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Elephantears' From South to North and back. KNP Oct. '13

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Elephantears' From South to North and back. KNP Oct. '13

Unread post by Elephantears » Sat Nov 23, 2013 8:12 pm

Here is a summery of our recent trip to the KNP.
The views expressed here are personal and not given as direct information or criticism of any person or organisation.
We flew from London with BA and arrived an hour so late in JNB.
There were enormous queues at the immigration, as so many flights seemed to have arrived from all over the world that time of the morning!
Having cleared the immigration we went to get the money from the FNB cash machine at the airport, incidentally those machines outside the arrival hall only dispense 4000 Rands at a time.
Then we went to collect our car, which was a Hyundai ix35, from Avis.
It was a very good and comfortable car and we were very happy with its performance.
Having navigated our way out of the airport we drove towards to Kruger and stopped for coffee and lunch at Alzu Petroport somewhere on the N4.
The waterhole over looking the deck at the back with Rhinos, buffaloes and other animals, which seemed to be very popular with the travellers.
We took the northern bypass to Malelane, which is very scenic.
There were stop and go road works, I can’t remember exactly how many, perhaps 2, on the N4 between Nelspruit and Malelane and the signs were indicating that waiting times were between 20 to 40 mins but luckily we never had to wait for that long at any of the stops.
We made both journeys on weekends so may be it is less busy on then.
We arrived in Malelane in the late afternoon in shearing heat and parked our car right outside the Spar and went to get our provisions.
We didn't encounter any car watchers here at all in fact it all looked fine to us.
The Spar was fairly busy with the Saturday shoppers and it was well stocked with fresh fruit and veg and had pretty much what we wanted buy.
The Spar only has a small selection of wine and beer within the supermarket and since we had enough time to spare we went across to the Tops (wine mart?), which has a better selection of wine and beer.

We were in the park during October and travelled from the South to the far north and back again to the south staying at 8 main camps, which consisted of BnD, Satara, Olifants, Bateleur, PM, Mopani, Skukuza and CB.
We entered and exited the park from Malelane Gate.
Although it was spring, the park looked parched, and quite a lot of places were burnt out by the fires, and desperate for rain.
We had no rain at all during our 2 weeks stay except for the last day.
We experienced varied weather conditions during our stay.
It was mostly very warm to hot but had a few overcast days in between some hot days reaching 38Cº.
The lowest temperature we experienced was around18Cº, which was a real respite from the heat!
It was very quiet at the gate when we arrived in the afternoon and presented our reservation/ wildcard email conformations and our entry was processed in no time and we were on our way to BnD!
Berg en Dal
This is a lovely camp and we liked it a lot.
Really enjoyed sitting at the lovely water hole and walking the Rhino trial.
Over the next few days we drove around the surrounding areas of the east and west side of the main roads (H-3, S144) and went to Assafal picnic site, Transport and Shitlhave Dams and the Napi Rocks.
After here we had a long drive to Satara.
On the way we stopped at LS for refreshment and it looked a popular and a busy place.
Then we headed up north hoping to get the famous venison pie at Toshkawane alas we arrived late and they were sold out and the place was winding down!
After a quick coffee and sandwich we headed north to Satara.

Early part of our stay at Satara we drove the southern section of the gravel roads, south of the H7.
The S33 (very good gravel road) S34, S36 up to Nhalnguleni, which is a very nice picnic spot over looking the pan.
We found the landscape around Satara especially the north, east and south was very nice except for the western side of the main road namely the section between S125 and126 and S36 the south of Muzandzeni picnic spot, most of the landscape was boring thorny bush and unproductive.
The section north of Muzandenzi to H7 we saw lots of animals including a pair of ostriches with 19 chicks!
During the latter part our stay in Satara of we drove the north section of the H7 the S39, 40,12, 127 where we saw lots of plain’s game, tuskers, rhinos, lions and cheetah.
We went to Nkaya pan, which was small but lovely, not many animals apart from a family of Saddlebill Storks.
We visited this pan five times during our stay at Satara but never saw anything apart from the aforementioned Stork family!

We took the main road north to Olifants, and reached too early to check in at the camp so decided to visit the Elephant Hall in Letaba, which was really nice.
The couple who run it were lovely and very friendly, the gent who works there took us around and showed us various exhibits. The Letaba camp itself looked really nice.
The Olifants camp was our favourite place of all camps we stayed at.
It had a wonderful atmosphere.
The bungalows over looking the river have amazing views, despite the fact someone decided to build an enormous concrete braai (pictures forwarded to Roaneric which are now posted in the accommodation section) which is about 7 feet tall, in front of the bungalow we stayed in, that partially blocked the view of the river. What a shame!
Apart from this one all other bungalows have normal metal braais by them.
We found the shop was very well stocked and the only one selling Ouma rusks!

