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Kruger to Kokstad

It poured on our last night in The Kruger National Park and it was still raining lightly when we woke up this morning.  So packing up was a bit of a mission but we got it done quickly and were on our way by 6:30 am.   Other than impala we saw little else on our way out at Malelane Gate.

It rained most of the way to White River too.   The rain is much needed so we did not complain!   Lauren’s ex principal, Nick who now lives in White River arranged for us to leave our caravan at his friend Dawie’s house.   It was a mission reversing it up the curved driveway and almost impossible to get it under the car port.  But Dawie called on reinforcements from his school to push it the short distance the Everest couldn’t manage.   We are most grateful that we didn’t have to tow it back to Kokstad only to bring it back again in a few weeks time.  Thanks so much Nick and Dawie.

After having a quick breakfast in town we were on the road again at 9:!5 am. We encountered a lot of traffic on some of the roads which caused a bit of angst and stress but then things improved and The Earl got into the trip and didn’t want to stop for anything other than fuel.   We got to Howick at 5:00 pm and I suggested we spend the night there as the next part of the road would be hectic with potholes.  But The Earl refused – he wanted to make it all the way to Kokstad and was not tired.

Uh oh – we should have followed my instincts.  The road was dreadful.  Not only was it hectically misty we also had to play dodge the pothole and watch out for the livestock appearing like ghosts on the road.   There were a few near misses but finally we made it to Underberg by 6:15.  No way was I going to let The Earl drive on in the dark.  I didn’t have to ask twice!  We were both stressed out and exhausted.

Thank you Sani Window for taking us in at short notice.  After a quick freshen up we headed to The Grind for Pizzas which were excellent.

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I needed that glass of wine!

We had a really good night’s rest and enjoyed an excellent breakfast at this most beautiful B&B.

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Wonderful View

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Scrumptious Breakfast

Simon was the only one home when we arrived at the farm.   It was the last day of school for the teachers and Shannon had gone in with Lauren to help finish off.

The weather was lovely this morning but this afternoon it clouded over and Lauren said she thought there’d be a storm and was looking forward to lots of rain.   Well – she got her wish in a big way.   She’d just left to take Audrey (her housekeeper) home for the weekend and I’d just crossed the lawn to our little flat in the garden when the heavens opened.   It sounded like rocks were hitting the tin roof but it was hail!   It went on for half an hour.

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Hail on the lawn – the car seemed unscathed.

We seldom get hail in The Cape so this was an exciting event for us.   Lauren didn’t understand why I was worried about her out in this dangerous weather!

 

 

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Kruger National Park – Day 26

5 December 2017 – Berg en Dal

We are nicely settled here at Berg en Dal at the south end of The Kruger National Park.  Our campsite is right next to the fence and when we arrived yesterday we saw a herd of elephant close by.   Also in front of our site is a tall tree where two yellow-billed kites have built a nest.  It is well hidden but we have seen Mom and Dad in the open a few times – but in poor light.  Hopefully better photos will be possible soon.

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The whole of Berg en Dal rest camp is in pristine condition.  The paths are swept and there facilities are kept sparkling clean. In all the other camps we have found there are issues with maintenance. If Berg en Dal can get it right – then so can the others!

The one problem we are having here is with the monkeys.  Oh my – they are so cheeky!  The problem probably began because tourists insisted on feeding them and now thy take the easy way out and try to steal from the campers.   Our neighbours had a whole loaf of bread taken from under their noses and our butter very nearly went Awol but The Earl managed to frighten the culprit and she dropped it.  A bit of dusting off later and it’s now safely secured in a plastic container in the locked fridge.

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This baby was right outside our caravan  – I yelled at him and he ran to Mom

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“That nasty old lady yelled at me, Mom”  he said.                                                                                                                                         “How could you?!” she looked at me in disgust.

We were out by six this morning and were back for breakfast by ten.   At first we did not see much but then things improved.  Once again today there were more of the biggies and unusual smallies.

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Lovely to see a red-breasted swallow

Gardenia Hide is usually stunning but there was very little there today.  We were also disappointed to find that the path to the hide had been neglected, there were poles missing from the fence and there was an overflowing bin at the gate as well as litter on the path.  Not good enough Sanparks!

