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 Post subject: daver & Son: Northern Kruger - 2nd to 6th October 2010
Unread postPosted: Thu Oct 07, 2010 8:59 am 
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Location: Benoni, South Africa
Hi all

My son and I returned from our 5 day expedition in northern Kruger yesterday afternoon - the first time I have been north of Letaba in over 20 years!

Before we went, I asked on here for some tips and favourite viewing sites and roads, and received a terrific response...... and most of them were spot on!

Let me state for the record (and this was confidently said in advance by DuQues & Dan) that I am now the most recent convert to the paradise that is northern Kruger. We had an absolutely fantastic 5 days, and as soon as I have sorted through the 3000 or so photographs I will put up the trip report.

A little taster for you to whet the appetite. When you arrive at the Punda Maria gate after the long drive from Joburg, in the baking 40-odd degree midday heat, and within 15 minutes of entering the park, the very first animal that you see - even before impala - is a wild dog, then you get the feeling that the Kruger gods are smiling on you!!!!!! And smile upon us they most certainly did :dance:

I hope to get at least the first part of this report up by the weekend.

Dave

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 Post subject: Re: daver & Son: Northern Kruger - 2nd to 6th October 2010
Unread postPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 5:27 pm 
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My son is about to write his final matric exams, and a couple of weeks ago someone suggested to me that it might be a good idea to have a bit of a break – just the two of us – before the stresses of the most important exams of his life (so far!). I agreed that this was indeed a fine idea, and what better place to go to unwind and completely relax than the Kruger National Park? As is the case with pretty much everybody on the forums, as far as I am concerned it only takes the most spurious of excuses and I’m heading off to the bush – and, I am very pleased to say, my son is exactly the same in that Kruger is also his Number One destination of choice.

We are veterans of Southern and Middle Kruger, but as yet we had not ventured anywhere North of Letaba (well I have been before, but it was more than 20 years ago – long before the lad was even born), so we decided to redress this obvious shortcoming and booked a 5-day, 4-night trip working our way from Punda Maria to Mopani.

Thanks to the lovely folk of the forums, we had been primed with lots of tips on places to visit, favourite roads and so on, which was a great help to us during the expedition!

Before I go any further, I have to state on the record that all of the photos on this trip were taken by my son Kevin, so absolutely 100% of the credit (or blame!) goes to him. I’m sure you will agree that there are some outstanding pics. :cam:

Anyway, here goes:

DAY ONE – BENONI TO PUNDA MARIA:

We set off on Saturday 2nd October at about 5:30 AM (I had played a gig with one of my bands the previous evening and only got to bed after 1 AM, so I was rather bleary-eyed but really excited at the same time!), and headed North via Polokwane & Louis Trichardt. After the adrenaline rush of the Saturday lunch-time Thohoyandou traffic, where things like speed limits, road markings & road signs are merely a guide and largely ignored amid the utter mayhem, we arrived at the Punda Maria gate at around 12:45 PM, where I uttered my usual catchphrase “Here we are! Back in paradise”.

After completing the formalities at the gate, we were in! We had the usual guess at what we would see first, and neither of us was even close…….. Just as we reached the T-junction to turn left toward Punda, I detected some movement on the right, quite far off into the bush, which I thought was a jackal. It was only for a split second and in quite long grass, but we sat and looked for a while and eventually the creature ran into a clearing in the grass….. It was a wild dog!!!!! The very first animal of the trip. We both saw it clearly, but sadly we were not able to get any photos at all, but we confirmed with the staff at the camp that the dogs had been seen in the area during the last couple of days. So the trip had gotten off to an absolutely cracking start! Seeing a wild dog before we had even seen a single impala was quite extraordinary, and we knew then that we were in for a trip of note.

We drove up and down the stretch of road hoping for a better sighting but to no avail – although the area was swarming with vultures, so we headed up the tar road to check in at Punda Maria. A few kilometers further on, we came across a buffalo carcass right next to the road, which we were reliably informed by the camp staff had been brought down by the lions “last of last week” which is a colloquial term for the week before last.

