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 Post subject: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 3:56 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:49 am
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The background……

I first visited the KNP in 1977 or 1978 at the age of about 7. I remember the first trip – we stayed in the south, and we didn’t see any big cats, but I have a very clear mental snapshot of a caracal and a black rhino. My family lived in South Africa for three years, and I went regularly. It made a huge impression on me – for years I used to say that my ambition was to work in the Kruger.

My last visit was on holiday from the UK in 1985 - including a stay in a newly opened Berg-en-Dal which I didn't like because it wasn't "Kruger" enough - we didn't even stay in a rondavel :?.

However, despite other members of my family returning every few years, despite an abiding interest in conservation – including four years spent doing postgrad research on birds of prey in the UK - and despite regular travel elsewhere in the world, I hadn’t returned to South Africa in almost 25 years.

Last December, on a quiet day at work, looking out at grey skies, I happened across some reasonably priced flights to Johannesburg during the school holidays. I thought about exactly what was stopping me this time, and didn’t come up with a definitive answer. Within two hours, the four of us were booked to fly to SA for three weeks the following August. A major reason for finally going was that my two sons were now six and eleven, roughly the ages when I had enjoyed the park so much.

All that was left to do was to decide where to go when we got there……


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:06 pm 
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Planning.

The initial plan was a fairly extensive tour of South Africa, including a few days in the Kruger. However it soon became apparent that what I really wanted to do was go to the KNP :lol: . I did worry that I was being selfish, that I was gambling a pretty expensive holiday on just the one thing, and that even I might get bored after a while. However the final decision was to keep the journeying relatively down, and to share our time between Jo’burg (to see my old houses, my school etc.), the Blyde Canyon / Pilgtims Rest and two weeks in the Kruger.

So off I went to the SANPARKS website to book my accommodation eight months in advance, imagining I would have the pick of whatever I fancied, and I got quite a shock…….where were we going to stay?

Then I found the forums, and started a period of extensive lurking as a guest. These posts have been a mine of advice, I’m not quite sure what we would have done without them, so many thanks for all of the information.

Anyway, after considerable angst, a period of denial, and an immense spreadsheet with a matrix of camp availability versus date….we were booked. I then spent the next eight months obsessively checking availability every spare moment, and eventually did make change – swapping out a night in Satara and a night in Lower Sabie for two in Biyamiti.

With two kids in the car, I didn’t want to travel round too much, but there were no long runs of accommodation anywhere and I desperately wanted to see the whole park. I also failed to find much four bed accommodation, so I spent quite a few nights on camp beds in three bed bungalows. The final result was:

Lower Sabie 2 nights
Biyamiti 2 nights
Satara 1 night (all I could get)
Letaba 2 nights
Mopane 2 nights
Olifants 1 night
Talamati 2 nights

Phew!
The fact that I can reel these off from memory five months later says something I suppose....

After browsing the forums I fancied Tamboti, but I couldn’t persuade certain members of the party to sleep in a tent :) . In retrospect, longer stays at fewer camps would have been better, and the night in Olifants was unnecessary. I had been worried about the long drive from Mopani to Talamati but we agreed afterward that it would have been better to have done it in one blast and then had an extra day’s leisure rather than spending two travelling days.

I then spent eight months driving everyone around me crazy….


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 4:21 pm 
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Sorry I wasn't clear enough about the date, it's in the title but nowhere else :).

We went last August (2008), it has taken me this long to get to it.....

Main reason being.....WE'RE GOING BACK AGAIN THIS YEAR :D.
So I have been spending my "south africa energies" booking that.
Now that it is (almost) all complete, I have started looking back again at last year, hence the extremely late trip report.

I'll upload photos as I go, but I have a set from the trip on picasa - http://www.picasaweb.google.com/houseth ... fricakruge


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 5:36 pm 
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Finally there!

Fast forward eight months and we’re late. We spent far far, far too long in the Riverside Mall and the Pick n Pay in Nelspruit (very belated thanks to whoever recommended it on the forum), and now we’re late. Very late. We reach Crocodile Bridge at 5pm.