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African Wattled Lapwing

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Tree-frog nest built over water so that when the eggs hatch the tadpoles will fall in.  They fend for themselves from birth.

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A well camouflaged Water Thick-knee

Kudu, tortoise and buffalo were next on our list.  We also saw a few herds of elephant but they were hiding in the trees.  Four rhino were also some distance off.IMG_8705IMG_8710P1120459

And finally a leopard turned up this morning – not the best sighting ever but good to see him on a rock. He was fast asleep and didn’t stir for anyone!

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After the leopard we continued to see some lovely sightings – elephants, kudu, tortoise and buffalo until we returned to camp.  We rested until 3 o’clock and then went out for our afternoon drive.

First we encountered a herd of elephants. The babies were adorable

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A ground hornbill crossed our path

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A wainterhole we visited proved to be absolutely stunning.  We found a rhino having a wonderful, wallowing time and when the elephants came down they gave him a wide berth.  I wonder what it was that made them nervous of a rhino – his lovely long horn perhaps?

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Blissfully wallowing in the cool water

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Elephant giving a wide berth

Eventually the elephants left with a great deal of trumpeting.  They chased the poor impala from the scene.   We stayed to watch the rhinoceros complete his beauty treatment. He had a few itches to scratch  and amused us with the solution to his problems!

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Emerging after a lovely muddy bath

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Oooh what a lovely scratch

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Well, nobody’s going to do it for me, you know!

Finally he trundled off to his midden quite a way off but which we could still see.  He sprayed liberally into the midden and then wandered off.

We continued on our way too and enjoyed these other creatures along the way

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A common duiker peeked at us

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A hyena on a mission

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A red-breasted swallow

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And another rhino having a mud bath somewhere else!

It was another perfect evening and we braaied chicken kebabs for dinner.

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Only one more full day left in Kruger – how time flies.

 

 

 

 

3

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.

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White-throated Robin-Chat

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

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

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

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

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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,

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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

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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.

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Why did you wake me up?

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Oh how tiresome – yawn, yawn!

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

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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!

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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.

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Father Jacana wtching his young

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Squacco Heron fishing

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Pied Kingfisher with is prey

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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.

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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.

2

Kruger National Park – Day 22

1 December 2017 – Transport Dam and Lake Panic

What is it that brings one back to the Kruger National Park time and time again?  For many it’s the thrill of seeing the Big Five – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino.  And yes – there’s not doubt that these creatures as well as hyena, jackal, wild dog and cheetah give one an enormous thrill.  But that’s not what brings me back for more.  It’s more than that – it’s being in the bush, communing with nature, the trees, the peace the whole vibe of the place and especially the birds.   I love to sit at a waterhole or dam and observe the activity of the waders, the weavers, herons and kingfishers.  I can’t put into words how awesome it is. I know that some people raise their eyebrows and shake their heads and wonder what I’m on about – but I can’t help it.  Put me in a hide for three hours and I will be content to just sit and watch and take in the peace and tranquility of it all.

Today was awesome.  Let me tell you about it.  But if your eyes have already glazed over -don’t worry – I won’t be offended if you do not read – this blog is for those who are as bird nerdy as I am!

Omigosh – as I sit here outside my caravan at 21:06 on the balmiest if evenings I hear the distant sound of a hyena calling.  This is what it’s like in the middle of the African Bush!  But back to today’s story.

I woke to the sound of the “Piet my Vrou” at 5:00 am this morning.   This cuckoo – the red-chested cuckoo to be precise calls incessantly in the summertime but is almost impossible to find as he hides so well in the foliage of the trees.  However, as I emerged from my caravan to go to the showers, wrapped in nothing but my sarong I spotted said cuckoo atop a dead tree in full view and full song!   The early morning light is not good for photography and I thought – No – I don’t think this is worth a photograph but when I got to the ablutions I dumped my vanity bag, clothes and towel and dashed back to the caravan for the camera.  “Patricia, ”  I called outside my friend’s tent.  “The Piet my Vrou  is in full view.  Come quickly and you will see her.”  I then took several photographs, put my binoculars outside her tent as she couldn’t find hers and headed to the showers.

