It was not a good start to the morning. I’d been awake since pre-dawn, listening to the sounds of the bush. The cicadas who had been silent all day yesterday suddenly awoke and started their buzzing. As the light started creeping into the sky I got up and went to the ablution. I was looking forward to a nice hot shower and a hair wash. I turned on the tap – Nada! Not even a drop! As you can imagine I was not a happy camper! All I could do was use our bottled water to brush my teeth and give myself a lick and a promise. At least there was boiling water on tap that we could use to make coffee. Don’t, please, deprive me of my coffee first thing in the morning!
I consoled myself with the fact that at least I didn’t have to face the public. I could hide in the car and only the creatures of the veld would see me.
“I’ll shower as soon as I get to Satara,” I told the Earl. He just laughed. Why are these things unimportant to men!
We had our coffee, bade our neighbours who were also leaving goodbye and were on the road to Satara by 5:45.
As usual when towing we only stopped briefly to greet our friends of the veld.
After spotting the Kori Bustard, I called out, “Jackal!
“Where?” said the Earl.
“There,” I replied. “Quite far behind that bush.”
“The dryish one.”
“Which dryish one?”
“Okay – you see that tall tree way back there? Well keep coming toward the car from there and you will see him.”
But still he couldn’t see it.
Conversations like the above are common in The Kruger National Park!
We continued our journey and stopped for some more special sightings.
When we arrived at Satara we found that our friends, Jim and Maureen’s caravan was still parked in their spot. They were due to leave yesterday but when they returned from their drive we found out that they’d extended their stay till Thursday.
We found a shady spot near them, unhitched the caravan, went for a very welcome shower and then after a short rest went for another drive. We did the S100 which produced all the usual suspects.
The Earl captured an African Hoopoe with prey!
We found three different swallow species in one tree
We also visited Sweni Hide but didn’t stay long as it was rather hot.
We rested at camp until about half past four and then went out along the Orpen Road to see if anything came to the dam. A few elephants came down and there were some lovely ducks.
On our way back to camp we were held up by a road block of elephants. We watched them for a while and were delighted with the antics of the tiniest of the herd.
In the evening we joined Jim and Maureen for a delicious Pork Belly dinner cooked by Jim in their black pot.
It was a simply stunning evening with a full moon shining
After bidding farewell to our new friends, Terry and Christie, we were on the road to Letaba by half past six this morning. It was a beautiful day with just a few white fluffy clouds crimping the sky. The temperature was soon in the high twenties. Once again, because we were towing, we took only the tar roads. Stopping to see creatures was kept to a minimum. Our first road block came in the form of three elegant giraffe gliding first in single file on the road in front of us and then deciding to go abreast before changing course and heading into the veld.
At quarter past seven we came to a T-junction where we needed to turn right. There was a waterhole straight ahead and the Earl remarked that there was an elephant there. “Lovely,” I said and then looked left to check for approaching cars.
Isn’t it strange how the brain works, “Wild Dog,” came out of my mouth before I actually realised what I’d seen. They were facing in the opposite direction to where we needed to go but we could see them beautifully from the stop sign. They hung around until they were all ready to trot off.
A car from behind must have been impatient that we did not move so crept up next to us. When he saw the dogs he turned right then made a u-turn to follow them. Unfortunately, that was not an option for us.
As we continued on our way I was struck by the beauty of our surroundings. The Kruger is like another planet and it felt like I was an alien taking in its beauty as if seeing it for the first time. The different shades of green in the grass, bushes and trees. The sky seemed enormous and the expanse of the earth seemed to go on forever, unbroken by man-made structures. Every now and then an elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest or waterbuck put in an appearance. A yellow-billed kite then a bateleur soared in the sky. I felt privileged, really lucky to be able to experience all this wildness and peace so other than my normal life.
Another exciting moment presented itself. We saw a stationary car up ahead. I was in the back seat and looked left. The Earl looked right. “Lions!” he said. And I slid over to the right. There under a tree were three lionesses preparing for a nap.
