Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

Tell us about your breathtaking experiences in the parks
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carolv
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Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

Unread post by carolv »

This trip had been a long while under discussion – years rather than months – and went back to a conversation we had after dinner when two of our friends were visiting. As so often happens around our dinner table, we were relating our latest experiences in Africa and particularly Kruger Park, when my friend Cheryl (whose SO is Brian) stated: "It sounds amazing, we’d love to do that some time but not sure if we could do it all ourselves as you both do." "No problem," we replied, we’ll take you.. When would you like to go?”
As they had a few other commitments over the next year or so, the definitive conversation did not take place until last year and they thought a trip about June would suit them and could we see what could be arranged.
Within hours we were making lists of where we could stay in the Park, what would be suitable accommodation for us all, what was available, when and where. As always, it is the Park accommodation which must be sorted out first – flights, car rental etc could be booked later, hopefully when the relevant companies had a sale.
We wanted to cover as much of the Park as possible whilst not moving camp too often and soon came up with a possible route and camps. A few days later we had all our accommodation booked and sat back to await flight sales and hire car offers. Late on Christmas Eve we receive an e-mail from Virgin – their flight sale has begun. Before midnight struck we have our flights booked and before New Year our rental vehicle is also confirmed.
Now comes the hardest part, waiting for departure day. We plan to have our friends to visit and go through everything they will need for the trip but the UK winter this year was one of the hardest for many years and the day they are due to get to us, they find themselves snowed in on the Isle of Wight – we live close to the south coast and such an experience is extremely rare. Fortunately they manage to get another ferry crossing so that they can have a brief overnight stay with us before returning to Norfolk. Over dinner and the inevitable bottle (or two) of wine we make our way through their list of questions and our checklist. We still have 3 months to go and it feels like forever.

Tuesday 23rd May

But eventually D Day arrives and we each climb into our taxis to head out to London Heathrow. Now I know how all the South Africans complain about some of the traffic on their roads but, believe me, there is nothing but nothing to drive you more insane than the M25 circular route around London...it is not known as the largest car park in Britain for nothing! It is not long after leaving home that we hear that the M25 has problems but, being only 90 minutes from the airport and with a few different route options, we should be fine. About halfway to the airport, our friends who have a much longer journey from Norwich but had left at 12.30pm for a 6pm check in, were sending a plaintive text...the M25 is awful. Not so long after, their text is more serious. There has been a bad accident on the motorway, although they are only 8 miles from Heathrow, the motorway has been closed with them on it. They are not moving anywhere.
Meanwhile we have made it to Terminal 3, have checked in and are discussing the traffic problems with the desk staff who were wondering why so few people had booked in already. Our friends are not very enthusiastic fliers and the stress of sitting for 2 hours on the M25 with no chance of going anywhere is not helping. The gods are smiling on us by now and their taxi makes it to the airport just in time to check in. As you can imagine, they are not feeling calm and relaxed! We do not have long to await out flight call and we head down to the relevant Gate and soon board. As we taxi down to the runway, the pilot informs us that the French air traffic controllers are on strike and we must follow a much longer route across Europe before heading south – it will add at least another hour to our flight time. Oh well...two hiccups cannot be too bad!

Wednesday 24th May

We all manage to get some sleep and are ready to go when we land at Tambo airport, make a speedy pass through border control and are quickly reunited with our luggage. Off to the car rental offices to see if we have been given the vehicle we have requested. Normally we are fairly blasé about this....after all, if the company has a problem, it is up to them to sort it out. However, for this trip we had been very specific about our request – travelling with 4 people we had checked with lots of other mites as to what they would recommend. The vehicle needed to be comfortable for 4, have all windows which opened sufficiently for photography and plenty of room for all our luggage, food and drink – we had asked for a Toyota Fortuner with manual transmission. All the paperwork is completed in the office and we head out to the garage to check over our allocated vehicle. Wow, it’s not usually so easy. We check over the vehicle and all is wonderful until SO opens the door and says NO..the vehicle is automatic and I will not drive an automatic.
As I will be the main driver, this is not a debatable issue. SO heads back to the office to seek resolution. We are fairly tired by this point and my friends look at me rather concerned. Don’t worry I say, something will be sorted. I gaze along the endless line of rental vehicles, one in particular stands out – I ‘d love to get that one I laugh. It’s a bit big my friend comments. 20 minutes later I spot SO waving at me as he makes his way through the garage. He is smiling and I am certain we will be OK. Which one would you like? He asks. I point to the 4x4 double cab bakkie – it’s yours he says and passes me the keys to a serious ‘girl’s toy Ford Ranger’. It may have taken another hiccup but I have a huge grin on my face. This will be perfect for our trip – more room than we could dream of and everyone comfortable inside.
Finally we inch our way out of the garage, first heading towards Boksburg and then eMalahleni. I am so happy...I just know everything will now be well. I begin a running commentary about the scenery, the industry, the towns and their changing names, the occasional bird, the crops, in fact anything and everything. We stop at Millys for a quick comfort break and some lunch before continuing on our way to Hazyview and our ‘second home’ where we will spend our first 2 nights. A chance to relax, enjoy some amazing food, see how many of the 196 birds which have been seen in the gardens and recover from the travelling so far.
We know we are almost ‘home’ once we see the Banana plantations. Our friends are fascinated - apart from knowing what several of the African animals look like, they could not imagine the wonderfully varied scenery we have passed since leaving the airport. As we enter the outskirts of Hazyview, we turn left down a rugged but well-loved track down to our home for the next 2 nights. We have been staying here for nearly 20 years and the staff are like family to us. As we head up the steps to Reception, we already hear calls to welcome us back. We introduce our friends, enjoy a long cool welcome drink and then park up near our accommodation. Although we had shown Cheryl and Brian where we would be staying, they are in awe of the beauty of it all.
Once all the luggage has been unloaded and taken up to our rooms, I leave everyone to have a well-earned rest. I am just so excited to be back, there is no way I will settle down so grab some needles and knitting wool then settle down on the stoep and gaze out across the Sabie Valley. As I start yet another sweater, I soak up some of the sights, sounds and smells of Africa that I miss so much.
After a while SO and friends come to join me. We gaze out across the valley as the sun goes down and then make our way along to the bar for an aperitif and a chance to solve the dilemma of the dinner menu. We all sleep well – the others longer than I – as soon as I can hear the birds awake, I have to get up and listen to their calls outside. No camera or binoculars to hand, I just sit and look out into the trees or down across the gardens. We are not rushing this morning – although SO and I almost always spend our first night here when we come to RSA, we have booked 2 nights knowing it would give our friends a chance to recover from the journey.

Thursday 24th May

After the trials and tribulations of the last 36 hours, we know this was the right decision. It will also give us a chance to take them out along the Blyde River Canyon after breakfast. Although we are mainly here to see Kruger, we want to show them what an amazing country this is and a drive through spectacular scenery is never a wasted day.
We stop off at the Three Rondavels

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and Gods Window – time to practice their photography skills!

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On our way back we park outside Harry's for Pancakes in Graskop before returning to Hazyview. To save time in the morning we pop into the Mall and purchase all the non-perishables we will need to take into the Park.

Friday 25th May

We all start with a substantial breakfast before reloading our luggage into our bakkie and return to the Mall to buy our meat, vegetables, fruit etc. Before heading along to Phabeni Gate. We already have our entry paperwork completed so drive straight to the barrier and are quickly allowed through. The excitement in our vehicle is palpable – surely everyone remembers what their first African wildlife spot was...within minutes of driving over the bridge, I slow down. For our friends, their very first sighting is a small breeding herd of Elephants.

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Cheryl is so moved, she begins to cry. Never did she envisage that we could be so close to such a wonderful sight. Not long after we pass Zebras, a Fork-tailed Drongo, Bateleur and Impala.

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My plan is to stop for everything – well, as much as I can. This is their first ever visit to Kruger and we don’t want them to miss anything. Lots of cars are parked at Nyamundwa Dam, but we manage to slip into a small space where we point out Hippos,

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Impala, Cape Buffalo, Crocodiles,

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Saddle-billed Stork,

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Fish Eagles, Grey Heron, Blacksmith Plovers and Black-winged Stilts. We have only been in the Park such a short time but already they are blown away by the amount of wildlife we have seen. Before the Kruger Gate junction we pause for more Impala, Wildebeest and Buffalo. Our first camp is Olifants so we have a long drive ahead. We pop into Skukuza for a comfort break, pausing to look at the Impala Lilies and a family of Warthogs grazing near the Fuel Station.

