Our last game drive in South Africa to find a lion to complete the Big Five

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June 9th 2019
Published: June 12th 2019
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Our last day at Tydon Safari Camp and it was still an early start but this time we are off to Kruger National Park itself and we are not sure just how this will compare to driving around private game parks where we could go off road where as Kruger won’t let people do that.

The Aussies and the Welsh couple will be on board so for the first time in the last 3 drives the land rover and the guide won’t be just for us.

We headed off just after 6.30am and it was a half hour drive to get to the gate into Kruger. Neil was our guide this morning and he has the job to do to find us lions although we have told him that our leopard experiences to date in both Gomo Gomo and at Tydon will live in our memories forever, even without finding lions.

Neil gave us another ‘milkshake ride’ to the tar seal which is about ¾ of the journey to the Kruger Park entrance and we were there when the park opened for the day at 7am.

We were 20 minutes into the drive and we came across a herd of kudu. To date all we have seen are single kudu but this herd give a different perspective to the species as they kept close ranks to keep safe from their predators.

Driving around Kruger is principally on a sealed road, all at 50kph, although there are some dirt tracks that are linking roads.

One must also remember that Kruger National Park is the size of the total country of Israel and it would take days to see it all, even if you could.

We found quickly that Chris, one of the Aussies, has sharp eyes and she noticed a troop of Vervet Monkeys in the grass near the side of the road. There were adults and babies in the troop.Unfortunately, they didn’t hang around too long after we had stopped.

Chris also spotted a battilier up a tree close to the road. This was the bird we had seen yesterday but on this occasion there was just the one bird and it wasn’t obvious if it was a male or female.

One of things that happen in Kruger, as it does in Yellowstone, USA, is that cars stop as soon as they see an animal and then anyone passing also pulls in to take a look so it is a sure thing that you are going to view an animal. This has got its advantages as otherwise you could drive around all day and not see anything unless you had someone like Chris with a keen pair of eyes or ‘contacts’ as her husband suggested.

So with a couple of cars stopped we pulled in as a couple of young hyenas close to the road were waiting for their mother or father to return for breakfast for them.

A giraffe right on the road verge wasn’t hard to spot as it grazed the top of bushes.

Not long before we drove up onto a giant rock formation for a panoramic view we came across an elephant walking purposefully across the dirt track and then at the bottom of the climb to the lookout was ‘George’ the hippo wallowing in the watering hole that apparently he was frequently seen.

The view from the lookout was something special as you could see for kilometres and it would have even been more impressive had we had fine clear sky above instead of some overcast.

After we left the lookout we came across an elephant very close to the road side which had one tusk that was growing at a different angle to the other. This may have been caused by a different growth phase of one tusk over another.

We ended the drive with an opportunity for a coffee and some trinket buying at the shops a few kilometres from the gate we have arrived into the park from. There was a huge choice but we opted for a fridge magnet as a memento as we have learnt our lesson from buying too much memorabilia over the years that ends up in a box in the garage that no one ever gets out or looks at.

It was another speedy ride back to Tydon Safari Camp and we were ready for breakfast as it was now nearly 11am and for goodness sake lunch was next at 1.30pm before the afternoon drive back into Kruger ! Despite what looks like what should be some downtime for us we do seem to have been on the go more than we perhaps expected. Can’t really complain though as each game drive since Gomo Gomo has turned up something new and the guides have all been interesting people to be with. This afternoon Sinead is driving us back into Kruger and it will be down to her to find us a lion sighting.

We made the most of the downtime after a late breakfast by putting our feet up but before we knew it lunch was ready to be served and it was best to top up as we won’t have dinner until 7pm.

Sinead’s driving was no different to all the other guides, one speed…fast !So we arrived at the Kruger gate again feeling like a well shaken milkshake. At least from here on until it’s time to head home the maximum speed in the park is 50kph.

As we passed through the gate Sinead didn’t hold back she let us know that her aim was to find us a lion and she was going to head close to the river where the Aussies and the Welsh people had seen a small pride yesterday with Sinead as the guide.

