We spent June 2nd to 8th in Kruger. Our second visit, the first one was in 2000 – and we hope there will be more!
Day 1: Malelane – Balule
A rainy morning, but after only twenty minutes of driving we saw a pride of lions north of Malelane, just next to the road.
We continued north, a long drive. The Satara region was absolutely fascinating – animals every few metres or so. Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Kudus, Waterbucks, Wildebeest – and very, very far away – hard to spot even with binoculars – some lionesses scaring a herd of buffalos. And the rain stopped and the sun came out! My favourite sighting of the day was on the Olifants Bridge: just below us, there was a herd of Elephants, the adults grazing, the kids playing. It was such a peaceful scenery!
We spent the night at Balule Camp and loved the place! Hyenas, Elephants and a Genet, just on the other side of the fence, only a few metres from our campervan.
Day 2: Balule – Shingwedzi
Wanted to go to Olifants first thing in the morning, just to have another look from the lookout point there (we love it…), but two young Elephant bulls blocked the road and we were a bit scared… We didn’t want to wait too long, so we turned around and went to the main road – and found an even better lookout over the Olifants there (Nwamanzi). Stop in Letaba, then north to Shingwedzi via the S50. A lovely drive, we enjoyed the scenery. The bush “dressed” in warm orange, green and yellow autumn colours, the sky deep blue with some white clouds. Lunch in Shingwedzi, the restaurant terrace there is a wonderful place, we didn’t want to leave it! So many birds!
Coffee in one hand, binoculars in the other – and somehow juggling the camera
Short afternoon drive just a few kilometres out of the back entrance of the camp, along the Shingwedzi. What a wonderful drive! Elephants, Nyalas, Buffalos, Bushbucks, Baboons, Saddle Billed Storks, Hippos, Crocodiles - absolutely beautiful.
Day 3: Shingwedzi
On our way to Tshanga lookout, we saw a Sharpes Grysbok. Breakfast at Tshanga lookout, another wonderful place! At Red Rocks lookout we watched a very aggressive buffalo, it was drinking down at the waterhole, snorting, blowing and threatening in our direction every now and then.
We continued north on the S 56 to Babalala Picknick Area. Lovely scenery.
Babalala is my favourite Kruger-Picnick Area now (it used to be Tshokwane), especially with the huge elephant that was drinking at the water reservoir just a few hundred metres from the Picknick Area. And we loved that Sycamore Fig Shelter! After a coffee on the Shingwedzi Restaurant Terrace - with an Elephant passing right in front of us - we made another afternoon drive just south of Shingwedzi, a few kilometres along the river. This was so beautiful! Everything shines golden in the evening sun, the river is coloured in a warm orange, low sunrays beam through the trees and shine in the dust from the road. And the animals are coming out to drink at the river – a photographer’s paradise.
Day 4: Shingwedzi – Tsendze
Had to turn south again…
Another stop at Redrocks Lookout on an icy cold morning. Went to Stapelkop Dam, a herd of Giraffes was drinking there. Lunch in Mopani, another nice restaurant terrace. Crocs, buffalos and many birds. In the afternoon we drove the Tsendze loop, S48 and back to Tsendze on the main road. Saw the “usual animals” (zebras, elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs) and some nice secretary birds at Middelvlei. Spent the night in Tsendze Rustic Camp, another wonderful place – and so peaceful!
Day 5: Tsendze – Skukuza
A long drive back south. But what a day! So many sightings! Another cold morning. Spent quite some time at Nwamanzi lookout, saw crocs, hippos, waterbuck, vultures and baboons down at the river.
Again lots of animals around Satara.
Reached Tshokwawne by lunchtime. In the afternoon we went to Orpen Dam and then to Nkumbe lookout, not really on our way, but we wanted to see it again after seven years – and it still is a wonderful place! Went to Lake Panic Birdhide in the late afternoon. Another magic place!
Hippos grunting, and dozens of different kinds of waterbirds, just within a few metres. We loved it. Arrived at Skukuza just 10 minutes before gate closure. After Tsendze, Skukuza was a shock! Too big, too many people, noisy camp neighbours…
Day 6: Skukuza – Johannesburg
An even colder morning! We drove to Mathekenyane lookout to see the sunrise from there.
Fantastic! We didn’t expect any great sightings, were just in the sad “have to go back mood” But then, on our last 64 kms through the park, just north of Afsaal Picknick Area: we saw a Leopard!!! It crossed the road just in front of our car. Then it spent a few seconds in the high grass next to the road, stopping, looking at us! A magic moment! We were able to watch it for about 10 minutes, until it slowly disappeared in the forest. We couldn’t take any photos (well, we have one with a small dot on it – with a loupe you are able to see that it’s a leopard), but we won’t forget that moment, even without photos. And then, just 5 minutes after seeing the leopard we saw a pride of lions feeding on an impala, about 20 metres from the road.
It was a wonderful experience, but also a bit hair-raising – you could hear the cracking of the poor impala’s bones and the lions were all bloody in the face.
It was a short trip only, lots of flying and driving for just 5 full days in the park – but it we enjoyed every second and we hope we can return next year!