I am making the most of the South African Lifestyle and hope with my blog to share some of the adventures my husband and I are having in our retirement. We live at the Southern Tip of Africa in the small coastal town of Struisbaai. Earl and I have a Gecko off-road caravan and we travel around South Africa frequently. We are bird and wild life enthusiasts so are often in game reserves.
Today was a very long day. It was warm at first but became cooler as the day wore on. It was quite windy too. The skies clouded over and rain threatened but all we got was a spit and a spot later in the afternoon and evening.
At 08:20 we found ourselves at Shithave Dam but did not stay long as there were a number of cars and more arrived before we left.
We then took the H1-1 and passed groups of curious impies, kudu, giraffe and zebra.
The male ground hornbill has a pink skin patch on his throat while the female’s is violet blue. Sometimes it is difficult to see.
We also popped in at Transport Dam
We continued along the H1-1 and were thrilled to see all the creatures along the way.
Much of our route took us along the river and across weirs, low and high bridges. Where there is water, you will usually find animals.
Crossing the bridge on the H1-2 we spotted a fish eagle.
We were entertained by more creatures as we moved on.
As we got closer to Lower Sabie the traffic on the road became worse. It is a popular route because of the Sabie River and the abundance of animals especially lion and leopard. Today there were no less than three serious road blocks because cars would not adhere to the rule to stay on the side of the sighting and leave the other side free so people can take their photographs and move on. The worst one was for a leopard in a tree. We never got to see it because of the traffic jam. It turned out that it was so hidden that it was hardly worth the trouble to find it. By this time we were hungry and wanted to get to Lower Sabie for our lunch and so we concentrated on taking the first gap and dashed through quickly. There were two more roadblocks after that and it took an hour to do a distance that normally takes 15 minutes!
We managed to glimpse lions at the second roadblock.
The third one was ridiculous. The lions were all fast asleep and would be for hours. There was absolutely no point for so many cars to block the road in anticipation of the creatures waking up.
It was quite cold when we arrived at Lower Sabie but we were lucky enough to get a table in a sheltered spot on the Mug and Bean deck. We were all a bit rattled by having to fight traffic in a game reserve and decided to get back to Pretoriuskop as soon as we could. We did not stop to photograph too much.
We visited Sunset Dam just outside the camp before and after lunch.
We were tired so did not stop for very much more on the way back to camp. However, who can resist babies
Our last stop was at Mathekenyane
As we’d had a good lunch at Lower Sabie we did not cook but instead warmed up some pies for supper and then it was into our cosy caravans for our second last night at Pretoriuskop.
It was 18 degrees C when we left camp this morning and it remained a pleasantly warm day reaching a high of 26. We left Pretoriuskop at 07:45 and shortly thereafter three little pigs crossed the road in front of us.
We then took the S7 and S10 which wound through the typical rocky outcrops of the Pretoriuskop area.
This is typical klipspringer territory and we were not disappointed.
This area is not the best for seeing animals but we did have a few interesting sightings.
The S3 was a little more productive.
Next we took the S4 which was uncomfortable to drive due to it being quite corrugated. On the S1 we found Giraffe and Ground Hornbill
Our destination was the Lake Panic hide near Skukuza and we spent a while there before going to Skukuza for lunch. The lake was fuller than I have ever seen it.
After lunch at Skukuza’s Cattle Baron we made our way back to camp stopping at first Transport Dam, and then Shithave Dam. It was difficult to find a place to park at both of them so once we’d taken a few photographs we did not linger.
The park is busier than we have ever seen it. It is not school holiday time and it’s an off season month which is usually a good time to come if you don’t want crowds at your favourite spots. We think the reason for the sudden influx into the park is because Gauteng private schools did not close at the usual time but did lessons online right through Lockdown. When the president announced that the borders were open and things could return to normal they were given their delayed holidays in the month of August.
When we got back to camp we did a bit of shopping at the Park Shop and did the usual camp chores. Dinner was chicken casserole and it was early to bed!
Today was moving day. The distance between Satara and our next destination was 140 kilometres so we were up bright and early and had the caravan hitched and ready for departure by 07:15. We only travel on the main roads when towing and travelling between camps. The rule is that we try to get to the next camp as quickly as possible but Murphy always ensures that something will delay our progress. Today was no exception. Why, when we are towing a caravan, do we invariably have exceptional sightings!
Early into our trip we spotted two stationary cars up ahead. When we drew closer I spotted a cheetah on the move.
Cathy and Alec were just behind us and called on the walkie-talkie, “What do you see?” “Two cheetah,” I replied having spotted a second one. ” They’re on the move, try to get a photo. We can’t reverse.”
Female cheetahs are usually solitary unless they have cubs with them. Some males are solitary while others form coalitions with their brothers. These two cheetahs were probably brothers hunting together.
