As with my Cape Parks reports, I will submit them in stages, as I work my way through all my photos and am able to put all the elements of each segment together. I may also add further to this general observations topic as and when anything further occurs to me.
Game-viewing conditions and practices
The park was still very green when I arrived on 20 April 2006 and the tall grass (especially the tall and thick thatching grass in the south) and thick bush made game viewing "challenging". The low profile of the small and most aptly named Nissan Micra added to these challenges, but there is no way that I could justify paying double the cost for a higher vehicle. There are other trade-offs between a normal sedan and a higher profile vehicle, and I personally prefer to be on eye level with most animals, rather than looking down, plus a sedan is closer to the ground for those smaller things: some birds, reptiles, insects, plants. So I don't worry about what I may miss by being lower than a Landie or a Condor, just accept it and enjoy the fact that every day brought me satisfying sightings and often memorable experiences.
The speed at which one chooses to drive is another factor in what/how much you see. I know that many respected forumites advocate driving very slowly, 25k/hr or slower. That may be great if you have lots of eyes to scan in all directions, but travelling on my own, it has never worked well for me. No matter how slowly I travel, I can't look in all directions at once. My own experience is that overall, I've seen less when I try driving slowly, while I seem always to see plenty when I am driving at more-or-less the speed limit. I'm sure I miss things, but everyone does, and I'm amazed that I so often can spot the flick of an ear or a distant bird when I'm travelling at 35-50k/hr. I also generally tend to stay out all day, taking a circular route when leaving camp, with a stop at at least one other camp (for a snack/lunch) each day.
Restaurants and cafeterias
I don't usually eat my evening meal in the camp restaurant, as I don't enjoy eating alone in a restaurant, but I do generally stop in at a camp during the day for a snack or lunch. This may not be the "proper" place to post my observations on the new catering, but I can always move these comments elsewhere if the mods wish. Overall, I was not at all impressed the current catering, for a number of reasons.
First, when I looked at the evening menus in the hope of finding something that would tempt me to eat an occassional meal in the restaurant, I was generally disappointed both by the lack of any game dishes (I can eat chicken and beef in the USA, but I can't find kudu or other game) apart from a stew which did not appeal, and by the fact that all of the camps seemed to have essentially the same generic menu, whether it be presented as a buffet or a la carte. I'm also disappointed that most camps only offer a buffet dinner, as this is more than twice as much food as I could ever eat at one meal. It would be nice if camps could offer the option of ordering a few of the buffet items a la carte for those of us who don't have huge, man-sized appetites. Even for those camps that only offer a buffet, I don't think it would be too difficult to offer an a la carte option to choose just an item or two from what the full buffet includes?
Second, it used to be possible to go to the restaurant/cafe during the day and order a light snack, such as a pot of tea and a scone, croissant or other pastry. With rare exceptions (Satara, Skukuza), this is no longer an option. The Shingwedzi restaurant was one of my favourites spots for a snack break, but they now offer nothing but a full breakfast or lunch menu, so I had to make do with an ice cream from the shop. At least at Letaba they still have a small selection of homemade cakes, including melktert, but no other light offerings. (Satara used to have wonderful homemade melktert too, but sadly no longer, although they do have a few breakfast pastries.) I did try one of the full breakfast selections at Satara one day, but was not at all impressed with the tiny, rock-hard "African muffins" on which they served the poached eggs. And once I knew that I couldn't get any sort of light snack at Shingwedzi, I planned to arrive hungrier on my next visit and had excellent poached eggs on toast with crispy bacon. However, if I eat that much in the middle of the day, I want only a very light evening meal. In general I prefer to have my large meal in the evening, as eating too much while I'm out driving tends to make me a bit sleepy - not good for game viewing!
Third, what is it with playing muzak in the restaurants?!? I had a bit of a hissy-fit one morning at Pretoriouskop, when I arrived very hungry and knew that I really needed to eat something before going further. Because it was earlier than my usual snack-time stop, I discovered that there was a breakfast buffet with lots of lovely fresh fruit. However, after I'd made my selection, I discovered that there was no way to get away from the restaurant's muzak, even outside. Perhaps I'd been lucky, or perhaps it was timing, but this was my first encounter with restaurant muzak and I was appalled. I come into a camp's restaurant/cafe looking forward to enjoying the camp's birdlife and other such natural sounds of the surroundings, not recorded muzak. If I'd been a bit more relaxed (for reasons I won't go into here, my holiday was not as relaxed and stress-free as it might have been, and I was unfortunately on edge throughout my time in the park), I might have simply asked them to turn the @%*# muzak off, but instead I stormed out in a huff and went to reception to lodge a complaint. Which is how I happened to have the great pleasure of meeting Van Rooi Moreku, a most charming gentleman and a master at smoothing prickly tempers.
But my question remains: Why the need for this muzak? Especially during the daytime when there is so much birdsong to be enjoyed? (Although at night there are all the night sounds as well and for me this is one of the great joys of time spent in the park - the silence, at least of man-made noises, and the opportunity to hear those sounds of nature that are usually obscured in cities and towns.) Apparently this muzak is played during breakfast and dinner in all the restaurants, and often the Pretoriouskop breakfast buffet extends its hours beyond 0930 if there is still food. (I had actually arrived, I believe, a bit before 0930, much earlier than I usually get to a camp for a snack break, which is why this was my first encounter with the muzak in the restaurant.) It is considered equivalent to the same sort of music being played in the shops, but while I've not found it annoying in the shops, because I'm not in the shop to enjoy a snack accompanied by birdsong, I just don't see the point or the need of such muzak in the restaurants. Van Rooi agreed that this was an apt query and criticism, although no one had raised it before. What do forumites think?
Speeding and park etiquette in general
Speeding has been discussed extensively elsewhere (I'll try to remember to add the links here) and I've posted my observations there. It's a widespread and increasing problem and in my opinion, the only way to combat speeding is for KNP to levy substantive and meaningful fines. This will require an increase in traffic officers, but the increase in personnel costs should be offset by the fines levied.
Beyond the speeding issue, there is the matter of the lack of common courtesy on the part of far too many visitors. You would think that drivers would slow down when passing another vehicle on a sand road, but few do, and I was left with a mouthful of dust on countless occasions - whether I was moving or stopped. Aren't others interested to see what you might be looking at if you are stopped? As for not slowing when passing another moving vehicle, I've noticed that, even in autumn, many (even most) people travel with their windows closed and their AC blasting, and they clearly haven't noticed that some of us are driving with our windows wide open.
In general, I just don't comprehend why anyone would come to KNP and drive around in a closed-up vehicle - you miss so much of the total experience, the sounds, the smells. And I was most amused, one evening on the Mahonie Loop, when a guy in a big white bakkie stopped next to me, couldn't see anything, and eventually rolled down his window to ask what I was seeing. Well, I wasn't seeing anything, but I was listening to what I thought might be the resident leopard! And there are many times when I've heard something and stopped to look and only then spotted what was rustling in the bush - be it a bird, an antelope, even an elephant can be almost invisible when the bush is as thick as it was this past April and May.
20-16 Oct Joburg
27-30 Oct Mapungubwe: Limpopo forest tented camp, Leokwe camp
31 Oct-1 Nov Pafuri River Camp
2-15 Nov KNP: Punda Maria, Sirheni, Olifants, Tamboti, Skukuza
16-22 Nov Cape Town
23 Nov-20 Jan Darling