After 3 amazing days game viewing in Addo, I just have to share some highlights with those of you who are missing the bush in the festive season...
Monday, December 15
Arrive at a very hot, dry and dusty Addo Main Camp at about 12h00. The wind is gusting, and even the lovely wild fig trees in the camping ground have only a sparse covering of new leaves. Set up tents, eat lunch, and then head for the local swimming pool to cool down with a lot of other panting people... It feels like being at a waterhole in Hwange – instead of elephants, giraffe, roan antelope, zebra, wildebeest or buffaloes, people of similar shapes and sizes come and go – quite fascinating!
By 2 pm we hop into my bakkie (aircon packed up recently!), hoping to find some relief in the constant wind. Michael-John yells: snake! A HUGE Cape Cobra right next to the parking lot of the pool. We jump out for a closer look, but it is too long for my 200-400mm lens, and it is moving fast. I suspect 2m long, with a dark patch halfway down its body, probably still moulting. It heads for the nearest chalet – imagine if it went into an open door while people were resting!
My son yells to the people who come rushing out the open door. The snake turns tail and disappears around the other end of the chalet at an alarming rate... The biggest Cape Cobra I have ever seen, much longer than ones I saw in the Kalahari. Is this going to be a Snake Holiday?
At Woodlands waterhole 2 cars are parked against the hill – probably watching warthogs. No, 2 male lions! Nossob and Bitterbal sleeping like the dead under a bush 30m from the road. My best lion sighting in Addo so far, but no good for pictures. Knowing that sleeping lions on hot days = patience +lots of time, we take the turnoff to Gwarriepan. No elephants on a boiling hot afternoon?
Rooidam next – a snake in the road – this time 1m long, and greenish grey. Snake no 2!
The usual dust and spekboom road to Hapoor, but not an animal to be seen, except for a lone warthog or two. Maybe they don’t like the miserable weather either! A single elephant at Hapoor, 2 ostriches struggling against the wind, and a few more elephants dotted around in the bush. A bit better.
Spekboom hide for a needed break – elephants with teeny calf within 5m of the vehicle as we enter the parking lot. Much better. A lovely herd of elephant at the waterhole, with a number of small calves. They don’t like the wind and dust either, so file off into the bush. I love the smell of dust and elephant dung....
It is getting late now, so slowly drive up Mbabala loop for cooler air, and only see 3 lonely hartebeest lying on the ground. View from Zuurkop lookout is lovely as usual – I scan the valley for elephants, but none near roads. Look towards Carol’s Rest, and see a few dots on a dusty plain -- ostriches and buffalo?
By the time we reach the little valley, we are so hot, and have swallowed so much dust from the swirling wind that I slow down to a crawl in the shady spots. Trying to boost the flagging spirits in the car, I announce: Michael-John, this holiday I am going to show you a caracal lynx; I saw one about 1 km from here in April! As usual I glance over my shoulder up the No Entry sign to the right. What was that? Surely not a jackal...the ears had tufts on. Reverse slowly, and, yes, a beautiful CARACAL LYNX! He (very big, so perhaps a male), stands motionless in the shade, very alert. Then he sits down.
I put on the 1.4 Tele-converter to get closer, but struggle to get the focus right in the difficult light. So put it on Single Focus. A bit better. Suddenly the caracal stands up and starts walking towards us! I keep my finger on the shutter, and snap away excitedly till he veers up the bank. Wow! (Later I discover that most of the pics are out of focus since I was not on CONTINUOUS focus). What a lovely experience...
Carol’s Rest is restful with a single buffalo bull and some ostriches. No zebra – too dry?
Towards sunset we head slowly back to the male lions at Woodlands, but get caught in my first Addo traffic jam – in disgust I manage to worm my way past some very selfish people who refuse to budge for oncoming cars, and spread themselves 2 or 3 cars wide on this narrow road. It is already 6:15 and the gates close at 6:30. The lions still sleep in the heat and the sun is another 45 minutes from setting. I can understand why Peter Betts and Co. get so frustrated with gate opening/closing times in Addo.
Supper and cooler evening air bring some relief, so I head for the local waterhole. A black rhino is drinking under the floodlights! The first one I have seen here so early in the evening. So the jackals start howling, and what an eventful day it has been! The rhino hangs around for 45 min. On the way back I stop to chat to the Game Drive operator. He has had a wonderful time with the 2 male lions, and shows me stunning pics on his little camera, with some of them so close that only half the male lion’s head fills the frame!
His story: the tourists left at 6:23, and the lions got up at 6:25! They walked up to the Game Viewing Vehicle, and slowly proceeded up Zuurkop for 30 minutes of wonderful lion time, in full sunlight! His advice: the best thing is to check for them on the Gorah plains and Carol’s Rest tomorrow morning – they are after Megan and Roy – he has already been chased by them, and is learning to run for his life!