At 9:30 we arrived at Mopani for breakfast. The Fish Eagle Terrace overlooks Pioneer Dam and is such a pleasant place to enjoy your morning meal. Afterwards we walked to the deck below to observes some birds.
We then went to the park shop as Letaba’s burnt down store is still not rebuilt. As we were leaving we heard the call of the Klaas’s Cuckoo. It was loud and obviously the bird was very close, up in the leafy green tree. “Let’s put our shopping in the car and come back and have a good look, ” suggested the Earl. This bird is always elusive and I had my doubts that we would find him but it was worth a try. The temperature was already in the thirties so seeking it in the heat was not very comfortable. After several frustrating minutes the Earl saw it and with his help I found it too. Now to get a photograph – what a joke! It kept flying from one branch to another and expertly hid itself in the foliage, teasing us with its loud ‘matie, matie, matie,’ call.
Thank you Mr Klaas, I appreciate your being so obliging.
Who would have thought that a national park would have so many zebra crossings. No, not the stripy things across the road, real zebra crossing over! We had plenty of those as well as buffalo mowing the edges of the road.
We arrived at Letaba a midday and it was probably about 40 degrees C. We are only here for one night so we did not even set up the awning but found a nice perimeter site with a concrete slab on which to park the caravan. Once we had the caravan level on its stays the Earl went off to the pool and I took a load of washing to the laundrette and then joined him a few minutes later.
After half an hour I nipped back to take the laundry out of the machine and popped it into the dryer. It’s R20 well spent, I believe. We then spent another hour or so in the pool and had just got back to the caravan when a strong wind blew up. Our neighbours were out and their tent looked like it would blow away so the Earl and I quickly did some securing. And then down came the rain. We were going to go for a drive but decided against it. We did not want to find ourselves caught in a storm outside of the camp. How strange that from a perfectly calm day such heavy rain can suddenly disturb your plans! It lasted for about two hours and then stopped.
When our young neighbours returned, nothing had blown away but their gazebo was wet and they needed to pack it up for departure tomorrow. They soon had it dried and their pack up went smoothly.
The weather cleared sufficiently for us to make a lovely braai and sit outdoors to enjoy it.
As I finish this post, I hear hyaena laughing, the barred owl screeching and the scops owl competing with its less harsh, intermittent prrrp. The cicadas for once are totally silent. I shall soon be drifting off into a wonderfully peaceful sleep.
Every year, Birdlife South Africa encourages birders to take part in Big Birding Day no matter where they are in the country. The idea is to chalk up as many different species in 24 hours within a radius of 50km. Species seen or heard may be recorded between midnight on Friday 27 November to Midnight on Saturday 28 November. Teams can be up to four people working together. In order to take part in the competition, you need to register beforehand and most of the competitors use BirdLaser to record their sightings. The Earl and I have never treated birding as a sport but we thought today it would be fun to see how many species we could get in a day. We came nowhere near the bird nerds who competed officially! We cannot believe that some managed over 300 species in a single day! Our neighbours got over 60 but they birded in a bigger area than we did. We just did the Mahonie Loop and the tar road which was a distance of about 30km. Our starting time was 7:30 am until 11:30 am and then again from 13:30 to 16:30. It was raining most of the morning and only started clearing up at around 15:00. We chalked up 47 species and enjoyed every moment. I have posted some of the photos of the birds we saw as well as some of the other creatures.
The rains have come and the impala moms are dropping their lambs. This morning we were delighted to see lots of little ones gamboling about and enjoying being alive.
It dawned bright and beautiful after the cool weather of yesterday. We packed a picnic breakfast, had a quick cup of coffee and were on the road to Pafuri by 5:30 am. We are now in the Northern sandveld area of the park. The sandveld has sandy, well-drained soils supporting a range of vegetation with no particular dominant species. Characteristic trees of the sandveld include pod mahogany, nyala, southern lala-palm , fever tree. mopane and, of course, the baobab. It is a wonderful area for birding.
