I just finished 4 weeks in Kruger - the first trip consisted of 2 weeks in the first half of July and then an additional 2 weeks just concluded
Detail trip report and photos will be online in a week or two, for anyone interested, but a quick summary follows - especially lion pride locations, in case anyone is interested.
The first trip coincided with school holidays and was planned 4 days in advance - not the ideal recipe. We spent the first week in the northern part of the park - Shipandani hide, Mopani, Olifants, Sirheni, Bateleur and Punda. This part was fairly slow when it comes to game viewing, and even slower when it came to photography, thanks to very cloudy skies. We did have 2 decent and extended leopard sightings. The second week was in the southern part of the park - Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Talamati and Satara. Sightings were better this time, but due to large crowds, productive photography was very hard.
The second trip, I was by myself, as my wife had to fly back for some other work. This was entirely in the southern part of the park - Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Satara and Croc Bridge, with a couple of nights in Malelane for change. Viewings were significantly improved this time, and I definitely had a lot more photo ops as well.
Generally, for viewing and for photography, I think the southern parts of the park were much better -- no surprise, eh?
Highlights of the trip for me:
- photographing a pride at a giraffe kill
- getting a second chance to shoot a leopard in a tree (I missed the first sighting near Lower Sabie)
- second time I saw elephants mating in the water (first time was in Matusadonha NP in 2002) - and this time I got shots
- seeing a suni
- some very nice steenbok shots
- watching an ele kick a sleeping calf awake. Literally. She walked up to the baby and without preample, gave him a moderate kick on his backside. Strict parents, those eles.
- having a 30 min session in fading light with a lioness, by myself.... (details in the trip report)
Not-so-highlights of the trip:
- the food at the park. I love meat more than most people I know, but lord, would it kill them to have *some* veggies? What do vegetarians do?
- the lack of respect some people show for animals and for etiquette: there was even a jackoff honking his horn at the giraffe kill, to get the dozing lions to look at him! And the number of people that nosed over to see what I was shooting (stupid big white lens sticks out like a sore thumb) and roared away - literally gunning their engines - when they saw it was nothing glamorous, ruining my shot for me. Why do these people even come to a NP????
- didnt get to see wild dogs. I guess that's what next trip is for...
During this time, I noticed some trends in "trophy" sightings, which I thought I'd share here:
The tar road between Lower Sabie and Skukuza turned up lions over 50% of the times I drove it. However, photographically, this was pointless, as the lions mostly crossed the road - and the high volume of cars made getting even a simple lion potrait hard. I stopped driving this road as a result. However, if you dont care about getting saleable photos, then this is probably your best bet for seeing lions.
As far as I can tell, there is a pride of atleast 1 male, and atleast 9 lionesses and subadults that hangs around about 5-10 km past the Lubyelubye bridge, coming from Lower Sabie. I've seen them thrice in this area. There is also atleast one pride between the start of the H4-2 and the turn off to go to S30.
The road between Lower Sabie and Croc Bridge was also very productive. There is a pride of 3 lionesses (incl. 1 with a collar) and 2 males that hangs around the dry river bed just south of the H5 turnoff on this road. I saw them almost every time I drove that road, and they dont seem to go far.
There is also a resident leopard that hangs around in the first 6-7 km on this road (starting after you pass the turn off to the road to Tshokwane), as you leave Lower Sabie. I didnt see the blasted critter, but he had a buck on a tree one day, I saw his tail another day and heard impala alarm-calling a third day. Others seem to have been luckier.
There is also atleast 1 pride that hangs around the early part of the S25 road. Another pride hangs out north of the bridge 6km north of Croc Bridge.
My favorite road in this area is the one going north from Croc Bridge. I had both my cheetah sightings (a mum with 4 cubs, and a coalition of 3) on this road -- although both were in fading light. This route was quite grim in July, but game numbers have picked up a lot more now. There are atleast 2 prides that hang around on the road between Lower Sabie and the hill near Mlondozi. There may also be a pride around the Muntshe Dam area - I saw a whole lot of vultures clustered on a tree there 2 days ago, and a lot more landing... good indications of a lion kill. Didnt see the cats, so it may be nomads.
The Muntshe dam was also a good road for rhino - I saw them virtually every time I drove the road. The Muntshe dam area was also awesome for steenbok - right by the road, without too much thick brush obscuring them.
In other areas: there is also a pride of lions that seems to visit the dam just south of Tshokwane) quite regularly. I've had good luck seeing them in the late morning, sunning themselves on the embankment.
There is also a hyena den right where S125 branches off from the main tar road connecting Satara and Tshokwane. The pups seem to be quite big, so I am not sure how much longer this den will remain occupied.
I hope this is of use to people planning their trip now. Please note that this is based on my own observations and these conclusions helped me with regular sightings of lion and rhino. Your mileage may vary.
Overall, we had a great time in S Africa, although I have to admit I am a little worried about the Saffie love for (a) biltong and (b) Celine Dione ("Celine Dione weekend" on JacarandaFM??!! Surely there are public interest laws against that!!!).
To quote the Governator - I'll be back!