Gallery » EUROPE/AFRICA/ MIDDLE EAST » South Africa 2018 » Daily Diary
This year’s adventure to South Africa began on 10 April when we stayed at an airport motel due to an early morning departure from Albuquerque on the morning of 11 April. The next time we slept in a bed was 13 April after arriving at The InterContinental Hotel in Johannesburg. Our time in between “beds” was spent on flights to Houston, Sao Paulo and Johannesburg with time in between flights spent in various airline lounges.
Saturday, 14 April: We boarded a 10:00AM flight for Skukuza Airport in Kruger National Park. The flight was quick and we were able to pick up our rental car and clear the airport by 11:30AM. We drove slowly towards the Skukuza Rest Camp, our home for two nights. En route, we saw the largest group of Marabou Stork that we have ever encountered. They were standing on rocks in the windy Sabie River. Many were grooming and stretching out their huge wings. Then, a bit further along the road, we came upon a group of Giraffe. Our final sighting was a large male Kudo with those fabulous horns. He had a huge harem of females but we purposely tried to get shots of that handsome guy.
When we arrived at Skukuza Rest Camp, we went to the Park Store to buy groceries and wine for the next eight nights. When we finished that chore, it was time to check-in at Reception to pick up the key to our home for the next two nights. We’ve stayed at Skukuza many times but this was our first experience in a riverside bungalow. The building was in the typical style of the Kruger – a round building with a thatched roof and an outdoor kitchen/dining area. What made this unit so unique was that it had beautiful views of the Sabine River. Stunning!
We settled in and then Ed prepared a delicious dinner. Then it was off to bed early in anticipation of tomorrow’s explorations.
This year’s adventure to South Africa began on 10 April when we stayed at an airport motel due to an early morning departure from Albuquerque on the morning of 11 April. The next time we slept in a bed was 13 April after arriving at The InterContinental Hotel in Johannesburg. Our time in between “beds” was spent on flights to Houston, Sao Paulo and Johannesburg with time in between flights spent in various airline lounges.
Sunday, 15 April: We decided to focus our drive on the Southern part of Kruger since the remainder of our time on this trip will be spent in the northern part of the park. The day was interesting weather wise. The sun came in and out and then it actually rained. So, we had some photography challenges but that goes with any outdoor activity.
After we excited the Skukuza Camp gate and before we reached the main road, we found a group of Giraffe – a male, female and a youngster. They were very close to the road which made for great photography. We headed south on the H3 but decided to take a parallel dirt road, the S114. It was a good decision in that there was plenty to see. First, we came across the smallest Kudo we have ever seen. It was with a group of females and we surmise that it was this year’s offspring. So cute! Then we were entertained watching the antics of a group of Dwarf Mongoose run around and about. Then, we came across an interesting group of large birds resting in a dead tree. They were far away and really just silhouettes but nevertheless interesting.
Next we came across two groups of Elephants; always fun to watch! The first group included a very young baby which we were only able to see as it crossed the road behind us but we did get a quick look. The next group also had some youngsters but none that young. After enjoying the Elephants, we continued and came across one of our favorite birds, the Lilac Breasted Roller. We also saw a lone male Buffalo (“An Old General” as one guide called these fellows) but we weren’t able to capture a snap of him.
We continued working our way south and made a loop from the S26 to the H5. It was a bit quiet so we decided to return to the paved H3. When made a brief stop at Afsal (remember, getting out of a vehicle is only allowed in designated areas) to stretch our legs. We decided to drive to the Matjulu waterhole near the Berg-en-dahl Rest Camp. The waterhole has always been a favorite since we first visited Kruger in 2013. It was once again worth the drive as there were two male Buffalo enjoying themselves in the water.
After we left the waterhole, we began to return to Skukuza on the H3. Amazingly, we came across two Rhino along the roadway. There were grazing very quickly in the lush grass but we did manage to get a shot of them. Lastly, we just caught a glimpse of a female Lion beside the road. Other cars had already spotted her but as our car approached she was heading into the bush. Oh well, it was still neat to see.
So, on one full day of game viewing, we photographed three of the “Big Five” (Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo) and saw one more (Lion). Pretty amazing!
Monday, 16 April: Today we decided to reach Letaba, our home for the next two nights, by routing first through the Lower Sabie Rest Camp area. We started our journey and only a few kilometers away from camp we saw a female Lion with several cubs. We could only get a glimpse of them but we saw them cross a parallel dirt road. So we backtracked to find that road and slowly drove along it. It was worth it because the Lion and her cubs were lying down near a fallen tree. While they were a bit far away, we did get some shots.
We then returned back to the paved H4-1 following the Sabie River towards the Lower Sabie Rest Camp. There we managed to spot a turtle sunning on a rock in the middle of the river. Afterwards, we saw a group of Vervet Monkeys - cute when they are not in a Rest Camp. When we reached the bridge across the Sabie on the H12 (the direct route to Satara), we were surprised to find it holding a large troupe of Baboons. They were hanging from the bridge and playing and/or grooming while others were asleep. It was an interesting spot to stop in our opinion.