The weather today started out sunny with clear skies and the temperature reached 33 degrees C. However, later in the afternoon storm clods built up and wind started to blow. We thought we might have a storm but it blew over. It was cool this evening. I cooked chicken curry in my electric Ramosca pot. No creatures came to the waterhole. We shall see what the morrow brings.
Apologies for neglecting this travel tale for the past few days. I received the final PDF manuscript of “A Judge Decided” and had to read through and make sure that all was fine for printing and publishing. This is now done and dusted.
On 24 November we left Letaba and drove the tar road to Shingwedzi. We wanted to spend four nights there but when we changed our bookings last week we were told the campsite was full. To our surprise we found this not to be so. The website certainly shows that there are no campsites available but in reality the camp was not even at 10 per cent capacity. Who knows what is going on!
It was very hot on Tuesday and after setting up we went to have breakfast at the restaurant. We were the only guests at Tindlovu. I asked for scrambled eggs and no toast but got fried eggs and toast. The Earl ordered a wrap and all was well. How they managed to get my order wrong when there was nobody else to confuse me with is a complete mystery. I decided not to send it back and enjoyed it anyway.
We went on a brief drive but there was not much going on in the extreme heat. The next day was cooler and we had some lovely sightings. Today we saw very little as we travelled from Shingwedzi to Punda Maria. It was a lot cooler and there was even some rain. There are lots of puddles in the veld so the animals were not at the waterholes. It was lovely to pack up and set up in the cooler weather. Some of the sites at Punda were still flooded from the storm they had three days ago. We found a suitable spot and have a view of the waterhole.
I am just posting some highlight photographs of the past three days.
Tuesday’s Drive – Shingwedzi
Wednesday’s Drive Shingwedzi
Today’s Drive – Punda Maria
As I write, I can hear lions roaring. Hopefully we will find them on tomorrow’s drive.
We got to bed late after celebrating at the restaurant last night. Late, in Kruger is after eight o’clock! So we only start our day at half past seven this morning and it is already 26 degrees C. We travel the S94, S46, S93 and S44, before stopping at Olifants Rest Camp for breakfast.
It is a slow start to our game drive. We see nothing on S94. On the S46 we spot the odd small group of elephants and some zebra.
The S93 produces absolutely nothing but we start seeing a few creatures on the S44.
The most exciting thing to capture our attention is an African Pied Wagtail. We laugh at our own excitement at seeing this bird.
And then my favourite animal puts in an appearance.
At the ‘alien crossing’ we find our friendly terrapins and an emerald spotted wood-dove.
We arrive at Olifants at half past nine and sit on the deck overlooking the river.
The Olifants River is appropriately named as here, and all through the rest of our drive, we find elephants enjoying what little water is in the river bed.
We enjoy our breakfast then go to the shop to get a few provisions for dinner tonight. I buy some gifts for the younger Kokstad kids. Shh Don’t tell them!
We continue to explore the H8, S92, S90 and S89 before turning onto the H1-4 back to Letaba.
We stop on the H1-4 bridge where you may get out of the car in the demarkated area.
We continue to see more of the usual gang but just two more photos before I sign off.
Tomorrow is moving day. Shingwedzi is our next camp.
Today we sleep in late – well late by Kruger standards. It’s my birthday and I can sleep late if I want to! We leave camp at 6:00 am and take a slow drive to Mopani. The Earl says he’s sent messages to the animals and has told them to come out and wish me. I am just happy to be in my most favourite place in the world on my birthday. This might be the last time I spend a birthday in Kruger as we are seriously thinking of changing our annual visit to a cooler month. Last year is was not this hot! We have air con in the car and the caravan and this helps us cope but when you have to do anything strenuous like chop wood or pack up and set up the heat can be exhausting. We might just try May next time.
