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Published: August 11th 2007
After the success of Makalali we decided to put our tracking/game finding skills to the test and try our luck in Kruger National Park, some 70 km to the east of Hoedspurit. Kruger encompasses an enormous area of land averaging 65km across and 350 km long with further private game reserves located around its borders. The terrain ranges from open Savannah to thick bush and from completely flat to mountainous with a series of major rivers running through it.. Navigation around the park is via a network of good tarmac roads with further dirt tracks branching off into the more remote areas. While you can take organsied Safari drives at the different camps located around the park, for the most part, people, just drive around and see what they bump into. After 4 weeks at Makalali we fancied that we had some idea and so hired a car (Toyota Corolla) and put ourselves to the test.
The northern part of the park is much quieter that the south in terms of visitor numbers and animal concentrations and so finding accommodation here wasn’t too much of a problem. However when it came to trying to get a place in the South, we
had to basically just take what we could get, which meant that we had to keep changing round a fair bit (serves us right for booking it so late). Unless you have a map this will mean nothing to you but we ended up with 30th - 1st @ Shingwedzi, 2nd @ Letaba, 3rd @ Satara, 4th @ Lower Sabie, 5th @ Skukuza, 6th @ Pretoriaskop and the 7th back at Lower sabie again.
We left the guys from Makalali around lunch time on the 30th, picked up the car (which was surprisingly easy given that neither of us had a drivers license with us) and headed to Phalaporwa gate which turned out to be about an hours drive away. Once at Phalaborwa it was a case of paying some deposits for our accommodation and signing a few indemnity forms (can’t sue if we get eaten by lions) and then we were off into the park!
Shingwedzi is a good 120km away from Phalborwa gate and with the speed restricted to 50 km per hour on the main roads and 40 km per hour on the dirt tracks we had to get a move on to ensure that we
didn’t arrive after the gates closed at 5.30pm and incur a 100 US$ fine.
There were plenty of Impala, Kudu, Zebra, Giraffe and Waterbuck from the start and after ½ an hour we saw our first elephants, a couple of massive bulls munching beside the road. They appeared pretty chilled out and we were able to pull right up alongside them, allowing Dani to get some good snaps. Further on we came across some cars pulled up beside the road who told us that there was a lion feeding on a buffalo about 50 yards from the road. The grass was quite long and while you could the buffalo clearly enough, the only sign of the lion’s presence was the occasional flicker of a tail from behind the carcass. After the ‘Lion’s tail’ we had a few elephants, though further off this time, and then it was just the usual until we got to the turn off for Shingwedzi. The road to the camp, runs parallel, to the riverbed (dry at the mo) and it was here that we saw a massive herd of elephants, including several tiny calfs playing around, pushing each oher over and jumping all over
each other…very cute. A few k’s down the road we also saw three lionesses just sitting on the riverbank chilling out. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay with them for too long as we only found them around 5.15pm and still had a few k’s to go before the camp.
That evening after grabbing a bite to eat in the restaurant we headed out on a night drive, laid on by the camp. It was pretty slow going to say the least and we both struggled to stay awake and were more than ready for bed when we returned around 10pm.
The following morning we were up at 5.15am and out of the gate at 6am and it wasn’t long before we’d found some elephants aswell as a small herd of buffalo and the usual grazers. We drove a few loops and checked out the river bed but to no avail and were just heading back when Dan suddenly slammed on the brakes and backed up as quickly as the old corolla could go. All Dan could say was ‘Leopard’ though its not unheard of for Dan to see things and Dani wasn’t convinced to say the least, ‘you’re seeing
things old man Free’ were her exact words! We pulled off the main road and crawled down the track desperately trying to find Dan’s supposed Leopard. Needless to say we couldn’t see it anywhere. We were rapidly losing hope and Dan was questioning whether he’d ever actually seen anything when all of a sudden we saw her sitting in the grass, not 10 paces from the road….we were a little bit happy to say the least!!!!! After spending 4 weeks looking for a Leopard at Makalali without any joy, we couldn’t believe that we’d seen a Leopard on our first morning in Kruger. To find it ourselves, though admittedly through unbelievably fortuitous circumstances, we were so happy and it was something that we’ll hopefully never forget. We watched her for a good 10 minutes before she got up and walked back across the track in the direction that she’d come from….it was the highlight of our trip so far without a doubt (engagement aside)!