Next on the agenda was a lone Giraffe. We then saw a group of lovely black & white birds. We also stopped to watch a Heron that was posed for fishing with one leg up; an interesting stance. We then continued our drive and stopped at a favorite waterhole just south of the Lower Sabie Rest Camp. As always, there was plenty of action. It was cool so one Hippo was out of the water feeding. There were lots of waterfowl present – most being on the opposite shore. However, there was one Heron fishing on our side. We had a small Crocodile sunning itself in a small pool by our car. Then, a larger Croc was in the waterhole.
We took a quick break at the Lower Sabie Rest Camp and then continued toward Satara. We went a bit out of the way along the Sabie River and it paid off as there was a huge male Elephant drinking at the river’s edge. It turned out that this first Elephant of the day was joined by so many, many other sightings that we lost track of the number of groups and/or lone males that we enjoyed watching.
As we continued toward the Satara Rest Camp, it became an “Elephant/Zebra” kind-of-day. We had only seen two Zebra in the south of the Park and now we knew why. We also saw Zebra/Impala combinations – a bit odd – and finally the typical Zebra/Wildebeest groups. When we came upon the Zebra, we were lucky to see many young ones – very lively in learning their survival skill of kicking.
We saw an “Old Tusker” – a male Elephant with huge tusks. That’s always a treat! Our final Elephant encounter was at a watering hole. We also had a huge male Giraffe that refused to move off the pavement - even as we passed. The final shot of the day was taken a bridge over the Letaba River and it was perfect. The great way to end our day as we finally reached Letaba Rest Camp at 4:30PM.
Tuesday, 17 April: We were out of Letaba Camp at 7:30AM. We decided to explore to the south and west of the camp as it was new territory for us. We headed out on the H9. Our first stop at Nhlanganini dam found a large body of water. Of course, Hippos were present but none decided to leave the water. We continued along the H9 until we decided to go north on the S132 gravel road as there was supposed to be a waterhole there. We did come across the waterhole sign but alas no water so no animals. We continued north but then our journey was slowed considerably by a male Elephant, an Old Tusker” who had chosen the same route. We had to follow him discreetly until the S132 met the S131. Thankfully, this guy headed into the bush to the east which allowed us to continue to the west. While on the S131 we came upon two separate herds of Zebra – one large and the other quite small. Both had very young babies amongst the grown Zebra; they were very cute! Also, near that same location, we once again had a “road block” this time due to a group of male Impala. However, our car was sufficient to scoot them off to the side of the road. Again, we came across more Zebra; definitely their kind of country.
When we reached the H14, we turned north as we wanted to see the Letaba River. Here we found more Zebra and another easily dissipated road block which they originally formed. We also saw a huge male Giraffe cross the road before heading into the bush. Animals are definitely a bit more skittish in this part of the Park.
After the Zebra, we encountered another Old Tusker enjoying food along the side of the road. He was quite calm and allowed us to get very close for photography. Alongside the H9 is a mostly dry riverbed (we think it’s the Nandzana River). At one turnout there was a lovely canyon carved out by the river. While taking photographs of the scenery, we also captured a Saddle-Backed Stork – a truly beautiful and amazing bird with its reverse-hinged knees. Farther north, in the same dry river bed but on the west side of the road, we spotted a lone Buffalo.
We continued on until reaching the Letaba River and it was truly beautiful. We then turned around and went south on the H14 until we reached the H9 just east of the Phalabaorwa Gate. We turned east and it was quiet because it was warm and sunny. However, we did find a group of four Southern Ground Hornbill. One was particularly interesting at it was hopping into a tree to get what appeared to be nuts. And, yes, it had success.
We continued on the H9 until we had a bit of a surprise and some driving in reverse due to an Old Tusker walking towards us. As he got closer, we had to continue to back up. He only had one tusk but he was huge! He ultimately had us and three other cars behind us driving in reverse as he continued to dominate the center of the road. Ultimately, he stepped to the side and a park vehicle which had appeared behind our group of cars traveling in reserve, took the opportunity to drive past the Elephant at a fairly brisk speed. That seemed to scare the guy just a bit and it was enough of an opportunity for us all to also drive by quickly as the Elephant moved farther into the bush. Whew, talk about a fun but scary experience and the perfect way to end our day before returning to Camp.
Wednesday, 18 April: We packed up all our belongings and left Letaba at 7:30AM. Today we’re headed as far north as we have been in the park to the Punda Maria Rest Camp some 180KM north and west. We made a quick stop to take a photograph of the Letaba River. It is only a small image of its normal self as there is more sand than water yet enough to help support wildlife.