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As we head north we are spoilt for choice with sightings – Vervet monkeys, Lilac-breasted Rollers, Giraffe, Common Duiker,

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Steenbok, more herds of Ellies. As the scenery changes, so do the animals. Once passed Satara we find herds of Zebra

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and Wildebeest,

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Ostrich,

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and Kudu.

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Francolins are feeding along the roadside. We spot a Secretarybird

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and then a Red-crested Korhaan – for those who are regular guests on our bus, they will recall that is 2 members of my triumvirate already.
We get out to stretch our legs at the bridge over the Olifants – our friends are somewhat nervous of this allowance and keep very close to the vehicle but are rewarded by the number of Ellies down in the river bed.

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Finally we are driving up the long climb to camp. Our friends have huge smiles on their faces – we are overjoyed to be able to share this with them and what an amazing first day in the Park it has been.
Check-in is quick and we do not have far to drive to our accommodation just across from reception. I think it was number 114 – one of the large bungalows which used to be staff quarters. It is perfect for us – 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and more kitchen/living space than we could possible need. We will be here for 4 nights so time to settle in, pour out our sundowners of choice and await dinner which I prepared whilst the others rested. Before dishing up, C, B and SO take a walk down to the viewpoint. Their heads are buzzing – there is just so much to take in – we will all sleep well tonight.
Last edited by carolv on Fri Jul 13, 2018 7:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

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Saturday 26th May

SO and I are so used to having a (very) early start in the mornings of our Kruger visits whilst this will be a very different awakening for our friends. They are not naturally morning people but are ready and waiting for our ‘dash for the gate opening’ albeit looking somewhat bleary eyed. The bag filled with coffee flasks and suitable munchies is packed into the car and we all clamber in and head to the gate. We are second in the queue and are soon on our way along the tar. One thing which often surprises people is just how tiring it can be driving around, eyes peeled to spot anything alongside the anticipation and excitement of what that may be. To some extent this does ease over the years but we desperately want our friends to enjoy their trip and not wipe them out at the beginning. I plan to drive along a circular route to the south of the Olifants river, stopping along the way for coffee and a bite to eat before returning to camp for a more substantial brunch. They can then have a rest or a wander around camp before another drive out later in the day.

After a cool start, the sun soon warms up the day and the improving light makes spotting easier. We pause to watch Giraffes, Zebra, Baboons and regularly slow down to walking pace as the Francolins wander aimlessly across the road. We spot Green Pigeons, a Pied Kingfisher and then, with cries of WOW from the back seat, a pride of 5 Lions – one male and 4 females.

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C and B are totally bowled over by this sighting – maybe they had listened so intently to our initial chat that we would do whatever we could to find as much wildlife as possible for them to see but, as Kruger is not a zoo, we could not guarantee any particular species. Should we see nothing else today, the big cats have captured their hearts. Of course we found so much more as the morning progressed – Kudu, Black-backed Jackal,

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Lilac-breasted Rollers,

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Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Waterbuck, Namaqua Doves, Vultures, Fish Eagles,

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Wildebeest, Southern Ground Hornbills, Quelias and Blue Waxbills, Spoonbills and Pied Kingfishers. The Ellies, too, made regular appearances along the way. By the time we returned to camp they were just buzzing with excitement. For SO and I there is a certain sense of relief – we both love Kruger so much that we had held a slight concern that our friends might not like it as much. Any worries we had on that score have well and truly been put to bed. All we need to do is to keep finding the wildlife and telling them as much about it all as we possibly can..and it is amazing just how much information we have absorbed over the years. We all enjoy a hearty meal on the stoep and discuss the trip so far.

Rested and ready to go out again, we drive along the river road towards Letaba but only planning a circular route around some the sand roads. A small group of Banded Mongoose soon capture our attention and then a very young pair of Klipspringer.

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They are posing on a few rocks really close to the road – certainly not in a location where we would expect to find them. They look almost too young to be a pair – maybe it is a case of teenage Klippie love here! They bring huge smiles to our faces. Moving on we hear the Fish Eagles, also spotting a Red-crested Korhaan,

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Cape Turtle Doves and a Purple Roller.

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The latter was a big surprise as we have never seen one this far south before. Elephants, too, made regular appearances.

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What a fantastic first full day in the Park for everyone – we are all buzzing with it all. I quickly get dinner prepared and cooked whilst the others wander down to the viewpoint. Not being used to spending so much time in a car, they need to stretch their legs. We raise a glass to a wonderful day before retreating to bed to sleep soundly and start again in the morning.


Sunday, 27th May

I have in mind a circular route going north today as have a small task to complete of my own but more of that later. The day begins quite cloudy – unsure if we get some rain or if it will clear up and bring sunshine. We all peer into the bush as we head down the hill towards the junction with the north/south road. All quiet so far. Turning north, I continue for a very short while before popping down to a spot alongside the Olifants river. Often SO and I use this area for a morning coffee break but not today. It is just a chance to take a brief look across the river and along the banks. We are rewarded with sightings of Kudu, Waterbuck and a Grey Heron. Just a few animals and birds greet us as we go onto the Letaba crossroads and then down the Phalaborwa road. A group of Bull Elephant, a Purple Roller (having been so surprised to find one yesterday, we did not expect another so soon) Zebra, Red-billed Oxpeckers, Giraffe, Hippos at the Dam together with the ever present Egyptian Geese. A Fish Eagle is out seeking breakfast with Pied Wagtail and Waterbuck by the water’s edge. With so little out and about we decide to continue past Masorini and check out Sable Hide. All quiet here also but it is a perfect place for our morning coffee break. Back in the car we return to the tar and stop alongside the koppies close to the junction with the tar where we are delighted to spot a group of Dassies and some Ground Hornbills. Two new birds to add to our friends ‘spotted list’ – a Dark Chanting Goshawk

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and a large group of Magpie Shrikes.

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Having driven longer than anticipated already, we continue into Letaba camp. It will give us a chance to show them the Elephant Museum (where we spend some time chatting to the Honorary Rangers who are on duty that day – Rosina and Michelle). As SO, C and B make their way slowly around the Museum, I walk across to the rondavel circle where SO and I spent a few days last November. Whilst SO had been resting, I had sat on the stoep knitting and watching the world go by. Intrigued by what I was doing, I was approached by one of the housekeeping staff. She had very little English and went to get the support of another staff member and we spent a while looking at what I was making and, indeed, what I had already made. She explained she had two daughters and wondered if I had anything which she could buy for them but the jumper she liked was not the right size. I said that we would be back in 6 months and if she gave me the ages of her children, I would make something for them. I have no doubt she thought little would come of this offer but once home I had found a suitable pattern and before leaving for our current trip had made a colourful jumper for each of her daughters. I looked around the circle just hoping she would be working today – I had her name but obviously no contact number. To my delight I spotted her walking in the distance and called out to her. With a few key words in English and mush sign language, she laughed and said ‘Hut 89’. ‘Yes’ I said, ‘we were in Hut 89’ and presented her with my offerings. The look on her face was priceless. Although she thought she would have to pay for them, it had never been my intention – I just wanted her to have them for no other reason than I could surprise her with a gift. Thanked with a big hug and much laughter, I was so glad to have made her day. I do hope her daughters will enjoy wearing them in due course.

I return to the Elephant Hall and catch up with the others. We decide to walk down to the restaurant and treat ourselves to an early lunch. Such a beautiful setting as you look out across the Letaba river. Our friends are delighted.

Time to return to the car and make our way back to Olifants camp via the river road passing along the way Waterbuck,

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Egyptian Geese, White-fronted Bee-eaters,

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Arrow-marked Babblers and a young Elephant who appears to be out on his own.

Time for a well-earned siesta when we reach our bungalow but we awake in time for a short sunset drive finding a Juvenile Bateleur

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Giraffe, Warthog,

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Fish Eagles, Ellies, Baboons, Buffalo and Steenbok.
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carolv
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Re: Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

Unread post by carolv »

Monday 28th May

This will be our last full day at Olifants before moving tomorrow and we plan to cover a long circular route south. One of the reasons is that, when booking the trip, we had been unable to get much time at Satara – always such a fruitful area, especially for the various cats – big and small. Under a cloudy sky, we make an early start along the tar. Initially the bush is quiet – a few Giraffe up and about, White-backed Vultures still posing in the trees and the regular troop of Baboons who frequent the area close to the Olifants river bridge. Slowly the Park is springing to life – a few Waterbuck look up as we pass by, several herds of Zebra

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and their best mates, Wildebeest, are spotted on both sides of the road. We find our first Ostrich – a bird universally known but always one which newcomers to the Park are quite surprised to see. A Bull Elephant is striding out with great purpose.