At six o’clock it is already 23 degrees C. I am wearing a summer dress and don’t even need to throw a shawl over my shoulders as I usually do for the first part of the drive. Most of the creatures have received the Earl’s message and the first to greet me are the impala. There are still very few lambs.
At Nhlangini Dam view point the hippos are excited to see me. They snort and grunt a Happy Birthday greeting.
The fish eagle is a bit shy and won’t come too close
As we continue our drive we see the usual gang and are pleased that the Tsessebe are not too shy.
After receiving this great gift we continue to Shipandani Hide and watch the buffalo come down to drink. They give me some lovely birthday entertainmnet.
Breakfast at The Fish Eagle Terrace is lovely as usual. My phone does not stop pinging with messages from friends and family. I appreciate every one of them, thank you. My birthday surprises are all the creatures I see.
On our return trip the temperature rises even more and by the time we get back at one o’clock it is 39 degrees C.
We do some chores, take a nap and then go for a swim but do not go out again in the afternoon. At six o’clock we go to the restaurant for a celebratory dinner.
We are surprised to hear German spoken at the table next to us. “The borders must be open,” I say to the Earl. He goes over to chat to the four young men. Yes, they are from Switzerland and are loving visiting South Africa and KNP. We have a lovely chat to them and encourage them to come back soon. They want to go fishing and the Earl tells them exactly which charter company to contact. Next time they need to visit us in Struisbaai so the Earl can take them himself.
It is a lovely end to our day. As I write I can hear rain on the caravan roof. How welcome it is! Let’s see what surprises tomorrow brings.
It is an early start this morning. The cicadas are ringing in our ears as we wake and get ready for the day. At quarter past five we leave Letaba and make our way to Mopani Rest Camp for breakfast. We had heard hyaena laughing and lion roaring in the distance but will we find them?
It is a cool 23 degrees, there is no wind and the sky is slightly cloudy. It promises to be a ‘cool’ day. In fact temperatures do not rise above 30 degrees C and the average hovers around 28. Believe me that is cool by Kruger standards.
We decide to have a competition today. I keep the list and whoever sees the first of a species for the day gets a point. In the case of birds one has to be able to identify the species correctly to get the point otherwise the other gets a point too.
I believe I am the better spotter and The Earl believes that he is. He complains that being the driver puts him at a disadvantage as he has to concentrate on the road. I say that driving keeps him alert and aware of his surroundings while I have to keep the list so my head is often down updating which puts me at more of a disadvantage. Also I have from time to time check my bird app to ensure we have correctly identified a species. It is agreed that we are evenly matched and the game is on!
I am the first to spot an animal – A hyaena but it dashes away and the photos is blurred. We see a fellow camper, Dave, who is travelling alone. We pull up next to him and he tells us he is waiting for the lions that we heard to appear. We don’t have the same patience and move on and then stop to look down on the river where there is quite a bit of bird activity. This is fun – there are lots of birds to spot and the Earl is the first to get Burchell’s coucal, grey heron, little swift and fish eagle. He also sees the hippo first. I get grey hornbill, great white egret and green-backed heron. He is beating me and I don’t like it!
I then spot the squacco but the Earl spies a brown-crowned tchagra. I’m not winning at this game!
An eagle drops down and we are both foxed as to what it could be. It strikes me that it’s an immature something or other so I suggest it could be a fish eagle. Upon checking I find that I am right so claim a point for that! The Earl is not amused.
We continue our drive and see the usual gang of gnus, necks of giraffe, zip of zebra, clumps of elephant and even a warthog, ostrich and another two hyaena. The competition is becoming close. At the confluence lookout we find Saddle-billed and Woolly-necked stork
He then finds jacana, spoonbill, stilt, Egyptian Goose and wattled starling. I claim a point for identifying the latter.
We move on stopping at various points beside the river to find still more birds. Soon we are pretty even but the Earl is still ahead.