Shortly afterwards our journey came to a halt as a huge herd (or multiple herds) of Buffalo were crossing the road. The numbers were staggering – probably the largest collection of Buffalo we’ve seen even during the mass migrations. After crossing the road, we saw that they were moving to a waterhole – we believe it was the Malopenyana waterhole. We put ourselves in position there and watched these animals gorge on the water. There were many babies so it was a successful breeding season.
After leaving the Buffalo, we came across our first Warthog. We then took a loop road and thought we would see lots of game. We guessed wrong as the only animal we saw was a Giraffe that was across a dry riverbed. So, we returned to the main H1-6 headed north. Along the roadside, we came across a solitary male Elephant. While he wasn’t a big Tusker, he was still huge! Thankfully, he was very cooperative and allowed us to take some nice photographs.
A bit farther along the road, we saw a pair of Warthogs but they were quite a distance away. We once again decided to try a long road off the H1-6. While it had a beautiful body of water with lovely lilies, we didn’t encounter any wildlife.
Upon returning to the main road, we got a glimpse of a Waterbuck. The distinctive “toilet seat” on its rump was a dead give-away. We did make a stop at the Tropic of Capricorn. We took a quick break at the Shingwedzi Rest Camp. We were last there in October 2013. It had been totally flooded in January 2013 and was in the process of being rebuilt. It’s quite lovely now but scary to see that it flooded an area almost five feet high against the current buildings.
It was now afternoon and hot (about 30 degrees C or 86 degrees F). We didn’t know what we would encounter in these conditions. Surprisingly, we saw a lone Wildebeest graving not too far off the road. Then, to our surprise a group of Buffalo (Old Retired Generals) crossed the road in front of us and we were able to photograph them. There were four in total but they never stood in a group.
We saw a Lilac Breasted Roller and stopped for a photograph despite it being a bit far away. Then, we came across another group of Waterbuck. We decided to take a shortcut on the S58 to reach the H13-1 to Punda Maria. It turned out to be a very lucky choice as we saw lots of game on this road. First, a group of Elephants crossed in front of us. Obviously, they had found some water as many of them were wet. They paid no attention to us as the headed over to eat.
As we continued we saw a group of female Kudo. They were a bit shy but we still managed some photographs. Then, to our delight, we found Elephants enjoying a waterhole – probably the same waterhole that was used by the first group of Elephants we saw. The Elephants were swimming and rolling in the water and playing with one another. Obviously, a great way to beat the heat! A large male Elephant appeared on the opposite shore of the waterhole. He was allowed to drink but he was allowed to get into only a few inches of the water. The matriarch trumpeted her displeasure and he didn’t press his luck; a drink was enough for him.
After watching and videoing this group, we continued on our way. And, guess what, another group of Elephants emerged. Simply amazing! Again, they allowed us to photograph without showing any signs of aggression.
Our final sighting of the day was a beautiful male Kudo. His horns were truly impressive! Then, we went to our abode at Punda Maria where we had reserved a safari tent accommodation. It was stunning and very private; the perfect place to unwind after a very full day.
Thursday, 19 April: We first woke up at 4:30AM when some creature with hoofs was walking up our walkway onto the main deck. A few words out the tent and it was gone but it took us a bit before we relaxed and returned to sleep. When we did wake up, it was very cold. We got dressed and put on jackets while we had coffee/tea and bread.
We left Punda Maria at 7:30AM. We headed back toward Shengwedzi on the H3-1 but and again took the Dzundzwini Loop (S58) loop. We saw lots of Impala but the highlight was a small group of Buffalo. When we reached the H1-7/H1-8, we drove north. We stopped at every waterhole but only one – Mazanje – was working. Along the road, we once again saw a large herd of Buffalo. We also saw a group of male Elephants. We did make a stop at Baobab Hill and, yes, there was a lovely Baobab Tree there.
We took a gravel road (S4) to the east where we found lots of Zebra, including Zebra with young foals. We also saw a beautiful male Kudo as well as some young Nyala. We took several turnouts to get views of the Luvuvhu River. On one turnout we spotted a group of Crocodiles. On another turnout, we found a group of Hippo so the water was likely deeper there. When we reached the H1-8, we crossed over it and took another gravel road (S63) east to the Pafuri Picnic Area. We took a break here and enjoyed even better views of the Luvuvhu River. We continued on the S63 until it ended at Crook’s Corner. This is at the confluence of the Luvuvhu River and the Limpopo River. We were looking directly across at Zimbabwe and, if we had taken a step over the fence, we would have been in Mozambique! In the past, the area was basically a “no man’s land” where bad guys hung out as there was no clear rule on who had jurisdiction. At one time there was a beacon in the area and the joke of the day was that a crook could sit atop it and watch the sheriffs of the three countries wander about. Now the area is a lovely nook in the uppermost eastern part of the park.
When we left Crook’s Corner, we drove south for a few kilometers until we reached the paved road to the Pafuri border crossing. No, we didn’t cross the border but instead drove west back to the H1-8. We saw lots of Zebra and then Elephants. It was 33 degrees C (91 degrees F) so we returned to Camp. We did stop by the hide at the waterhole at Punda Maria where we watched a group of Marabou Storks.
