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Big 5 sightings and other embarrassing stories

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Posts: 18
Joined: Wed Dec 27, 2006 1:01 pm
Location: Gauteng, RSA

Big 5 sightings and other embarrassing stories

Unread post by AGATHA » Sat Dec 30, 2006 11:26 pm

I am almost too embarrassed to submit this report and I will not hold it against anyone who thinks I'm spinning a yarn - even if only because I only joined the forum earlier this week and this is my first posting.

We are in the KNP for the New Year's weekend only and today was our first day here after checking in at Pretoriuskop yesterday afternoon.

As we only have three days in Kruger, we got up at 04:00 this morning and were out the gates at 04:30 in a steady drizzle. We took the S7 towards Phabeni. After about 30 minutes we had only seen a lone elephant bull, a steppe buzzard picking up flying ants as they struggled to free their wings from the rainwater on the road surface and a flock of guinea fowl scratching through some fresh rhino dung for breakfast.

Then, on the S1, we came upon a very wet and shaggy looking lion lying right next to the road. He wasn't too impressed by our arrival and got up immediately, walking away into the bush. Good sighting, but no time to take a pic. Not 2km further on, just before the intersection with the Phabeni-Skukuza S1, we saw a cat about 20 metres from the road, looking straight at us. We could only see its head, which in the bad light and rain looked like a lion cub's. But then, as the animal stood up, it showed its spots. The leopard gave us a dirty look before disappearing into the wet undergrowth.

We continued across the S1 on the S3 running along the Sabie river. Where the road crosses the Mbandweni we came upon a white rhino as it lay sleeping on the sandy riverbed. As we approached it the rhino jumped up, but then it just stood there, looking like it was trying to get out of its sleepy blur.

We then took the S4 link back to the S1, then the S65 past the N'waswitshaka waterhole, where we saw a pair of saddle-billed stork, to the H1-1. On this road we saw a heard of kudu, some zebra, blue wildebeest, a troop of baboons, and another lone elephant bull. We then headed for Skukuza. About 4km short of Skukuza we came upon a traffic jam caused by a wild dog bitch lying smack bang in the middle of the road, apparently oblivious to the commotion she was causing. She eventually got up, allowing us to pass. Due to my inadequate equipment, this is the only sighting of the day of which I have conclusive photographic evidence.

After breakfast at Skukuza we headed for Lower Sabie, crossing the Sabie river and taking the S30. By now it was 30 degrees by the car thermometer. On this road we saw two lionesses under a bush about 80 metres from the road, a lone ground hornbill and another white rhino.

On the H10 just before Lower Sabie we found a heard of buffalo and then, heading south towards Crocodile Bridge, at the second S82 intersection we came upon a lion and lioness mating while a creche of very young impala and their minders were looking on from where they were lying in a patch of shade not 100 metres away. Something ironic in that, I thought.

We then took the H5, S26, S23 and S13 to join the H3, before heading north. Nothing much on this long and dusty stretch of corrugated road other than a martial eagle and two cape vultures sharing a tree, and two magnificent kudu bulls. However, on the H3 just before turning back towards Pretoriuskop on the H1-1, we stopped next to a friendly German lady, who told us that they had seen a leopard about 100 metres into the veld, but that it was lying down and could not be seen anymore.

I thought this to be an unlikely place for a leopard, as the area is predominantly open grassland with no big trees in the vicinity, but I have seen leopard in unexpected places before. We waited a while scanning the veld with the binos, but seeing nothing at all except long grass and shrubs, we decided to head for camp. As we drove off, my better half looked back and spotted a cat sitting in the veld. From its profile we both thought it looked more like a cheetah than a leopard, and this was confirmed through the binos - a big male cheetah.

We got back to camp at 16:00 - a 12 hour day, but as good as most 2-week long trips. The Big 5 in less than 5 hours and a wild dog and cheetah to boot!

Back at camp we crashed and slept like babies until we were woken at 18:45 by a vicious thunder storm. The lighting was directly overhead at one stage and when it was all over, just our cottage out of the entire camp was without electricity. I had to brave the pouring rain to find someone who could help us fix it and ended up soaking wet in a dark cottage with a blinking torch. Is this justice?

I'm told the Sabie and Crocodile rivers are in flood. The Crocodile river low water bridge is overflowing and closed for traffic!

PS - I'll post the pic of the wild dog asap. I hope there is 3G or GPRS reception at Orpen!

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Location: Gauteng, RSA

Unread post by AGATHA » Thu Jan 04, 2007 2:10 am

Here we go again - Part 2 as I remember it...

We decide to lie in on Saturday morning and get up at 07:00, pack up and leave for Orpen. At one of the granite koppies on the H1-1 close to the intersection with the H3, we see another lone elephant bull, as well as a pair of klipspringer.

Then, as we are about to turn right at the crossroads close to the Skukuza gate, we see 4 cars on the road about 150 metres from the gate itself and decide to have a look. It
turns out to be a smallish snake doing a strange little jig on the right hand side of the road, perhaps to gather some heat from the tarred surface. It keeps on rolling itself into a coil, then half straightens out, repeating the exercise over and over again on the same spot.

As we sit watching the snake, I notice a vehicle coming from Skukuza towards us in the opposite direction. When the lady driver sees all the cars standing still, she immediately starts peering into the bush to her left to spot whatever we are looking at. When she is about 10 metres from us I realise that she is dead on course to drive over the snake if it stays where it is. The lady is still scrutinising the lowveld vegetation.