Not fifteen minutes later we had another interruption.
Next we stopped to photograph three very handsome buffalo boys. “Take the photo quickly,” said the Earl. “They’re going to cross the road. I will move on so Cathy can get her photo.”
As Cathy was snapping her photos of the buffalo on the other side, Alec called out, “Hey, look over there!”
Buffalo are the lion’s favourite food but it takes more than one to bring one down. As the females do most of the hunting, this male would have no chance of handling three who soon became aware that he was there.
Alec’s walkie talkie battery had gone flat so we were quite unaware of the drama that had taken place when we stopped at Tshokwane for a loo break and to get the chargers out of the caravan. After seeing the buffalo on one side of the road we hadn’t thought to check the other side!
The rest of the trip was quieter. We stopped at Skukuza for breakfast and arrived at Pretoriuskop at 13:00
At 815 this morning it was overcast and the temperature was 20 degrees C. We decided to have a cereal breakfast before we left for our game drive. We packed a flask and snacks to have when we got to the rustic picnic site, Muzandzeni. Our morning drive was not very interesting with long stretches of seeing nothing but grass, bush and trees. The roads we travelled were the H1-3, H7 and S45 until we reached the picnic site. Our return trip took us along the S126 and the H1-3 south. We decided to visit Nkaya dam which had been so enjoyable yesterday, before returning to camp at 13:00. Even the slowest days produce something so I am posting the highlights below.
Travelling back on the H1-3 the Earl and I fell behind Alec and Cathy when the Earl stopped to photograph a tree. “This is a very special tree,” he said. “Look what a perfect shape it is and what beautiful yellow blossoms it has.” He took a photograph.
“I’ll take a close-up of the leaves and blossoms,” I said. “Perhaps we can find it in my tree book.” To be honest, I am never sure if my tree identifications are correct. I find trees a bit confusing so if anybody reading this knows the name of this tree, please let me know in the comments, WhatsApp or FaceBook.-
As I clicked the Earl called out, “Hey – there’s an owl in the tree!”
When we returned to camp we had a rest and then packed up in preparation for tomorrow’s departure to Pretoriuskop and then went for a short drive on H1-4 at 16:15. We had heard that a pride of nine lions had been seen 12 km from camp. We didn’t think that we would see anything but when we arrived at the scene there were quite a few cars parked, so clearly the lions were still in residence. Cathy and Alec decided not to stay to look at inactive lions but the Earl and I had found a reasonable spot with a view. We waited a while to see if anything happened. At first we saw nothing. Then while scanning in the distance I spotted one who obligingly raised her head.
After a while more bagan to stir and the Earl got some lovely shots.
So the cats did not get up and walk toward us and it was our turn to do supper. We had to get back to camp. On the way there we saw very little but on the way back everybody was out to play including a huge herd of buffalo. Be careful, buffs, you might be on the lion’s menu tonight!
We had a very interesting day today. We left camp at 07:45 and followed the H1-3 before turning down to check out the Nkaya Dam. Then we followed the S33 and S36 to Nhlangulela Picnic Site. Our return took us along the S36, S125 including the Nwaswitsontso loop then back onto the H1-3 reaching camp at 12:55.
We were delighted at what we saw when we arrived at Nkaya Dam. It was clearly the right time of day to be there as a variety of creatures were taking the waters. Our cameras did not stop clicking and choosing which to post in today’s report was quite challenging. Sometimes it’s the little things that give us the most pleasure. Of course it is thrilling to see the big five but watching animals and birds interacting at the waterhole is just priceless.
There was a lot of coming and going and plenty of greeting and mingling.
After enjoying our time at the waterhole we continued on and enjoyed the usual creatures but the next highlight was on the S36 just before Lugmag Dam.
We stopped for coffee at Nhlanguleni Picnic Site where there is a waterhole. Some impala were having a drink.
Today we did quite a long morning drive. We started on the H1-4 then did the S89, S90 and S41, before returning to Satara via the S100. We saw a lovely variety of birds and animals. I am posting the highlights and letting the photos tell their own story today.
We arrived back at camp at 13:30. After doing camp chores and having a rest, Cathy and Alec went for a short drive at 16:00, but the Earl and I decided to stay in camp. They returned after an hour to say we hadn’t missed much except for some lovely hippo.
Apologies for being missing in action for the past two days. The internet at Satara is not that great at the best of times but for the past two days it has been down completely. I will try to catch up as quickly as possible.
Sunday 22 August 2021
Today’s weather was not very pleasant. It was overcast, windy and cold. All dressed up in jeans and jerseys we left camp at 07:50 with the Everest in the lead. We started our drive on the H1-4.
The first excitement of the day came in the form of two very large birds.
“Oh – look – a Secretary Bird! Two Secretary birds!” Then one took off and flew to the other side of the road. We could not see it but Cathy and Alec could.