The rest of the day was spent driving round the area to the north of Shingwedzi and while we didn’t run into the Leopard or any other big cats we couldn’t help but have the biggest,
smuggest, grins on our faces for the rest of the day.
There’s a sightings board at the camp and while it didn’t show any sightings of note in the area around Punda Maria we were both quite keen to explore the Northern area of the Park and so on the following day we headed up there just before dawn. With the exception of a few close encounters with some elephants (they mock charged us) things had been pretty quiet all morning with just the normal grazers coming out to play. However, that all changed in the early afternoon. After the Cheetah encounter at Makalai we were only too aware of how valuable Vultures can be and so when we saw them bundling down on area a couple hundred yards from the road, we knew something was up (its not rocket science I know). The vultures were all sitting in trees around a particular area which we interpreted to mean that there must be something keeping them off whatever was down there. Unfortunately whatever ‘it’ was, was keeping well hidden and given the distance from the road and the high grass we didn’t hold out too much hope. Nevertheless we
drove backwards and forwards along the road trying to find a better vantage point until eventually we saw a flicker of movement and to our delight, two absolutely stuffed Cheetah, got up and started walking away from the kill area. We only saw them for a matter of a few minutes before we lost them in the bush, but it was very cool, all the same. Whats more, is that while various people stopped to see what we ere looking at, nobody bothered to hang around long enough to see the Cheetah and so we had them completely to ourselves. We went and checked out a few watering holes in the area but didn’t catch up with them again and so decided to head back to camp. En route, we saw our first Ostrich which was wikid, if somewhat stupid looking (who am I to talk?) aswell as several elephants. As we neared Shingwedzi we took one of the dirt tracks close to where we’d seen the leopard the previous day and it was here that we came upon a load of vultures sitting in some trees above a thicket. Dani also managed to spot what looked to be fresh
Leopard tracks on the road. The vegetation was pretty thick around the area where the vultures were and we couldn’t see anything to explain their presence…perhaps they were just settling down to roost for the night. We drove backwards and forwards past the area before finally admitting defeat and heading back to camp. We got two minutes down the track before Dan decided that he wanted one last try and so we headed back to the vulture spot. Sure enough, our perseverance paid off, only this time it was Dani who came up with the goods. We driving pst the thicket when Dani suddenly started saying ‘oh my god’ over and over again before finally forcing out..’it’s a Leopard’. We backed up and there it was sitting in the grass not 10 yards from the road. We were absolutely exstatic, this was too good to be true! It took us a while to find a clear view of her through the grass but once we did, we just sat and watched her for 20 minutes before she eventually decided to move off back into the thicket. It was perfect timing really as we were leaving it late to get back
to camp and we needed a push to get us back on the road.
When we did drive back, to our dismay we found a herd of over 150 Buffalo blocking our path with little sign that they had any intention of moving off. For anyone that thinks that they’re just bigger versions of cows, and can be ushered along, I’d like to see you try. They’re grumpy sods at the best of times and they weren’t having any of it, we just had to sit and wait it out. After the big guys had moved off there were a couple of adolesants at the back who we managed to hurry off with a little revving of the engine and with about 15 minutes left to get back to camp we fancied that we could just about make it in time. We bombed along the track, found the main road and were pretty much home and dry when we hit (not literally) our second obstacle…a big old bull elephant lumbering down the road ahead of us. We dare not try and pass him for fear of receiving a severe beating and so we just sat and watched completely hapless while
he took his afternoon stroll. Obviously not wanting to get fined for being late we phoned up reception at Shingwedzi and explained the situation. They couldn’t have been more unhelpful and basically just said that we’d have to explain ourselves to the gate chap when we eventually got back and that we should just sit and wait. We took a few photos as evidence and then just waited. After about half an hour a pick up came haring over the hill and just drove straight at the elephant. They’d obviously done this before as he soon got out the way, and moved just off the road. Not wanting to give him a chance to come back on the road, we ragged it after the pick-up, Dani eyes closed and praying, with Dan the same (not really) and fortunately we made it through unscathed. The gate chappy wasn’t best pleased but we explained what had happened and fortunately the pick up guys were there to back us up and he let us off.
The following day we took a drive down to Letaba, stopping at Mopani along the way for lunch. In all fairness it was pretty quiet though we
did manage to catch a glimpse of some White Rhino and a Tsessebe which we haven’t seen before. There were also a fair few elephants though we kept out of their way (Dani’s nerves couldn’t take anymore).