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I love this stretch of road – although there are vast areas of savannah, you also find several small wooded areas which are often good for finding raptors. We are in luck today and soon spot a juvenile Bateleur, a Giant Eagle Owl, various Vultures and a Brown Snake Eagle.

Back in the grasslands we spot a trio of male Ostrich, then Magpie Shrikes, Black-shouldered Kites and Marabou Storks. Definitely on opposing sides in the beauty stakes those birds. A Slender Mongoose dashes across the road – so often spotted but so hard to get great photos.

Eventually we arrive at Nsemani Dam – one of our favourite locations in the Park no matter what time of day. A perfect place for our morning coffee break. Even when you think you just have the Hippos for company, something else always makes an appearance – today we are joined by best mates Zebras

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and Wildebeest, then Waterbuck come down for a drink.

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The day has warmed up considerably and we need to move on – a short spell with the air-con switched on and, having cooled down a bit we can open all the windows and manage with a gentle breeze blowing through the car. I head south along the tar and turn left towards N’wanetsi. Very quiet along this road this morning but we do find a beautiful Kudu bull,

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Dwarf Mongoose and some Lappet-faced Vultures. The picnic spot is perfectly placed for a quick comfort break and to check out the look-out point but no sightings here today.

We return to the car and I turn onto the S41. We love driving along this road but see no wildlife this morning. Hopefully Lion Alley will be more productive and we have much better luck here – a Water Monitor, several Buffalo, Ellies and 2 Lionesses....result!

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Another plus point for this road ,so beloved by many, is the abundance of shady spots to sit near the river. Even when quiet, it can be a relief to enjoy a break out of the sun. Although I truly love the heat, no matter how high the thermometer soars, SO and our friends are less enthusiastic and need some cooler periods.

Our tummies are all rumbling now and we make our way to Satara for brunch – shall we say it was just ‘average’ both for food and service but we were all hungry and it is a nice place to sit looking out towards the crib.

Keeping to the tar we head north again pausing to watch more Ostrich (2 females and 1 male) Warthogs, several Ellies,

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Baboons, Giraffe and a Fish Eagle..

It has been a long time in the car today and whilst SO and friends enjoy a rest, I prepare dinner and pack the non-perishables ready for the morning. This bungalow has been excellent accommodation for us – perfect for a family or a group of friends and great value for money.
We chill out after dinner and look up at the full moon.

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Tuesday, 29th May

We decided to take our time this morning although we are moving camp. As bags are packed, I cook a hearty breakfast for everyone which we enjoy out on the stoep. Fortunately the primates do not arrive until we have finished eating! The vehicle is quickly loaded, ensuring the cool box and other bags are easily accessible as we will be stopping off for a big shop at Phalaborwa en route. Remembering to drop off our keys in the box near the gate (yes we have forgotten on occasions and had to return) we head along the tar and down to the junction with the main north/south road. Passing Zebra, Giraffe and a pair of Fish Eagles, we are soon in for a surprise. So far we have been blessed with many Elephant sightings and we have shared our limited knowledge with our friends about their family structures, how they interact and how the males move away as they reach adulthood. Also about giving them a safe space from you so that they do not feel intimidated. As we turn a corner in the road we spot a large Bull Elephant ahead of us. Instinctively SO and I state ‘He doesn’t look happy’. He is several hundred metres away but I have already engaged reverse gear. His ears are flapping, he is moving apace and definitely not pausing to eat along the way. Nor does he show any intention of moving off the road. (Note: No Sound with this clip)

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A quick check with the binoculars confirms, he is definitely in musth. Although our friends are fascinated, I can also sense their apprehension and I continue to reverse. Eventually another car comes up behind me but is soon reversing also and, to much relief, gives me plenty of space between his vehicle and mine. Having a vehicle stop close behind you when you are obviously reversing is, I find, as unnerving as being too close to the animal itself. Finally the Bull heads into the bush and several large outpourings of breath are heard in the car. This would be one of the sightings remembered in vivid detail from the trip.

A coffee break would not go amiss and I park up at N’hlanganini Dam along the Phala road. As you can imagine, when we spot the next herd of Ellies our friends are more apprehensive but we spot no troublemakers amongst them.

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More birds to capture our attention – Pied Kingfisher, Saddle-billed Stork and a Martial Eagle.

We have time to pop along to Sable Hide, another favourite of ours, spotting Klipspringer in the Koppies close to the road

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and lots to see when sat in the hide itself – Giraffe,

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a large herd of Buffalo,

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Impala

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and Ellies..not forgetting Cape Glossy Starlings, Green Wood Hoopoes, Vultures and Dwarf Mongoose.

We stop at the Entry Gate and get a temporary exit pass for us to pop down to Spar. As we have so much in the vehicle, Cheryl and I grab the bags and dash into the supermarket. I have written out a comprehensive shopping list and we soon have a trolley filled to the gunwhales. This is the last big shop I plan to do and we need meat, fruit and vegetables for nearly 2 more weeks.. I shop here so often that I know where everything is found and soon reach the till with our groaning trolley. It took me several years to wonder why people looked at us so curiously when we shop – in the UK it is normal for me to do a big shop for a week or so and I make great use of a large freezer. In South Africa, no matter where I shop, it seems people are buying food for a much shorter period. Is this just my personal observation or do others have more time for food shopping than I do? However, we are soon settled up and packing it all into the back of the bakkie. SO and Brian also take the chance to pop into the Bottle Store and stock up on the drinks too. Our friends are fascinated by this concept as we can just get everything (if we wish) in just one store. It never ceases to amaze me just how much you can learn about a country by going around a supermarket...but that is another story and not really relevant to our travel tale.

We are soon back at Phalaborwa Gate – the staff are amazed we have done all our shopping so quickly and smartly lift up the barrier for us to re-enter the Park.

With so much food in the back, we drive at a more steady pace heading north. Having had so many fuel problems on our last trip at Shingwedzi, we pop into Mopani to refuel – better safe than sorry. We make regular stops to look at sightings along the way finding more Ellies, Giraffe, Fish Eagles, Hamerkop, Warthogs, Zebras and Wildebeest. Finally we reach our next destination and a camp we choose to spend every trip we make to Kruger – Shingwedzi. I e-mailed the camp several weeks earlier and requested bungalows 33 and 34. They kindly responded by return and confirmed they would hold them for us and we are soon parked up and unloading the vehicle. Priority is to unload all the food and I soon fill up the freezer section. At least we each have a fridge/freezer here so plenty of room to store all the food from our shopping trip earlier.

Shingwedzi is a very different camp from Olifants and we hope our friends will like it as much as we do. Time to pour out a glass for everyone and settle down on the stoep to talk through the day. Needless to say, the topic highest on their list was the first Elephant of the day!
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Re: Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

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Wednesday, 30th May

It seemed a bit strange to wake up with just SO and I in a rondavel. We hoped Cheryl and Brian had settled down next door and slept well. As usual I grab the bathroom first and, once dressed, sort out the flasks and munchies for our first drive of the day. With the food and drink bag packed up in the car, I sit down at the table watching the camp come to life. Several other rondavels have a light shining so I know we will not be on our own as we drive through the gate this morning. At the suggested time we all congregate by the vehicle and pile in. With everyone well rested, I plan to drive the Red Rocks road and see who is about in the bush today.

The river bed is still dark and we can see little movement anywhere. In fact we see almost nothing as we head down the tar and along the gravel towards Red Rocks – just a line of Soldier Ants,

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A few Water Dikkop, some Impala and a Giraffe. We park up for a while on the northern side of the rocks – we find a Fish Eagle,

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a big crocodile,

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and 2 Hamerkops. It is such a beautiful spot here and we are more than happy to soak up the atmosphere with a cup of hot coffee in hand.

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With the flasks emptied and a small appetite satisfied with a few Salty Crackers and a Romany Creams, we continue our exploration of this area. In past years we have had great fortune spotting cats near the causeway but despite creeping along with eyes glued in every direction, they are eluding us today. There are lots of Giraffe out and about, a few Warthogs munching away and a small group of female Kudus. After the far causeway we turn right and head down to the Tshanga Lookout Point.

