Warm Hospitality in Kokstad

It’s summer  in the Southern Hemisphere and in KZN you would expect the weather to be super hot!  But there has been lingering snow in the Drakensberg and Kokstad was  gripped in some winter-like weather for over a week. Thankfully it’s warming up now and yesterday, instead of complaining about the cold, we complained about the heat!

One thing we’re not complaining about is the warm hospitality of the Kokstad friends and family.   I don’t know what it is about this place but everybody is incredibly friendly.  Perhaps it’s the beautiful environment in which they live and their relaxed lifestyle that causes them to be warm-hearted and kind.  Most of the people we know here live on farms or small holdings and they are surrounded by beautiful mountains, streams, trees and have amazing gardens.   Some might say that small places are friendlier but that’s not always true.  Some small places are very cliquey and it may take years to be made to feel welcome there.   Here in East Griqualand, we have found, you’re made to feel one of the family immediately.

So while the weather has been chilly we’ve been visiting.   Thanks to the Clarkes for a lovely morning of catching up on their amazing four-month adventure off-roading through Africa with their two boys.   The pancakes for tea were scrumptious, thanks Bryan.

The Flemmings had us over for dinner which was delicious. And sitting before their roaring fire was wonderful.  Rose, your roast dinner was to die for.


Rose whipping up a Master Meal


Anti-clockwise from front – Neil, Rose, Lauren, Shannon, Allan, Simon, The Earl

Of course we have been catching up with the extended Stone/Mackenzie family too.  We reminisced about spending so many Christmases together when we were still raising our own kids. They’re all grown now with kids of their own and what a great bunch those kids are.


Just a few of the extended family who popped in for tea


Barbara and Andrew’s cottage on The Farm


An outhouse used as an office and guest flat

Our kids went off for a golfing weekend to Pennington this weekend so we were left to our own devices.  On Friday we had lunch with Barbs and Andrew and yesterday another of our clan arrived from Bloemfontein so we went to The Farm to greet them and have family braai.

Soon after the Bothas arrived, The Earl invited the kids to go to the dam to fish.  I knew the Mackenzie boys would not hesitate.  Rebecca, however, is a girlie girl and I expected her to decline.  How wrong I was.  “I’ve got my fishing rod,” she said.   “Are you sure?” said Mom.  “I don’t think we packed it.”  “Of course, Dad did!”  she insisted and went off to fetch it.

So off the merry little band went.   How delighted we all were when they returned with two fat bass – both caught by 8 year-old girlie girl Rebecca!


Becca with her Bass

While the fisherfolk were off adventuring the rest of us enjoyed Barbara’s shady garden.


Caleb decided that the fishpond would be a good place to cool off.

The Earl cooked the bass as a starter before the braai.  The kids insisted that they would not be eating fish – but all of them did!  Becca only had a tiny bit but got a bit of scale so that put her off!  The others were back for seconds.


Becca trying some fish


Little Emma loved her sisters fish


Seth said no way was he eating Bass – but here he is enjoying it!

The Earl had some willing helpers with the braai.  Aiden and Seth helped chop wood.  Henk has some braaing skills of his own and saved the day when the wood wouldn’t burn.  The food was delicious and the bonding even better.  And what a perfect evening it was after all the cold weather we’ve been having.


Getting the braai going


The essential Boerwors


Henk grilling the steak and chops


Kruger National Park – Day 23

2 December 2017 –

We haven’t seen cats for a few days and were feeling a little restless about it as it’s Tony and Pat’s last full day in The Park.   It would be nice to get one last sighting of a predator for them.

I suggested we drive to Tshokwane for breakfast because lions and leopard had been seen in that area.   Everybody agreed.

Before we left camp we found this chap foraging on the neighboring campsite.


White-throated Robin-Chat

We drove the scenic route along the river and took all the loops we could.


Frisky male impala were butting heads and interlocking horns – it seemed more play than serious rivalry


A hippo still out grazing before going back into the water for the day


The Earl aways gets a fright when these giants suddenly appear and cross in front of him


These gentle waterbuck said a cheery good morning

There was a lull in sightings when all of a sudden we jerked to attention.  Something was crossing the road ahead of us.  Leopard, cheetah – No LION!   We all got an eyeful of her and then she was gone.  Maybe some more would follow and cross over too.  We waited a few minutes but nobody came.  Just a little ahead we saw a stationary car.  As we approached I saw them – lion lying under a tree.  A farewell gift for our friends,


The other car left and we had them to ourselves for a while. Suddenly another lion appeared and then two of them got up together to change position and flop down again


What an awesome sighting.  But wait – there’s more.  We drove on a little further and spotted two more lionesses lying on a log. There was a lot of foliage blocking them so we didn’t get photos but enjoyed seeing them get up and stretch before settling back down again.

