Kruger National Park
(Written by the Safari Team!)
After an emotional meeting with Laura, Meely, Jon and Smudge at Johannesburg Airport(it was so good to see them all,after almost a year) We crammed ourselves into The Landy and headed for Kruger National Park.
First night camped near Polokwane and caught up on all the news from home. We carried on 250k north arriving just outside the gates of Kruger; eagerly waiting to get in to the park. That night we saw our first beast- a Genet, very exciting,but putting us on edge for the rest of the evening.( they are harmless – Dad) We were soon learning that we were going to be in close communications,both with animals and each other, as all toilets and showers were basically open air.
Next morning early,we entered Kruger through the north gate, Pafuri, looping via Crooks Corner where three countries meet,( old ivory poachers used to hang out here evading arrest by simply moving a few feet across boundaries if the police came) towards Punda Maria camp. Mike taught us the ways of “hawk-eye” and tried to convert us intoTwitchers (bird watchers!!) On our travels we spotted plenty of animals ranging from crocodiles, hippo’s, warthogs with tiny babies, giraffe, plenty of Impala and the supposedly rare Southern Ground horn bills (but proceeded to see them every day from then on)Whilst cooking evening dinner on the camp-fire a huge heard of buffalo came for a drink at the watering hole right in front of us, an awesome sight.
The following day soon became named Manic Monday. Starting off with monkeys stealing our favourite sweets from the car. Michael’s catapult soon came into play! The fridge was on the blink so we had no breakfast, creating problems in the camp with Dad, Laura and Smudge all getting a bit touchy due to no feeding. We then headed off towards Shingwedzi. On this morning drive we saw lots more of the same animals as well as our first Elephant sightings of which we caught about 20 bathing and playing in the mid-day heat. A spectacular moment. Later on we went in search of a Leopard, as one had been previously spotted at a place called Red rock. After a while looking, we were about to give up hope, until Smudge spotted at a distance, a leopard climbing down the rocks. We were so thrilled to find our first sighting of a big cat, which a lot of people are never lucky enough to see. It walked slowly down the rocks towards us , by this point we were in such a rush to get back before the camp closed, we almost colliding with an elephant from the bush next to the road, who was none too happy to see us and looked ready to charge. We moved on further seeing 2 tortoises in road that we had to stop and admire. Finally arriving back,just in the nick of time.
As the evening went on Jon(chef) began cooking a braai, steaks and spuds all round. We had previously been warned of Hyena’s patrolling the fence’s and as it got dark and the smell of meat grew,with John standing all alone, he suddenly heard a thud and a huge furore, we all thought it was just him at first. Dad eventually got his torch and low and behold there was a lioness just 2 meters away from us stalking,but just missing as it swiped at a young Impala. Jon understandably went as white as a sheet from fright and kept saying” its a bloody lion I heard it thudding”. The lioness then just sat about 30 m away before going off into the bush.Shortly after this we experienced an amazing shooting star searing though the sky which took nearly a minute to disintegrate, presumably it was a meteor,but like the biggest rocket you have ever seen. Then, later ,when teeth brushing a huge cricket jumped down my top (Meely) on a visit to the loo, then we found a very large elephant hawk moth that happened to be sharing the loo’s with us. Katie you would have hated it, Laura and I were hopping about,with Dad telling us not to be so ridiculous as we had, had to call him. When we came out we found the boys tentatively probing two rather large scorpions about 6 inches long. Deciding we had had far too much excitement for one day we settled down for the night.
Awoke next morning, fully charged and ready to go,but after the excitement of the previous evening,we wondered how we would ever be able top it. The next few days were filled with mostly the same characters we had already encountered, although we had a couple of “circle of life” experiences in finding a dead Elephant being pecked at by masses of vultures and then, a bit further along the road, two incredible smelling, dead buffalo, one with a massive hole in it’s stomach that we caught the stench of nearly 500m away and another in a ditch untouched because the vultures had a go at it yet.
After clearing our nostrils we headed for the bush camp of Tsendze meeting our very friendly host Roger, who filled us in with stories of the area and showed us the resident 2ft rock monitor lizard who lived in the tree just above us.