It was so hot that we decided to take another drive at 5:00PM. It turned out to be a great idea as we saw plenty of game. We came across a Guinea Fowl, a Duiker (small deer) and then we got some great shots of a Brown Snake Eagle. When we returned back to camp at 5:45PM, it was beautiful and we once again enjoyed our outdoor area.
Friday, 20 April: It was a very windy night and very cloudy when we got up. The weather wasn’t too cold as the wind died down. Again, we were on the road by 7:30AM. We took the H13-1 to the east. We had yet to be at the intersection of the H13-1 and HI-7/HI-8 as we had always taken a cut-off so we decided to see what was there. En route, we saw a lot of the “usual suspects” – Impala & Zebra. Then, to our surprise, we saw a huge Hyena on the side of the road. It was very wary so no photographs but still a great treat.
We passed the waterhole where we originally saw Elephants bathing but it was quiet. We also found a waterhole very close to the intersection of the HI-7/Hi-8. When we reached the intersection, we headed south on the HI-8. We came upon a huge herd of Buffalo. They actually blocked the roadway several in places. We took quite a few photographs before continuing to the Babalala Picnic Area. There were numerous waterholes shown on our map but none were functional. So, the drive down was very quiet. When we began to retrace our route to the North, we came upon a group of four male Elephants; very magnificent. Then, farther up the road was another lone male Elephant. Another treat!
We decided to take the Dundzwini cutoff to return to the H13-1. When we do so, we came upon a group of Elephants who were moving fast and not grazing at all. So, we surmised that they might be headed for water and the closest waterhole was on the H13-1. We drove there and parked on the side of the road. To our surprise, there was a Hippo in the pool. We waited about 5-10 minutes and the Elephants appeared. Interestingly, many of the Elephants did not stop to drink but continued on their way. However, some did stop and we got some great shots of them.
When all the Elephants had left, we continued east to the intersection with the H1-7/H1-8. We drove south to see if we might once again see the Elephants but no luck. So, we decided to return to the H13-1 and head to the Mahonie Loop (S99). On the H13-1, we found two groups of Giraffe – one a lone male and the other a group of three. Always fun to see!
We turned onto the Mahonie Loop, a gravel track. We began seeing lots of Impala. Then, we came across a large group of Warthogs. They were fun to watch as they ran about. As we continued, we pulled into a turn-out that was loaded with antelope – Impala and Nyala and even Duikers. There also were some monkeys we hadn’t previously seen.
As we got father into the bush, we came upon a small herd of Elephants drinking from a small water source. Again, we got some great pictures.
We continued and stopped at another turn-out but there were no animals. As we reached the main road, Ed looked ahead and saw a large cat crossing the road. We rushed there to see a Leopard walking away from the road in the dense brush. It paused once to look back but we were unable to get a picture. Still, we had the thrill of seeing this lovely creature. It also means that once again we’ve seen the “Big Five” on a visit to Kruger National Park. (The “Big Five” are Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Lion and Leopard; simply amazing!).
When we returned to Camp, there was a female Bushbok with a small baby. These were wild animals – not those that typically hang out at Camps that unthinking guests feed. Ed did manage a couple of shots before they went into the bush.
Saturday, 21 April: Today was a travel day in addition to being a safari day. Our goal was to arrive at Satara Rest Camp, our home before proceeding to the Makanyi Lodge in the Timbavati Reserve. We left Punda Maria at 7:10AM. It was a cool, cloudy morning and there was quite a bit of activity. We found a male Kudo – who can resist photographing those curly horns?! Then we saw a group of Warthogs. We also saw lots of Impala and a few Zebra. When we turned onto the Dzundzwini Loop, we found a very elusive Waterbuck. We tried a few photographs but eventually it laid down so no more of that fellow. When we reached the H1-7, we turned south towards Shingwedzi. It was fairly quiet until after we passed the Babalala Picnic Area. Then, an “Old Tusker” appeared alongside the road. He was very cooperative and let us take some nice shots. We especially liked it when he rested his trunk on one of his tusks.
After the Tusker, we found a group of Southern Ground Hornbill. Then, we found a lone male Giraffe. We turned off the H1-7 onto a gravel loop road (we’re not sure which one) and found the largest group of Giraffe we’ve seen in a very long time. They were across a dry river bed. A bit farther along the loop road we came upon a group of Baboons. Then, there was a very cooperative group of Waterbuck that we were able to photograph.
When we returned to the main road, it was blocked by a herd of Zebra. They aren’t a problem like the Elephants can be and they quickly yielded the pavement. We didn’t travel afr before finding Elephants. Another “Old Tusker” was very close to the road. Then, in the distance, we saw Elephants in the Swingwedzi River.