It’s not quite the homecoming I had imagined – I’m too stressed about being late on our first night to relax. Another visitor in the office helpfully tells me I definitely won’t reach Lower Sabie by 6PM – yes thanks, I’m already stressed :x .

I hurry through the paper work, and we’re done! The cameras aren’t set up, we don’t have time to go to the shop for maps, I tell the kids we can’t stop long for anything, whatever it is, and we were off…

Of course, as it’s almost dark and as we have no time to stop, we see endless amounts of game – none of which I have photos of :( . There was a male lion right by the side of the road within five minutes from the gate. We look at him for two minutes, then we’re off. It’s awful but wonderful as we pass a parade of impala, buffalo, giraffe, steenbok, warthog, kudu and hyena.

The highlight was almost at Lower Sabie- a cheetah crossed the road right in front of us. It was at this point that I realised we would be fine – we would get to Lower Sabie for 6pm and, more importantly, my worries about dragging the family all this way for all this time are evidently completely groundless – they’re completely hooked….

Next episode – I finally get the camera out :) .


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 6:57 pm 
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First morning drive…..photos at last.

We’re all up for an early start next morning. It’s our first morning drive, our first time getting ready before its light there's a lot of excitement.

We set out as soon as the gates opened, fully prepared this time. The plan was to drive back down the H4-2 towards Crocodile Bridge to see if we could see cheetah again. However at the very first junction, I decided to drive over the Sabie bridge for a view of the camp, and then never quite got around to turning round. This became a bit of a habit – I would obsessively plan everything the night before, and then head off on a whim as soon as the chance came.

So we headed up the H10, seeing a couple of buffalo, impala, giraffe and then a pair of hyena eating what appeared to be a warthog. Having been prepared for crowds in the south of the park, and having seen the size of Lower Sabie whilst doing several laps the night before, I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the roads were.

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I had seen a black rhino in the 70’s, but could not recall seeing a white rhino in the park. The kids were well drilled on telling the species apart, but I had told them that they were unlikely to see a black rhino at all.

Of course, the way our luck was running, the very first big grey animal we saw was indeed a black rhino……What are the odds on seeing a black rhino before you have even seen an elephant? It kept a careful eye on us for 30 seconds and then trotted off into the bushes.

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Our first elephant followed almost immediately….
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We weren’t finished there either – we turned off onto the S29 to drive to Mlondozi, and just after the junction, we saw another animal I had never expected to see….

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It was trotting along busily by the roadside, investigating every bush and clump of grass.

It was getting silly. Having seen black rhino, cheetah and a honey badger inside three hours of driving the kids went down the mammals guide and decided to pick something else as their next wish….a pangolin….. All of my protestations about it being almost impossible were met with the response that that was what I had said about the honey badger :D . I’ll deflate the dramatic tension now – despite a lot of wishful thinking from the kids, the only pangolin we saw was in the book.

We stopped an Mlondozi dam for some breakfast, and saw our first White Rhino, male Bushbuck and Waterbuck all head in for a drink. I have been looking at summer photos of a dam full of water since our visit and it doesn’t seem possible that they’re the same place. The contrast is amazing.
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Then something happened that probably happens to many people at their first picnic stop in the Kruger. It was all my fault - I was taking a picture of a bird to look up (a mocking chiff chaff) when we were rapidly and efficiently robbed. Here’s the culprit himself after he had finished eating my biltong – he showed no remorse at all. We learned our lesson and I was much more aware from then on :).
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After the early breakfast at Mlondozi we headed south towards home. Our luck continued – I pointed out a rhino midden and within a hundred yards a mother rhino and calf crossed the road.
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We finished the drive with a herd of around 30 zebra and the first of those frustrating times when you can see a low tree full of vultures but can’t get any clear view of what they’re looking at….


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2009 9:07 pm 
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Thanks for all of your comments - yes the kids were spoiled first morning and yes we did use up a fair amount of our luck on the first day.....