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To be honest we do not visit this spot very often – I cannot recall ever seeing anything here and, for reasons I can’t really explain, it is the only place in the Park I feel somewhat nervous. I just have no explanation as to why I feel some sort of tension here but I do. The walk out to the rocks where you can look out across the bush has always been a slight puzzle – if something did appear nearby, I doubt one could make it back to the car. However, we scramble up the rocks and sit down to look out across the valley. We see absolutely nothing but are later joined by another couple with whom we strike up a conversation and spend at least 30 minutes discussing what we have all seen in the Park so far...as well as putting the world to rights! I also learned that GP on their car’s number plate stands for “Gangster’s Paradise”. I promise you guys, there are problems wherever you live in the world!

Time to move on...we head back towards Red Rocks passing Waterbuck, Impala and Vervets. Pausing by a riverside slot, we look down towards a small pool of water. Well, it looks a pretty small area of water but in and around the location we find 2 Saddle-bill Storks,

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Fish Eagles, Hamerkop, 2 Crocodiles, Pied Kingfisher

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and a Hippo. We are amazed – it really isn’t a big pool of water.

Slowly we make our way back to camp passing some Ellies from the causeway by the East gate along the way.

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A quick trip out the main gate revealed more elephants digging down for fresh water.

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Several cries of ‘I’m hungry’ so need to get on with cooking a substantial breakfast I think. Afterwards everyone can get a rest whilst I catch up with the laundry.

With all the chores completed and everyone ready to get back out on the road, I head out through the back gate intending to derive down towards Kanniedood. Driving slowly along the river bank we spot Grey Heron, Baboons, Waterbuck, a beautiful Nyala Bull and small herds of Impala. I love this road but, much in common with the Mpongolo road, we must always be on the lookout for a regular hazard – Ellies. Being so close to the river, there are constant crossings of herds and groups of Bulls up and down to the river for refreshment. As some sections are quite narrow, they often use the road for easier walking and, over the years, we have had many an interesting experience with them...some more spine-chilling than others. We have only driven a few kilometres along the track when I spot a herd ahead of me. I stop and wait to see where they are going...sadly it is not across the road but along it, towards us. I reverse for a bit. As their numbers increase and they show no inclination to walk through the bush, I make an informed decision and turn around. Even with our large bakkie, they definitely take precedence on the road!. As cars approach us, I flash them and explain about the herd of Ellies in the path. Some also opt to turn around, a few decide to stand their ground. We must all make our own decisions in life and at least I have made them aware of what is ahead.

We are soon rewarded by sighting a Sharpe’s Grysbok – always a treat as they are usually such shy creatures. Whereas Nyala seemed to be moving further and further south (we regularly spot them near Lake Panic these days) we have only seen Grysboks in the northern part of Kruger.

Meandering around the roads close to the camp and the river we also found a Woolly-necked Stork, Double-banded Sandgrouse,

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Buffalo, Bateleur, Baboons, a fat Crocodile,

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Giraffe, more Ellies,

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Zebras and Bee-Eaters.

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Lots for discussion over dinner and time to make a plan for a long day tomorrow.

Thursday, 31st May

Whenever we are staying at Shingwedzi, and with no sleepovers at Punda Maria, it is from here that we undertake a thorough exploration as far as Crooks Corner and back. Yes, it will always be a long day but we really want to show our friends as much as possible in the Park and the very north is a MUST SEE. I have made up all the flasks, ensured plenty of cold drinks available and a suitable picnic to last us the whole day. Under a clear sky but still fairly cool temperatures, we make our way through the camp gate, along the river banks and then heading north along the tar. We soon spot Hyena in the road and stop to watch the wider family as they emerge from a den in a culvert. Plenty of adults but lots of youngsters also – a chance to explain how they change colour during the first six months..from dark to becoming spotted. I know the adults may no longer win any beauty prizes but their babies are just so cute.

Making our way further north we pass Zebra, Buffalo, Bull Ellies, Giraffe, Wildebeest and another Secretary Bird. Obviously we are making up for all those we did not see on our last trip! We pop into Babalala for a quick comfort break – always best to make use of facilities whilst they are available.
Back on the road we find an eclectic mix of wildlife – Waterbuck, Steenbok, Buffalo,

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Red-billed Oxpeckers, Kudu, Black-shouldered Kite,

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Grey Louries, Sharpe’s Grysbok,

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Giraffe, Burchall’s Coucal, More Ellies,

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Warthogs, Tawny Eagle, Bearded Woodpecker (a new bird for us) and Three-banded Plovers. By now we have reached Klopperfontein – definitely time for a coffee break! We park up and watch to see if anyone will come out to play...unlike our last trip, this morning is very quiet but still a fabulous location to sit and watch out for nature to be revealed.

Time to move on again and plenty to keep our interest as we continue travelling north – a herd of Buffalo, Ellies at a water tank, Kori Bustard (well, that completes my triumvirate for this trip), Kudu, Nyala,

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Helmeted Guinea Fowl and Warthogs.

A quick stop on the bridge to view the Luvuvhu River and the Hippo tracks in the sand.

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We pull into Pafuri Picnic Site to stretch our legs – for us, this will always be Frank’s Place and in our hearts we still thank him for all the bird sightings he showed us on previous trips. Rest in peace Frank – we will always miss you.

Back in the car we continue eastwards passing Zebra, Wildebeest, Ellies. Waterbuck, Baboons, Green wood Hoopoe, Crocodiles,

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Hippos, Hadeda Ibis and Pied Kingfishers. Finally we make it to Crooks Corner – such an iconic spot in the Park and lots of Crocodiles to keep us company.

The day has certainly warmed up and most of us feel in need of an air-conditioned break in the car so we make our way slowly towards the main north/south road. Still quite quiet in the bush – a few Giraffe, Zebra and a Red-crested Korhaan to enjoy.

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We make a short detour back to Klopperfontein – a bit more life than earlier in the day – Terrapins, Egyptian Geese and another new bird for us, Red-billed Teals.

As we gradually eat up the Kilometres back to camp, we stop along the way for Ellies, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Kudu, Tawny-flanked Prinia, and closer to our destination a very large herd of Buffalo and a breeding herd of Ellies.

We are all exhausted but so much to talk about over a glass of wine and dinner this evening.
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Re: Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

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Friday 1st June

We are all up bright and early to head back up north where we want to show Cheryl and Brian another of Kruger’s very special locations. The day is sunny but the bush is quiet...still, we enjoy the company of a large herd of Elephants making their way through Mopani scrub and then a small herd of Cape Buffalo. As we reach the turn towards Sirheni camp, I head west until we meet up with the northern part of the Mphongolo road and then drive south for a few hundred metres to reach Mavatsani waterhole.

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From the time we first discovered this little gem, it has become an absolute MUST visit location. Sometimes we see lots of wildlife, other times we find little but this place is so beautiful, to us, it makes little difference. Just to sit and watch and listen soaking up its individual atmosphere really feels like food for the soul. As we sit with our coffee and biscuits, we share the day with a Grey Heron, Crocodiles,

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Water Dikkop and a pair of Pied Kingfishers.

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Eventually we must set out again and continue south keeping close to the river. We are rewarded by a steady stream of sightings – White-backed Vulture, Hooded Vulture (tagged), a Red-backed Shrike ( a new bird for all of us) a large breeding herd of Ellies with lots of babies,

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Goliath Heron,

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Buffalo,

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Fish Eagle clutching a large fish,

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Black Stork (Juvenile),

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Woolly-necked Storks

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and a male Nyala. Such a delightful morning and plenty to discuss over the very late breakfast. We also find a little visitor, a Hawk Moth, who is quickly released.

ImageHawk Moth by Richard Veitch, on Flickr

Whilst the others settle down for a siesta, I do a quick catch up with the laundry and check over the food stocks as we will be moving camp again in the morning. Although the day is now pretty hot, we are keen to take a sunset drive down towards Kanniedood. With so many loops close to the river bed, there is always a shady spot to escape some of the heat and we are sure to find some company along the way. Today we find lots of Giraffe (including a couple necking),

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breeding herds of Ellies either down in the river bed or on their way down to seek refreshment, a Crested Barbet,

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Ground Hornbills, another Red-crested Korhaan and a couple of elephants playing in the river.