After a few days in crazy temperatures of 43degrees, the heavens decided to open and showed us the full side of the African rainy season, so viewing ceased slightly, apart from us finding reptiles left, right and centre…… especially terrapins who made a mad charge for the Landy every time we drove past their pools, which was rather like something from a sci fi film – we think they have got used to being fed there, also a small croc in one pool – a bit lost it seemed.”
Some illegal saving of animals then took place – you are not supposed to leave your car,but due to the more sentimental passengers in the car we moved tiny leopard tortoises and chameleons off the road to safety. Water monitors were also spotted, some about 3 ft long. We tried saving a chameleon who was very happy sitting in the road but our efforts were in vain as we drove back a few hours later to find him back in his same position but a lot flatter than when we had first encountered him!
We did see three rhino albeit about 80 m away though very exciting being another first. Our next experience was of a night drive when we came across a roaring lion- very close, immediately after leaving the camp and went on to see another one maybe two lions Possibly the same one twice and also many Genets plus lots of other beasts.
We have come across/overheard many ridiculous comments whilst making our way through the park, but the best was heard by Emma when enquiring what had been seen on a previous night drive and being told they had seen a lion kill, The American lady, also in reception asked with a straight face if “A Kill” was a type of Lion! Much sniggering all round. Also reported was a genuine “ its just like Disney” strange folk.
After arriving at our second and favourite bush camp Maroela we were greeted by an elephant who we christened Gilbert, just circling around the outside perimeter of the camp munching away, taking no notice of us setting up camp,he used his tusks to push the electric fence down. We settled down to dinner and turned the camp-lights on, hoping to find our new friend Ren the Hyena.Lo and behold she/he(??) was sitting right next to us, but luckily on the other side of the fence, hoping for some leftovers, unluckily he had come to the wrong family.(leftovers not being in plentiful supply)
Packed up in an absolutely torrential rain that threatened to fill the river behind us which was dry the previous day. Our next destination was to the more open savannah terrain of Lower Sabie, arrived after driving in the pouring rain all day, spotting was at an all time low, partly because Laura and Smudge struggled to keep their hawk eyes open. We did see a family of Hyena one of whom came very close to the car giving Jon the evil eye.
Having checked in at Lower Sabie,, the biggest camp in the park, we lasted all of 10 minutes as we found the camp site was pretty much just a car park full of puddles, so we all crammed back into the beast and headed to the next nearest site of Skekusa and after a rather stressful day stocked up the Club Tropicana bar out of the back of the Landy and had a little party under the tarpaulin with the rain still hammering down.
On the way we had seen a Rhino about 10m away, much better seeing this huge animal so close and able to get a really good look.We continued to do various road loops, seeing lots more besides including 2 honey badgers – top of Smudges list and a Dad favourite too – inusual because they are nocturnal.Fearsome little beasts size for size probably the most hardcore beast in the world – if bitten by a snake they just rest for about an hour then carry on – look them up on you tube some good footage We then headed back to our previous bush camp at Mareola for the last few days because we knew there had been lots of animal sightings here, including Wild dogs, the most elusive of African animals and now very rare indeed.
We returned one afternoon,having seen our camp-sites neighbours parked at the side of the road and as we pulled up, they told us they had counted 17 Wild Dogs and had been following them all day. We sat and watched them for over an hour. Dad was very excited as this was the one beast he wanted to see above all. We were only 2 k from our camp so we returned home to get ready for supper. While sitting there a young Impala walked past us on its own, clearly separated from it’s mother and we all remarked it was not going to last long. Prophetic words as 5 minutes later we heard yelping and snarling, Dad shouted “wild dogs” and we all ran including our neighbours to the side of the camp it had come from. Hearing more strange noises on the way. We arrived to see a few wild dogs(maybe ten) chasing a a hyena he did not give up though and kept going back then being chased away again by the dogs – all very exciting stuff..
On our last day we set off again to try and find more lion, travelled a bit then stopped at a picnic spot to use the loo, we’d only been there a few minutes when a guy reversed back down the road to tell us 4 lions had just crossed in front of him, we all jumped back in and there they were lying under a bush as lions do about 100m from the unfenced picnic site. Another wonderful sight!