Then just after that another member of the Big Six birds of Kruger National Park made an appearance.
The Big Six Birds to seek are Pel’s Fishing Owl, Kori Bustard, Ground Hornbill, Secretary Bird, Martial Eagle and Saddle-billed Stork. We have seen five of the six this trip and there is little chance of getting the elusive Pel’s!
At 08:25 we turned onto the Ntomeni Road. As we were looking in the trees for birds the Earl stopped when he saw one that looked familiar. “What’s that,” he asked. “It looks different to the lilac-breasted roller.” And it was indeed a cousin, but even in the dull light the Earl noticed something was not quite right.
We then followed the S40 toward Timbavati Picnic Site. Just before the turnoff we came to the bridge that crosses the river. A few cars were stationary on the bridge and on the other side. And for good reason. Lions had made a kill and were busy with buffalo for breakfast.
We managed to get a few photos and then went to the Timbavati where we planned to cook our own breakfast but the wind was gusty and it was very cold so we just had coffee and then returned to the lions before continuing.
We followed the S39 and stopped at Ratel Hide but there was not much going on there. However, we enjoyed watching a crake and Cathy managed to get a photo of a three-banded plover.
Back on the road we stopped from time to time to photograph those creatures who would oblige. Some helmet-shrikes flew into a tree and one kindly perched in a suitable position for just the right enough of time to snap his portrait.
Looking down from an omrit overlooking the river we saw a lovely riverside scene.
There were plenty of impies about.
At 11:15 we turned onto the H1-4 and continued to see more creatures
Back at camp we made scrambled eggs for brunch, had a rest and then went back for a drive on the S100. We saw herds of zebra, wildebeest and waterbuck but we dipped on the lions that are often found on this road.
I woke up at quarter to five this morning. It was dark and still and as I was unable to blog due to internet problems last night I quietly booted up my laptop desperately hoping that I would not wake the Earl He slept on. I was done by six and as I started getting up I heard the pitter patter of raindrops on the caravan roof. Uh oh how would this affect our day? It did not last long and I was able to get to the bathroom without getting wet.
Everybody was ready to leave for our game drive at quarter past seven. It was very overcast and drizzly and the temperature was 17 degrees C. We went in tandem with Cathy and Alec and drove to Tshokwane for breakfast then did Orpen Dam before travelling back on the H10, S 32,S35, S37 visited Sweni Hide and N’wanetzi Picnic site and then home via the H6 and H1-3
H1-3 7:15 to 9:15
With the weather being overcast and chilly with a spit and a spot of rain it was not surprising that most of the creatures kept a low profile. Those who did dain to appear were not easy to photograph in the poor light. However, with three of us taking photographs we managed to persuade some of them to pose.
The first birds to make an appearance were white-crested helmetshrikes. These birds tend to fly in an cohesive group from tree to tree. You see them quite clearly but then they disappear into the foliage. One of them politely posed for me in a dead tree.
Elephants are more willing than birds to have their portraits taken. Several showed up this morning and they were all very polite and did not mess with us once. Perhaps the misty cool, misty weather put th
The weather today was cool and overcast starting at 13 degrees C and going up to 24 degrees C. The Earl and I left at seven o’clock. Cathy and Alec left a little later and did a different route.
We haven’t seen many warthogs this trip but today on the H6 they appaeared to greet us.
Next we came across a gorgeous giraffe walking in the veld and noticed a fork-tailed drongo close at his heels. When he stopped to look at us the drogo waited patiently in a tree. The clever bird knew that Gandolf Giraffe would disturb more grasshoppers for him to catch soon.
There was not much besides some hippo and a fish eagle at Nesamani Dam
On the S 40 we found more creatures
There were also quite a few male kudu travelling together
The S100 was unusually quiet but we found lots of waterbuck and some birds most of whom refused to pose.
After our morning drive we returned to camp and compared notes with Alec and Cathy over a lovely breakfast cooked by the Earl. They had been on the S 40 too but went a little further than we did and found Wild Dog!
Other morning highlights
In the afternoon we also left at different times and did slightly different routes but met up on the S100.
Our final sighting on the S100 was a lion. He caused a huge traffic jam but refused to greet the tourists. We weaved our way through as soon as we could. Cathy got the best photograph.
As I dropped off to sleep last night I heard the gruntings and snortings of hippo grazing in the grasslands next to the fence of campsite six where our Gecko caravans were parked. It was a lovely lullaby to doze off too. But a few hours later the incredibly loud shrieking laughter of a spotted hyaena jerked me from my slumbers. And they say the city is noisy! Well, these sounds are preferable to the shrill of police sirens, the angry hooting of cars, and the bee baa bee baa of ambulances racing to some horrible accident scene. I checked the time to find there were still a few hours to sunrise and I soon dropped off again. It was just before six when the sound of the neighbour’s car alarm awoke me. Oh dear, even in the bush civilization creeps in.