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Shingwedzi camp has a very different feel to Olifants and it is interesting to hear how our friends think about our choice of camps for the trip so far


Saturday, 2nd June

We have a reasonable drive back south today but not so far we feel the need to dash out of camp at gate opening. Packing up seems to take less and less time the more visits we make to Kruger and, combined with the fact that our vehicle just has so much space for everything, we could almost just throw it all in and go. I may not be the tidiest person but I have yet to approach loading the car with such a total abandonment.

The sun is shining but the air still quite cool – perfect weather for travelling. Again the bush is quiet but we hear the call of the Fish Eagle and soon spot it near the river. One location we particularly wanted to get a photo for our friends was at the Tropic of Capricorn.

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The last time we stopped to photograph here was a few years ago and it was at the date of the actual solstice. We met up with YR Kaapsedraai and his family along with a few other Park guests and all lined up for a very special shot. This morning would just be the four of us but always a landmark location especially for those of us who live so far from the tropics and for whom, in normal circumstances, would only see the lines marking Cancer, Capricorn and the Equator on a map.

Another area we particularly wanted to drive along on this trip is the Tropic of Capricorn loop – if we are lucky I hope to find one of our favourite antelopes. We saunter along the gravel towards Tihongonyeni. When the recent drought was at its worst, this area looked utterly desolate. We feared it would never recover but slowly some areas for grazing are providing sustenance again. We soon spot several groups of Ostrich

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and then the animal we had come in search of – Tsessebe.

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I am always interested to read where others have spotted these animals on their trips but, apart from an occasional sighting along the Giriyondo road, we only seem to find them in this area. We stop to explain what we know about them.

Moving on again, we sight Crowned Plovers close to the roadside

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and then see movement in the distance – well away from the road but definitely a small herd of something. As SO grabs the binoculars to find out exactly who is about, we both take a large intake of breath and, in utter amazement, call out Eland.

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Now, SO and I have been coming to Kruger for 18 years and I think this is now my 40th visit but we have only ever seen Eland once – a single bull, many years ago, when we were staying at Punda Maria. This is a small herd – males, females and youngsters – and they are all looking in fantastic condition. We are blown away and it would be one of our highlights of this trip.

To be honest we are bouncing with excitement – definitely time to find somewhere for a much needed coffee stop and we make our way along to Shipandani Hide. This is always a nice spot to sit in the shade and gather your thoughts as well as looking out for wildlife in and around the water. This time we are treated to the sight of a herd of Elephants coming down to the riverside for a well needed drink.

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Time to continue south passing Buffalo, Hippos and more Ellies,

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we drive along to Letaba for lunch. It is great to have this restaurant up and running again with its wonderful setting overlooking the Letaba river. Also good to see it is doing a brisk trade.

Our final destination today is Satara and we all find something to capture our attention as we head through the savannah – a Giant Kingfisher with fish,

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Brown Snake Eagle, a Saddle-billed Stork,

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2 Secretary Birds, a Scimitarbill,

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and 3 Kori Bustards. It has been an extremely interesting drive today and we are glad to be checked in and settled down on the stoep of our bungalows. As at Shingwedzi, I had requested 2 adjacent rondavels and were allocated 15 and 16 in the A circle – they are very close to the fence and we actually prefer them to the usual perimeter G area...but that is our personal choice of course.

We forego a sunset drive today – we have spent more than enough hours in the car and have been rewarded with some amazing sightings. We sit down with a glass of wine and catch up with our thoughts before a refreshing shower and dinner under the stars.


Sunday, 3rd June

What a difference the weather has in store this morning. As we head out through the camp gate we can see little through the heavy mist.

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Soon after turning onto the Orpen road it can only be described as fog, with visibility so low I can see neither the car in front nor the one behind. Not the best weather for spotting that’s for sure. No matter, we continue past Nsemani with SO and I keeping our eyes peeled – we are hoping for a spotty cat as we have still to find one for our friends but they are nowhere to be seen this morning. As we pass the Girivana turn, the visibility begins to improve. On our last trip we had been lucky enough to have several Cheetah sightings along this stretch of road but no such luck today. A few kilometres further on, we pull up alongside a stopped car - as they point out across the bush we, too, see who has caught their attention – a single Lioness.

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She makes her way parallel to the road and we keep her easily in sight. We can see no other cats around and she does not appear to be in hunting mood either. Wirth only the two vehicles following her movements it is not too difficult to keep her in sight. Eventually she crosses the road and begins zigzagging through the grass.

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We are all still puzzled by her actions but, having followed her for a good 10-15 minutes, she suddenly stops, raises her head and begins calling gently. She must have cubs nearby. She moves around a bit more then begins calling again. We manage to track her for a further 10 minutes or so but, despite her calls, no cubs appear and eventually she moves way back from the road and we lose sight of her completely. What an amazing start to the day.

Our route plan for this morning is quite ambitious but we had only been able to get suitable accommodation at Satara for 2 nights so we wanted to investigate as much of the area as possible and this evening we were booked on the Sunset Drive. Our drive takes us as far as Orpen camp, then back along the Rabelais loop where we stop for morning coffee at the Pan, then down to check out Shimangwaneni Dam, along the Sweni road, down to N’wanetsi and back to camp via the S100. Considering the distance covered we were not overwhelmed with sightings but did spend time with Giraffe, lots of Ellies, Nyala with youngsters, Ground Hornbills,

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Bateleur, a herd of Zebra in a rush to go somewhere,

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a large herd of Buffalo, Leopard Tortoise, Yellow-billed Kite and a Tawny Eagle.

We always find eating dinner after an arranged Sunset Drive is a bit too late for us so we have our meal much earlier before we walk across to the Reception area. The drives from Satara are always heavily booked and this evening they have 2 large trucks full of expectant guests. Although we find the guide a bit distant from his guests, we are very fortunate with an eclectic mix of sightings which kept everyone thoroughly entertained for the evening – Bull Elephants fighting, a pride of 9 Lions in the river bed,

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and then more Lions not too far away,

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Large-spotted Genet, Giant Eagle Owl,

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Nightjar, Scrub Hares, juvenile and adult Brown Snake Eagles, Hooded Vulture, Cape Vultures, Zebras and Wildebeest, Buffalo, Waterbuck and Giraffe.

Back at our bungalows, time for a large glass (or two) before retiring to bed. With only 2 nights here, it definitely feels like a flying visit and the thought of moving camps again tomorrow highlights the fact that our trip is passing all too quickly.


Monday, 4th June

With less and less to pack up, we decide to have breakfast before leaving camp this morning. It also means we do not have to take out the perishables from the fridge/freezer until the last minute. Although the day is sunny, the air is cool and it is very windy. In our experience, we have often found that we do not spot so much when it is windy. We did, however, spot a Hooded Vulture picking over some bones.

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This is certainly the case today but we all enjoy the varying scenery as we head south. Just after Tshokwane we must decide whether to head towards Lower Sabie or further west near Skukuza. We had already decided to take the easterly route as we planned to make a coffee stop at the Nkumbe Lookout. We love this spot – the vistas are truly amazing and sitting down on the rocky steps underneath the thatched shelter, we have had some wonderful conversations with other visitors over the years. With several people settled down and with binoculars trained on the horizon, as soon as someone spots something interesting, the news is passed along the line. Very much a space to share and socialise.

Time is passing, however, and we need to make our way again. Several Bataleurs are spotted in the sky and we stop for Jacana and Hippos as we cross the Sabie river bridge. We pop into Lower Sabie for a comfort break, pick up a few perishables in the shop and refuel the vehicle.

Back in the car we pop along to Sunset Dam to check who is out and about today – Yellow-billed Storks, Swallows,

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Hippos, Little Egrets, Grey Herons, several Crocodiles of various proportions, A Journey of Giraffes

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and a few waders along the near bank.

Our final destination today is our favourite Bush camp – Biyamiti. We have left it as a later camp on this trip as we felt its isolation might be a step too far for our newbie friends if we had begun our visit here. The accommodation is excellent and the walk along the fence down to the bird hide is good for birding. Cheryl and Brian love the location but agree they would not have felt comfortable here until they had gained a better feel for the Park with stops at the main camps first.

So much to talk about over dinner this evening – not the least being that we had found them their first White Rhinos for the trip and they were bowled over by that surprise.