We took a quick break at Swingwedzi Rest Camp and then continued south on the H1-6. The Elephant show continued as we again saw a lone male. Then, at a waterhole, there were two Elephants enjoying a refreshing drink and/or a quick splash of water. We saw a lone Buffalo – quite the change from the huge herds we found farther north. The next sighting – a gorgeous male Waterbuck – was amazing. He was the finest Waterbuck we’ve ever seen with huge horns. Really beautiful!!
We again took a quick break at the Mopani Rest Camp. When we returned to the H1-6, there was a large group of Elephants at the intersection. A male was following a female who appeared to be receptive of his attentions but another Elephant (we don’t know if it was male or female) charged the male Elephant. Exciting but scary! The rest of the group remained calm and was eating but we decided to leave before there was any more action between the two Elephants that locked tusks.
We finally saw a Wildebeest – and then, of course, many more as we continued south. Again, however, Elephants ruled as there was yet another lone male “Tusker”. We came to an open area and found a large number of Warthogs enjoying a wallow. Afterwards, they seemed to “play fight” with one another so likely most were males. It was entertaining to watch.
As we approached the Leteba Rest Camp area (north of it), we found Hippos enjoying a pool in the river. We continued driving into overlooks above the river and eventually found some Hippos out of the water. The clouds allowed them to enjoy some food when they otherwise would have had to stay in the water due to their sensitive skin. Across the shore from them was another beautiful Waterbuck with a great set of horns.
The final highlight of the day was seeing a lone female Lion. When we spotted her, she was walking but she decided to lie down almost immediately so we didn’t get any shots of her standing. That being said, we got great shots of her on the ground. What a treat!
Sunday, 22 April: We woke up at about 5:30AM as we could hear our neighbors preparing to leave when the gates opened at 6:00AM. Unfortunately, there was no power at the camp. So, we decided to start getting ready ourselves as the sun was beginning to rise. By the time we packed up our bags, the power was on so we were able to have a cup of coffee before departing.
Ed had a “feeling” that we should head north to where we had seen the lone female Lion in hopes she might still be in that area. As we began our journey north on the H1-6, we found a lovely Tawny Eagle enjoying the early morning sun. We also came upon a small group of Elephants. Then, a pair of Ostrich appeared alongside the road. Both the male and female were stunning. Then, the choice to return to the spot where we saw the female Lion was indeed the right one as an entire pride of nine Lions was there, including a large male Lion. Unfortunately, they were doing what cats do – sleeping and/or lounging. That being said, we were able to get a few photographs of the male before his head dropped. Also, one female briefly raised her head. Knowing that it was getting warmer, we left as we figured the Lions would soon move into the tall grass or nearby trees.
We headed toward the Orpen Gate using the same road. On our way to Satara Rest Camp, a lone male Elephant was fun to watch. He was using his trunk to rub his ears. In doing so, he would move his trunk and cover his eyes. Pretty interesting to see!
After reaching Satara, we took the H1-7 to the Orpen Gate. We did stop to photograph a Tortoise crossing the road. Then, we left Kruger to begin our adventure at Makanyi Lodge.
Sunday, 22 April: We left Kruger National Park on the R531. It was pretty amazing to be able to drive at 120KM rather than the 50KM allowed in the park. We quickly reached the R40 and drove north to Hoedspruit. Before arriving there, we turned off to the Eastgate/Timbavati Reserve. We stopped to pay the concession fee and then began the hour plus drive to Makanyi. Thankfully, we didn’t get lost in the 20+ KM of dirt road and we arrived at about 1:30P.
We were met by Kim and Lily and offered a refreshing mimosa as we began our orientation. Then, it was time for lunch before being shown to our accommodation. After we finished lunch, Kim took us to our room (unit no. 4). It was huge and absolutely stunning as was the overall lodge. We unpacked and finished just in time for high tea at 3:30PM. Then, our Guide, Alfred, and our tracker, Themba, took us along with guests, David & Ann, on our first evening game drive.
The weather was perfect in that the breeze from the open vehicle kept us cool until the sun went down. We began our drive seeing some Warthogs. We learned that the male Warthog typically dens in a dead Termite mound. Then, the females select whether or not to mate with a male. There is no monogamy in their relationships. We also learned that the best way to identify the gender of the Warthog is based on its warts. A male has four warts – two near the eyes and two near the tusks – while the female has only two near her eyes. We had fun watching some Dwarf Mongoose playing about in a termite mound. Then we came across a couple of Elephants.
Afterwards Alfred drove us into a herd of Buffalo. He estimated that there were over 200 of them gathered together. We took a couple of photographs before proceeding to a waterhole to enjoy a lovely sunset with gin & tonics in hand. It was beautiful!
We returned home with Themba using a spotlight to look for creatures. There were lots of the usual suspects (Impala and Zebra). We also got to see a couple of Rhino – a wonderful treat!
We returned to the lodge near 7:30PM and went to the bar to enjoy a wonderful South African Shiraz. We then had dinner alone on the deck and it was a delicious Tilapia prepared by Chef Amos. Then, it was time to get some rest in anticipation of our 5:30AM wake-up call.
