PeterPM - The time has come. No more waiting.
Cheetah2111 - Thank you for your kind comments throughout the trip. Here comes the finale
Martie - I hope I will be back very soon. I never knew how much time is invested in a trip report until I started writing one. It has been very time consuming, but worth it in the end.
Pumbaa - I agree regarding BnD. I will try it next time. Each time we go we extend our trip a little longer. 8 nights this time, hopefully at least 10 the next. Although we are also thinking of trying KTP. We have heard awesome reports from there as well.
Melanie - Kruger is a treasure. I just wish everyone would recognize that and treat it as one. Thank you for your comments.
BillyF - Of course it is always already tomorrow somewhere. Thanks for following along.
Micetta - I agree about timing being everything. Thanks for following along. I can't say I'm a birder yet, but I am certainly making progress.
Toko - Thank you!
Is anyone ready to leave the Park? Me either, at least not emotionally. But, unfortunately life must go on. So it is with a heavy heart that I am writing this final segment in our 2011 Kruger Park adventure. It truly was a memorable experience. But then again, I think any trip to KNP is memorable.
As we sat in the cool evening air on our last night at Malelane I thought about telling Mr D that we would leave ahead of them and travel to Crocodile Bridge to exit. If you remember, Mr D planned on exiting Malelane immediately and heading for home. I can understand the desire to get home, but only being able to come every few years, I wanted to delay our departure for as long as possible. This would at least give us a couple more hours in the Park in an area we had not visited before that has good viewing opportunities.
Well before I had time to mention anything, Mr D told me he had decided it would be better to exit through Numbi gate via Pretoriuskop rather than to exit directly through Malelane. I have no idea what had changed his mind (actually I think he was disappointed over not finding the Wild Dog the day before and wanted another chance), but who was I to question his sudden burst of genius. I tried to contain my excitement while letting him know that whatever he thought was best would do for us as well. I looked at the map and figured that would give us at least another couple hours in the Park. This was going to be great!
So while the fact that we were leaving the Park was depressing, the pain of it was softened by knowing that we weren't leaving immediately in the morning. I mean there were lots of things that could still happen, right? Who's to say the passports wouldn't accidentally fall out the window and be carried off by some angry beast. I think the SO could read my mind, because I carried the passports the entire trip and now she took them and kept them close to her at all times. Oh well, it was nice dreaming......See not only was our KNP time coming to an end, but our entire trip was almost over as well. We were leaving Kruger on Saturday and began the long journey home to the USA on Monday.
Here we go with the rest of our visit:Day Nine - Saturday July 16th 2011 - Malelane to Johannesburg - Parting Shots:
Most of the suitcases had been packed the night before. All we needed to do was shower, pack up the nightclothes and toiletries, and head out the gate. We were all up around 0700 and were ready to go between 0800 and 0830 hours. Even Mr and Mrs D were ready to go, but had to pack the trailer. I offered to help with the trailer, but I think I was more in the way than anything else so Mr D told me to go ahead and get on the road.
The plan was to head straight up the H3 to the H1-1 and then over to Numbi gate. Our family needed to do a quick detour to Skukuza to check the shop for something and then we would all meet for lunch at Numbi before leaving the Park. During one of our stops at Satara my 13 year old daughter saw a bag she wanted. It was a simple bag that had South Africa printed all over it. It was the only thing she had asked for during the entire trip. My son on the other hand had asked for almost everything in the shop everywhere we stopped. He obviously didn't get everything he wanted, but he did get more than his fair share of souvenirs. I had made the mistake of telling my daughter to wait because I was sure we would see it at Lower Sabie. Well that was a mistake. We looked everywhere and could not find the bag. To make matters worse, unbeknownst to me, Little D had also liked the bag and had bought one at Satara. I was in the dog house, and rightfully so. She had been an angel during the trip and now through no fault of her own she couldn't get the only thing she had asked for on the trip.
I could only think of a couple of options:
1. Steal Little D's bag when she wasn't looking
2. Show a good faith effort at trying to find the bag for my daughter by stopping at every shop between Malelane and our exit point.
Somehow the second option seemed a little better. So off we went headed for Skukuza.
Right after we turned onto the tar road from Malelane we came across an Elephant very close to the road. He was a big one, but was enjoying some leaves and wouldn't pull his head out of the tree it was in.
We turned from the S110 onto the H3 and we really were not looking for anything in particular. I know my mind was focused on the fact that we were on our way out of the Park, and hoping against hope that Skukuza would have the bag and I could make my angel happy.
We had traveled less than two kilometers from the H3 junction when something crossed into the road about 30 meters ahead of me. What was it? No, it couldn't be.......
Yes, it was the resident Leopard from Malelane. Once again I did the little trick of jamming on the brakes, turning the car at an angle to the left, and hoisting the 7D with the 300mm lens up onto the bean bag. Not only did this Leopard cross the road in front of me, but she actually sat down in the middle of the road long enough for me to snap a couple of pictures. She then looked quickly to her right, slouched down, and quickly and intently made her way into the bush about 15 meters off the side of the road.
This time the settings on the camera were right, and the light was good. Of course it was too good to be true. I was so focused on getting the focus points on its eyes that I didn't realize that I wasn't capturing the whole body in some of the shots.
And then she was off
I know this one doesn't have great focus, but I was amazed at how low she got to the ground as she moved away.
