My nine year daughter and I have just returned from a 13 night trip to Kruger National Park - and (as always, I must say) Kruger "delivered". Among our personal highlights:
- 70+ lions, including a mating couple, a lioness with what looked like three extremely recently born cubs, lions on buffalo kills and the S100 mega pride (20 + lionesses and youngsters on yet another kill, only to be chased off by two male lions)
- 7 different leopard sightings, including two leopards in two different trees right next to each other, also including a leopard making a porcupine kill right next our car
- 5 different sightings (some rather close up) of the Crocodile Bridge and the Skukuza wild dog packs, including a semi-stand off with a group of hyenas
- a long hour in beautiful afternoon light with a family (coalition?!) of 3 cheetahs, finally (unsuccessfully) attempting to hunt wildebeest
however, it will take me a few weeks to finish this trip report (which I honestly did not really want to write in the first place). Why? because at the same time I have to write up a much longer and more detailed manuscript for the movie diary I will edit out of my 8 hours of raw video footage
Kira and I left Cologne on Saturday Oct 6th, taking the train to Frankfurt - 200 km in less than an hour, some bush planes are slower than that. We had ample time to check in with Turkish Airlines, boarding our flight to Istanbul on time at 7 pm. Our layover in Istanbul was roughly 3 hours, enough time to do a little shopping and grab some non-airline food.
Nine hours later we landed on time at OR Tambo. A quick walk through customs and immigration was followed by a long wait at the luggage belt...in vain. We've experienced one bag not arriving on time but two? Talk about some real bad luck here. However, soon we learned that all passengers who boarded in Frankfurt had the same problem - in Germany we have a saying which I believe can be translated to "Shared grief is half the sorrow". However, at this stage nobody could tell us if our bags were still in Frankfurt, in Istanbul or maybe on their way to Ougadougou... still, we were (not yet) worried, surely they'd arrive with the next plane. Might become a bit of a problem to meet the delivery driver in the park but a problem that should be solvable.
We picked up our Daihatsu Terios rental car and headed straight east, entering the park through its south eastern gate at Malelane. On our way we had bought some basic toilet articles but nothing else - because surely our bags would arrive the following day, right?
First stop for nights 1 and 2 was Berg en Dal. With all the time spent at the lost luggage counters our first game drive was short and produced nothing but general game (which in Kruger of course includes white rhinos, cape buffalos, huge elephants and antelopes like Kudus, Nyalas, etc).
After returning to camp I made the first of a lot of phone calls to Jo'burg - no, they had still no idea where our luggage was or when it would arrive.
Believe it or not, but that night I had a dream: in it our luggage arrived even before our first morning drive. Too bad our alarm clock woke me up at 5:10 am...
What annoyed me much more than the lack of clean clothes (which could, if needed, be bought in nearby towns) was that all my tripods were also missing (in ancient times I'd carry them as hand luggage until a smart security guy informed me that I could use them to attack airline staff and that I'd therefore had to check them in). So there I was, less than 10 km away from camp (on the corner of H3 and S110), looking at the first leopard of our trip and trying to balance my rig with a 24x zoom on nothing but a bean bag. The result was / is obviously quite shaky but the stabilizer tool of my NLE is able to improve it quite a bit.
From there we drove north, spotting first rhinos, then elephants and finally our first lions two females in a riverbed, again a bit far off the road (still on H3).
Later that morning somebody told us that a pride of lions had taken down a buffalo and was now feasting on it at Duke's Waterhole, quite a distance to where we were. Still we decided to take our chances. Two hours later it was much more car action than lion action at the waterhole - we managed to see four lionesses but no buffalo.
After an extended morning drive of 8 hours we were back in camp at 1:30 pm. Just before the gate we had spotted buffalos, making this the first "Big 5 Drive" of the trip. However, my personal highlight of the day was an encounter between a tawny eagle and a bateleur eagle. The tawny eagle was tearing apart a guinea fowl (not sure if it was a "bird kill" or a "road kill") when the bateleur joined the scene. Though the latter certainly looked bigger and stronger, the former showed enough determination to keep his meal for himself.
Another little highlight: two almost grown up hyenas being weaned by their mother - afaik no other predator weans their youngsters longer than spotted hyenas, some sources say up to 16 months.
After a quick lunch it was time to once again call the airport - but still no news. Even today I find it hard to believe that their computer could not at least tell them where our bags were. However, I was smart enough to ask my wife back home to call up Turkish Airlines in Germany and / or Turkey - maybe they'd know more than their African colleagues?!
A rather short afternoon drive with nothing but general game was followed by even more phone calls. After discussing with different people both in Germany and in Turkey my wife had finally found out that our bags were already in Jo'burg, having landed with an SA flight earlier that day. I rang up Jo'burg again; there they knew nothing about it. In the end I persuaded the guy to personally walk from his office to the arrival area and surely enough, he found our luggage. However, had I not had the information I had I don't know when they would have noticed the delivery.
I was then informed that our bags could not be officially picked up before 8 am the following morning. Taking the distance between the park and the airport into consideration I was expecting a drop off early Tuesday afternoon. I told them that the driver should meet us at Numbi Gate, close to Pretoriuskop, our next camp.
To end our long first day in the park we participated in a guided night drive. A few hyenas, a large spotted genet and 2 1/2 hours later we finally called it a day.