I thank him, and ask about the lionesses with cubs. They have moved to the Gorah concession, and haven’t been seen for a while.
Thank you Addo, this has been the best game viewing day here ever!
Before I fall asleep in my tent, I thank my Creator for showing me such beautiful things...
Tuesday, December 16.
Would you believe it, but I got COLD during the night, and today is supposed to be very hot! Jackals and birds wake us up at 5:00. The sun follows shortly, and I walk to the waterhole for an inspection. Jackal and birds. So quiet, but already getting very bright. Itch to get going, but gates open at 6:00...
Daniel is there, as usual. He shakes my hand with a big smile and opens the gate. Chilly and cool, more kudus and warthog than yesterday. Woodlands, up Zuurkop, down the valley, all the way to Carol’s rest, scan the plains further on, return to Carol’s rest, stop and listen. What a lovely day! Oh well, we saw so many things yesterday, can’t expect any more lions this trip. I have already seen more than my `Addo quota’ (which is VERY LOW!). See a herd of elephants below us on the tarred road as we drive on top of Zuurkop towards Hapoor. The bush is dry, but no wind today. A herd of elephants in the road near Spekboom turnoff. A very small baby is so cute. Already a few elephants around Hapoor, but not drinking. Back to Spekboom hide, but not ready for breakfast yet. My stomach is grumbling, but I want LIONS! A number of cars parked at Spekboom, with people already coming out the gate – so nothing to be seen here right now. I DID read all those reports about Kamqua and Gina and cubs near Marion Baree, so I WILL go and look for them before the cars arrive from the south gate (which only opens at 7:00). Not a thing at Marion Baree, except for a warthog or 2. Oh well. Let me drive just a little further... Nothing. Just one more bend in the road and then I’ll turn around for breakfast.
LION CUBS! I am driving slowly, but they are so close to the vehicle that they instinctively duck behind a bush. I force myself to drive on another 50m before turning around quietly, and letting the vehicle free-wheel slowly back. They look skittish so I stop and watch till they relax. Two small cubs and one bigger cub, and a huge lioness! After a few minutes I pull up right next to them, and they just lie and look at me. Wow!
For 20 minutes we relish sitting with a lion family all on our own. Then the first cars arrive from the southern gate. They are SO POLITE, and stop quietly right behind us. Kamqua? stands up and inches her way right by my window, behind the car, sniffs the bumper, the bushes, and returns the same way. I wonder if she is tempted to chew my beanbag on the window sill, but she calls softly, and stares in the direction of Marion Baree.
My wife Michelle says: listen, she is calling the other lions; and she is watching those warthogs down the road! Yes, 2 young warthogs are grazing on the verge of the road about 100m from us, just where it bends towards Marion Baree waterhole. Then we see a car approaching very slowly in the distance. I bet they are following another lion! Kamqua? starts calling softly again, and stares down a game track that bisects the bend in the road. Yes, a lioness slowly walks towards us, stops, stares to her left, then disappears. Maybe she is sleepy already.
I use my 200-400 lens to do portraits of the cubs; they stare at us, and I see the reflection of my bakkie in their eyes! For another 30 minutes we just relax by these beautiful lions.
Suddenly my wife shouts: OH NO! as the 2 young warthogs come hurtling around the bend with a lioness loping casually behind them. Forgetting that my camera has once again been set on Single Focus for the portraits, I start snapping the hurtling piggies. My brain shouts: PUT ON YOUR 18-200MM LENS! While I struggle to do this, piggy no 1 heads straight for my window, and certain death. 3m from our car Kamqa sticks out a paw and latches onto him – their momentum slams both animals smack into our right front bumper. The pig squeals terribly as she pins him down right next to my open window. I feel guilty pressing the shutter and shout to my wife and son to close their ears and eyes as the dust flies and the brave little pig squeals and squeals. At last she has him by the throat, and the biggest cub comes awkwardly to rest a sheathed paw on his rump. As things get quiet, I feel sick for this brave pig.
Somehow he jerks loose and starts haring up the game track! I cheer him on, but he must have gotten hurt, and within 50m he finally meets his end. As the cubs and other lioness trot up to inspect breakfast, I start the car and drive off, numbed. They need food, of course, and there ARE lots of pigs in the park, but death is never pleasant, especially when a little pig puts up such a brave fight!
When we find words at last, we all wish he had had a HUGE DADDY with LONG TUSKS that could have come to his defence.... And I feel less guilty for having snapped the `execution’ when I discover that most of my pictures are out of focus ‘cause I did not use CONTIUOUS FOCUS!
The heat has become so unbearable in our tents that we decide to leave a day earlier – it has been 40 degrees today. In the kitchen I notice the weirdest black `moth’ fluttering on the window sill – it is a diminutive uncoordinated bat! His eyes are still closed, and he is a mere 1.5 cm long! Looks like a jelly baby. He must have fallen from the rafters under the thatched roof. How do you feed a newborn bat? Somebody tells us he has been around a few days already, and is doing fine. Can his mom somehow feed him there?