We were thrilled at this sighting which was just before we got to our breakfast stop.  At Tshokwane we were amused when this pied barbet settled on a plate and himself to scraps!  I’ve never seen a barbet do that before.

IMG_8272On our return we concentrated on bird watching and enjoyed seeing a common duiker, giraffe and zebra.   As we approached the lion spot a car stopped us and said there were male lions up ahead.   Our females had left but these boys had settled in close by to where they had been. The one remained asleep but the other gave us a bit of entertainment.


Why did you wake me up?


Oh how tiresome – yawn, yawn!


Don’t you know a lion needs 20 hours of sleep per day?


Oh well – while I’m up i might as well have a scratch

When we came to the place where we expected to find a leopard on the rocks, we got a klipspringer instead!


We decided to take a long midday break as it was really hot again today.  We swam in the pool a few times and only went to Lake Panic later in the afternoon for an hour.  I would be quite happy to spend an entire day in this hide as even on a slow day interesting things happen.  You have to sit very quietly in a hide and at first you might think there is nothing there but when you really look you start to see things. It took a while for us to notice that a Jacana at the far end of the pond had four chicks that must have been just out of their eggs.  Father Jacana looks after the kids while Mom goes off to find another mate and another nest in which to lay her eggs.


Father Jacana wtching his young


Squacco Heron fishing


Pied Kingfisher with is prey


We heard the Water Thick-knees before we them

Once again it was a perfect evening and just as we were enjoying Magnum Ice-creams for dessert I heard a rustle at the paper packet that we use for a bin. I yelled and it ran away. I suspected it was a honey badger but I caught sight of something smaller.  African wild cat perhaps?  The cheeky creature came back again and Pat said – shine your torch on it which I did and saw it was a bushbaby!.  At that moment Pat and Tony’s daughter was Skyping from New Zealand.  Chaos ensued as we raced to see if we could find the intruder.  We found him behind the caravan on the branch of a tree.  He wasn’t at all concerned and just stared at us from his safe vantage point.  Tony was able to show his daughter, Maria, the naughty creature.


Sorry Bushbaby – We’re not the type of campers who hand out leftovers! Go find your own food!

Sadly tonight is the last one in the park for P&T as tomorrow they will make their way back home.  We still have a few more days before heading back to Kokstad.


Kruger National Park – Day 20

29 November 2017 – A Day for Leopards

The weather was warm again today with the temperature reaching the mid thirties.

As I have mentioned in previous episodes – no two days are alike in Kruger.   Today was a good one for seeing the “Big” guys.

The bridge gave us our first thrill of the day.


Hippos had an early morning meeting


Saddle-bill Stork and Yellow-bill egret sharing a fishing spot


Is the yellow-billed egret leading the spoonbills astray as the saddle-billed looks on?


These two Fish Eagles had a confrontation over a fish

The black-shouldered kite is usually rare in KNP but due to the drought in the West of the country many have moved East and there is now an influx of them in The Park.   On one day we saw 18 of them.


Yet another Black-shouldered Kite

As we continued along the tar road we saw a single stationary car stopped on the right hand side of the road.  It was open country with few trees and we couldn’t see anything at all.  But we never pass a stationary  car so we stopped alongside and asked – “What do you see?”  “A leopard,”  replied the rather good looking young man behind the wheel. He lovely wife was beside him with a huge smile on her face.   “Where?” we asked  and how come we hadn’t seen it?   “Reverse a little and look in the biggest tree you can see over there.” he pointed.

We looked at the tree – it was far away and we saw nothing until we trained our binoculars on it. “I have him!”  I said – “But how on earth did they spot that!”


The distant leopard in the far away tree

It turned out that they’d stopped just to scan the area with binoculars and the lovely wife and spotted him quite by chance!   What a lucky break.  Before long there were four or five cars wondering what the fuss was about.  We were able to point out this special for them before we moved on.

Next we stopped at a look-out where you are allowed to get out of your car and sit in a boma to view the vast valley below.   At first we saw nothing but veld and trees and then The Earl said – Omigosh – look at all the elephants!


They just kept coming – a huge herd of them

Just before we got to Tshokwane we saw a few cars staring into the bush.  Another leopard!  He was lying asleep under a bush, well hidden and a photograph was impossible.   But when he sat up The Earl managed to get one before he walked off into the thicket.


Not our best leopard picture ever!

