Author Archives: puppy1952

About puppy1952

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.

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 19 Letaba

Friday 13 August 2021

Last night the wind got up and our little caravans got quite a shaking. It was still blowing and the skies were dark with cloud when we woke up this morning. Our plan had been to go to Phalaborwa on Monday but because of the inclement weather, the Earl and I decided to go today instead. Cathy and Alec stayed, did a morning drive but reported that nothing much was seen.

It is just over an hour’s drive to the Phalaborwa Gate and you reach the town straight away. We saw very little on our way there. It seemed as if the animals were hunkering down to shelter from the wind.

But why were we visiting a town in the middle of Limpopo? Well, 42 days previously we’d had our first Pfizer inoculation and we were now due for a second jab. How fortunate that Letaba was close to a town that had a Clicks Pharmacy. I phoned ahead to check that they had vaccines and they assured me that I did not need to make an appointment. Luck, once again, was on our side. We arrived at 9:40 and found two people ahead of us. Within forty-five minutes we had waited our turn, filled in the necessary forms and been jabbed. When we emerged from the nurse’s office there was a queue of more than 10 people!

We popped into the Spur for breakfast and then drove back through the park. If ever you’re in Phalaborwa and need a meal this Spur is lovely – good service, well prepared food and clean rest rooms.

On our drive back we saw a few more animals than coming up but it was still very quiet.

A giraffe road block
A Zebra Crossing
Were they in cahoots?
Lovely creatures
At least we got a decent bird – Little Egret

It was windy and cold for the rest of the day. The Earl had a nap while I did the laundry and then we went for a brief drive at 4 o’clock not having much luck. Cathy and Alec had gone out at 3 and reported having seen very little too.

Always entertaining – so like us aren’t they
Elephants never disappoint
They didn’t block the road today!

We returned to camp at about quarter to six and went straight to the restaurant to see if we could get a table. No way did we feel like cooking outdoors. Sitting outside this evening would not be pleasant. The restaurant was pretty full. All the softie campers were escaping cooking in the cold. I managed to get a table for four indoors. I rang Cathy and Alec to tell them to come when they were ready – we would hold the table. Because of being short staffed and more than usually busy the service was a bit slow but the meal was lovely. Alec, Cathy and I had rump steak and the Earl had ribs, all served with really good chips. We also ordered a Greek salad for the table.

The End

Apologies for not posting last night – NO INTERNET!

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 18 Tzendze to Letaba

We certainly enjoyed our wonderful five days at beautiful Tzendze but all good things must come to an end and this morning we quickly packed up and were on the H1-6 to Letaba by half past seven. It was only a 50 km drive and we wanted to get there as quickly as possible in order to nab a good position. The Earl tried to keep a steady speed and only stopped for road blocks. We did, however, stop to snap a Tsesebe.

The caravan park was pretty full but as the Earl and I entered, we saw two caravans leaving. “Perhaps they’ve left us a suitable spot,” I said hopefully. The first potential one we saw was near the ablution, quite large and very shady. We drove around a bit more thinking we might have to return to it but found an even better one – number 6 right on the perimeter. Cathy and Alec were ten minutes behind us and I rang to tell them where to find us. When they arrived they approved of our choice and before the heat set in we quickly set up and then went to the restaurant for breakfast and to do some shopping at the Park Shop. There is a new temporary one as the lovely old one they had before burned down in October last year. No progress on rebuilding it has been made.

Later in the afternoon the Earl and I did the Mingerhout Loop and Cathy and Alec did the S62.

Our drive was really beautiful taking us next to the river but perhaps because of the heat there wasn’t much activity but we enjoyed the creatures that did come out to greet us.

First up were two very well camouflaged sandgrouse. These creatures crouch at the side of the road and look just like stones until you’re almost upon them.

Male Double-banded Sandgrouse
Female Double-banded Sandgrouse

At a lovely waterhole we found two elephants having a drink to getether.

Hi – long time no see
Give us a hug, then
Lovely to chat – see you again soon.

A treeful of vultures were also on duty. The Earl took some lovely close-up shots

A very handsome Juvenile white-headed Vulture dressed in a fur coat and pantaloons
A rather aloof White-backed Vulture
A male waterbuck with beautiful horns wondered what we were staring at.
Georgie Giraffe hiding his face in his food,

While we were enjoying our drive Cathy and Alec were having some lovely sightings too.

Hippos having a splashing good time
I want friends with all my might, but nobody likes my appetite
I hope nobody uses us for target practice
Mommy Kittlitz Plover?
Let’s reflect on this.
White-fronted bee-eater

There was a lovely sunset this evening.

A beautiful end to a lovely day

Our campsite is proving to be really good. This afternoon an elephant came to visit and this evening a hyaena patrolled along the fence. As I started blogging, I also heard a hippo. Right now the Scops Owls are croaking out their calls to each other.

As we are in a main rest camp again, we have the internet albeit it a bit slow and so I should be able to

get my posts out each evening from now on. Thanks for following and for the lovely comments on WordPress, Facebook and Gecko WhatsApp Group. And thanks to Cathy for allowing me to post some of her fabulous photographs.

Cathy and I both use Canon PowerShot SX HS. The Earl uses a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70

Breaking Away from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 17 Tzendze

Mopani Rest Camp does not have camping but nearby Tzendze is their rustic satellite camp for tents and caravans. Checking in has to be done at Mopani’s reception. There are no baboon or monkey problems here.  There is no shop, no fuel station and no electricity.  The ablutions and kitchens are lit by solar power.   There are fridges and freezers available for the free use of campers .  We were allocated Camp Site 32 on the perimeter and it was perfect for two caravans.  Today was our last day at this awesome camp.