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Just that elusive spotty cat to find then!!
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carolv
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Re: Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

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Tuesday 5th June

Everyone has slept well and we are all ready to explore the fruitful roads down in the south. This is, of course, our first Bush camp for the trip and our friends are somewhat bemused by the fact that this allows us to open up the camp gate for ourselves. We have not been out for long when we come to a standstill – Ellie road block. I keep well back as the road is quite narrow and, although I am renowned for ‘only reversing for elephants’, I prefer to keep my limited skills in this area very much as a last resort option. They are all happy though, just intent on making their way down to the river bed for a drink.

Plenty of Guinea Fowl criss-cross the track, Impala watch us passing along with Vultures still settled on their roost. A (not so) Common Duiker races in front of us – one of the shyest of the antelope we find.

The roads are still quiet this morning which allows us to sit for a while at Biyamiti Weir. This is another favourite spot for us but it very quiet today...just a few 3 Banded Plovers on the rocks. The road alongside the river beckons and we slowly drive down the Biyamiti Loop. Gradually the bush is coming to life and we find a pair of Klipspringers,

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lots of Vervets playing in the trees,

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with the Tree Squirrels on the ground,

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Bateleur, Kudu, Giraffe, a Lioness and more Ellies.

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We pop into Afsaal for a comfort break and a quick check of the sightings boards – some spots have a dubious location but we have an interesting chat with a young man who is on his first Kruger trip and just buzzing with excitement at what they have already seen today. He repeats what we have heard on so many, many occasions and it certainly rang true for our experience in that he thought he would just be looking out for the Big Five but he had been bowled over by the amazing birds he had spotted so far – just a touch of Kruger magic dust then but it brought a smile to our faces.

We slowly investigate the many small tracks in the area finding some Terapins,

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Wildebeest, a big Warthog family whom we had stopped close by to take some photographs but another car decided to speed past us and the entire family dashed back into the bush. Now I do understand that not everyone wants to stop for everything but such behaviour is both incredibly selfish and disappointing. Thank goodness the vast majority of visitors do not follow suit. There are plenty of Giraffe about this morning including a delightful family with two youngsters laying down.

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Our friends are fascinated – they assumed they stood up all the time.

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Finally we head back to camp, via some lovely scenery,

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and a group of White-fronted Bee-eaters,

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where we sit down to a hearty brunch and discuss the sightings so far – there had been several highlights for them today but notably the 3 separate White *** sightings. This time we had been so much closer to them and it was a great joy to all of us to share their space for a while.

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It had been a long drive this morning and we planned a shorter sunset drive, possibly as far as Mpondo Dam. We spend time with Giraffe, Kudu, Zebra and a Red-crested Korhaan, but get nowhere near the Dam as we are blocked by a large breeding herd of Ellies.

Back at camp time to sit outside and watch the light fade – with the braai alight, a glass of wine and the aroma of dinner cooking, this is definitely a taste of Paradise.

Wednesday, 6th June

We awake to a cold morning and I warm up with a cup of coffee as I prepare the flasks for our morning outing. This will be our last full day in the area and I really want to cover as much ground as possible. With everyone aboard, I drive up to the gate and SO nips out to open them. Our friends peer out nervously, convinced something may jump out as the gates are pulled back and secured. We head out along the track but all is quiet as we make our way to the T junction with the S25. I stop on the causeway as we have often been lucky finding a cat or two laid out on the rocks but it looks like they are all still in their warm beds this morning. No worries..the views along this road are a joy – views out across the Crocodile river, sections with large trees to investigate and then a short piece of savannah as we near the tar road. An occasional animal has made its presence known – Kudu, Ellies, Warthogs, Wildebeest and Baboons. We have a quick look at Gezantfombi Dam – thias, too, has been breached and the resident Hippos must have moved on. Stopping on the bridge, we can see water down in the river but no wildlife. Whilst I know all the reasons for the change in waterhole management, we are still saddened by the much reduced numbers of locations where we have spent time watching and waiting in past years. We turn right onto the S28 as this is so often the right place right time for several of the cat family but they are not out and about so far.. We make regular stops to check all the surrounding area with the binoculars – surely something must be waiting for us today. Although it has also been breached I drive down to what used to be Nhlanganzwani Dam. Even with no water to attract the animals it is a lovely spot to sit at for morning coffee and this is what we do.

The Vultures are still resting in the trees – both White-headed

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and Cape Vultures are seen. Back on the S28 we are soon brought to a standstill by a large herd of Buffalo, some busy feeding and others aimlessly criss-crossing the road.

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Not only do they look in really good condition, they have lots of youngsters so they are back breeding successfully again.

Shortly before the road meets the tar, we see a long queue of cars ahead; I slow down and soon spot what is the reason – a male Lion is visible from the road, quietly watching his growing audience. As the cars begin to jostle for a better position, he eventually gets up and moves back into the bush. He has done his posing for the day and obviously wants to settle down and get some sleep.

Moving on we investigate the many roads around Lower Sabie and our sightings list grows ever longer – Blacksmith Plovers,

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Hippos, Magpie Shrikes,

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Baboons,

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African Stonechat,

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Dwarf Mongoose, a large breeding herd of Ellies, Ground Hornbills, 2 Saddle-bill Storks, Crocodiles and then a pride of 5 Lions feeding.

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Well, the Leopards and Cheetahs are not prepared to show their presence but the Lions are certainly making up for them. We pass along by the confluence of the Sabie and Sand rivers – such a lovely spot.

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As we have booked a Sunset drive from camp later, we decide to treat ourselves to lunch at Lower Sabie Mugg and Bean. It will mean we do not have to rush back to camp and cook a meal – just a refreshing shower can be fitted in when we return. With a table positioned so that we can look all along the river we all enjoy a very tasty lunch...however SO and I are more than a little cross at the number of families (sadly, they were all Saffies and not other tourists) who are all hand feeding the birds. Are we the only people who ask them to stop – they certainly do not take our request kindly. How many signs do we have to put up to ask people not to feed the wildlife because it will all eventually end in tears when those same people complain that they cannot eat their meals for the number of birds landing on their plates. I assume the staff are reluctant to say anything in case their jobs are put at risk but surely it cannot be allowed to continue. Many of us are aware of what action has had to be taken at other sites when the wildlife presence got so out of hand that it was impossible to sit in comfort. Other comments welcome as we are sure we cannot be the only ones of this opinion.

Back to our TR, however, and we drive along to Sunset Dam to find Hippos, Crocodiles in great numbers, Greater Egrets and Pied Kingfishers. We need to make our way back to camp and pause for Zebras, Warthogs, a young Giraffe, Waterbuck and Kudu before arriving back at our cottage.

Apart from the fact that we love staying at Biyamiti for countless reasons, our ultimate personal treat on any Kruger trip is to take a Sunset Drive from here...if at all possible, with Bridgeman. All the guides based at Biyamiti are excellent but Bridgeman has become a good friend. His knowledge and enthusiasm is amazing and we always learn something new when out in the bush with him. We walk along to the meeting point and introduce him to our friends. We run through what we have been so fortunate to see already on our trip but laughingly tell him we are yet to find a spotty cat. No pressure then for our drive! Distance-wise we really do not travel too far but our sightings list for the evening will amaze you...it certainly amazed us and our friends could not believe their eyes.
Sunset is always a wonder in the KNp.

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Well, ready, steady, go for the list – 9 White ***,

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Spotted Dikkop, Scops Owl,

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Lesser Bush Baby, 4 Civets, several Genets, Water Dikkops, Common Duikers, Hyenas, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Processionary Caterpillars,

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Cape Buffalo,

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Giraffes, Ellies,

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Slender Mongoose, White-tailed Mongoose, Tilapia, Potato Bush, Kudu, Scrub Hares, Waterbuck AND, but just a dash across the track, our elusive Leopard. Thank you Bridgeman – as always, you are a real Kruger star.

We were so excited when he finally dropped us back at our accommodation, we sat with several glasses of wine before we could calm down enough to even contemplate going to bed.
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Re: Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

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Thursday, 7th June

After such an eventful day yesterday nobody was racing to open the camp gate – at least not from our bungalow. As this was moving day again, plus the fact that we were not moving a great distance to our next camp, we had decided to make the final hours of our Biyamiti stay as relaxed as possible and enjoy a good breakfast before packing up the car. Our friends had also fallen in love with this camp but admitted that they would have felt far less comfortable if we had stayed here at the start of our trip.
Just before leaving we caught up with our friendly housekeeper who was anxious to know if we had found our spotty cat yesterday and excited to hear we had indeed been lucky .. albeit just a fleeting glimpse.