On the River Loop we are told by a fellow traveller that there are lion in the dry river bed. We look with our binoculars and find a pride of lionesses lounging in the sun. They are too far for a photo but a few km further one of the pride is guarding their kill – not a good photo either but it’s an impression shot.
When we stop at Mopani’s Fish Eagle Terrace for breakfast, the Earl is still ahead but I’m gaining fast. He leaves his binoculars in the car but I take mine and my camera too.
The Tindlovu restaurants in Kruger offer a lovely menu and their “The One” breakfast for under R50 is perfect. It’s supposed to be one egg, one piece of bacon, one grilled tomato and one slice of toast but they add an extra egg at no added cost. Their coffee is good too.
We sit at a table on the deck which overlooks the river. The birdlife is awesome and I start spotting one after another. The Earl says, “I’m not spotting now – it’s breakfast time.” “You can spot while you wait,” I reply. But he doesn’t want to play. I claim the points anyway!
After breakfast, I have almost caught up to the Earl in points! On our way to Shipandani Hide we find a car whose occupants are staring into the bush. They point out a male lion. Nearby is a Tsessebe that he and his mate have killed and half eaten. The lion is hiding behind the leaves of a mopane tree.
The female is asleep nearby but something disturbs her and she gets up to sniff around before flopping down again. We manage to get some photographs
As we approach Shipandani we find a huge herd of buffalo
We also visit pioneer dam and find a cute hippo having a nap.
By now it is time for a loo break so we go to Mooiplaas picnic site which is another of the wonderful rustic sites in the Kruger National Park. Phineas is in charge here and he makes sure everything is pristine. While I am at the loo, the Earl chats to him and he shows him where an owl resides.
Phineas also takes us to Tsendze Camp to see the barred owl but he is not there. But back at Mooiplaas Phineas has a surprise.
This is certainly the highlight of my day.
Other creatures we see and score points for.
We return to camp at about one o’clock and rest during the heat of the day. At quarter to four we go out again and do the Mingerhout loop. It is quite quiet but we get some interesting sightings
There are quite a few elephants too and the usual yellow-billed storks, spoonbills, Egyptian Geese etc. From time to time we hear red-crested korhaan calling but they refuse to show themselves. Then the Earl spots one camouflaging quite well. We hear the clack, clacking of its beak and then the piercing whistle. Suddenly he flies up into the air, curls up into a ball and free-falls to the earth. This is an amazing display he does in order to impress a mate!
We arrive back at camp at six o’clock. I am the winner of the competition with 30 points to The Earl’s 26. My prize is to cook dinner! I make a chicken casserole in my electric Romosca pot. It has been a wonderful day!
We are both awake before four o’clock this morning. I step out of the caravan and is a surprise to find that it is overcast and cool. Last night the wind disturbed our sleep but this morning it is calm. There is a spit and a spot of rain. I head to the ablutions and have a leisurely shower and then return to make our morning brew before we head out on a game drive.
After yesterday’s temperature high of 41 degrees C it is lovely to have a cool start to the day. For Kruger temperatures in the mid-twenties are considered ‘cool’ and we enjoy the relief from the extreme heat.
The King of the Beasts’ message about all lockdown restrictions being lifted has not reached Letaba. We drive all over the place and see niks, nada, nothing! The creatures are hiding in their nests, dens and lairs. Even the bad days are good when you are travelling in Kruger. Here are the photos of the ‘nothing’ that we see.
At a quarter past nine, we arrive at Olifants where we meet Jim and Maureen for breakfast. Yesterday they had to go to Hoedspruit for car repairs and while they were there they got us a new step for the caravan. It is cool so we sit indoors and enjoy a lovely meal together.
We leave after eleven o’clock. The sightings on the way home are somewhat better.
At camp our neighbour shows me the Scops Owl and the Barred Owlet has returned to our tree. Yesterday I miss identified him as a Pearl Spotted – Apologies for that. The Pearl Spotted is similar and more commonly seen and I did not properly check to see which one it was.