Regarding honey badgers: I grew up next to a zoo in the UK that had a honey badger group, and I have only seen them a couple of times in dozens and dozens of visits - and these are badgers in a fenced enclosure :).

The agreement when we got back was to Lower Sabie was to have a few hours rest, have a swim and then go on an early afternoon / evening drive. But I couldn’t wait….so after negotiating a guaranteed swim after we got back (they didn't know what they were letting themselves in for :)), we went for a "quick drive" at midday along the H4-1 / Sabie river toward Skukuza.

Sunset Dam was the first stop – our first baboon, herons, fish eagles and of course plenty of crocodiles and hippo. A large herd of hippo was sunning itself on the opposite bank. While we were parked, a group of park employees arrived and started working their way around the lake – presumably maintenance. In a flash, the entire herd thundered into the dam. Looking at my various photos, I can count at least 30 hippo all entering the water at once.

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There was also a very inquisitive blacksmith lapwing right by the car, who out on a bit of a pose for me to practice with my bird shots.

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We were still in “drive very slowly / stop at every rock” mode (it had taken us 3 hours to do the 35 km or so drive in the morning), so on the busier Sabie-Skukuza road we were continually pulling over to let people through. It’s not that we started speeding after a few days, more that we were going extravagantly slowly at first…..

But on the upside, I saw my very first wild leopard :D . It was sitting in the shade in the sand on the river bed. The kids couldn’t see it, so I took a quick snap, turned round to show them the picture as a guide and when I looked back it was gone. It’s a poor photo, but a very happy memory.

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We spent a good ten minutes trying to see it again, and did eventually catch it prowling through the undergrowth along the edge of the bank. A pair of kudu bulls spotted it at the same time and gave alarm calls, whereupon it disappeared, for good this time.

We got back to camp, and I took the kids for a swim in the pool. We got more than a few stares - it was a lovely sunny day but the water was ice cold.

Our last evening in Lower Sabie had come already, we had a short evening drive, finishing up at Sunset Dam and what is probably a contender for most photographed non-Baobob tree in the Kruger.
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Drive to Biyamiti next.....


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 03, 2009 1:04 am 
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Transfer to Biyamiti

We had packed the truck before going to bed and we tried to set off bright and early as the gates opened…..

PUBLIC INFORMATION SECTION
There are drop off boxes to put your keys in by the gate :) .


I know, it’s obvious when you think about it. But we weren’t the only family hanging around reception at six in the morning trying to check out. Eventually, someone somewhere asked someone and we found out what to do via the grapevine…

The plan was to drive to Crocodile Bridge via Duke’s waterhole and then the S28, stop for a break and then continue to Biyamiti via the S25, hoping for cheetah and wild dog. Unfortunately, the conditions were not exactly ideal as we left:

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An impressively large hippo didn’t seem to mind the fog however:
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Visibility was very poor and we absolutely crawled along. In hindsight, we should have given up and taken the tar road to Croc Bridge, but my “see all the park” mentality took hold – we had already driven that road.

It wasn’t a complete loss – just past Duke's we saw another leopard in the middle distance stalking through the bushes, although it was gone far too quickly for a photo. I was surprised at how grey they look when they’re in dull light. We also saw a very sleepy hyena and the first of several Kori Bustards.

We stopped at the dam along the S28 and parked up with drinks and some sandwiches to see what came past. The fog was beginning to clear now and we saw a very fine set of Kudu bulls.

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While we were eating we started having a conversation about how many leopard there were in the area. Suddenly (very very suddenly) something brown and yellow and spotted shot in through my open window. I let out an almighty (and embarrassingly high pitched) YELL!!! and leapt across the front seat towards my wife’s lap. LEOPARD!!!!

I'm still here to tell the tale, so it wasn't actually a starving leopard with a jam sandwich addiction. A francolin had flown up to my window to try to steal my sandwich :redface:. With its two evil sidekicks it had crept up from behind the car and I hadn’t noticed it until the "attack". My children were dying of laughter, and all my wife could say was “next time a leopard attacks you please could you stay on your side of the car.”