5 Metres out I get that sense of inevitability and I know that the lady is still oblivious to the presence of the snake and that the snake is going nowhere. As I am boxed in by the 4 cars in front of me and another behind me, all I can do is to put my full weight behind the car's horn. The only effect this has is that the lady jerks her head around to look at me, but she keeps a steady course. At that moment, as my eyes meet her
big brown doe-like eyes, the right front tyre of her car irrevocably sends the snake to the happy hunting grounds.

As she drives past and with both her and my windows wound down, I, outraged, make full use of the opportunity to inform the lady of her crime and of my misgivings about her mental
capacity. I am not in a position to confirm, nor deny, allegations that I inserted a few choice adjectives to said communication.

We turn around and continue towards Tsokwane. At the T-junction with the H4-1 we turn left to take the H1-2. I am relieved to notice that the snake killer had turned right
towards Lower-Sabie, as I do not relish the prospect of driving behind her to pick up dead tortoises, chameleons, shongololos and other miscellaneous roadkill.

On the H1-2, still fuming, I recall reading something somewhere about geckos and that "a kill is a kill". An involuntary question crosses my mind: 'Does that definition elevate the death of the unfortunate reptile to "a kill"?'

It rains all the way from Skukuza to Satara and from there to Orpen. On the way we see a few old dagha boys, but not much else. After checking in at Orpen we unpack and spend a
relaxing afternoon watching the rain from the comfort of our hut.

The rain is now coming down in zink baths. As only mad dogs and Englishmen would attempt to start a fire in this downpour, I fry our New Year's Eve dinner in a frying pan at the common kitchen. Just as I finish cooking, our neighbour comes up to me and asks if we would like to use his fire to braai on. I am sure the man is not quite all there, but he keeps a dead pan face so I politely thank him, but we had already finished cooking. We enjoy our fillet smothered in a Pinotage and blackcurrant reduction with mieliepap (the better half hails from the old Transvaal).

As I walk to the ablutions to have a shower I subconsciously notice something familiar about the car standing at number 6. In the shower I get a distinct feeling of impending doom.
Walking back to our hut I suddenly realise why, when the occupant of number 6 comes out and for a very brief moment my eyes meet her big brown doe-like eyes.

I hurry back to the hut. As I switch off the lights I see neighbour standing at number 5 in the pouring rain next to a blazing fire.

Happy New Year everyone!

We get up at 04:00 and see that neighbour is already up. It is still raining and it takes very little persuasion to get me back into bed until 07:00. We drive out at 08:00 in the direction of Satara. Fortunately number 6 is already out. Just outside the camp gates we spot three side-striped jackal harassing a herd of impala.

We turn left onto the gravel road towards Timbavati. Nothing on this road, except for a marshall eagle standing on a little rise in the road, holding its wings out to dry in the wind, like a cormorant, and 4 knob-billed ducks in a puddle formed by the rains. This is a major tick for me. I am charmed by the beauty of this bird, but at the same time I wonder how the drake gets around with that huge comb-like protrusion above its bill. It
must be terribly difficult to keep a steady course in flight with that thing flapping in its face all the time.

At the crossroads at the Timbavati picnic spot we find another lone elephant bull browsing next to the road. We go to the picnic spot to use the toilets. When we drive back out of
the parking lot, the elephant is in the middle of the road. As we approach it, it starts ambling in our direction, forcing me to reverse. The ellie walks up to the big baobab tree and scratches its back against it. Just as I contemplate a quick dash past the ellie, it leaves the baobab alone and walks back to the middle of the road to resume its leisurely stroll towards the picnic spot. I reverse for another 100 metres and the ellie devours a shrub growing next to the road. When it is done, the elephant gets back into the middle of the road and continues its game of chicken with me.

We reach the parking area where I witness total chaos in my rear view mirror. Mothers are frantically running around screaming and grabbing children while brave young men dive for the safety of their luxury SUVs. A car dashes past us as the ellie heads for the ablution building. This is the chance everyone have been waiting for and we all speed off in unison,
mud splattering in all directions and through open SUV windows onto pristine branded safari wear, leaving the lone Parks Board employee who is hiding in the toilets to deal with the ellie as he sees fit. As I glance back I could swear the elephant is smiling.

Shaken, but elated at having been plucked from the jaws of Death itself, we take the S127. Just before joining the H1-4 we see a group of eleven kudu bulls. Amazing sight!

We stop at Satara for a cup of tea to get our nerves back when an Honorary Ranger walks up to me. He apologises for using me as a decoy - he was the first to escape Fort Timbavati - and asks if we didn't perhaps see something fall from his car. He had lost one of his magnetic "Honorary Ranger" decals in his dash for safety.

We head south on the H1-3 to take the Sweni road (S126), but a friendly young man with a broad Boland accent tells us that there are lion just to the south of the Sweni turn-off.
While looking for the lions we spot a white rhino cow. Just 500 metres further on we see the lioness.

On the Sweni road we see a few buffalo and a pair of saddle-billed stork.

Back at Orpen the rain had stopped and we use the opportunity to braai for the first time in three days. I offer neighbour a frosty and when we introduce ourselves I find out that neighbour is MikeV, a long standing forumite. I carefully avoid mentioning my less than complimentary thoughts of last night. We share a meal and have some bubbly to celebrate the
new year before turning in.

In the morning we pack up, but before we leave I have to go to the toilet. As I come out number 6 is standing on her stoep. I take care to avoid eye contact and she returns the

Very decent of her.

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