8 March 2013, Day 1
Me and Skillie were already packed the weekend before and we left home Friday morning around 4 o'clock. We drove from Pta-North via Polokwane, Magoebaskloof in the mist, Tzaneen, Phalaborwa. We arrived at the Phalaborwa gate 10 0'clock after filling up with diesel and buying some snacks. Checking in at the gate went quick and smooth and the security company managing the gate was evidently more secure than before, checking the bakkie and trailer for weapons, ect. I gave the guard one of my Rhino stickers and then everybody wanted one and for their friends and I was to happy to hand them out. When we left the park on our last day we saw the Rhino stickers on the staff vehicles and on the security company's vehicle. I was so happy!
We parked to check in at reception.
This is the happy side of the gate!
After entering the gate it was already 37 degrees and we took the first dirt road available since we don't like driving on the tar roads to much. Taking the S131 leading to the low maintenance roads north-east parallel to the H14. We did not see much since the mopanies were so dense and our eyes were not in bush mode yet. We did spot a few Impalas and a lonely Ellie bull far away under a big tree taking his midday break.
It was impossible not to notice all the Golden Orb Spiders seemingly hanging freely in the air. There were millions and millions everywhere, between all the mopanies were huge webs, some with four to eight spiders, some with males and females, some webs were five meters high, some with recent catches neatly cacooned in spider web to eat later.
Now I really don't like spiders. Any other bugs or insects or snakes I really don't mind, but seeing these huge webs and huge spiders gave me the creeps. While on the dirt road there were no webs across the road, but on the low maintenance two track road the webs were spun across the road and Skillie had to drive through the webs and some of the spiders landed on the wind screen, quietly freeking me out, but I kept my cool.... since the wind blew them off eventually.
Then one spider decided that it must be nicer inside the Hilux. The spider landed on the wind screen and the wind blew it onto the roof and she (the males are a lot smaller than the females) reached the window and made a web down into the hilux. Luckily on Skillie's side (I would have died!!), by the time he saw the spider it was on his knee and without any fuss or panic he picked up the spider web and lifted it out the window.
This is the spider back out side were she belongs, but not happy being on the ground.
Now you get three types of Golden Orb Spiders: Banded-Legged (yellow and black legs), Black-Legged (Black legs with blueish abdomen) and Red-Legged, like the one above. They are named after the golden colour of their huge round webs. Now what I can't find in the books is what will eat them? There are millions and would be a great diet for some bird or reptile.
Luckily not just spiders along the way, but the real reason we came this time of the year, the summer visitors! European Rollers were every where and pretty over whelming if you've never seen one before and Skillie had to stop for every one of them. Also along the way some European Bee-eaters, Lilac Breasted Rollers and a few LBJ's that I still need to ID. (The Rollers don't eat the spiders, they would sit on the same tree that the web is spun from looking for other insects.)
Now these low maintenance roads do not have names or numbers, but what an awesome experience to drive. You feel like you're really far away from everything in the African bush. Driving is slow, nothing more than 10 to 15km/hour and it was hot, 40 degrees, but with the excitement of being back in Kruger, the heat did not matter. Near the Ellie under the tree we met the only other vehicle on the road, the rest of the way it was just us.
The white roads on the map is the low maintenance roads and is the only ones on the map, except for east of the Lebombo Mountains, meaning other side the border. (That's if my map is up to date.)
Eventually we got back on to the Mopani/Phalaborwa tar road near the Shivulani river cul-de-sac and the temperature gauge was on 43 degrees. We rolled up the windows and switched on the air-conditioner. Other side the Letaba river we saw our only Njala bull, a beautiful big bull right on the side of the road. But he got a fright and bolted off before I could take a picture.
Before we knew it we were at Mopani, were we stayed the night and then again on our last night. It was to early to check in (check in is only after 2 o'clock) so we went and had the best lunch ever at the restaurant. The restaurant is under new management since sometime last year and not part of the restaurant-chain in the other main camps. The drinks, fancy with straws and cherries in stylish glasses. The food was tasty and delicious and presented in a way I've never seen before. The bill was nothing more, maybe a bit less than what we pay in Pretoria. We were pleasantly surprised and booked a table for dinner....