I told the kids that I was right to be cautious because francolins are well known as one of the most dangerous birds in Africa :evil: - which set them off laughing again. For the whole of the rest of the trip they took great delight in “warning” me every time one came near.

My Nemesis: (Nemeses? Nemesi? Nemesises?). See how they dangerous they look?
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Once my nerves had recovered (and the others had calmed down and wiped the tears from their eyes), we carried on.

Further down the S28 we found a whole gaggle of cars parked training cameras and binoculars off to the left. We pulled up and I asked what it was. “Rhino” said the other driver excitedly. We peered at a single white rhino a considerable distance away. “Oh…..” we all chorused and drove off with barely a second look. In our defence, the rhino was a pretty long way away and we had seen a lot of rhino. However our karmic punishment for this ungrateful behaviour was swift……every animal in Africa immediately hid from us.

The sun was out in full force now and had burned off the fog. So we went straight from "too foggy to see anything" to "too hot for there to be anything to see". We had a lengthy ice cream stop and Croc Bridge, and by the time we headed onto the S25 it was mid day and we saw……nothing. No really, nothing, barely even any impala. It was incredibly hot, incredibly dry, incredibly bright on the eyes, and incredibly monotone. During our two week trip I took an average of over 700 photos a day – pictures of literally everything. In the hour or two it took to drive the S25, I took three photos – one scenery, one impala and one impala-in-scenery.

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Impala-in-scenery - the S25 in black and white (and blue).

Biyamiti

All was well with the world again when we reached Biyamiti. We had a cottage with a view, and what a view! We even had a front lawn 8).

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The birdlife was great too, with crested barbet, hornbills, francolins (grrrr), grey headed kingfishers, robin chats and striped swallows all in the garden. We also had our own personal young bushbuck that lurked in the bushes next to the cottage – bold enough to be seen but not pushy like some of the ones we would see later in the trip.

We agreed we had driven enough for one day, we agreed that the location was out of this world and we agreed to spend the evening seeing what would come down to the river......


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 03, 2009 3:53 pm 
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Thanks for all of your replies.

The UK school holidays run from mid July to the start of September.

We had to be back for the school term because my eldest son was starting secondary school, and he couldn’t miss his first week at the new school.

And regarding addiction, I caught the habit in 1977 and I’m proof that it doesn’t go away even if you stay away :).


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 03, 2009 4:15 pm 
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Biyamiti continued…
I was happily parked on a chair on the lawn watching the river bed, identifying and snapping the birds…for a while. Then I started getting the itch to go out again….Finally at 5pm my eldest son agreed to go on a quick evening drive with me – 30 minutes out, 30 minutes back.

It was fairly hard going again – we did see our first duiker (although they proved to be very difficult to photograph) and the view from the lookout / get out point was fantasy Africa – although I couldn’t see quite why it was safe to get out in this particular spot.

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We passed the 30 minute mark….and I decided that we had spent five minutes at the lookout so we could risk another 5 minutes before turning back.

Exactly on the five minute mark, a car approached the other way, flagging us down. “Lions in the river bed exactly 2km further on, stop just past the rhino midden.” This was a decision – how much had we dawdled on the way out? I had tried to get several duiker photos, there was the lookout, we stopped for a couple of giraffe for a while. Long story short – we carried on.

The lions were where our informants said they were – we could see four lionesses lying in the sand. I haven’t posted the photos – it was almost completely dark and they were screened by the bushes.

By now it was 40 minutes since we had left Biyamiti, and we had 20 minutes to get back. So we had our second “don’t speed but don’t stop for anything” drive in three days – self inflicted again. We did eventually get within sight of the next–to-last car, and held distance. Setting aside the danger to the animals, the road to Biyamiti is not one you would want to speed down….

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The red dot is from the brake lights of the car in front.

We most have dawdled more than I had thought on the way out, because we made it just about in time.

We had a lovely braai on the lawn that night, and sitting on the terrace, we all agreed we were coming back next year. I loved the way that you could look along the river bank in the dark and see the orange dots from the fire in front of each house.