Driving back towards our camp late morning, there at the side of the road were the wild dogs again. About 10k from our camp we had met a guy who said he had seen them there at dawn and we hoped they would stay put. It was great to see them just outside car window, we lost track of how many there were as they kept getting up moving around, then lying back down in the long, grass, we moved the car a few times and found they were on both sides of the road including 5 half grown puppies. The guy told us he had counted over 30, later to be confirmed by someone else so it was a very large pack indeed at the upper limits of any known pack size- Dad very happy indeed.
Many amusing incidences occurred,during our stay, too many to mention,but one memorable evening incident was Jon(on chef duty once again) being attacked by a newly hatched swarm of flying ants(termites)quite literally thousands,to then be followed up by a plague of giant moths, landing in our food and drinks. Laura was not amused when feeding time was put on hold! (I don’t think Jon was that impressed either)
On our final evening in the park,we went on another night drive, in search of another Leopard or Lion sighting. Having seen nothing all night and about to return to our camp,a lady in the back of the Safari vehicle suddenly started thumping Jon on the back, but couldn’t get the words out, she’d spotted a Leopard asleep in the grass on the roadside(goodness knows how,most of us were dozing off by this point)
We stopped and The Leopard finally decided to wake up,walking around the vehicle,giving us a perfect look at her. She started to stalk some Impala, we watched in anticipation,but this beautiful creature was clearly not that hungry and with our driver nodding off we had to return to camp. This really was a perfect end to a wonderful experience in Kruger.
To put this into contex many people never see a leopard despite numerous trips in their whole life and we had seen two!!
We packed up our wet smelly tents in torrential rain the following morning and set off only to find the road blocked by a river about 60 metres wide, that hadn’t been there the previous day!
Dressed only in short,shorts Michael decided to wade in(as you do) finding the water level up to his nether regions,knowing it got even deeper further on,he made his retreat. A while later a ranger turned up, explaining that many cars in previous years have been washed away in the current there and we’d been wise not to tackle it,but he took us on another track and we were able to leave the park. We’ve since heard that many have been stuck there without 4×4’s, unable to leave.
After a gruelling 500kms in very heavy rain,towards Joburg,with The Safari Team getting soaked in the back,due to a -not so water-tight Landrover and with the vehicle smelling more like a hamster’s cage than an actual hamster’s cage,we finally arrived at our destination “The Bonanza Camp-site”,well, with a name like that it must be ok….the only problem was it was closed. It was now getting dark and one of our headlights had blown a fuse(cause being the large and rather fine torch we found wedged against the light bulb,which had travelled, under the bonnet all the way from Cape-town,presumably left by the mechanics at Roverland, -thanks alot chaps,it gives off a fine light!) but with Michael also about to blow a fuse by this point, Meely and I entered a nearby pub/drinking den to enquire about camping for the night.
Here we met Andre an Afrikaans business man. He had a Land-rover, which was a good start and insisted it wasn’t safe to stay at “Bonanza”,but to follow him to his house 13k away. On entering,we were greeted by his gorgeous dogs,whom the girls fell in love with.
Andre insisted we stay in his 2 caravans and as all the tents were soaking,we gladly accepted his kind offer. Having settled ourselves in we were then made large drinks from the extensive Bar,and with offers of showers and food,which we declined,due to extreme weariness.
Next morning we visited The De Wildt Cheetah Sanctuary,as the Safari Team wanted to see some. They weren’t disappointed, as we saw plenty,including a run,they were also able to stroke one.
Not only did we see Cheetah and several Wild dogs, but also Honey Badgers,which thrilled Smudge in particular,we/playing had seen a couple fighting in the road in Kruger, but only very briefly and unable to get any photo’s.
We returned to Andre,where he cooked us an enormous Braai and fed us until we could eat no more!Many thanks Andre for your generous hospitality and letting us stay at your lovely home,you really saved the day!
Spent our last couple of nights on a small farm outside Joburg,trying to dry out(the weather was lovely again and the team chilled by the pool)
Off to the airport for a sad farewell. I was tempted to jump in a holdall, had Jon’s trainers not smelt so bad.
We had so much fun,despite the absence of Katie& Tommy(but it would have been one hellever squash!). Lovely to see everyone,missing you already.
Needless to say, it’s all gone very quiet in the camp now.