We drive to Zuurberg to find some cool shade spot in the mountains – all is green and very burnt after the serious fires earlier this year. Not much shade but we have a cooler picnic under an old oak tree near a burnt out lodge.
The rest of the day is an anti-climax. Elephants yes, but so hot, and very few animals on the evening drive. We don’t have the heart to go and see a few sleepy lions under a bush near Marion Baree again, not after this morning’s experience!
Spend a lot of time in the hide, where a young man from Durban asks me: have you ever seen a caracal before? I just dream of seeing one someday! He can’t believe that Addo has so many caracals, and promises to keep an eye open tomorrow.
Wednesday 17 December
Another cold night with more heat predicted for today. Lovely dawn chorus of birds at 4:30, and the jackals do their howling thing soon afterwards. No lion roars, but a hyena grumbles and whoops close by. Today is elephant day, and I am looking for babies +big herds heading for the waterhole. We do the usual loop around Carol’s Rest, and find a few buffalo grazing the stubby grass. A family of 6 warthogs lines up for a drink – this mom looked after her 5 teenagers very well.
I know history never repeats itself, but hope to see a male lion in better light today. No luck at all. Go past Marion Baree waterhole, see lots of kudus and warthogs. Past our lion spot we see our neighbours’ car parked – they point into the thick bush, and motion for us to park where they have just been – a caracal lynx! It is hunting, crouched in the pathway about 4m from the car. The tail twitches continually as it watches something intently in the bush. I drive on as my neighbours leave, turn around, and slowly return. The caracal gets up and walks off into the bush. What a lovely sighting! Drive to the next valley, looking for animals, but here it is very dry, and obviously no drinking place, since the usual herds of buffalo and kudu bulls are absent. Turn around and slowly scan the bushes. After about 20 minutes I see a movement about 1 km from the caracal sighting – another caracal strolls up the valley and disappears into the bushes (could it be the same one that moved up the valley?) Wow! 5 minutes later my `caracal friend’ from Durban drives by. I stop him and indicate where we have just seen the caracal. Hope he finds it at last...
Breakfast at Spekboom hide is always a treat. I just miss my striped field mouse friend that always scurries around looking for crumbs.
Hapoor, and the elephants are thick in the bush. Get some lovely groups coming down to drink, and a few youngsters really close to the parking lot. Lovely to see their antics.
Spend the rest of the day next to the pool trying to survive. See very few animals on our evening drive. Too hot?
Another lovely day at Addo ends with a cooler evening and sunset. The little bat is gone, and I am very sad. Did somebody kill it? Then 2 young girls look up at the ceiling and tell me their dad put it back on the rafters – it is hanging like a proper bat now, clinging on for dear life!
Another lovely day at Addo has ended.
Thursday, 18 December
Sad to be leaving, but glad to escape the heat. Last year end of November we borrowed a duvet from my friend Piet Steyn, `cause it was so cold, and now we are gasping for breath. Pack up quietly at 5:00. I read my Bible at the waterhole as a few jackals chase each other around the bushes before doing their dawn chorus thing. Slightly overcast morning and Johnson is there to open the gate at 6:00 sharp.
See lots of animals this morning, and wish for some suricats. They used to live close to Woodlands waterhole, I tell my son, somewhere around here... I look to my right, and there they stand, 11+ of them, like little statues in a row, watching the plains south of Domkrag waterhole. What a treat.
See a few zebra just behind Carol’s Rest – the first in 4 days. Have a relaxed breakfast at Spekboom hide, then head for Hapoor for a final elehant show. Only a few hover around, but I scan the bush till they start appearing. A HUGE herd of elephants pick up steam and head for the parking lot. I park close to the game path, and start shooting on CONTINUOUS FOCUS this time – what a sight -- more than 50 elephants in double file like a giant tshongololo! As they fill the frame I switch from tele to 18-200mm and just keep shooting. The last ones are agitated and feel left behind. They trumpet and charge the last 200m straight toward us – quite scary actually!
Thank you Addo for some amazing experiences in game viewing. I was going to cancel the 4 days in January en route home, but my wife says we can brave the heat again, in the Safari Tents this time, and then go and cool off at Stormsriver in the Forest Huts before heading home.
Hope those little lions will still be around next time. The drive through Matyolweni is lovely as usual, and in Alexandria we see a sign: Addo Elephant National Park – a few kilometers down a dusty road we enter the lovely state forest near Langebos hiking trail. 3 hours later we emerge refreshed and cheery. I ask the ranger: will the elephants ever come to this forest? He replies: NO. Somehow I agree with him – I would love to see elephants on the white dunes near Colchester, but I would hate for them to destroy these lovely old yellow wood trees at Woody Cape....
God bless and have a lovely Christmas,
Friedrich von Hörsten
``God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on your heart'' -- E. St V Millay