While I’m on fires, special mention has to go to the wood that I had bought in Lower Sabie on our first night – it was rock hard and seemed to be completely indestructible :x. That night I was up half the night trying to get enough heat to cook with – the whole of the rest of the camp had gone to bed, by the time we ate. I bought some charcoal next night, and at Crocodile Bridge we bought some burnable wood.

But our Sabie wood became an obsession – I was determined to burn it all, so once we had a fire going each night, I would chuck a couple of Sabie logs on – and like as not one of them would only be half burned next morning. I ceremonially burned the last log in the fire place at Crystal Springs, over two weeks after I had started trying to burn it all.

As usual we were out at first light next morning – although it took us a while to realise that we could open the gate for ourselves. I do love being able to self drive, and it’s amazing how simple things – like being able to let yourself out of the camp – are so enjoyable. We saw the usual collection of kudu, impala, duiker and giraffe that morning – there are an incredible number of giraffe all over the park. The children took a liking to an elderly looking giraffe that we saw each time near the camp, that they nicknamed knobbly knees – he didn’t look well and I found out later that it would have been bovine TB :(.

When we returned, we finally found something that could keep me in a camp and out of the car - a large breeding herd of elephants right outside the cottage,

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They started opposite the hide, and then made their way to the bottom of our garden, feeding in the river bed. Again I have looked at my photos, and the most I have in one shot is 34. They hung around most of the afternoon – we also had visits from kudu and impala.

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That evening was our sunset drive. My younger son wasn’t old enough, so my wife stayed back and I only had one child as company. It turned out that there was only one other person on the drive that night, so the three of us set off with our guide.

The first thing that we saw was our first large herd of buffalo coming down to the river to drink. A white rhino was already at the pool with its calf, and the buffalo completely surrounded them. Mother rhino started getting upset, and the buffalo gave them some room, but they were trapped against the bank, probably till the herd moved on.

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The second picture is a blow up of the centre of the image – you can see the rhino have a semi-circle of “personal space”.

As it got dark the wind really picked up and we were glad of the spare blankets – my son made himself a cocoon out of them. Unfortunately the animals obviously decided that they didn’t like the wind either, apart from a few scrub hares and the inevitable impala. However our incompetence with the spotlight didn’t help either. Easily 90% of the spotlight sightings were from the lady on the other side of the truck.

After about half an hour with very few sightings, our guide said “I was hoping to see some cheetah – this road is good for cheetah”. Which, unfortunately was exactly what I had said just before our viewing drought on the S28 / S25 on the way to Biyamiti. From then on, whenever things were slow, the kids would chorus “Looks like this area is good for cheetah” – whatever the terrain at the time.

As we headed back, we had seen duiker eating windfall fruit, bushbabies, scrub hares, a very nice genet, giraffe, impala, a white faced scops owl and a pair of skittish hyena.

Right at the end, almost back at Biyamiti, on our side of the truck (although our guide saw it before me), we saw…..a white tailed mongoose! Well, I mostly saw the white tail of a white tailed mongoose :|.

When we got back to Biyamiti, we found that the other two had had quite an evening. The power had gone off shortly after it had got dark, and the powerful macho rechargeable spotlight that I had brought over from the UK must have been more delicate than it looked because it was broken.

I had unthinkingly picked up my bag for the drive, which had the spare torches, so all that they had had between them was one of the kid’s headlights. The elephants were making a racket and the cottage didn’t actually have a proper door – just a screen door. So they were in the back bedroom in the dark with a single weak torch and with the door shut :(.

We packed the car and prepared for an early start - we had to drive to Satara in the morning.


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 2:15 am 
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Onward to Satara…..

The night before we set off I was a bit worried about this drive – it had taken us almost a whole day to drive from Lower Sabie to Biyamiti, and Biyamiti to Satara was a lot further. The longest drive we had managed whilst at Biyamiti was the weir and back – not exactly far…. So I reluctantly decided on a no-detour rule – we would take the most direct route possible.