The Bateleur was the most boring and most expensive place on our trip.
It wasn't really the cost of it that bothered us; it is just a soulless place.
The bungalows are gloomy and are furnished with a bath and satellite TV.
We didn't quite understand why TVs are necessary in the wilderness but I guess some people like to watch Braai Master after a game drive on their holidays!
Between the bungalow and the perimeter fence the land was covered with scrubby thorny bushes and consequently does not have much of a view and when the leaves are out it will totally be covered in thick bush.
Also the footpath along the fence towards the hide was a bit unkempt with over hanging branches trying poke your eyes out, in fact at one tree someone has tied a white string to alert an unsuspecting person to avoid the offending branch.
We found the surrounding area along south of the river (R52?) also pretty boring and dreary.
The 20 km or so drive on the badly rutted road didn't help either.
The things we enjoyed in that area were the Red Rocks and the drive out of the camp along the road towards Shingwedzi on the north side of the river.
That road has some wonderful large trees along the river and nice scenery on the other side.
We really wished that we had chosen to stay in Letaba instead of Bateleur and luckily it was only a one night stay. Definitely it will be Letaba next time!

Punda Maria
We enjoyed being at Punda Maria and the north a lot.
The tents are lovely and spacious.
But the problem with the tents were that if there's a slight bit of wind the canvas starts to flap and make such a noise that sleeping become almost impossible and at times it felt like the whole thing was going to take off!
On a nice and quiet evening I am sure it is lovely to sit on the balcony with two Braais going and watch the sunset over the hill, in between the marauding baboons and thieving Vervets!!
We had a quite strong easterly wind during our stay, which rather spoiled the stay in the tents.
We visited the Pafuri picnic site on the way to Crooks corner and it is difficult to imagine looking at these dry rivers, nothing but sandpits now, can flow so heavy and cause such destruction.
Really loved those huge trees in the picnic site and along road towards the Crooks Corner.
On our way south we visited Shingwedzi.
It was incredible to see the devastation caused by the flood in the past.
It must have been a terrifying experience to get caught up in.

This was our second favourite camp.
It is really a lovely spacious camp over looking the pioneer dam.
The view from the bar is great and has a very good shop too.
We also enjoyed driving along the Capricorn loop and seeing the eland and their young ones.
On our way south I was adamant that I got to Tshokwane in time for the venison pie that I had missed out on the way up! I was lucky this time; they had plenty of pies in stock, and I really enjoyed it a lot!

It felt like arriving in a small town after more than a week in the north!
Despite the hubbub it is still a nice camp and we stayed in a bungalow over looking the Sabie River and the old railway bridge.
During our stay here we visited P’kop camp and also liked the look of this place.
Then we visited the famous Transport dam but no action there though, and Shitlhave Dam and the Napi Rocks.
Only thing we didn’t like at Skukuza was the really bad double bed.
It was so soft and we kept rolling to the middle and consequently had a very little sleep.
We also had a lovely drive up to the top of a rock (marked viewing point on the park map but forget the name of it now) where you can have a full 360 view.

This was our last stop and we arrived here via Molondozi picnic site and had a small problem of finding the reception here.
It is not in the ground through the camp gate but it is situated outside and alongside the main gate. Apparently there were lots of lions sighted near by but we didn't see any.
On our last day with gloomy weather and rain approaching we drove out of the camp to the airport going via the Hippo Pool hoping to visit it with the man who comes there on his bicycle.
When we got there the man with his bike and his gun was sheltering under a rock.
Unfortunately, it was raining and he said it was too slippery to go there so we left and headed west on the S25 to Malelane gate for our exit.

