Wild Dogs to Whale Sharks - Kruger and Tofo 2011
This was my second trip to the Kruger area (and my fourth African safari). The first time, I travelled with family and we hired a car and stayed in the Kruger Park itself at the rest camps, we also stayed for significantly longer than I did this time. I chose Tremisana (Viva Safaris) this time because I didn't want to drive on my own and, with a Mana Pools trip planned out for next August, didn't want to fork out the big bucks on Sabi Sand. I also wanted to prioritise the diving element of the trip. The cost of the safari portion equated to £580 for 5 nights and included pick up from Jo’burg airport and drop off at my hotel in Jo’burg on the last day.About Balule
Balule used to be a hunting concession, therefore the animals remain quite skittish. I did not find the area to be particularly game-rich, which was as I expected, given the cost. The habitat is a combination of fairly thick scrub, and more open areas. The game drives are made along dirt tracks, rather than off-road. We seldom encountered other vehicles (the most we saw was one other). I was told that animals can roam into Balule from Kruger.
Tremisana lodge was very nice and comfortable though not as fancy as Elephant Plains. It's located right near the entrance, just off the main road. As such, the road noise does hinder the feeling of being "in the bush" when at the lodge. Tremisana Lodge has a very small waterhole which is overlooked by the Lapa in which breakfast is served. They also have a very small bathing pool, which I didn't use. The food was tasty and dining more informal than at Elephant Plains, with the guests and staff dining together. The staff are lovely and friendly. There are some nice sunbirds that frequent the lodge, wit helmeted guinea-fowl and yellow-billed hornbills common around the waterhole. A troupe of vervet monkeys provided entertainment while having breakfast, but I didn't see any other game in the vicinity of the lodge, despite it being set in a relatively open area (for Balule).9th October Jo’burg to Balule
I booked an Egypt Air flight at the cost of £548 via Cairo. On previous trips I booked direct on South Africa Airways, but this time I needed a flight that got in as early as possible on the Sunday in order to make the 9.15 am pick up from the airport. All arrangements went smoothly and I was soon on my way to Tremisana Lodge. We stopped to pick up two other guests, who had been at a space conference in Cape Town. Viva Safaris provided a helpful leaflet detailing some of the sites I would see and the schedule of activities.
We stopped in Dullstroom for lunch, which was expedited by our driver phoning through our order en route. However, this didn’t really help as the other vehicle we were due to meet was late arriving. Basically what Viva Safaris do is have vehicles that meet at the lunch stop so that their drivers who know Johannesburg can collect the returning visitors and vice versa. This seems to be a very sensible way of doing things, although I heard that there were some problems with a new driver they recruited later in my stay. But anyway I digress! I spent some time window shopping in Dullstroom before finally boarding the minibus to continue our journey. I passed many familiar sights, including the road to Trackers, where I’d stayed last time and the Taita Falcon viewpoint, where I'd left my field guide and had to rush back for it.
On arriving at Tremisana mid afternoon, I was treated to a very warm welcome from the hostess Florence who, after offering some refreshing juice, informed us that our game drive would be at 16.45. This gave me enough time to check out my room. This was comfortable and had everything I would need, including tea and coffee facilities (an improvement could be made in the form of some proper milk) and the bed was a little on the short side (a taller person would find their feet sticking out the end of the mattress!), but otherwise nice and comfy and perfectly adequate for me.
My room was also close to the “waterhole” which was no bigger than a couple of small bird baths. Aside from a few guineafowl and some vervets, game viewing from the lodge was not very productive whilst I was there, although there were enough sunbirds around for me to spend a few hours during the week being confounded by them as I tried in vain to get any decent photos.
16.45 soon came along and Wesley our guide and driver Finnias took us out on a game drive in Balule Reserve. There were only a few guests staying that night so there was plenty of room in the vehicle for us all to spread out. The drive was relatively uneventful in that we saw none of the big five. We started with a small herd of impala in some quite scrubby terrain. Then a steenbok was spotted. As we came to a more open area, that appeared to be a flat lawn, we watched a mother warthog and two young grazing. Also present were a couple of crowned plover. Later we caught sight of a black-backed jackal backlit in the setting sun.
Stopping at a large waterhole revealed a few birds, including Kittlitz plover. Nile crocodile could also be seen there. A few giraffes put in an appearance along with a grey duiker. Other animals we saw on our drive included a few lone wildebeest dotted around the reserve, small herds of impala, and greater kudu. None of which presented any decent photo opportunities.
As night fell, Wesley brought out the spotlight. We returned to the “lawn” and watched a small herd of zebra move out to graze in the open area. According to Wesley this was a rare sight. A couple of scrub hares were also revealed in the spotlight.
We returned to the lodge and didn’t have long to wait before tea, served buffet style, which was very tasty. Afterwards I had a brief look at the waterhole, in the hope that some kind of nocturnal animal might come for a drink. Their newsletter mentioned the sighting of aardvark on occasion but sadly it did not see fit to put in an appearance during my stay. It was not long before I decided to call it a night. PA093673
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, on FlickrPA093702 Black-backed Jackal
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