Game drive success but not a big cat to be seen

Published: June 6th 2019
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There was a quiet tap at the door just before 5.15am.

It was time for coffee and the morning game drive. The young women from Singapore were heading away early this morning and didn’t have time to do the drive but the family from Texas were there all coated up ready to endure the cold.

We were only a short distance from the lodge when we came across giraffes in several sizes all nonchantly grazing on the trees at their respective heights.

As expected it was cold, very cold as we headed out towards the tar sealed road from the gatehouse and continued east towards the rising sun. The cold intensified as the land rover picked up speed and the wind chill tried to find any parts of our body that had even the smallest exposure to chill us even more. Even our eyes were streaming as the wind chill took its effect. The sun was rising rapidly but not fast enough to provide any warmth before across the road in front of us walked a herd of elephants, large and small. After most of them crossed the road while we stayed a safe distance back one of them remained on our side and Gert drove as slowly as he could to come up alongside the massive animal without scaring him or her so we could all to get as close look as possible. While they appear docile Gert did remind us that they were a wild animal and need their space from humans.

We don’t think we have ever seen such a stunning sunrise and we afraid to admit that includes the ones we have witnessed when the sun rises out of the ocean at Mount Maunganui.

We were now parked off the tar seal and the quietness almost makes you think you are the only people left on earth, no sound of people, cars, overhead aircraft, just the occasional bird flitting between trees.

And all the while the sun rises slowly before us.

The land rover is started and we feel that Gert and Dominic are determined to find us a big cat to photograph.

Dominic, the tracker, has eyes out on stalks and seems to miss nothing that moves or shows itself from a bush or tree and soon spots a honey badger. As we got close it scurried down a burrow on the top of a mound and it was gone…..or was it?!

As we sat there taking in what we had just seen it had made its mind up that it wanted to be further away from us and suddenly reappeared from the burrow making a rasping screeching noise and scurried off leaving behind a very distinctive smell which our fellow American’s said was very much like what one of their skunks would do. It all happened so fast none of us had time to get the camera focused and a picture taken.

We drove for a while before we came to a watering hole just as two young white rhino appeared out of the bush for a drink. Gert positioned us well on the other side of the water but still very close to get a great view and we stayed watching until the rhino had had their fill and lumbered off back into the bush. Gert explained that the rhino have their horns removed by park rangers to make them less attractive for poachers although a small amount is left so they can still defend themselves.

A little further on and we came across some zebra who wandered along coming in and out of the bushes while they were grazing.

All the while as we drove up and down the tracks Gert and Dominic were watching for big cat tracks and every so often Dominic would get off his front seat and examine carefully which way a certain set of tracks was heading.

After a stop and a break for coffee and muffins in a clearing it was back to trying find the elusive fresh big cat trail.

Klaserie has no fences and is a collection of private game parks where individual game park drivers can cross certain boundaries but not others. However the animals have full range and of course could cross several boundaries in a day where we couldn’t get to.

We came across more elephants in the undergrowth stomping around. What is amazing is how quickly they disappear from view even though the undergrowth, bushes and trees are not like a thick jungle where you might expect these huge animals vanish from sight.

With time for breakfast coming up fast and the day already becoming quite warm we gave up the hunt for the elusive big cats and headed back to the lodge where we had time for a shower before breakfast was served at 9.30am.We had been out on the game drive for 3 hours and cannot wait for the afternoon one to come around.

At 11am we took the half hour nature walk with Gert who is so knowledgeable about the animals, trees and plants. He is only in his 20’s but has a real passion for the work he does and we consider ourselves very lucky to have him as our driver and on this walk.

There was just the two of us on the walk, the American family we think we’re still getting over their long trip to get here yesterday and then the 5.15am wake up call.

We took our instructions from Gert what not to do if an animal charged us and then he produced his rifle which he said could take down an elephant if the shot was in the right place ! He didn’t mention what chance to he would have against a lion!!