We got up before dawn to find that not only was it still very windy, and very cold, but it had started to rain. What happened to the dry season? The animals didn't seem to like it either – presumably they were all taking shelter somewhere.

The children were very settled in the back of the car. I had bought them a Honeyguide map each, which turned out to be a great idea – they could follow our route, help with planning and tick the animals and birds off in their copy. Much better than the old flat fold out map that I remembered.

They also had use of a camera each – my old 2MP camera and our compact one. They took photos of wildlife, each other, us, the inside of the car, in fact everything – and then they started making short films of each other. We started a “who can get the most impala in one picture” competition. It’s more difficult than it sounds because impala tend to string out in a line rather than bunch up.

And then there were competitions between the two sides of the car as to which side of the road has the greatest number of “interesting” sightings. Arguing about what constituted an interesting sighting kept us busy :) . And we discussed at some length how to count animals that were in the road. We also did a lot of “guess what the next animal that isn't an impala will be”.

We had decided to be pragmatic about entertainment – so they had a Nintendo DS and a portable DVD player with a stack of DVDs in the back for when it was quiet. We tried to balance making them look when there was a good chance of there being something to see, and letting them play when it was quiet – particularly on long drives like this one.

We stopped for fuel at Skukuza, and right by the H1-2 bridge over the Sabie River, we found ten cars or so trying to see lions. We managed to see some ears, but there wasn’t much movement, and we couldn’t hang around, so we carried on towards Tshokwane, where we were stopping for a late breakfast / early lunch.

It was still raining, so everyone was under the canopy and it was pretty crowded – we ended up dragging a wet table and chairs under the shelter.

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Then we had some visitors:

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Looks like the toilets are out of bounds for now….My kids were still completely unafraid of elephants at this stage, so they had to be stopped from getting too close. There was also a lot of smaller wildlife – we were monkey-wise now but we saw someone else lose their mobile phone to the vervets. This hornbill happily posed for some shots…

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We continued north in steady rain, still following the no-detours rule, so we missed all of the side pans and waterholes along the Satara road. Later, when we looked at the sightings board in Satara, almost all reported sightings had been off the main road.

Right towards the end, just after the Sweni road turning, we found a car parked with all of the occupants staring intently at a bush. When we asked what it was they said it was a civet. We tried and tried and tried some more to see it – when it moved off one of my sons got a glimpse (and so a tick in his map) but it’s one that got away for me unfortunately.

We had lunch in Satara on the terrace. It was really pleasant – the kids ran off all of their energy in the gardens, I saw my first hoopoe of the trip and we had a bit of a shop.

But we were only in Satara one night, so we HAD to go for an evening drive. We took a while getting organised, so we didn’t leave till quite late. We headed south intending to do part of the famous S100, as we would be heading northward next day. However we passed someone who said there was a cheetah kill on the N’wanetsi road, so we carried on toward that – very fortunately as it turned out. Before we reached the N’wanetsi, we hit a large group of cars that could only mean one thing – cats.

We were right at the back of the queue, behind a triple file of cars, so we didn’t expect to see much. But we couldn’t go anywhere, so we all craned our necks to see….lion cubs.

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But then, they started trotting towards us :dance:.

The crossed the road right in front of us, and then stopped on the side of the road, right in front of my window.

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Then they were gone. Apparently there were no adult lions visible, so the crowd dispersed rapidly – most cars headed back to Satara, but, after two more drivers told us about the cheetah, we decided (yet again) to do a timed run out as far as we could.

Unfortunately, all we could find was a pair of hyena on a kill – they had almost certainly chased off the cheetah. We were right at the bingo point to get back to the camp on time, so we headed straight back.

We went to bed hoping for clear skies in the morning.


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 06, 2009 1:11 am 
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Satara to Letaba

Unfortunately, it was even wetter next morning. Undaunted, we set off for the S100….

We had tried to head out at 6am prompt, but there were quite a number of cars ahead of us. We did see lion (along with many other cars), but it was another “ears and tail” in a bush sighting. We didn’t have time to stay – we hadn’t checked out yet – and besides, the cars in prime position were obviously set up for the morning with coffees and breakfast….