Tshokwane is the best picnic site in the park.  The kitchen and the seating area incorporate big trees, the coffee is excellent and the food inexpensive and good.


The Shady Eating Area


The Cooking Area

With out hunger satisfied we set off again and found yet another leopard.  This one was also in a tree and we could see him nicely.   But we did not manage to get a photograph.


we also saw lots of elephants today.   At Orpen Dam Lookout we watched them come down and have fun in the mud.


Orpen Dam Lookout


The View


Elephants having a confrontation


Mud glorious Mud – Mum, I think I may be stuck!


Don’t worry – you’ll get out


White-faced ducks and glossy ibis were also enjoying the dam

We spent a long time out this morning and enjoyed many fascinating sightings.


Yellow-throated Longclaw


Red-crested korhaan


Male Kudu


Playful Zebra


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Giraffe and Elephants



Follow the leader


Scary Crocodile


Black Heron


Mischieveous Monkeys

We have seen rhino a few times this trip but I am not mentioning on what day nor on which roads in case some poaching criminal comes across this blog and it helps him find his target.   Rhino are being poached at an alarming rate although Sanparks are going to great lengths to put anti-poaching measures in place.  We are delighted to have seen many men in camouflage patrolling and checking and we have heard that recent arrests have been made.


A Happy Rhinoceros – Long may he remain safe from poachers

It was another perfect evening in The Park although the weather had clouded over.  We enjoyed The Earl’s chicken wing starter and a braai of chops, steak and boerewors with sweet potatoes and a lovely Greek Salad before retiring for the night.  Yes another great day in Africa.










Kruger National Park – Day 16 – Satara

25 November 2017 – An Awesome Day

After yesterday’s heat we woke to rain this morning – very welcome as The Park is dry and they need their rains.  It was also quite cold but nothing dampens ones spirits when in The Park.  A Bad Day in Kruger is still better than a Good Day at home.

By 6:35 we were exploring the H7.   As usual we stopped for every interesting bird.  We saw common waxbill flitting about and while we were enjoying them we heard the familiar clicks and then kyip, kyip kyip – the call of the Red-Crested Korhaan.  Then we saw him strutting across the road.   He then flew up and tumbled down free-fall style.  What an awesome bird.  We expected he was showing off for a female but she was clearly not interested as she remained hidden.


Next to pop up unexpectedly was this chap.


We saw the usual suspects too, elephant, zebra, kudu etc  before turning onto the S39.  This drive was good too and we found a tawny eagle and some vultures.   As we trundled along we saw two cars alongside of each other up ahead.  “Either they’re friends having a chat about their next route or the one is telling the other what he has seen.  I bet it’s a leopard,” said I.
As we approached, the one pulled away and parked in front. The other indicated that we should take his place.  ” If you look carefully – you will see a leopard,” he told us. We looked but couldn’t see anything so went ahead a little way and watched some birds.  The second car left but the first remained.  He must still have it we thought so we reversed to take another look.  Oh Wow.  There he was – quite a big male but still well hidden under the tree.


Oh those wild eyes


J need my rest, you know


Here’s looking at you, kid!


How long are you planning on staying ?

Reluctantly we left the scene to let the next car have a chance and soon reached Timbavati Picnic site where we hired a skottel and cooked breakfast.  It was raining a bit but we were quite dry under the thatch shelters.


Our return trip produced more hyena and lovely birds but it was raining so photography was a bit difficult.  Back at camp we had a rest. At 3:30 I went to see if Pat and Tony were awake – they weren’t so I told The Earl that we should skip an afternoon drive.  But when they woke at 4 they were still keen to go out  and so at 4:30 we hit the S100.  I had a strange feeling that something exciting would turn up and Pat voiced the same thought.

Sure enough we got a lovely surprise. We found the occupants of two vehicles staring into the distance.   We could just see the flick of a tail and a twitch of an ear.   Another car approached and asked what there was.  We told her not much and then one of the lionesses got up and moved!  We then all go lovely views of her and the other one until they disappeared in the undergrowth again.  We thought we might find them on our return route but they were nowhere around.


It was certainly worth going for that short drive to find our lions!

You would think camp cooking would be problematic when the weather is cold and wet.  But we were lucky.  The rain held off and we were quite content to sit under our canopy and enjoy a fabulous meal cooked once again by our Bush Master Chef.  It was a most delicious chicken and vegetable dish cooked on the Snappy Chef. (Induction Stove)

The resident hyenas patrolled past the fence quite frequently.  One actually stopped and stared at us as if to say – Please share your meal with me!  But of course we said – No way – go and hunt your own food!

