Day 61 (Dec 31st)
Today had been a quiet day at home, because we were booked for an evening game drive from Phala Gate.
We were all very excited about the drive, and I had one animal that I really wanted to see if possible, but I know that the bush only shows you what she wants you to see, so I kept my wishes to myself!!
We arrived at the gate, where it was extremely hot, and we were told to drive through the gate, and park the car behind some buildings, because obviously when we came back, the main gates would be closed,and we would be let out of the back gate.
We had no idea who our ranger would be, as several drives were leaving at the same time, and there were several rangers milling about.
As a forumite, I was of course hoping that Lourens, would be driving us, and imagine my delight, when this very friendly ranger called out "Stephens" and introduced himself as Lourens!!
I introduced myself as Crested Val from the forums, and he said he knew who I was, having often read my posts.
He was probably just being poilte, but it was nice to hear, all the same!!
It was originally supposed to be just the four of us, but at the last minute, a Norwegian family asked to join us, so four became nine!!
We set off, and before we had gone far, Lourens received a call from a colleague to say that there was a breeding herd of Elllies near the gate, down a "No Entry" road.
Now, most of you will know by now my feelings on Ellies at close quarters, and as we sped off down the bumpy road, my heart did a somersault, especially when Lourens brought the vehicle to a stop right by the herd!!!
Because of my mobility problems, Lourens had put me to sit next to him, and the Ellies were my side of the road, so I was feeling a bit vulnerable to say the least!!
However, the whole herd seemed very relaxed, and were just concentrating on eating, they didn't even appear to realise we were there, though I'm sure if we had stepped out of line in any way, they would have soon let us know.
We eventually left them to thier dinner, turning firstly on to the main road, and then onto the S131 dirt road.
Pretty soon we saw Impala, with some really cute babies, and then a Red Crested Korhaan, "strutting his stuff"
We have often seen one making a noise and starting the courtship ritual, but until that evening, we had never witnessed the last part, namely flying up into the air, and dropping like a stone with the feathers all ruffled!! It was quite an amazing sight!!
We saw a few Eurpoean Rollers, and a Lilac Breasted Roller, and then we stopped, and Lourens started making a bird call, which was eventually answered!!!
There, high up in a tree was a Verreaux's Eagle Owl...............a first for all of us, and so exciting!! We could see it very well through the binoculars, but the camera has not done it justice I'm afraid!!!
I have never until that moment, seen an Owl of any variety in Kruger in 37 years of visiting, so I was really thrilled!!!
We continued along the road, and found a lovely group of Zebbies, with a cute little foal, and then another Red Crested Korhaan.
The strong sun, was now beginning to set, and the sky was amazing, because around the sun was fairly clear of clouds, but in the distance the clouds were black and angry looking, with flashes of lightening, and there was a partial rainbow!!!
We turned off up one of the low maintenance roads, which is something we have always wanted to do, but our little Atos, isn't (quite sensibly) allowed to go there!!
We saw a lovely large Warthog, who posed just for a second, then trotted away, with his tail high in the air!! We also saw more Impala herds and more Zebra.
Eventually we came to an open area, and Lourens stopped the vehicle for our "sundowners".
It was still very hot, and by now I was not feeling my best, so I just had a bottle of water, while the others enjoyed a beer or a cider or a cool drink.
We chatted with the Norwegians, and our daughter and SIL had lots in common with them, as they both work on a cruise ship, that regularly sails to Norway.
We were aware that it was getting darker, and in one direction we could still see the flashes of lightening, but in the other direction we witnessed the most magnificent sunset.............the sort I have only ever seen in Africa. It was truely a wonderful sight to behold.
Suddenly a strong wind blew up, and it was blissfully cool, which helped me to recover from my sickness, and then Lourens said it was time to move on, and he got the spotlights out, which were handed to our daughter on one side and our SIL on the other (Dungy was sitting between them) They were told to shout "stop" if they saw anything!
We continued aong the low maintenance road, which we knew would eventually come out onto the H14, near the koppie, and Lourens shouted "Chamelion".
Now we've seen many Chamelions over the years, but only ever on the road..........this one was in a tree, and very well camophlaged, which was very interesting.
Off we set again, and suddenly SIL shouted "stop" I think it's a little cat!!
You beauty......he had spotted an African Wild Cat, which was the one thing I was really hoping to see!! I could not believe my luck, and I am so grateful to him that he was able to find it!!
It was just sitting in the grass, and though the photos are not brilliant I'm afriad, you can definitely see what it is!!
It started to move off, and we followed it for a while, before it eventually disappeared behind a tree, and then moved deeper into the bush.
Wow, wow and wow............I was happy to go home there and then, as my greatest wish had come true!!
We pulled out onto the H14, and slowly started to make our way back to Phala. Along the way we saw seveal more Chamelions in trees, and a first for us.......... several Freckled Nightjars!!
We turned right onto the H9 for the last part of the drive, and at the little pan, SIL shouted again!!
There in a tree, hanging very pathetically was a dead baby Impala!!!
We found out from one of the other rangers that it had been killed by a Leopard earlier that evening, so now we were on a mission to find that Leopard, and after scanning all the trees and ground in that vacinity, we set off up another low maintenance road!!!
Sadly though, try as we may, we only found two Scrub Hares...........though they were a first for the kids, so all was not lost!!
We drove back onto the main road, where we found another vehicle parked, and they had spotted a Genet!! We only got a glimpse of it before it shot off, but that was another first for the kids..............they really were so excited!!!
We also saw more Zebra and a very large herd of Impala with babies, and we wondered which Mommy had no baby to suckle that sad evening!!
The bush at night is so different than in the day.........things look quite strange, and the smells are amazing. It was an awesome experience!!!
Quite near the gate, our daughter shouted "stop", and there was a large group of Giraffe all sitting down, and they looked so comical, almost as though their legs had been chopped off!!
We continued on our way, and almost straight away I spotted a cute female Steenbok, who looked a bit startled at the light shining on her, but did stay long enough for a quick photo!!
Just before the gate Lourens stopped the vehicle and said "Can you hear that"? it's Elephants.........probably the breeding herd we had seen earlier on.
He also asked us to look up, and there above us was that amazing African sky, partially hidden by cloud, but still visible in large areas. He showed us Jupiter, and various constellations, which I found very interesting.
Then we set off for the last kilometer, and found two Spotted Thick Knees on the road.......neither of which were keen to fly away, even though our vehicle was decidedly close to running them over!!! Gladly at the last moment they flew off!!
Then we were back at the gate, and our amazing adventure had come to an end. We wished evryone a Happy New Year, and Lourens said that he was going home to bed, because he had to be in work at 4.30am for a six hour morning drive!!
We drove to the back gate, and the guard let us out, then it was back to the cottage for a well deserved drink, and a delicious Chilli Con Carne!!
We then watched the new version of "The Woman in Black" film, which was very scary, and then we were counting down to midnight, and wishing each other a happy and prosperous New Year, before finally falling into our beds.
To be continued.................