We saw greater numbers of buffalo (the huge herd by Biyamiti excepted) and many more wildebeest than we had seen in the south.

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My kids called this the Devil Wildebeest photo – the way the one in the centre appears to have a pair of beady eyes looks quite disturbing….

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We stopped at the N’wanetsi Dam lookout – you can see how wet it was. After a pit stop at Satara, we headed on to Timbavati for a late skottel breakfast. Spirits restored, and with the sun starting to shine through, we headed back toward the tar road.

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As we were taking snaps of this magnificent Kudu bull, the ground started to flow past us like a river. A whole clan of banded mongoose was pouring past. I had been trying to snap a mongoose for days – this time I had my camera out and ready, but even then I only managed to get this single rearguard. I would love to get a shot of a slender mongoose running with it’s tail over it’s head, but they’re so fast!

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Things were definitely looking up. A pair of black backed jackals stopped just long enough for me to get a nice picture of one of them.

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We passed another two lion-in-a-bush sightings on our way north. Next trip we will have to pick a likely one of these and wait it out. But a lot of the fun is in spotting the animal – for me a key ingredient of the ideal sighting is one we saw for ourselves :) .

We stopped at Olifants bridge to take in the view. There was a Goliath Heron - a bird that was very high up the children’s wish list - standing on one leg on the edge of the reeds.

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We stayed on the bridge for quite a while – we could also see turtles, crocodiles, hippo and some sizable fish. While we were taking it all in, I noticed a movement far far away on the river bank. I grabbed my binoculars, and:

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I have blown up the centre, but I love the the full shot – although the reduced size I have used here doesn’t do it justice. It was a serious distance away – the large shot is taken on maximum 20x zoom on my camera..

(I later afterward that this was also my only photo of a Hadeda ibis).

I had the pleasure of telling everyone in sight about “my” lion and pointing it out :).


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 2:57 am 
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Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:49 am
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Letaba…..

We checked in to Letaba, for a river view bungalow for two nights. After Biyamiti and a newly refurbished bungalow in Satara, the bungalow in Letaba was a bit of a come down, as it was in need of a refurbishment. The camp was also absolutely overrun with bushbuck, baboons, squirrels and vervets. The vervets had obviously been studying visitor's habits - they appeared like a whirlwind and raided the camp at 5pm sharp - when most people would be out on evening drives :).

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On the upside, the view was a million dollars. Olifants gets all of the plaudits, but because you aren’t on top of a cliff at Letaba, I think you can actually see the animals better (although later on we did get a very good sighting from Olifants). There was a constant parade of waterbuck, impala and marabou storks.

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It was also the children’s favourite camp. Because we were right on the river, there was plenty to see, the camp was easy to navigate and they felt more secure wandering off. Trips to the cafe to get an ice cream to be eaten on the terrace in front of the restaurant were very popular. They also loved the elephant museum – we went round it several times.

When we went out for a drive as the gates opened next morning, the sky was much clearer. At last! We headed north along the Letaba river, on the S47.

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We didn’t see much apart from impala and a couple of herds of elephants in the river bed.
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I spied a pair of eagle owls camouflaged against a rock face.

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It was obviously a day for camouflaged birds – we would never had seen this Korhaan if it hadn’t scurried across the road first. The camouflage is incredible.

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It was a lovely drive - very scenic and far quieter than it had been further south. In the evening, we decided to drive to the east of the camp, to try to reach Matambeni hide. However, the wildlife had other ideas.....

Just after we had turned off onto the gravel, we met our first herd of buffalo crossing the road.

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They went on for ever and ever and ever.....I love the way that the bulls act as crossing guards. The noise and the mess were incredible!

The delay with the buffalo meant that we had to turn back before the hide, and, just for a change, we were running a bit late on the way back. Unfortunately, Bull elephants seem to appear everywhere on the roads around Letaba as it gets dark.