The Earl awoke too and was eager to get packed up and on the road to our next destination. “Hurry, hurry,” he said. “We must get to Satara. The “Early” bird gets the best spot!” By Ten to Seven we were packed up and ready to go. “Go work your magic,” said Alec. “Get us a good caravan site! You can do it!” Oh, the pressure, Alec, the pressure!
“We’re not stopping for anything!” said the Earl as we drove down the H1-5, and for several kilometers, there was not a thing to be spotted among the Mopani trees. We were slightly delayed when we saw some cars up ahead looking into the mess of Mopani. We came alongside one of the cars and asked, “What have you seen?”
“Wild Dog,” came the reply and pointed but we couldn’t see anything. Other cars were reversing to where they probably were but of course, that was not an option with the caravan in tow so we carried on.
It was an hour before we hit our first roadblock. “You’re going to have to stop,” I teased. “Guineafowl crossing the road” What funny creatures they are. Although they’re perfectly capable of flying they prefer to walk and we have seen huge flocks of them strutting about the park.
When the H1-5 changed to the H1-4 the mopane trees started to thin out and the vegetation changed to grass and scattered trees. No more mopane trees limiting our view to 25 cm into the bush!
Baboons entertained us on the Olifants bridge. We weaved our way through them and the traffic and did not stop to look for waterbirds or any other creatures that might be about. We just snapped the baboons and continued our race to Satara. After all, the pressure was on. Get to Satara – find a camp spot. I’d checked the website the night before to see how booked up it was – no vacancies in the campsite at all!
“What now?” the Earl was in a panic. “Seven cars stopping for zebra?” Only one was crossing the road so the Earl started to pass the line of stationary cars.
“I’m sure they’ve spotted something else,” I said. And a second later – “Stop! Leopard!” I saw a beautiful leopard lying in the grass. The Earl edged forward so I could look back through a gap. The leopard had already stood up and was walking off into the bush. “Too late,” I cried. “He’s gone!” But I saw him – and he was wonderful.
From then on we saw more and more game. The open plains revealed the creatures of the Kruger National Park in large numbers. What a change it was from the north. We saw elephants, buffalo, impala, zebra and wildebeest, and of course, the elegant giraffe. “We’re not stopping for photos,” said The Earl. “Time is running out. We have to get that special site!” But he did indulge me for just a few. Alec and Cathy were a little way behind us and took photos too.
We arrived at Satara at five minutes past nine and found the campground was pretty full. At first, it looked like no perimeter spots were available so we drove around looking for good shade, near the ablution block, close to the camp kitchen and not on top of other campers. Then right in the left-hand corner of the park, we found a vacant perimeter site!
“It’s too small,” I said. “Two caravans can’t fit here!’
“Of course they can,” the Earl replied. “With movers anything is possible.” We got out of the car and examined the site. Yes, it would do. I had shade. It was not far from the ablutions and both caravans could certainly fit comfortably. Our right-hand neighbour welcomed us with, “Isn’t this a lovely spot.” “Yes,” I replied. “Has it just been vacated?” “No, they left a few hours ago. But look, you’re just in time. Here comes another caravan seeking a spot. Lucky indeed! The other caravan had to settle for a site without shade on the other side of our left-hand neighbour.
We were just starting to set up when Cathy and Alec arrived. “Wow,” said Alec. “You’ve worked your magic again. This is a fabulous site!” Phew – we did it!
Once we’d set up and settled in we went to the restaurant for breakfast. By midday, the temperature was well in the thirties. Cathy and Alec decided to do a short late-afternoon drive on the Orpen Road while the Earl and I left a little earlier and did a longer route that included a visit to Sweni Hide and the S100.
On the H1-3 we crossed a bridge and spotted some ellies enjoying a drink in the river.
We then took the H6 and stopped when I spotted two kori bustards. One of them posed quite nicely.
Then just ahead a car was stopped and when we came up to them they pointed to a baby hyaena resting under a shady bush. There was no sign of Mom or any other of the clan.
Next, we took the S37 and stopped at Sweni Hide. This is one of my favourite hides in the park as it is very pretty and usually produces something interesting to see. Today I was not disappointed.
At four o’clock we made our way to the S100 for the final leg home.
Our last bird of the day was very special.
Earl got a lovely shot of the sunset as we neared home.
Cathy and Alec also had some lovely sightings on their drive. I am particularly jealous of Cathy’s amazing Pearl-spotted Owlet
Cathy and Alec arrived back a few minutes before we did and Cath took a lovely sunset photo
Supper tonight was a delicious spaghetti bolognese cooked by Cathy. After a very hot day the wind got up slightly and it may rain tonight. While we enjoyed our meal in the cool of the evening a stealthy hyaena patrolled past the fence.