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.
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.
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?:
The above were swiftly followed by a sighting of a fellow forum member, who turned out to be ‘Lowveld Boy’
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.
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:
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