Just a few minutes into the walk we came across a herd of elephants about 50 metres or so away from us. This even surprised Gert as Gretchen had spotted them first. He suggested we climb a mound to get a better view although we weren’t sure if it was for the better view or some protection should they turn and come our way. Slowly they trundled off into the bush and we continued on our way with Gert explaining various animal tracks we passed by from what sort of animal it was to the direction it had been heading.

It must have been getting close to 30C as we circled around the watering hole in front of the lodge and after what been a very informative and enjoyable stroll we were pleased to get out of the sun sitting on the terrace of our unit to relax and watch the waterhole for signs of animals coming down to drink.

And sure enough we were treated to a herd of elephants with a number of babies first drinking from one spot right in front of us and then moving to where there was a mud bath where they all got involved including the babies in filling their trunks and throwing the combination of mud and water over their backs to keep cool in the hot sun. A stunning sight that we could never have imagined we would witness in person in our lifetime.

Another 4 guests(2 couples, one from Argentine and the other from Ireland)arrived in time for lunch and there was the usual talk of ‘where have you been and what is it like etc etc’ and then it time for a rest before the afternoon game drive at 3.45pm.Would we get to see a big cat as night fell?

Departure time came around all too quick and we were very pleased that Gert had persuaded his boss to allow him and Dominic to continue to look after us and the American family and have another driver and tracker take the new arrivals.

First up to view on the game drive were a small herd of zebra with a couple of giraffes behind them including a young one.

Then it was on to a warthog munching on the dried grasses and not at all put off by the vehicle with its humans watching him have a late afternoon snack.

There was a lot of talk going on between the various drivers out on the game drives over the intercom and we sensed that they didn’t want a repeat of a recent 5 day period when no big cats were seen at all. Each of them seemed to have tracks they were following that were going to lead them to a pride of lions.

The late afternoon was starting to lose the heat that had been present during the middle of the day. We wondered just how hot it gets here in the summer !

In front of us on the track was a very large Cape Buffalo resplendent in its easily identifiable’ hard hat and horns’ looking at us as Gert bought the land rover to a halt as the buffalo stood its ground. Then when it appeared to make its point of ‘this land is ours and you are just visitors’ it moved off to join the rest of the herd and let us past.

Before we knew it sunset came and like sunrise this morning the spectacle was over before too long. It was time for a drink, Castle lager for me and Gretchen had a wine while we also kept our hunger at bay with a tasty meat ball or two.

It seemed as though we weren’t going to see a big cat on this drive either despite Gert and Dominic’s best efforts by following trail after trail while weaving up and around so many tracks we lost count. Our American fellow passengers reckon they could tell when we passed a place we had been before but to us it all looked new around every turn.

Dinnertime was looming and it we have up the hunt and headed back to the lodge with enough time to freshen up before joining the circle around the ‘boma’

Main dishes tonight were chicken in whiskey and a lamb stew both of which were delicious. Desert was Key Lime Pie which although not from this country was still a sweet way to end dinner.

There was time for a catch up on the internet in the lounge and then bed ready for another 5.15am call for the dawn game drive. And would those elusive big cats be found for us?

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


14th June 2019

Wonderful animal pics
You've got some wonderful pictures of the animals you have seen. Move over David bring on Gretchen. Just wondering about your focus of the white rhinos or white hippos? With their horn reduced in size they could easily be mistaken for hippos. In the excitement mistakes happen. Just don't mistake a lion for an Eddie.
14th June 2019

Pictures on the blog are stills taken from video and trying to focus up the ones chosen to make them sharper.Might take more practice.
14th June 2019

Spelling error
Your label of the white hippos should read white rhinos. Hope this is helpful. My previous cryptic message wasn't picked up.
15th June 2019

Feels like I am there too!
Really, really well written Dad, feels like I am there too! So pleased that you guys are seeing so many of these animals and realising your bring on those elusive lions?!?!
15th June 2019

Wish you guys were here but one day you will get the opportunity and take the kids,they would love it.

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