At the entrance we had noticed a sign in the morning that warned people of not touching a particular tree as it was poisonous. Sinead gave an explanation how the Dutch had used the sap to kill off captured British soldiers in the early 1900’s.Apparently any on your skin and that is it there is no known antidote ! Why plant the trees in the entry to Kruger you may ask? We too will ponder that one !

We were only a short way to the target area and ahead there was a traffic jam that could only mean an animal sighting had been made by those stopped and we joined in. Sinead expertly manoeuvred the Toyota cruiser amongst the cars to get a good position and we all got a great view of a leopard standing on a fallen tree trunk looking out as if he had seen a prey that he was about to take off after.However,when he did drop down to the ground he padded away amongst the long grass walking parallel to the road. All the vehicles wanted to move to follow the leopard and we must say everyone was very considerate in giving those on different angles to turn and drive on

We followed the road in the direction the leopard seemed to have taken but the long grass made it impossible to know exactly where the leopard was. Even Chris with the eagle eyes couldn’t pick its track.

Eventually we gave up on the leopard and moved back on our way to the Sabie River.

Down a dirt track we came across several giraffes with one in the middle of the road barring our progress. Each time we have seen a giraffe there has been at least one of them that has posed for us and they make great models whether you want the whole giraffe in the photo or just the head with their long eyelashes.

Next animal spotted and they were close to the road were Cape Buffalo, one of the Big Five. It was a good size herd with several babies. They aren’t quite like the leopard or elephant which create excitement when you see them but they are all part of the experience.

However one animal we haven’t seen a lot of on the various drives is the monkey but next there was a small troop of them at the roadside including one very young one feeding from mother. The Vervet Monkey are quite common but they haven’t been close to the roads and tracks we have taken so this was a great opportunity to watch them for a few minutes grooming and feeding one of the babies.

We were now driving close to the river and got to the area where they had seen the lion pride yesterday but today there was no sign of them. It seemed like we were going to leave the Kruger area with only 4 ticked off the list of the Big Five although in saying that we have had more than our share of leopard sightings to make up for the lack of a lion.

We had come a long way to try and get the lion sighting and now Sinead had to make haste to get back to the gate by 5.30pm before it closed for the day.

Zipping along the tar seal and we got another leopard sighting albeit very brief as one walked across the road ahead of us and sloped off into the bush.

There were more cars on the road we were taking than we had seen at any one time and we didn’t really need a herd of elephants to decide to come out of the bush and start to cross the road. There are huge fines for hitting an animal in Kruger so all traffic comes to a stop especially where elephants, which can be unpredictable, are involved. And of course they were in no hurry and we needed to cover 12km in 15 minutes.

We edged a little closer but this seemed to make a couple of the larger elephants a bit angry and so we stopped as still they kept coming.

Then a baby at the foot of a mother decided to roll over on the road and the herd all but stopped while they waited for the baby to right itself. Elephants certainly do look after each other !

Eventually the herd moved on and Sinead floored it with speeds more than 50kph and a couple of overtaking moves that were a bit risky. She didn’t say what would happen if we didn’t make the gate in time but it would have been cold sleeping out in the land cruiser overnight if the gates were shut tight when we got there.

There was a small queue of traffic heading out when we arrived just after 5.30pm so there must have been some leeway in timing.

It was another ‘Stirling Moss’ trip back to Tydon Safari Camp and it was cooler tonight with the cloud cover during the day.

Another Aussie family of 5 had arrived in the afternoon and they had been out on a drive in the private reserve. She had been travelling from Mt Isa with 3 kids aged 6 to11 while he had come from a Zambian copper mine to join them on holiday before sending them back to Australia while he went back to the mine. They had struck it lucky and seen a pride of lions near the boundary fence while we will leave Tydon still seeking our first lion sighting.

Dinner tonight had a main dish of Bobotie,a sort of Sheppard’s pie but with more spices and a baked cheese top.

We headed to bed in the knowledge that for the first time in 6 days we could sleep in until a 7am wake up call, breakfast and an 8.30am departure for an overnight stop back at the Safari Club Jo’burg before we fly onto stage 3 of the BBA V4 – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

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