It rained in the night and we expected a wet pack up the next morning!



Kruger National Park – Day 14 – Satara

23 November 2017 – Letaba to Satara and The S100.

After yesterday’s 40 degree C heat we woke to cooler conditions today.  In fact the mercury dropped by 20 degrees!

We were packed up and ready to roll by 7:00 o’clock.  Pat and Tony were to follow after going to reception to find out about getting Pat to a doctor.

The first excitement walked toward us on the tar road.   Mom, Dad and Little One


Come on Mom and Dad – keep up!

Then they veered off the road and passed by the car.  We got a shot of Mom – or Dad – difficult to tell the sexes apart.


She seems to be smiling about something.

When we arrived at Satara we got a call from Tony.  They were on their way and would set up camp and then head to Skukuza to see the camp doctor.

We set up next to the fence at the North-west side of camp.  There were quite a few interesting birds hanging around and posing for their portraits.


Red-billed Buffalo-weaver


Burchell’s Starling


Grey-headed Sparrow

When Pat and Tony  arrived we helped them set up and then went to have breakfast at the restaurant.  They managed to get an appointment for 2 o’clock and set off for Skukuza at midday.

Earl and I had a rest and then at 3 pm set off to do a stretch of the S100, turning around and retracing our route so as to be back in camp in time.  The drive there produced some common residents.


My favourite creatures


Zebs had a dust bath


A stripe of zebra


Delighted to have this red-faced mousebird sit still for a second


This non-breeding shaft-tailed whydah had us guessing for a while


Red-billed quelea

We hoped to see a lot more as the S100 is famous for seeing both lion and leopard – but not luck there.  However, the birding was good.


A lovely surprise – Trumpeter Hornbill


Male Red-backed shrike


Bateleur Female


Bateleur Male

Seeing the trumpeter hornbill was special for me and I counted that as the highlight of the day.  I was in a bit of a complacent dream when suddenly I saw it, just a short distance away, so well camouflaged in the dry grass.  “There’s a cheetah!” I called out to The Earl.  “Where?” he said.  “There,” I pointed.  “Where’s there!”  he was frustrated.

“Stop!” I yelled.  “He’s going to come out in front of the car.”  And then he saw it too.

What a brilliant surprise

We had him all to ourselves


The beautiful boy!

He crossed the road and then moved off into the distance.  We watched until he disappeared over the ridge.  A car approached – just a minute too late.  We were the only ones to have seen him!

Pat and Tony were back from the Skukuza by 6:15.   Pat’s wrist is badly sprained and the doctor strapped it into a brace.   She is comfortable but may have to have x-rays if the swelling doesn’t go down.

As it was so cool we decided that a stew would be best for dinner tonight. Once again our Master Chef of the Bushveld put our snappy chef and smartspace pots to excellent use and we dined in style once again.


Kruger National Park – Day 10

19 November 2017 – Shingwedzi to Letaba

By 6:30 we were packed and ready to leave.  Letaba is 108km from Shingwedzi so we planned to take a break at Mopani and have breakfast at the restaurant.

Once again with caravan in tow we stuck to the tar road and only stopped a few times to take photos of interesting creatures.

The much maligned hyena is considered to be a cowardly and nasty character and features as the ‘baddy’ in many folklore and children’s stories.  In fact these creatures are  not just scavengers but efficient and powerful predators.   Spotted hyenas live in structured groups.  A group of hyenas is called a clan of hyenas.   Did you know that the females rank higher than the males and an alpha female leads the clan. They whole clan helps to raise the young.   When you get to know them you just can’t help loving them and that’s why we were thrilled to find three lying on the side of the road this morning.


It was a tough night, please let me sleep


Oooh I’m so comfortable here


What’s going on – why did you wake me!


Alright I’ll smile for the photo


Now I’m going to find a quieter, shadier spot to sleep!


What do you mean, I must come with you?


Oh, alright then, I’m coming!

We left the sleepy things in peace and moved on toward Mopani but not before stopping for to get a photograph of the most magnificent eagle in The Park.


The proud Martial Eagle

We’ve become accustomed to road blocks too and patiently waited for these wild cows cross over.


This is our road and we’ll take our time if we want to.

The view of the river below the restaurant was as stunning as always but today we saw an osprey in a tree – too distant for a photo but nevertheless great to see.  These are some of the other birds we managed to photograph


White-faced ducks


African Jacana

These gorgeous girls stared at us before we arrived at Letaba.