Monday, 23 April: We were up and at the main lodge for coffee at 5:45AM. Our group left at 6:00AM before the sun was actually over the horizon. Alfred and Themba began following some Lion tracks. Eventually, they located three Lion cubs that were about 1.5 years old. Their mother is ill – perhaps even dead – and these cubs were last seen with another female Lion and her two cubs. If these three are not reunited with her or do not join a pride living in the area, they will die if they cannot hunt. As we watched them, Alfred heard a Lion call and the cubs headed in that direction. Alfred explained that the cubs can growl but cannot return a call; their vocal cords are not yet developed enough to do so. So we watched the cubs and hoped that they find another Lion or Lions so that they can survive. We learned that Lions are very susceptible to Mange and they can contract TB if they eat a Buffalo that has that disease.
Then we crossed paths with a huge male Giraffe. He was strong and healthy. As we passed a waterhole there was a lone male Waterbuck. He was quite stunning and according to Alfred, had a large harem that was somewhere nearby.
Afterwards we passed by a tree under which there were three Black-Baked Jackals. They were very shy and quickly went into the bush. However, they turned to look back and we were able to get two shots; very lucky indeed.
Then, we found the herd of Buffalo once again. They had many young babies and one which had recently been born. It was still a bit wobbly as it walked with its mother. We learned that when Lions chase a herd of Buffalo, the young are often trampled by the larger ones and this is a food source for the Lions without actually having to make a kill. You could see by the size difference how likely this would be to occur.
We stopped for a break and a nice cup of coffee before continuing our journey. The guys then spotted a group of four Rhinos being followed by a male Rhino. There was a young male Rhino, its Mom and two other females. The adult male was trying to kill the baby male in an attempt to get the older female to return to esterase even though the male calf was his. We watched a standoff between the adult female and male Rhino. As the group of four would move away, the male would approach until the large female threatened him. Alfred said this had been going on a long time based on the trampled grass. The young male had been caught at least one by the older male as it had scratch marks along the side of its body made by the older male. That being said, it was still doing fine and the protection of the others would likely keep it safe until the group of four entered another male Rhino’s territory.
It was now 9:45AM and time to return to the Lodge. Alfred joined us for a delicious brunch to order that lasted until about 11:30AM. We decided to skip the lunch (served between 1:00-2:30PM) and returned to our room to relax until 3:30 tea time prior to our 4:00PM departure.
Our group met for tea and we left a bit earlier than 4:00PM for our afternoon drive. The beginning of our drive was primarily birding. We saw a Martial Eagle in a distant tree. It didn’t face our way but we were able to get a profile shot. Then, another Yellow Hornbill posed in a bush. Lastly, we saw a group of Whistling Ducks. Their faces looked like they were wearing make-up. After viewing the ducks, we parked the car near a pond and we parked. Almost immediately Terrapin (Turtles) started emerging from the water. We learned that this piece of property in the Reserve is privately owned by an 81 year old woman. She likes to come to the pond to feed biltong to the Terrapin. Since we parked, they were hoping for a hand-out. Once they realized they weren’t getting one, back to the water they went.
As we continued our explorations we came across a group of entertaining Elephants. We watched while they grazed. There was a tiny baby but it was hidden by the tall grasses. So, we photographed the large females as well as a few youngsters. We learned that Elephants lose their initial tusks. They are like baby teeth being pushed out by the permanent teeth. Fascinating and something we had not known.
We once again tried to capture the magnificent sunset. Afterwards we enjoyed a refreshing gin & tonic before returning to the Lodge for a delicious dinner. It was served early (about 7:30PM) so we were able to return to our abode by 9:00PM and get an early night’s rest.
Tuesday, 24 April: We left the Lodge a bit before 6:00AM. Again, we got to see a beautiful sunrise. Then, it was rather quiet. We stopped by a large herd of Impala and parked for a bit. Then, Alfred said he told Themba that he thought something was disturbing them a bit. So, we drove slowly up the road and the guys found the three Lion cubs up in a tree. They saw Hyena tracks and figured out that the Lions went up the tree for safety. The two females in the back were impossible to photograph as they were deep into the tree. However, we did manage to get some photographs of the male. Alfred estimated the Lions to be 1.5 years old and roughly 10 kilograms in weight. He also believed that had eaten something (small mammals or rousting birds) as their bellies were full. Alfred said that was a good sign because once they learned to catch something, they would be able to do it again. However, Alfred said their best chance of survival was still to hook up with other Lions.
We stayed at the site until the second vehicle was there so that other guests could see these beautiful guys. Then, we took a leisurely drive back to the Lodge where we actually approached the Lodge from the other side of the dam. There was a huge herd of Impala in the area. By the time we were enjoying breakfast, we could see them drinking on the other side of the dam. Our group sat and relaxed and talked till about 11:00AM. Then, it was time to download photographs and relax till lunchtime.