Image

It must be said that it was EXTREMELY hot on Saturday, and we were baking in the heat so arriving at Punda Maria was welcome relief. Shortly before the camp we saw a small herd of 5 elephant.

After an hour or so cooling down in our bungalow, we set off at around 4 PM for our afternoon drive. I was dying to drive the Mahonie loop as I had heard a great deal about it, and it did not disappoint

First up were 3 kudu, a steenbok and then another little fellow which I suspect may be a grysbok?:

Image Image Image

The above were swiftly followed by a sighting of a fellow forum member, who turned out to be ‘Lowveld Boy’ :D This was our only meeting with another forum member during the trip! Next up was an elephant with calf, but they were a little too far away to get some decent pics, and the same applied to the small buffalo herd we saw next, in that they were pretty well hidden in the bush.

Next up was a male bushbuck, followed by nyala – male and female.

Image Image Image

The Mahonie loop was literally teeming with game, as was the entire area around Punda Maria – which dispelled the nonsense I had heard from numerous people before the trip – usually along the lines of “….. It’s nice up North but you don’t see much”. Obviously these ridiculous utterances were not made by forum members!

We were nearing the end of the loop, but still were fortunate enough to see this magnificent kudu bull, another nyala bull, and finally our first very close elephant encounter:

Image Image Image

So all in all we felt we were off to a more than decent start!

Species spotted – Day One (in brackets = number of sightings, not number of animals):

Wild dog, impala (x lots), vultures, elephant (x 2), buffalo (x 2), steenbok, nyala (x 3), kudu (x 3), grysbok (?), bushbuck…… and many many species of birds, but I am still a philistine when it comes to our feathered friends and am only able to identify very few species.

So that was it for day one....... Taster for day two - cats :dance:

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 Post subject: Re: daver & Son: Northern Kruger - 2nd to 6th October 2010
Unread postPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2010 8:47 pm 
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Thanks LVB :wink:

Mahonie was terrific..... It was just a pity we were only at Punda for one day. Next time - and there will definitely be a next time - we will stay there for a few nights.

Part two of my trip report will follow tomorrow...... uploading pics right now.

Dave

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 Post subject: Re: daver & Son: Northern Kruger - 2nd to 6th October 2010
Unread postPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 6:19 pm 
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DAY TWO SUNDAY 3rd October – PUNDA MARIA: MORNING DRIVE

Due to extreme fatigue, the lad & I were in bed around 7 PM, so we awoke at 5 AM, refreshed and ready for the new day.

We were 2nd in the queue at the gate, and headed off down the H13-2 tar road - it must be said that the two rather rude ladies from the bungalow next door to us (rude in that the ignored me twice when I greeted them) – were first, but they turned left up Mahonie so we were ahead of the pack - and I have to confess that I was hoping they would see absolutely nothing :redface: .

[By the way, just in case there is anyone that doesn't know..... click on the thumbnail to see larger version of all photos! Forgot to say that in Part One]

Once again – and for the second day in a row - the very first sighting of the day was a ‘goodie’ :clap: , for no further than 1km from camp, we came across these two magnificent specimens:

Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

I thought it was very decent of the one chap to sit perfectly still right alongside our vehicle and pose for some good snaps . We watched the two brothers for a while, and eventually there was a crowd gathering so we moved off in search of more. A truly superb start nonetheless :thumbs_up:

A left turn at the T-junction and we were on the H13-1 tar road, where a short distance later we saw this solitary bull elephant:

Image

Another few km further along the tar road we came across a small herd of buffalo, who promptly crossed the road behind the vehicle and headed towards a small waterhole on the right. Sadly there was another almost intact buffalo carcass – another anthrax victim? – close to the waterhole. While we watched, some of the less anxious buffalo headed down to the water to slake their thirst, while others were keeping a watchful eye on the black backed jackal that was running around in the vicinity:

Image Image Image

Also present was a little grysbok, which was also darting about the place so we were unable to capture neither it nor the jackal on film.
We took a left at the next T-junction onto the main H1-8 tar road and had a very close encounter with another solitary bull elephant:

Image

The sightings were coming thick and fast now, and in the vicinity of the Elanskuil waterhole we encountered a steenbok, our first wildebeest of the trip and then another ‘new’ sighting for us….. a tsessebe! As I said earlier on this thread, we have not been to this area before, so it opened up a whole new world of different species for us to enjoy.