And this is where she settled
We had the Leopard all to ourselves for about two minutes before the first car came by. My wife was delirious with excitement and started waving every car that came by over. "Do you see it? It's a Leopard under the tree. Right there; just follow the lens of my husband's camera and you will see it laying down under the bush." This scene was repeated over and over again until there were so many cars that she couldn't tell anyone else. I was so intensely focused on the Leopard that I hadn't even noticed that there was a herd of Impala about 25 meters away. The Leopard was downwind and was in perfect position for stalking. And she knew it.....
We had called Mr and Mrs D and they had arrived as the traffic was starting to jam, but we were still able to move them into a decent position. We had them stop closer to the Impala and they were in a perfect position for when the action would start. The Leopard was intently focused on the Impala and she moved slowly,. stealthy, and close to the ground. She was very deliberate in her movements and only moved a meter or two every 15-20 minutes. She was very well camouflaged and if we hadn't been watching her from the beginning, we never would have seen her. Here are a few photos just to show how well concealed she was.
The cars had really piled up now and nobody was moving anywhere. My son was freaking out because of all the cars (part of the Asberger's syndrome) and was yelling at his mom because she was the one that caused the traffic jam. Looking back on it it is pretty funny, but it wasn't at the time. Unfortunately there were lots of people violating the rules. My son became intent on taking pictures of the violators and their license plates.
How about this one? Like Father Like Son.......
And this brain surgeon wasn't the only person who thought it was ok to get out of the car less than 30 meters from the hungry Leopard.
Traffic was a complete and utter mess. Nobody could move an inch. At one point a lady driving a big safari tour truck pulled off to the side of the road opposite the Leopard, exited her truck and started telling people to move because she was on a "tight schedule." Other people were honking their horns and yelling for people to move. It became quite chaotic.
All the while the Impala were clueless to the presence of the Leopard and they had drifted closer as well. They ultimately were between 10 and 15 meters apart. There was tension in the air and I could feel my heart beating in anticipation. It was amazing. Suddenly the Leopard moved forward slowly and flushed a guinea fowl. The bird shot straight up in the air with a shreek that set the Impala on alert. The Leopard knew it had been compromised, gave a look of disgust, and turned and moved quickly away into the bush. And it was over. We had been there for two hours waiting and it all ended with a silly guinea fowl. Overall it was still an amazing experience.
Traffic was so bad that a SanParks employee finally arrived and started directing traffic. We made it out after about 10 minutes, but Mr and Mrs D were stuck for another 20 minutes or so. Timing was everything once again. 30 seconds either way and we probably would not have had the honor and privilege of seeing this Leopard.
We headed off to Skukuza
and stopped at the Post Office and the ATM. The birds were all over the aloes
We made it to Skukuza and headed for the shop. I looked all over the place, but couldn't find the bag. This wasn't going to be good. If they didn't have it at Skukuza I doubted I would find it anywhere else. So I started looking for my daughter to break the news to her and see if an ice cream bar could help minimize the disappointment. When I caught up with her I discovered that she had in fact found the bag AND found one in a color that she liked even better. All was good in my world. So instead of easing disappointment I decided ice cream bars would be in order to celebrate our awesome morning. And yes I did eat another "Death by Chocolate" Magnum Bar.
We headed off from Skukuza towards Numbi gate. We were about 30 minutes behind Mr and Mrs D and they said they would wait for us at the gate.
Along the way we saw Elephant, Impala, and Rhino, as well as a variety of general game.
As we drew closer to the gate I could feel the pit in the bottom of my stomach getting tighter. I always hate this part of the trip. Leaving paradise is never an easy thing to do.
I mentioned to the SO that it had been a good trip with amazing sightings. I then told her that I wish I could have gotten better Buffalo photos. And then all of a sudden what did we see, but a HUGE herd of Buffalo. They were everywhere!!!!!
After taking tons of pictures we started to drive away and move on towards the gate. Two cars coming the opposite direction had stopped and I now saw that two men had gotten out of their vehicles and had started walking into the bush with little point and shoot cameras. They were about 10 meters from the Buffalo and were stumbling like they were drunk. Stupidity knows no bounds I guess.......
The rest of the drive to the gate was completed in silence as we all knew the trip had reached its conclusion. We met up with Mr and Mrs D and learned they had seen a young Lioness at Transport Dam unsuccessfully chase a big Waterbuck. A fitting end to this amazing journey.
After lunch we headed out the gate already hoping and planning for the next trip. We drove through White River and Nelspruit and got a great view of the World Cup Stadium. We ultimately made it back to Johannesburg around 1930 hours. What a day and what a trip!!!!!!!
I would be remiss if I didn't say some important thank you's before I close. Firstly thank you Lord for your beautiful creation. How anyone can doubt creation after being somewhere like Kruger is beyond me. Thanks to my parents for taking me to Africa when I was young which started this love affair. Thank you to Mr and Mrs D and Little D for being such good friends and welcoming us back with open arms every couple of years. Thank you to my wife and children for letting me drag them half way around the world and for putting up with my antics. My poor wife spent much of the time in the car with a massive 300mm camera lens pushing her face against the seat of the car so I could shoot out her window. I'm sure it wasn't fun. And finally thank you to the Forumites who post such incredible trip reports on the forum. I live vicariously through you until I can return.