The cicadas were very noisy yesterday but today we hardly hear them. They start up this evening as if someone has flipped an on-switch
They are quite harmless but scary when they fly into you. And when they find themselves trapped in the caravan and you sweep them out with a broom they scream like babies. This evening very few of them bother us as we braai before it gets dark and don’t switch on any lights to attract them.
It is quarter to five. I wake to the sound of the dawn chorus and drag myself off to the ablutions. Today is moving day. It takes just under an hour to pack up and get ready to move. Maureen and Jim drop round to say farewell. They will continue on at Satara and we arrange to meet at Olifants Camp for breakfast tomorrow.
It is already quite hot when we leave at five past six. We stick to the tar road as we are towing.
The first creatures to greet us are some wildebeest and zebra. A car up ahead is looking intently at them. We pass by and I say, “He’s looking rather intently – perhaps he is seeing something else. The Earl obediently stops.
Yes we nearly miss her but we watch and follow as she continues on her mission. The other car drives off.
Thanks to the other car for alerting us to a lovely hyaena sighting. Sorry he missed the second one.
Soon we find ourselves in the land of mopane trees. Spotting game in amongst them is not easy but they are very pretty. In some parts we are next to the Letaba River and from time to time we spot a few things.
I am sitting next to the back left passenger window. My head is down checking my photographs. The Earl comes to a sudden halt. Terrified, I look up and see Horace Hyaena staring me straight in the eye.
The Earl is laughing. “I didn’t realise I was looking at a creature until this rock moved!” Next we come upon a herd of buffalo crossing the road and slipping behind the Mopanes
It’s eight o’clock when we arrive at Letaba. We check in and find a suitable campsite under the shady Mopanes. We need to fill the caravans water tanks and there is a tap nearby. The Earl un-hitches the caravan, takes out the hose and finds it is not long enough! But he is a man with a plan and although the roof is already up and the stands are down he decides to tow the caravan into position to reach the tap. He lifts the stands, hitches up again and I guide him forward. He then fills the tanks and reverses back to our original spot. I am most grateful as this will save me going to the camp kitchen to wash up.
With the setting up complete we are now thirsty and hungry. We go to the restaurant for breakfast.
Letaba’s Tindlovu restaurant has a wonderful view across the valley. Sadly it is quite dry and much rain is still needed.
The internet is down and the card machine does not work. The Earl leaves his name and number and promises to come back later as we don’t have cash.
We go for a game drive and decide to stop in at Olifant’s camp, 32 km away. Letaba’s shop burned down a few weeks ago and has still not been rebuilt. We can shop at Olifant’s and get cashback if they’re unaffected by the internet disaster. How reliant we have become on modern technology, even in the African bush!
We do not see much on our drive there – it is already very hot – 41 degrees C. At Olifants we buy a few groceries and get some cash from the check-out. Then we go to the deck where you can look down on the Olifant’s River
We then go to the petrol station to refuel. The attendant notices the left front tyre looks a bit soft. He checks it and finds it has a puncture which he plugs for us. What a star for noticing.
On our drive back we have a few interesting sightings but mostly in the distance making photography tricky. Here are just a few I can’t resist showing you.
There is a workshop at Letaba and when we return the Earl takes the car there so they can properly fix the puncture. Our spare is a ‘biscuit’ and we don’t want to drive in the park on that! The Earl is very impressed with the service he receives from the workshop.
Letaba is a beautiful, shady campsite and the facilities are the best we have had so far.
Letaba camp is famous for its owls especially the Scops Owl which resides in the mapane trees. This morning a neighbour who was about to leave told us that they had seen the owl in the tree under which we set up.
This evening as we prepare our braai we hear an owl but it is not the call of the scops.
Later we hear the Scops but it is too dark to find him. Tomorrow we shall look again.