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An early morning shot of a Red Chested Cuckoo – “Piet my Vrou”

When I was done I found a forlorn Patricia Mary.  “I missed it by a second,” said she. “As i raised the binoculars to see him he flew away!”  The problem was that P.M. had dallied over putting on some clothes instead of coming out half naked to see the elusive bird!  But me?  I have no pride!  And if anybody saw a mad old woman in a sarong taking photos of an irritating bird calling at some ungodly hour and they didn’t like it – tough – I got my shot and that is all I wanted.  For those of you reading who do not know the South African Birds – The call of the red-chested cuckoo sounds like the Afrikaans words – Piet my vrou meaning  Pete my wife.   Yes, I know it makes no sense at all.

Before we left for our morning drive we watched some little birds flitting about in the trees and were pleased to add bronze manikin to our list although the photograph is not worth publishing!

Choosing which bird is my favourite is very difficult because there are so many that I just love to see.  But I definitely get a huge thrill every time I see a Saddle-Billed Stork so if pressed I would have to say that this is my favourite bird.  Usually we spot them at some distance away in a pond or river but today we were hugely surprised to find on on the side of the road.   She was alone, clicking her bill and hunting morsels to eat.  She was not at all bothered by our presence and we were able to observe her for quite some time, first on the right side of the road and then crossing to the left where there was a midden.  A dung beetle was busy doing his cleaning up job when his life came to a sudden end as Mrs SBS gobbled him up!

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Our route took us to Afsaal Picnic Site where we stopped for breakfast.  On the way we spotted some of our favourite creatures

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What big tusks you have

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This carnivorous snail is a big chap 

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Pearl breasted Swallow at the Afsaal

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A lovely welcome from Tindlovu Rustic Kitchen at Afsaal

Afsaal is a busy stop but we were impressed with its efficiency.  You can queue for take-aways or sit at a table and a waitron will take your order.  We chose the latter and were highly impressed with our waitress.  We dithered over our order and she treated us with patience and humour.   The Earl said something annoying and I smacked him playfully.  She looked at me in horror and rubbed his hand.  Then we all burst out laughing.   Finally she sorted out our whims and fancies and brought us a most enjoyable breakfast.

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Our sassy waitress, Mpumi

Feeling fortified with food and content with our experience we continued on to Transport Dam.  On the way we saw buffalo

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And stopped for a loo break at Pretoriouskop

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Beautiful Coral Tree

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Ellie cooling off at Transport Dam

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White-faced ducks

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Wood Sandpiper

On our way to Skukuza we spotted a few regulars

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Steenbok

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Giraffe

It was very hot today and so we swam in the pool during our rest time and then Pat and I did a load of washing at the laundrette before we all went off to Lake Panic for our afternoon outing.  This hide never disappoints.  We spent an hour or so enjoying the business of nature going on before our eyes.

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Nyala Males were having a drink and a play-fight – or were they serious?

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A three-banded plover popped in for a while

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There was great entertainment from green-backed herons

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And Squacco Herons

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Terrapins sunned themselves

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Mr (below) and Mrs Pied Kingfisher fished

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A paradise fly-catcher dipped in and out of the water for a bath and a drink.

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Hippos conversed

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A shy female nyala or three came down for a quick drink too

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And two fish eagles loudly declared their love for each other

This was the best part of our day but reluctantly we had to leave.

Just before returning to camp we spotted this guy crossing the road.  He scuttle off into the bush but not before turning around to say good evening.

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Spotted Hyena ended our day

This evening we treated ourselves to an evening out to dinner at The Cattle Baron and it was awesome. Once again we had a smart, sassy waitress who took excellent care of our needs.  It was a perfect ending to a stunning day.

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2

Kruger National Park – Day 21

30 November 2017 Lower Sabie to Skukuza

It’s hard to believe that we have been in the park for three weeks now.  Each day has had something special and we are still loving every moment.   We now have the pack up and go routine totally sussed and everything went smoothly for our departure to Skukza this morning.  Pat’s hand is very much better and she felt that she could cope helping Tony with their tent but The Earl insisted on giving a hand – we don’t want her using her wrist too much and causing it more damage!