We set out along the Crocodile river road as we planned to cover the Berg en Dal area before heading to our final camp, Pretoriuskop. This is when it really begins to strike home that our trip has an end in sight....surely not!!

The bush is quiet this morning but we find a male Bushbuck, Giraffe, Slender Mongoose, Warthogs, Cape Vultures and a few Ellies. Whilst pausing at a road junction, an approaching car flashed its lights and we slowed down to speak to them. Another lucky meeting as they explained to us the location of a pride of Lions and we made our way to Ampie-se-Boorgat where at least 8 Lionesses were stretched out under the trees, looking extremely well fed.

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Their audience were growing but there was plenty of room for everyone to park up and get a clear sighting. Although all watchers were happily clicking away, it gradually came to the notice of a few of us that one car had a problem. Word soon got around that the car had a flat battery and just would not start – not what you expect from a new rental vehicle and certainly not what you want to happen in full view of a group of prime predators. As the problem was discussed amongst the other vehicles, one driver confirmed he had a set of jump leads and, since we had the large bakkie, we began a total rearrangement of the vehicles so that the car with the equipment could face the car in trouble and we manoeuvred our vehicle so that the Lions could not see the person out of the car. It’s amazing what a bit of thought can do to resolve a problem and we were all relieved when the stricken vehicle hiccupped into life and was able to make its way towards a camp for a more permanent solution. I have to say, our friends were considerably more nervous about this scenario than we were! Just another Kruger tale to recall over the dinner table we told them!

At Berg en Dal camp we were pleased to find another bird for their tick list – a Scarlet-chested Sunbird.

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After a quick inspection of Matjulu waterhole with Giraffe getting down for a drink,

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being disturbed by Impala bounding around,
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then Zebras joining in,

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and a drive around the Steilberg, we turned north along the tar before turning left to explore the Voortrekker road towards our final Kruger destination.

An occasional Buffalo, some Dwarf Mongoose and a lonely Wildebeest followed our progress along this historical track.

Once at Pretoriuskop, we were soon checked in and drove down to one of the family cottages facing the northern perimeter fence. What fantastic bungalows these are – 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a big kitchen and living space – it was perfect for us. We often stay at this camp but never in such generous accommodation. We were very impressed and will certainly use this option again when we next bring out people.

We decided to take a drive along to Shitlhave Dam for our sunset tour but we never ever expected to see what, for us personally, would be the highlight of our trip. When we first reached the Dam, we parked up to check out the area both in and around the Dam.

Suddenly all eyes turn towards the hill on the left side of the Dam, where, to the huge surprise of everyone, a herd of 16 Sable Antelope move over the ridge and down to the water’s edge.

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Now, the Sable will always be the closest animal to our hearts as it was the very first animal we ever saw in Africa. Yes, it was in the Okavango Delta on our honeymoon but, even so, they are pretty rare there also. An even more amazing co-incidence is that the very first African bird we ever saw was a Saddle-billed Stork and, who should be down at the Dam close to the Sable, was a juvenile Saddle-bill Stork. Truly, we were almost in tears. This small (actually, it felt huge –when do you see so many Sable together) herd was led by an absolutely amazing Bull.

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He was well in charge of his harem and youngsters and they all looked in amazing condition. Just thinking about this sighting still gives me goose bumps and it was the main topic of conversation for almost everyone when we returned camp (watched by a small group of Vervet Monkeys).

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Whilst the various members of the cat family may not have graced us with their presence, the antelopes were definitely out in force for our trip. We might not have seen them all but we hadn’t missed many that’s for certain.

*** seen today:

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Friday, 8th June

The very fact that this was our final Kruger camp for the trip was beginning to hit home. Whilst we appreciate that everyone has their favourite locations for a multitude of reasons, we are always puzzled when reading on the Forum that some visitors would not place Pretoriuskop on their preferred camps. This was the second camp we ever stayed at in Kruger and we have always rated it as being full of promise and so many options to drive around each day. We have always been lucky with sightings here – as yesterday confirmed. A regular early morning drive for us is a run down to check out Transport and Shitlhave Dams before returning to camp for breakfast.

Well wrapped up as the temperature is still somewhat chilly, we set out along the tar and are rewarded with an eclectic mix of sightings – Zebras,

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Ellies, Warthogs, Hippos, Waterbuck, Blacksmith Plovers, Francolins, a cute pair of Steenbok, Grey Herons, Crocodiles and, much to the delight of their ever-growing audience, the herd of Sable are still around although spread out in the bush feeding and offering less of a photographic opportunity.

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However, everyone is thrilled to see them – the word is definitely out that they are around.

Back to Camp for breakfast then, fed and watered, we are soon back in the car and set out on a circular route to include the location which is probably included in the top 5 of every person’s list – a certain little bird hide not too far from Skukuza. We stay on the tar road towards Numbi Gate – on a beautiful clear day the views as you drive this section of the road are stunning. A short distance before the gate, we turn north and drive along to Mestel Dam. Often we see little here but, this morning, we are excited to find a large pod of Hippos and a good-sized herd of Buffalo – probably about 80 in number. Yet another beautiful spot to soak up the atmosphere of the Park.

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As we continue our journey, the Albasini road is very quiet today but a brief stop at Nyamundwa Dam adds Crocodiles,

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Hippos, Spoonbills and Greater Egrets to our day’s list. Several Giraffe are found along the Doispane road but it is not long before we make that familiar turn down to the incomparable setting which is Lake Panic. The water is still desperately low but this site never lets you down. Even if it initially looks quiet, the longer you sit down and keep looking, the more wildlife will appear for you. Our spots today included Hippos, Crocodiles,

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Bushbuck,

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Nyala, Giraffe, Impala,

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Fish Eagle, Water Monitor,

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Black Crake, Jacana,

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Pied Kingfishers, Brown-hooded Kingfishers,

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Black-collared Barbet,

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Black-eyed Bulbul,

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African Fish Eagle,

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Blue Waxbills,

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Green-backed Heron and Terrapins.

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Only the fact that the hide is full to bursting with people and our urgent need of a comfort break sees us return to the car and head along to Skukuza.

We plan to have lunch here on our penultimate day so we walk along to show Cheryl and Brian the location of Cattle Baron, then sit with an ice cream looking out along the river. Time is passing all too quickly and we need to be back on the road to check out a few more roads before returning to camp. Our drive sees us heading south down the Waterhole road – fairly quiet with a few Giraffe and Dwarf Mongoose spotted.

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However, as always with Kruger, just when you least expect it, we are in for a big surprise. As we drop down to cross the final donga before reaching the junction with the Napi Road, a Leopard appears on the track in front of us. Desperate to try and get a photograph of this elusive cat, I creep inch by inch down the slope but he is unsettled by our vehicle. He disappears into the bush and I speed up to try and find where he has gone. He is making his way along the donga but, as it is our lucky day, he steps up along the bank and SO manages to get the shot we had wanted.

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He posed for a short while before disappearing back into the bush and away from sight but, as you can imagine, we were high fiving and grinning from ear to ear. You know what they say “Everything comes to he who waits”. We were so close to the tar road now that we sat for a while parked along the roadside in the vain hope that he would pop up somewhere close by but, it was not to be and really we were far too excited to worry that he was now far from view.

As we made our way slowly back to camp, still more creatures were spotted – Herons and Hippos, Guinea Fowl and Fish Eagles, Bataleur, Kudu and Dwarf Mongoose, Slender Mongoose and a young Hyena.

Just the fact that we had finally managed to capture a photograph of the Leopard made us feel that we had achieved as much as we could possibly hope for on this trip even though our friends would have been mortified to feel they should any such pressure on us. Still, our shoulders felt just that little bit lighter and the red wine was soon flowing in celebration.


Saturday, 9th June

Yesterday had been a long, tiring day and we decided to have a couple of shorter drives today. Soon after leaving camp we spot Kudu and then come upon a group of Hyena emerging from a culvert. We sit watching them for a while, the youngsters are so endearing but decide to move quickly on when their curiosity about our tyres becomes a concern. Even youngsters jaws are strong enough to do serious damage.

We cannot pass by Shitlhave without a check – after all, could those Sable still be around? A few cars are already parked up close to the water and we find ourselves a good spot along the higher edge to see a couple of Hyena on the far bank.