We saw lots of animals pretty much everywhere in fact we had better animal encounters on main roads than on the isolated remote roads.
Within a few kilometers in to the park we encountered our first and one of so many Rhinos, in fact it was a rhino family!
We would have been happy seeing a rhino in the distance, but we saw so many of them and soon lost count of how many there were!
We saw six big white rhinos in a herd, literally lying by the roadside.
It was very special to have come across the rarer black rhino in the south.
It was so funny that only a few minutes previous we were overtaken by a safari jeep, at break neck speed, full of day tourists who zoomed past the black rhino!
It was standing a few meters away from the roadside.
We also had to hurry on a bit to get away from it, as it was very grumpy and started to charge towards us! Interestingly, it's a lot smaller than the white rhino.
In the north there were very big herds of buffaloes and elephants.
We spent a long time watching a huge herd of elephants with lots of babies and juveniles at a water hole/spring on a small loop off the H13-1 near Punda Maria.
The young ones were screaming and chasing huge buffaloes and giving them a really hard time!!
We also encountered another a big herd of elephants on the S100.
One of the big female elephants with her tiny baby decided that she didn't want to cross the road but liked to walk on it.
She kept me reversing and waiting about 45 mins in shearing heat as she slowly walked forwards and stopping to eat from time to time before finally deciding to turn in to N'wanetsi River!
It was nervous and a bit exciting at the same time and we kept a good distance with enough time to do a 3-point turn and drive back if things got out of hand!!
Also on the same road we came across two male giraffes going round and round each other and head butting, which went on for ages.
Beyond the Gudzani dam on the S41 going north we heard the loudest noise but couldn't work out what it was.
We stopped and listened in and noticed it was 2 hippos fighting in a muddy pool.
The biggest open mouths we've ever seen!
We stopped and watched the fighting for ages until the victor chased the loser away.
We saw really very impressive tuskers over a half a dozen of them south of Shingwedzi on the main road.
I think we even saw one of the "Emerging Tuskers" Mac (Timbavati), the tusker with the radio collar on!
We saw a cheetah south of Assafal picnic site and another pair north of Satara both just off the main roads.
There were lots of giraffes and a huge troop of baboons on the Mopolongo loop.

We saw: Eland, Tsessebe, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Klpsinger, Nayala, Kudu, an albino Impala, Baboons, Vervet monkeys, Mongoose, Warthog, Hyena, black/white rhino, Hippo, Black-backed Jackal, Steenbok, Waterbuck, Malachite kingfisher, Giant kingfisher, Crested barbet, Hoopoe, Kori bustard, Verreuux eagle owl? (the one with the pink eye lids!), Ostrich, Oriole, Southern ground hornbill, White- fronted bee-eater and various other birds.
We didn't see anything special apart from the usual birds up in the north despite the fact it's been described as the birder's paradise.
May be it's the wrong time of the year.

Picnic sites and Drives
We visited quite a few of these and really enjoyed being at most of them.
Our favourite one was the N’Wanetsi picnic site, visited 3 times! (Fabulous view) followed by the Molondozi and Pafuri.
We also really enjoyed visiting the Babalala, Mooiplaas (fortunately, there were no elephants on the site but we saw a fair few big guys near by!),Nhlanguleni (really lovely, less crowded and just a small barrier over looking the pan) and Timbavati.
The Afsaal and Tshokwane were the busiest none-the-less we liked them both.
We enjoyed watching the cheeky vervet monkeys and brazen birds that came to steal your pies at Tshokwane!
They are a bit of a menace and would snatch anything out your plate/hand in a flash!

All these picnic sites were very clean well maintained and manned by very friendly people.
The most disappointing picnic site was the Makhadzi not really sure what’s the big deal about it.
We didn't think there is much going there apart from the man with his creative stance on the used tin cans!
We didn't think it was worth the 20km or so return journey unless one is going to cross the border to Mozambique.
We never had a routine for the day.
Some days we got up early and left the camp and came back in the evening and some days did morning and afternoon drives and rested during the day.
Mopolongo loop was our favourite roads we drove on and also liked the S39 winding along the river up to Timbavati picnic site.
The S144 was one of the dreariest!
The main tar roads are very good and most of the gravel roads were in good condition except for a few.

We really enjoyed our visit to the park.
We thought it was well maintained and staff at camp receptions and shops were friendly and amenable. Obviously some of the bungalows in certain camps (Satara) are in-need of desperate upgrades.
Most bungalows were equipped with enough utensils and crockery.
Although some electric hobs looked very ropey but they worked but again in need of urgent replacement!! We never needed a sink plug either but I had my lemon (thank you Saraf for the tip!) on hand just in case!!
All camp shops had adequate supplies to top up our needs.
Sometimes fresh vegetables and bread were in short supply but that was mainly due to the time we went to the shop but this was not a problem.
We didn't use any restaurant (Wooden Banana) facilities at anytime.
We cooked everything on the braai and it was one of our favourite things on our trip! People seem to criticise the quality of food, what's on offer and the prices at these places but they looked to be doing a roaring trade!
We also met lovely people who would stop and tell us where they have seen animals and what places to visit, especially the lovely S African lady who lent her binoculars for us as we were straining our eyes to see couple of lions twitching their tails in the distance, on the S25.
The only time we felt uncomfortable and vulnerable during our visit was driving on the motorway to and from JNB to the park.
People drove extremely fast without any due care for others on the road.
The speeding in the park was also highly prevalent.
It was also very disappointing to see general unruly behaviour of some people at sightings and to see the litter thrown on the roads.
Something else we noticed was that there were no vehicle checks at gates on entry or exit.

Apart from those minor grumbles we had an amazing trip and hoping to get back there soon, perhaps next year!

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