After spending the night at Letaba it was time to head to Satara. Satara, located in the central plains has a reputation for Lions and so rather than just driving round Letaba in the morning we headed straight there to see what we could find. The journey down took a few hours, though it was stunning scenery at times and we also saw plenty of grazers as well as some quirky birds such as Ostrich crossing the road, Kori Bustard and 4 Ground Hornbills.
Having checked the sightings board at Satara it quickly became apparent that there was a pretty random spread of sightings around the area with nowhere in particular crying out for attention. Thus, we opted to try our luck on a loop comprising partly of main road and the rest dirt track. The first lap took about three hours and took us into the early afternoon. There were lots of grazers around, Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Giraffe etc +
Buffalo and Elephants to spice things up and so it was quite a good drive given that it was probably the worst time of the day to be out looking. We decided to try our luck again and so went round for a second time and to our delight found a SA male and four Lionesses sitting beside the track, one of which had a chest full of porcupine quills and generally looked pretty ropey. They moved off after about ten minutes, though pin cushion hung around a little longer. We continued on the loop and it wasn’t long before we’d (Dani) found another cat species, a Serval, just walking in the grass beside the road. It’s like a smaller, daintier version of a Leopard and looked just as surprised to see us as we were to see it. Unfortunately it moved of before we could get a snap of it, but we were really chuffed to have seen it. All in all it had been a really good day and we were really enjoying this area of the park, though there were a lot more cars which was the one downside. As we headed back towards camp, we came
across a load of cars strewn across the road and soon found out that a Leo-pard (as the chap called it) had been seen sitting in a tree beside the road but had since moved off into the thicket. We hung around the area for quite a while and gradually the cars dwindled away just leaving us and one other vehicle. We spoke the guys in it and told them that if we saw anything we’d give them a wave., however it was them that would be the ones to wave. They were just leaving the scene after waiting around with us for about 20 minutes when they suddenly started waving frantically to look ahead of their vehicle and sure enough the Leopard was there in the grass beside the road. Unfortunately another car came round the corner at the point and she ran off towards the river but we got a good view of her all the same, wrapping up what was an excellent afternoons drive.
After the success of the previous afternoon we headed straight out to do the same loop the following morning and after a very quiet first hour or so, we bumped into a
pride of 14 Lions, including two males, sat on and around the track. It was an absolutely awesome sight, particularly the males which looked so impressive. There was already another car on the seen but the Lions were so strewn out all over the place that you could see them really well. At some points they were no more then a metre from the car and on a number of occasions Dani had to stop snapping and do her window up for fear of them jumping through and eating her. Fortunately they behaved themselves and as you will see, we (Dani) got some really good shots. We completed the loop and then did it again in reverse hoping to catch a second look at the lions again, but when we got back to the area they’d moved off.
The rest of the day was spent driving down to Lower Sabie which was about 100km’s to the South, though that evening we did go on a sunset drive, 5pm - 8pm which proved to be a really good move as we ran into five lions, 3 lioness, 1 SA male and 1 cub walking along the road. We drove alongside
them for quite a while before they headed off into the bush and we drove on to find some more Lions on a baby giraffe kill. This time it was 3 female, 1 male and two cubs, all sat, absolutely stuffed to bursting around the carcass. After the Lion rush things went pretty quiet though we did see an African Civet Cat which was very cool as well as a load of hippos grazing in the bushes which looked very bizarre.
Day 7 and it was time to head to Skukuza which is just to the North of Lower Sabie, though not until we’d checked out the Giraffe kill from the previous evening. Unfortunately everybody else had the same idea and the area was absolutely packed with cars. We got a few snaps and then headed off up to Skukuza via a series of dirt tracks where we came across several Rhino and loads of buffalo which was quite cool. We then hit the main road around Lower Sabie and soon had a tip off that there was a Leopard in a tree a few kms north. We bombed it to the scene and after much frustration at not
being able to get anywhere near it, for the sheer number of cars blocking the road we caught a quick glimpse of it and then quickly made our way off. While it was an awesome thing to see it was completely spoilt by the presence of all cars jostling to get a view. We can’t talk as we were one of those cars, but unlike some, we did have the decency to move off once we’d seen it while others just insisted on sitting there and obscuring everybody else’s view.