Female Waterbuck

It was really hot when we arrived in Letaba.  We drove around the shady camp looking for a good spot to set up, met another Gecko owner from Somerset West, chatted to them and then while we were filling our water tanks,  someone whom I recognised walked by and made a jokey comment about caravanning.  He and his wife were tenting nearby.  After chatting a while we discovered that we’d stayed a their B&B a few years ago.  Hugh had organised a bird guide for us. It was an awesome trip.   Today he showed us where to find the Scops Owls.

We found a suitable campsite and unhitched but we did not set up until a little later when it was cooler.  And do you know what?   The Earl put up the canopy almost single handedly.  All I had to do was help with one pole and the ground sheet.  He now has a system that really works for him.  And I managed to push up the roof all by myself!


Entrance to Letaba Rest Camp


Scops Owl

As we are staying here for four nights we decided not to go on a game drive this afternoon.   Instead we took some down time to just chill in camp.

Later in the afternoon I saw a fellow camper pointing his camera into a tree so I asked what he was photographing.  This is what he pointed out to me.


A Bushbaby!


The temperature got up to over 35 today and the evening was still hot.  We kept the lights off as much as possible so that the insects didn’t bother us and The Earl cooked us a delicious chicken curry and thus ended another perfect day in Africa.


Kruger National Park – Day 9

18 November 2017 – Shingwedzi

This morning while we waited for Pat and Tony to finish packing up their tent, and before we said farewell to Punda Maria, Earl and I  paid one last visit to the hide.  This is the only camp in The Park that has a hide and a lit waterhole and it is frequently visited by many animals.  Elephants were already there and we watched them finish their ablutions and take on some refreshing liquid before they lumbered off into the bush.  It was quiet for a few minutes and then we heard loud and excited trumpeting and another herd came racing down to the water.  It was as if the little ones were calling – Mommy, I can’t wait to get into the water, please can we run ahead.





It was awesome and we would have lingered longer but it was time to head to Shingwedzi.  Earl quickly helped with the tent packing up and then we set off separately.   The only disadvantage of towing a caravan is that you can’t stop suddenly, nor do all the reversing and manoeuvring at a sighting as you would like to. Also there is always the fear that you’ll be confronted by an oncoming elephant!   So we took the direct tar road and only stopped when we could.   We did manage to have some lovely sightings but once we got to Shingwedzi, we set up quickly, had a bit of a rest and then went to the restaurant for lunch.  Pat and Tony met us there. They had taken the river road and had lingered over bird and animal sightings.

All the usual patron of the Kruger Restaurant were about – elephant, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra so when we saw something a little out of the ordinary it peaked our interest.  This shy creature was kind enough to stop to have his portrait taken.


Sharpes Grysbok


Another large herd of buffalo

We checked in at Shingwedzi at around 10:30 and quickly found a lovely site next to the fence and close to the ablution block.  We had some feathered hosts welcome us.  The red-billed woodhoopoes were quite vocal but seemed in a hurry to be somewhere else and didn’t stop to chat.  Mrs Burchell, hower, asked if had any crumbs for her.  No – sorry we don’t eat bread.


Burchell’s starling 

The arrow-marked babblers are always busy but blurted out their greetings as they flew from tree to tree.


Arrow-marked babbler 

After lunch P&T went to set up camp at Shingwedzi  while The Earl and I did the river route which was very productive.   The Mopani Diner was open and the patrons were helping themselves to their offerings.


Baboon feeding on Mopani leaves


I am safe here with my mommy

It was very hot and most of the birds were napping in the cool of the foliage. It was later in the afternoon when we started to spot a few as they emerged from hiding.   This lovely raptor was hoping there would be a slithering reptile on the menu.


Brown Snake-eagle

Sometimes you have to take the kids out to eat too.  Mom is trying to teach this youngster that he must eat by himself now.IMG_5414

The next feathered diner we met is a new one for us.


White-throated Robin-chat

At the same cafe, skulking in the foliage we found an old friend.


Long-billed Crombec

Some of the residents prefer to eat ‘seafood’  In this case, actually, it’s river-food. There were Egyptian Geese, Grey Herons, three-banded plovers and other waterbirds checking out the menu but our favourite was this lovely chap.


Yellow-billed Stork

I have hundreds of giraffe photographs as I just love these stunning creatures.  I couldn’t resist taking more today.


We are only at Shingwedzi for one night.  We weren’t very hungry after our lunch at the restaurant so it was well after sunset when we braaied.    A honey-badger entered the campsite and tried to steal from the humans and a hyena passed by on the other side of the fence.  Hopefully he never finds his way inside.


Sunset at Shingwedzi

Tomorrow we head to Letaba for four nights.