We had a leisurely lunch at 1:30PM. We returned to our abode until 3:30PM. Our group left a little before 4:00PM to begin this evening’s drive. We once again began with a bit of birding. The guys spotted a Tawny Eagle followed by a Go Away Bird. We then found a Warthog wallowing. He had an injury to one of his rear legs likely due to a run-in with another male. We next found a lone Buffalo - a “Retired General”.
We stopped to enjoy a gin & tonic just after sunset. Then we returned back to the area where a Leopard had been spotted. As we arrived, the female Leopard took her kill (a Duiker) up into a tree. We observed her up in the tree until she came down and headed into the grass. We followed her until she (like most cats) decided it was time to relax and she dropped to the ground and was hidden by the tall grasses. We left her in peace and returned to the Lodge. At the bar, everyone was very excited to have seen the Leopard, especially those individuals who had never seen one before. We enjoyed a quiet dinner and then returned to our room with a glass of wine; the perfect way to end a great day.
Wednesday, 25 April: It was a very cool morning. Today, we were the only passengers in our vehicle as David and Ann were leaving mid-morning. We returned to the spot where the Leopard had been and her Duiker was still in the tree. Alfred said someone would check back this evening to see if she returned.
As we continued, Alfred and Themba began tracking some adult Lions. Their path eventually led us into the Kruger. However, we could only proceed a short distance there and they were nowhere in sight. Hopefully, they will return into the Timbavati and we may get a glimpse of them.
Alfred and Themba then located the large herd of Buffalo. They did so by following a group of Ox Peckers. We drove off-road into a dense area and the group was there grazing and/or chewing their cud. We sat with them about an hour. It was amazing to be among these huge animals.
At 9:00AM we returned to the Lodge so we could say goodbye to David and Ann. Afterwards, Alfred joined us for breakfast. We let him go at 10:00AM so he too could have some time before we were due to meet at 3:30PM for tea.
We returned to our room to clean-up, review photographs and relax before enjoying lunch at 1:30PM.
After having a quick iced-coffee at 3:30PM, we left the Lodge – again just the four of us – to begin our evening drive. We found a male Waterbuck but it was a bit shy and headed into the bush. Then we found a very relaxed group of Zebra. Afterwards, Alfred and Themba went deep into the bush and we were surrounded by Elephants. They too were very relaxed so we sat and just watched them for about an hour.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a nice Gin & Tonic in the bush. At the Lodge, Alfred joined us for dinner in the BOMA. Instead of the traditional Brai (barbequed meats), we instead had “Poirky” – which was a cauldron of Ox Tail Soup along with vegetables and rice as well as a Chicken Curry. We had a relaxing evening together and said goodbye at 9:00PM and Sam, one of the Security personnel, walked us back to our abode.
Thursday, 26 April: We had an early start this morning about 15 minutes ahead of the other vehicles. As soon as we left the Lodge, Albert and Themba spotted the tracks of the three Lion cubs. We tracked them to the back of the property near the waterhole but we weren’t able to see them. As we were headed out again, Albert got a call that one of the other Ranger’s wives had seen a Cheetah with two cubs on the road as she was returning back into the Reserve after taking her son to school.
So, we made a quick drive in that direction and the Cheetah was still there! We were able to get some great photographs. Albert and the other Ranger/Tracker teams are hoping that the Cheetah will leave the Thornybush Reserve (the very, busy adjacent reserve with more than 30 vehicles out daily) for this area of the Timbavati which has only three vehicles. We hope he’s right!
We next encountered a lone Wild Dog. It was calling for others and eventually two more arrived. Unfortunately, they were separated by an electric fence on private property. Alfred said that they would eventually reunite when they reached the Black Gate into the Timbavati Reserve which is where they likely got separated.
Alfred then wanted to search for the Lion pride which had left for the Kruger a few days ago. He and Themba searched for foot prints and located them. They then tracked the group of Lions. At one point, they were both out of the vehicle. When they returned, Alfred said that the group was very close. As we turned the next curve in the road, there they were. It was a pride of seven Lions with a mother, two young males and four young females. It was a real treat!
We had a coffee break on an island in a nearby dam where we saw a group of Waterbuck. As we made our way back to the Lodge, we saw a male Steenbok. This is the smallest antelope found in this part of this part of the Timbavati Private Reserve. It actually posed because Alfred left the motor running. He said that if he turns the vehicle off, the Steenbok bolt. Somehow when it’s on, they don’t.
We returned back to the Lodge and enjoyed a delicious breakfast with Alfred. Afterwards, we walked over to the office to visit with his wife, Lillian, and she photographs from their wedding. They had two ceremonies – one with traditional dress and one with even more traditional dress. The costumes were stunning and we enjoyed watching videos from the events.
It was then time to freshen up, download photographs, etc., before returning to the main Lodge for lunch. At 3:30PM we met Albert at tea time and went out for our final evening drive (for this year!). We once again saw the female Waterbuck but again no sign of the male.