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You can see the reversing lights on the cars - he's backing everyone up. I chose this exact moment to stall the rented bakkie for the only time on the trip :redface:. One of the reversing cars in front of us must have thought we were messing around taking photos, so he helpfully hooted us - which probably didn't help the mood of the bull elephant. After seeing the pictures of the crushed car in the elephant museum, the children were finally persuaded that elephant could be trouble :roll:.Luckily, having fully demonstrated his dominance over us, the elephant calmed down and let everyone past.

There were elephant everywhere on the way back, including this impressive tusker.

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Next stop Mopani.....


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 1:46 am 
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Thanks again for the comments.

The children loved Letaba the most, however it's one of two* from last year that we aren't (currently) staying in again. Our first plan was for a shorter stay in the Kruger, and it didn't make the cut. When we lengthened the trip plans, it fell foul of my "I'm-not-sleeping-on-mattresses-on-the-floor-this-time" policy** - there was no four bed accomodation left.

They are grumbling about it, so this year we will definitely be having lunch there and doing the elephant museum again on the way past - I couldn't keep the kids out :).

* Even booking 11 months in advance, only single nights were available in Biyamiti
** not that the floor was that bad (I slept like a baby every night) - it's just that it's easier if I can arrange it so that I don't have to.


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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 1:57 am 
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Letaba to Mopani

Up early again – after failing to reach Matambeni hide the night before, the plan for the morning was to try again. It was just me and my older son this morning, so we had to be back by 9am to check out.

We found a martial eagle on a prominent perch overlooking the Letaba River.

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It was a fairly quiet drive to the hide – elephant, kudu, steenbok, impala. But the hide was in a beautiful location, we were the only people there and a pair of young hippo were challenging each other right in front of the hide.

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It was a lovely morning and after many hippo photos we wandered out of the hide chatting about the what we might see in the north, paying very little attention. We were about halfway between the hide and the bakkie, when I heard a munching noise…….and realised there was a very very very large looking elephant watching us, about as far from the car as we were. Flashing through my mind were the pictures of the crushed car in the elephant museum, with the explanation that it was because tourists had got out of the car…..

We both walked as calmly and evenly as we could toward the truck – luckily I hadn’t locked the doors. For some reason, I forgot to take a photo of him….

I have now learned my lesson, and will always “look both ways” before leaving a hide.

We drove back to Letaba, loaded up the bags, went round the elephant museum again (this isn’t even our last tour of it this trip), and set off for Mopani.

We approached the Giryondo turning, with our eyes peeled for Tsessebe or Roan. As we crossed a reedbed, my wife made an amazing spot from a relatively fast moving car….

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Reedbuck 8). I hadn't actually believed these existed - surely they were some private Sanparks joke. They don’t appear on the rare antelope lists like sable or roan, people do seem to see them occasionally – including someone we passed near to Letaba the day before – but I had never seen one. It had a foal close alongside it, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera.

Although we were nearly at Mopani, we stopped at Mooiplas for a skottel lunch. I saw the first Grey Hornbills of the trip, and this Golden tailed Woodpecker, who was checking the beams for bugs.

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After lunch we continued to Mopani. There is a pan right by the turn off to the camp, and as we arrived we could see a mixed herd of grazers leaving through the trees. Toward the back of the herd, there were some brown animals. Binoculars and zoom lenses out…..my first Tsessebe. Two personal firsts in one morning :D .

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I loved Mopani already.


Last edited by PittCulross on Tue Feb 10, 2009 11:24 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: August 2008 KNP trip - A return to KNP after 24 years
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 6:17 am 
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Legendary Virtual Ranger
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I have a Sony Alpha Maddie, and with it's stabilising qualities, it's great for the Park, (and my shaky hands). It's also a surprisingly light camera, which suits me fine.

Pitt, what an amazing exprience with the ellie, not surprised that you didn't get a picture.

I agree with you about the Reedbuck. These exquisite ceatures are seldom seen, and deserve more "publicity". I have only had 3 sightings of them, and 2 were fleeting.

The one sighting was close to Skukuza, just before the last night of the cricket. I waited for ages, hoping another forumite would come to share it with me, but to no avail :(

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