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What another lucky spot this would turn out to be. Initially nothing seemed to be around until, suddenly, over the far edge of the dam, a pair of male Lions appeared. As they posed and paraded along the ridge in the wonderful early morning light, the cameras clicked away...and we had the best spot.

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Eventually they both moved away from the Dam and dropped out of sight but what an amazing start to the day.

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Moving eastwards again we found Kudu, Impala, Zebra and a Brown Snake Eagle before parking up at Transport Dam for our morning coffee break and some munchies. We were joined by Hippos, Crocodiles,

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Blacksmith Plovers, Swallows and Wildebeest.

Keen to see if our spotty cat is still around we head slowly down the Waterhole road. We park up and scan the bush both sides for any signs or sight of him but he had other plans today. Our choice of road was not in vain though as we find a Spotted Eagle Owl – a bird we have very rarely seen and another new one for our friends tick list.

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At the northern end of the road we find them another new bird – in fact it is a new one for us as well – a Booted Eagle.

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A shy Duiker is spotted along the Doispane road, then a herd of Kudu, Hooded Vultures,

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Giraffe and Zebra,

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also another Brown Snake Eagle.

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At Nyamundwa Dam we have to wait for a parking spot overlooking the water but eventually one of the cars moves on and we slip into their spot. Lots to keeps us interested this morning – Impala, Vervets and Baboons, Spoonbills, Plovers, Warthogs, Hippos with several very young babies,

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Egyptian Geese, Crocodiles

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and a pair of Fish Eagles.

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By now our tummies are beginning to grumble and we turn south onto the Albasini Road but we are in for another surprise – another Leopard!! The next time I hear someone say there is not much to see around this area, I will send them a copy of our recent days based at Pretoriuskop.

Even at Mestel the wildlife are still out in force – Buffalo, Hippos, Waterbuck and Impala.

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Needless to say, when we finally arrive back at camp, we are still buzzing with excitement.

Refreshed by a generous brunch and whilst the others retire for a well earned siesta, I sit out on the stoep to watch the local birdlife. A short while later another visitor enjoying a wander around camp stops for a chat. I love it when you get to meet and talk to all these like-minded people in Kruger. Although now based in Jo-burg Peter is widely travelled, especially in Africa, and we talk for more than an hour. Once you start discussing all the things that you have seen in Kruger, the time just flies by. In no time at all, everyone else is back up and ready to head out for a sunset drive. My plan today is to drive around the Fayi Loop,

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then down to check up Shitlhave and back for a glass of wine and dinner. Would that every day could be like this!

Our final sightings for the day were a Crocodile,

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several Slender Mongoose, Squirrels and Herons.
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carolv
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Re: Welcome to Kruger - May/June 2018

Unread post by carolv »

Sunday, 10th June

As usual I am the first to get up and, once washed and dressed, sort out the coffee flasks and some snacks for the day. Reality is hitting home this morning – this will be our last full day in the Park – I know the time always flies by when in Kruger but, when you get so close to the end of a trip, the hours race by even quicker. Still we have a few new roads to show our friends today as well as further visits to ones already covered. We soon find a young Hyena out and about

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and continue down to Shitlhave. No sightings of the Sable but we are joined by a Grey Heron and a Herd of Buffalo. All is quiet as we peer into the bush heading eastwards. Just to be sure, we take a quick detour down to Transport Dam finding Giraffe,

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Hippos, Waterbuck and Zebra.

The roads are noticeably busier today but, of course, it is the weekend so lots of day visitors swelling the numbers. As I drive south along the tar, we pause for Warthog, Kudu, Steenbok and the ever present Vervets. Our coffee stop this morning will be at Biyamiti Weir where we are joined by a Crocodile and a Malachite Kingfisher – very much a case of opposites!

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Much earlier in the trip our friends had asked us to include in the itinerary, a special lunch or dinner which they wanted to treat us to as a thank you for organising this holiday. We had decided the most appropriate location would be lunch at Cattle Baron. With this in mind, we took a somewhat circuitous route via Mpondo and Renosterkoppies to reach Skukuza but had some wonderful sightings along the way...Mpondo really came up trumps with 8 species around the water at one time. It was so busy there that we hardly knew where to look next. As a result, their tick list before lunch produced Water Monitor, Klipspringers,

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several herds of Elephant and an occasional Bull,

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Dark Chanting Goshawk,

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***, Brown Snake Eagle, Giraffe and Buffalo, Waterbuck

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and Kudu, Zebras and Warthog, Hippos, Impala and Dwarf Mongoose. It really began to feel that they were all out to wish us farewell.

Knowing just how busy it would get at the Restaurant, we arrived in plenty of time to ensure we could get a table close to the perimeter fence. It is such a lovely setting here and we could tell them about the railway bridge and other aspects of life at this principal camp. As usual, Cattle Baron did not let us down and we all enjoyed a wonderful lunch enhanced by excellent service. After a short saunter along the border path spotting Bee-eaters, Hadeda Ibis, Green Wood Hoopoes and Crocodiles, we made our way back to the car.

Another must see place for a photo opportunity had to be Mathekenyane although our friends did feel a bit vulnerable walking around the rocky outcrop.

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Gradually we drive along the Napi road back towards camp with various sightings along the way.

At Transport Dam we find a Saddle-billed Stork,

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Grey Heron,

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Hyena and a Woolly-necked Stork – another bird to be ticked off on their Kruger list. At least dinner this evening would not be a difficult choice – more a case of finishing anything and everything still left in the fridge and emptying the wine bottles. Sounds a bit like a recipe for disaster but what the heck!

White *** almost seen today:

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Monday, 11th June

With little enthusiasm to pack up the car and go, we all voted for a lie in this morning and were not on the road until nearly 9 o’clock. Stopping to drop off our keys in the box near the gate, we sadly wave a final goodbye to Pretoriuskop and hit the tar. I plan a final (almost) circular route before leaving the Park. First we check out Shitlhave to inspect the local residents and then onto Transport where we notice something very strange – lots of dead fish in the water. Since arriving home we found a relevant thread on the Forum where we learned that a big drop in temperature had caused problems with the oxygen in the water and this was the reason for their demise. Whilst still sad to see, at least it was not due to poisoning which was our initial concern.

No Kruger trip is complete without a final few hours at Lake Panic and there was so much to see today – Crocodiles, Hippos, Nyala,

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Bushbuck,

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Black Crake, Jacana,

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African Pied Wagtail,

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Blue Waxbills,

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Egyptian Geese,

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Kingfishers (Pied, Malachite and Striped),

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Blue Waxbills, Bulbuls, Grey-headed Shrike,

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Green-backed Herons

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and Barbets, Water Monitors,

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Red-billed Quelia and Hadeda Ibis.

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And something spooked some Impala. They bounded away at a great rate, only to pull up and look around sheepishly.

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Still not ready to leave the Park, we drive up to Skukuza to grab a few sandwiches and headed down to a spot along the Sabie river for a relaxed lunch. Time to complete the circle over the high water bridge and back over the low water option with some interesting sightings along the way – Black collared Barbets, Giraffes, Lions, Korhaan, nesting Vultures, Kudu and Steenbok.

Eventually, though, we must make our way towards Phabeni Gate albeit with stops for several species along the way. At least we were not airport bound as we had planned another 2 night stop at our Hazyview ‘home’ to gather our thoughts and discuss the trip in full.

Once our luggage is deposited in our hillside suite, we enjoy a refreshing shower before heading down to the bar for sundowners and a detailed consultation of the menu to select dinner. We also catch up with all the staff who are eager to learn how our trip has gone and what we have seen.


Tuesday 12th June

No real plans for today – just relax, take a wander around the extensive gardens and pop down to Casterbridge for a coffee and a final chance for our friends to pick up any more gifts they might wish to take home.

Wednesday 13th June

It really is the last few hours of our trip now and we load up[ the car with great sadness. We usually take a different route back from Hazyview to Tambo airport so long as the weather is OK and travel via Sabie, Long Tom Pass. Mashishing, Dullstroom (where we always stop for a late lunch), Belfast and onto the toll road towards Jo-burg. It has been an amazing trip and, most important of all to us, our friends have absolutely loved it. Thank you Cheryl and Brian – it gave us the most enormous pleasure to welcome you both to Kruger and we are flying home with unforgettable memories.
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