After spending the night at Skukuza it was time to hit Pretoriaskop. We decided to head south along some dirt tracks before heading west to the western most area of Kruger which is where Pretoriaskop is located.
Things were pretty quiet to start but it wasn’t long before we saw some vultures in a tree and while we couldn’t find a kill, we did find a Hyenea walking down the track. It seemed completely oblivious to our presence and we just drove behind it before it walked into the grass and had a sleep. We continued to drive around on the dirt tracks, trying our best to stay clear
of the beaten track and away from the cars and before long we’d found another two Hyenas finishing off what looked to be the remains of some elephant scraps. Dani absolutely loves Hyenas and so she was well chuffed.
The road west to Pretoriaskop was a pretty sorry affair. Unfortunately there was an enormous fire in this area of the park at the end of last week and so the remaining 20 kms or so to Pretoriaskop was through a burnt out, desolate landscape with only the occasional pocket of greenery. Where vegetation did still exist you could find numerous grazers and it was here that we saw our first Sable Antelope which are really stunning looking creatures. We also stumbled across an elephant carcass (absolutely honked) that was swamped with Vultures. We sat and watched them bickering with each other for quite while which kept us entertained. We finally rocked up at the camp around 3.30pm and booked ourselves on a sunset drive as we didn’t know if there was anything doing in the area at all. We had an hour to kill and so went for a quick drive along some of the roads we hadn’t driven
earlier in the day. While puttering along we were flagged down by a chap who said that he’d just come form a Leopard sighting about 10 km’s down the road. We ragged to the scene, half expecting it to have buggered off, but were delighted to find it sitting up in a tree just chilling out in the afternoon sun. It sat there for at least 20 minutes before something caught its attention and it got down from the tree and moved of into the bush, though not before it had walked parallel to the road allowing us to get some pretty nice snaps.
The evening drive was pretty quiet, not least because three out of the four spot lights wouldn’t work and so we couldn’t see hardly anything. We headed out to the elephant carcass which was a fair way off but it paid off as there were a couple of Hyenas munching on it.
The following morning we headed out to the elephant carcass in the hope that there may still be some Hyenas hanging around. Our efforts paid off, and we found 9 of the charming not so little critters hanging around it, as
well as the usual accompaniment of Vultures. En route to the Hyenas we also saw half a dozen Sable Antelope and a Lichtenstein Hartebeest which we hadn’t seen before.
As we drove back to Lower Sabie we saw a chopper flying very low just ahead. We didn’t think too much off it and just carried on along our way, until we ran into a Rhino capture team parked up in the road, complete with a captured Rhino sedated about fifty yards away. One of the rangers came over and said that we could go and view it which was really interesting. They were taking blood and tissue samples when we arrived and shortly after gave him a sedative reversal drug which brought him round (along with a few charges from a rhino prod) and he was ushered across to the lorry by about 20 chaps holding onto a rope (see the photo). We’d only run into the team by complete chance but were really chuffed we had as it was very amazing experience. Apparently this guy had been caught so that he could be sold at Auction to a private game reserve to generate funds for the park.
Our 10th and final day was spent driving from Lower Sabie to Orpen gate, via Satara (we couldn’t resist one last drive of the loop). Things were pretty slow to start and it wasn’t until we were driving up the main road that Dan suddenly slammed on the brakes and pointed out two Lions sitting about fifty yards off the road in amongst the grass. It was a male and female and they looked knackered. The male kept falling asleep on the female, but then every twenty minutes or so that get up for about thirty seconds, mate and then sit back down again. Slowly other cars arrived on the scene and after about an hour we headed off to Satara. About 10 km short of Satara we ran into traffic jam and soon found out that there was 3 Lions on a zebra amongst the grass. We couldn’t see at all well and so opted to head off and try our luck on the loop. Alas nothing was showing other than some elephants and the usual grazers and so we headed back to the Zebra kill for one last look before making our way to Orpen gate and then
back to Hoedspurit and the Blue Cottages.
We absolutely loved our time in Kruger and would definitely recommend it. Though little thought went into accommodation etc, it all worked out brilliantly and we couldn’t fault it. The bungalows, huts and Safari tents are very comfortable and we will definitely be back. We’ve heard many people say that you only need a few days there, but from our experience you could spend a month there and still not be bored.
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