe, Amur falcon and even a male pallid harrier! Finally, I reached the Punda Maria/Pafuri area which I found to be very scenic. The Mahonie loop (S99) was beautiful with a pennant-winged nightjar, grey-headed parrot and striped kingfisher and many more. In Pafuri I saw plenty of nyala and kudu as well as vervet monkeys and baboons. As expected, birdlife was spectacular in the riverine forests along the Levuvhu including trumpeter hornbill, Meves's starling and broad-billed roller. On the day I left the North of the park I found a pride of nine lions close to Punda Maria camp on the tar road. I followed these lions for quite a while on my own until a SanParks vehicle arrived. The staff informed me that these lions were particularly dangerous as they had killed people in the past. Since I had to head south I could not find out more about these lions in Camp.
On the following morning I was traveling south on the Tsendze loop (S48) in torrential rain. When it eventually stopped the dirt road became very slippery and I was sliding all over the track while trying not to get stuck with my 2wd car. During the following days rain fell frequently on my way south. In this weather good sightings became rarer and photographic conditions were often difficult. However, I still came across some interesting animals including further lions, a couple of cheetahs on Napi road (H1-1) and a couple of saddle-billed storks just beside the road at Mlondozi dam.
All in all I was lucky enough to see all large carnivores apart from caracal, serval and side-striped jackal as well as many herbivores except black rhino, roan & sable antelopes, eland and hartebeest. Summer-birding was great with more than 200 species identified. I am looking forward to the next trip to KNP already very much.