We hit the tar road at 6:45 and Pat and Tony took the scenic route.   Our first road block – elephants of course.  This photograph is taken through the windscreen but I couldn’t resist the cuteness of the baby rolling on the tar.

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Skukuza is only 35 km from Lower Sabie on the tar road and we did not stop for much as we just wanted to get to camp to set up.  We were just done when Tony phoned to say they had arrived. We met them at reception and took them to our site.  They decided not to join us for brekkie as it looked like rain and they wanted to set up before it came.

The Earl and I went to The Cattle Baron and sat under the Sycamore Fig enjoying the ambience. The service today was slow but when you’re in Africa you don’t really care.  When we finally got our eggs and bacon it was delicious – and the coffee was good.   While we were waiting we watched the starlings, weavers and sparrows in the tree and then The Earl said, “Hey there’s a green pigeon.”  Our first for this trip!  Where had they been hinding?

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This elusibe Green Pigeon and three others posed beautifully for us

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The spectacled weaver has a quizical look

Today was more of a rest day as it turned out to be quite hot – the rain never came.  We took a short afternoon drive and these were the highlights.

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Golden Breasted Bunting – he sang beautifully

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Trumpeter Hornbill

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Dung Beetle cleaning up the bush – such an amazingly hard worker

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Dark form Wahberg’s Eagle – I think

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A useful tool is the elephant’s trunk

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Can’t resist the cuteness

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What was he thinking getting right into the tree

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Yellow-billed hornbill

This might sound repetitive – but it was a braai again tonight.  Honestly there’s no better way to eat in the bush!

2

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.

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Hippos had an early morning meeting

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

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

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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.

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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!”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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The Shady Eating Area

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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.

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Orpen Dam Lookout

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The View

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Elephants having a confrontation

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

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Don’t worry – you’ll get out

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

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

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Yellow-throated Longclaw

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Red-crested korhaan

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Male Kudu

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Playful Zebra

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Giraffe and Elephants

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Follow the leader

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Scary Crocodile

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Black Heron

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

Kruger National Park – Day 19

28 November 2017 – Even The Bad Days Are Good So Long As I Am In Kruger

No two days in a game reserve are ever the same.  Some days the creatures appear around every corning and the adrenaline pumps all day long as one predator sighing after another pops up.  On others you can drive for miles through beautiful countryside but with hardly a sign of life and you wonder if Scotty has beamed the wildlife up from the earth and then all of a sudden they’re there again and you once again exclaim in awe and wonder at the sight of gentle impala or strikingly beautiful zebra.

We started off early this morning on the H4-1 and enjoyed some good birding and saw all the regulars.  We took several loops until we came to Skukuza where we had breakfast at The Cattle Baron which overlooks the Sabie River.  It is an awesome venue.

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The Jacobin Cuckoo

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Who can resist all this cuteness?

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Always great to see the red-crested korhaan

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Red-billed Oxpeckers grooming a kudu

After breakfast The Earl said he would not take me to my favourite hide – Lake Panic – as our next camp would be Skukuza and we would have five days to spend there!   But then he told our friends that  he might have a grumpy wife for a few hours so stopped there anyway!  What a brilliant spot.  I could have stayed there all day.  The lesser masked weavers were busy with nest building, the African Black Crake was busy seeking snacks, a squacco hero fished and so did a green-backed heron.  We saw several pied kingfishers and a little malachite as well.

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Lesser-Masked Weaver

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Female Pied Kingfisher

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Male Pied Kingfisher

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Green-backed Heron

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Expert at fishing

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Squacco Heron

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All fluffed up

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A terrapin is always fun to see

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Mom and baby hippo

It was an elephant day today and although we’ve seen many we still get a thrill with each new heard we encounter.

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Suddenly the hills were alive with elephants

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They came down and surrounded us

Later we came upon a huge herd, quietly marching through the trees to a waterhole.  It’s quite scary when they wave their trunks at you, trumpet loudly and then pass you by with a nonchalant gait.

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At the waterhole

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Getting the hang of using that trunk

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A friendly play fight – or not?

Some of the animals we meet are remarkable human

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I’m safe here with Mom

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How adorable is that!

Yes – even a quiet day in Kruger is thrilling.

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