Image Image Image Image

From here we continued up to Klopperfontein where this elephant was kind enough to pose in front of the sign:

Image

We proceeded along the S62 loop and then headed back in the general direction of Punda Maria along the S60, where the first notable sighting was of this monitor lizard:

Image

Around 1km from the S60 junction with the tar road back to camp, we spotted these two lions about 50m into the bush, so we watched them for a while until we realised that there were other lions all over the place, and we managed to get some good photos of most of them:

Image Image Image Image Image Image

So much for the ridiculous “you don’t see much in the far North” statements!!!!
I suppose it was a great help that there had been a bush fire in the not too distant past and so the grass was rather short in a lot of the areas around Punda Maria, which made the sightings a lot easier.

So that is the story of our inaugural morning drive from Punda, which we declared a tremendous success. It was time to head back, pack the car and set off for Shingwedzi…… Another camp that I had last visited more than 20 years ago, so we were looking forward to it immensely!

Species spotted – Day 2 – Morning Drive
Lion, Impala, Buffalo, Elephant, Jackal, Steenbok, Grysbok, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Zebra, Monitor Lizard, Nyala, Kudu, Tsessebe. Not a bad haul at all.

Dave

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 Post subject: Re: daver & Son: Northern Kruger - 2nd to 6th October 2010
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 9:50 pm 
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Location: Benoni, South Africa
Due to extreme pressure at work, I have decided to skip part of the trip report (although we saw lots, there was nothing truly spectacular), and move on to the following day - Monday:

DAY THREE - MONDAY 4th OCTOBER – SHINGWEDZI MORNING DRIVE:

The route for our morning drive was the subject of some debate, as we were unfamiliar with the area, but upon the recommendation of various forum members, we plumped for the Red Rocks / Tshanga loop……. And a splendid decision it turned out to be!

We ducked out of Shingwedzi, noting the obligatory elephant in the river bed and some impala, and made a right turn onto the S52 sand road.

Approximately 6km up the road I slammed on the anchors, as I had detected something on the right hand side:

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4055/5079095128_34ea913faa_b.jpgImage

After about 25 years of never seeing one – at all – this was the fourth trip in a row that I had spotted the much sought after ‘LIT’. I suspect this may be a male leopard, and he obliged us by staying put for about 25 minutes as Kevin blazed away with the camera, and we had our morning coffee break in that spot. As a self-confessed leopard nut, it doesn’t get any better than sitting in a nicely shaded spot, drinking coffee and chatting with my son, all the while gazing at a tremendous specimen who clearly was not in a hurry to move on…… and during the entire time we were there not a single other vehicle to be seen!

Image Image Image Image Image

Eventually we decided to move on, and proceeded up the S52. For the next 15 km or so, we saw very little apart from impala, but about 5km from Red Rocks, we both almost fainted when we noticed another leopard strolling in the bush, only about 5m in.

Image Image

This one ignored us completely, without so much as a glance in our general direction, and crossed the road in front of us and disappeared into the river bed. Approximately 3 seconds later another car arrived, and the occupants were absolutely distraught to hear that they had missed the leopard by such a narrow margin – it was a group of Germans, and they had seen just about everything bar leopard. Nevertheless I told them about the other one in the tree further down the road, so I hope they were lucky.

In trips gone by, we were thrilled to see one leopard in total, so to see two in such a short space of time was fantastic!

On we went, and we ended up at the Tshanga lookout point, which is an absolutely superb spot with breathtaking views. While we were there, we saw loads of vultures circling some way off in the distance. I fell in love with Tshanga immediately, and have vowed to return in the not too distant future.

Image

The remainder of the drive was mostly uneventful, apart from a small herd of buffalo in the vicinity of Red Rocks, but after the 'double leopard' sighting, we returned to Shingwedzi a pair of very happy men indeed!

Sorry that I have had to truncate the report, but at the rate I was going I would never get it finished!!

Dave

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