The owner of a nearby private property asked if Alfred could help him locate the Lions. So, we once again set out for that area and the Lions were just a short distance away from where we originally left them. They were a bit more active as it was getting cooler but they weren’t yet ready to move or go hunting. So we watched them until it was dark. It was almost a full moon so Alfred wasn’t sure if they would even try to hunt.
We went to an island off a major dam and enjoyed a gin & tonic under the stars. When we returned to the Lodge, Peter had a spotlight out because one of the resident Hippos was out of the water. It was very dark but we did manage a photograph. After getting some wine at the bar, Ed was invited to see the kitchen. Chef Amos showed Ed around and for Ed it was very interesting.
When Ed returned, we were seated for dinner and enjoyed a relaxing evening – again under the stars.
Friday, 27 April: It was a cold morning when we set out at 6:00AM. Not too far into our journey, we came upon a group of Giraffe. They had a very young calf; so young its umbilical cord was still attached. It was amazing!! As they walked away, Alfred pointed out that the back of the Giraffe ears (which are very, very white) serves as a way for them to find one another when separated during browsing.
Next we found a lovely Fish Eagle near one of the ponds. It is truly majestic. Then we decided to check on the Wild Dogs. There were three on the other side of the security fence but the lone one we photographed the previous day was still on our side of the fence. It had denned just opposite the others. Alfred was confident that they eventually would reunite. At another waterhole, we saw a beautiful Grey Heron.
Then, we found the Lions once again. They had traveled a great distance from where we saw them yesterday. Alfred did not think they had eaten during their travels. Once again, they do what the “Big Cats” (or any cats) do – that is, sleep and relax until the evening hunt comes.
We had a final “Bush Coffee” before returning to the Lodge. We checked out of the room and then had a leisurely breakfast with Alfred. Themba brought our car out (and he had washed it). Then, since it was a holiday in South Africa – “Freedom Day” – Alfred & Themba drove in front of us to make sure we didn’t miss a tricky turn on the way out. Alfred was worried that there might be a lot of people entering Kruger National Park for the holiday weekend.
Our drive out of the Timbavati Reserve was uneventful. It went a little quicker than when we arrived as we were more familiar with the area. After passing through the Control Gate, we took the R40 south to the R531 which took us directly to Orpen Gate.
OUR RETURN TO KRUGER So, our afternoon was spent game driving in the Kruger as we made our way back to the Skukuza gate. It actually turned out to be a great day for gaming. We saw a lot of the usual suspects – Zebra, Wildebeest & Giraffe. Then we had the thrill of seeing a Leopard in a tree. It was totally alert so we got some great snaps. Then, we saw a lovely juvenile Brown Snake Eagle and once again got some great shots.
We arrived at Skukuza and checked in at 4:00PM. It was very crowded! Our riverside bungalow was the “Lion Cottage” which is the last cottage. It was easy to walk to the Camp Shop to buy items for our stay. Then after a relaxing dinner, we went to bed early.
Saturday, 28 April: We were up early and out of the Skukuza gate at 7:00AM. We decided to take the paved road (H4-1) to Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Our day began with seeing a lovely Lilac Breasted Roller. It was really beautiful! As we drove along the Sabie, we saw a group of Elephants heading there to drink all in a single-file row. We took a quick break at the Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Afterwards, we headed northwest on the unpaved S128. There was plenty of action there with the grazers and browsers. We saw an Impala with a bizarre twisted horn. We also saw a group of Guinea Fowl; a real treat since we haven’t seen as many as we saw in prior years. We then took the S30 along the opposite side of the Sabie River. Our final sighting was again unusual. It was a Giraffe with an Ox Pecker picking off ticks on its underbelly. Interesting relationships evolve here in the bush.
Sunday, 29 April: We checked out of Skukuza Rest Camp and began our final morning drive (that is, until we return to The Kruger in September). We drove on theH11 towards the Paul Kruger Gate. We then drove on the S1 to reach the S65 unpaved road. Immediately when we reached the unpaved road, we came across a pair of Kudo. Then it was pretty quiet. We did see a herd of Buffalo but they were too far away to photograph. We stopped at the Nwaswilshaka waterhole but it was quiet as well. It as a cool, cloudy day so no animals were in a hurry to reach water. We continued along this road until we reached the paved H1-1. We decided to go to the Verwoerdam waterhole (we visited it a lot when staying in the Pretoriuskop Rest Camp). It was productive as there was a large herd of Waterbuck present with several beautiful males.
Afterwards we retraced our path and then drove north on theH3 to Skukuza Rest Camp. We took a break since we had been driving for about 2.5 hours. We then decided to head north for a bit. Afterwards it was time to return to Skukuza to fill up our rental car. We then headed to the Skukuza Airport at about 12:15. We returned our rental car and subsequently checked in for our 1:30PM flight to Johannesburg. We spent the night in Johannesburg before beginning the trek home late on Monday, 30 April. All and all, a truly wonderful experience!!