The facilities are beautifully maintained by Rodgerh and Elena.  They are both extremely friendly and helpful.   Rodgerh has a facebook page called Rodgher Tzendze where he regularly posts photographs of the birds he is so passionate about.  Each evening one or both of them come around to greet the guests and to ensure that everyone is happy.

Below I am posting some photos of the facilities.

Campsite 32
One of the ablution blocks
There are three ablution blocks with plenty of showers, loos and basins
What is behind this door?
Omiword – it’s a very private outdoor shower.
The camp kitchen
On one side of the camp kitchen – gas cookers if you need them
On the other – sinks with hot and cold running water

This morning we woke up a little later than usual and only left camp at 8:30.  The Earl needed to finalise things for the replacing of our cracked windscreen so decided to go straight to Mopani, make the necessary phone calls, blog and then have breakfast before going for our game drive so we did not go in tandem with Cathy and Alec today.   The windscreen will be replaced when we are at Berg En Dal and close to Malelane.

It was ‘cold’ today, the maximum temperature only reaching 23 degrees C.   We left Mopani at 10:30 did a long drive on the H14 ending up at Letaba Camp and then drove back on the H1-6.   We arrived back at camp at quarter to four.

We got three lovely birds at Mopani Rest Camp.

A Martial Eagle greeted us from atop a mast outside Mopani Camp
A Green Wood Hoopoe found a snack in the thatch
Is this chat mocking us? (Mocking Cliff Chat)

Once on our drive we started to see the regulars.

An adorable zebra foal sticking close to Mom.
Do you think they want to ride us, Mom?
Just let them try!

Looking down on the river bed we saw zebra and elephants fraternising with each other.

Closer to the road this one flapped her ears at us
The impies were hidden in the long, dry grass – but Ellie would warn them if trouble appeared.

We stopped at Letaba to check out the campsite and to have a coffee at the restaurant. The campsite was pretty full! We hope we find a good site tomorrow.

A bushbuck grazed in front of the deck
A Bird Party – Egyptian goose, Yellow-billed Stork, Grey Heron and Spoonbill

On the H1-6 just outside Letaba we photographed a lovey male kudu resting in the shade of the trees. His friend was nearby too.

What great antlers you have.
Today we saw huge numbers of hippo out of the water. I think because it was cold they came out to catch some rays.
Of course the elephants laughed at us on several occasions by suddenly appearing from nowhere.
How does an elephant hide?
We heard him call that haunting African cry, saw him flying and then the African Fish Eagle landed on the most perfect spot.
Nearing Tzendze we found a heap of buffalo
And not far from them, ellies at the waterhole, with just a single buffalo taking a very deep drink.
He didn’t lift his head the whole time we observed the scene.
Highlight of my day – A Brown Snake-Eagle

Once back at camp took down the canopy and packed up as much as possible. Cathy and Alec provided some delicious pork rashers and steak for the Earl to braai and we had this with potato done in tinfoil on the fire as well as some lovely gems and a salad. We were all feeling a little sad that it would be goodbye to Tzenze the following morning. Lataba here we come!

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 16

When we went to bed last night it was warm and still outdoors.   But as we were dropping off to sleep the wind got up and it blew hard all night.  This morning it had dropped slightly but the skies were overcast and it was chilly.  Well, by tropical standards anyway.  The temperature did not rise above 22 degrees C all day.   However, the wind died down considerably by evening and it did not rain.

Our friends Jim and Maureen from Jeffrey’s Bay arrived at Kruger today.  They had made a last-minute booking and could only get camping at Shingwedzi and Berg en Dal.

This morning the Earl and I drove to Shingwedzi to catch up with them but Cathy and Alec decided to stay at Tzendze to do a few camp chores.  

Shingwedzi is a 60 km drive along the H1-6 and on our way there we did not have many sightings.  We arrived at half-past nine and found our friends in the process of setting up camp.    We spent the morning with them and it was great catching up.  I managed to get the laundry done and posted the blog while waiting for the dryer to complete its cycle.   We will be at Berg en Dal at the same time as J&M so will catch up with them there too.

We left at about 12:30 and our drive back was also very quiet.   When we got to Mopani we did some shopping and bumped into Cathy and Alec who had just had lunch at the restaurant.   We spent the rest of the afternoon in camp doing camp chores and just enjoying the peace of Tzendze.  It was our turn to do dinner and once again the smart space pots and pan were used.  I pan-fried some chicken portions and cooked broccoli, onion, sweet peppers, carrots, and baby marrow in a pot and then mixed in some cheese sauce. 

Here are the highlights of our day.

Munch Munch – breakfast is delicious
Mom is it safe to chat to those people?
Yes, Zebbie – they won’t hurt you.
Digging to China? Whose paws are those next to Mommy?
Oh – it’s Baby!
No road sense at all – I’m coming, Mom!

My favourite sighting of the day – Mr and Mrs Bateleur – Mrs is on the left.

Look left
Look right
Look left again
Then fly!
I’m coming!

Then back at camp I heard the call of an oriole and found him in the tree above my caravan.

Black-headed oriole trying to hide

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 15

Our day began with owls once again.   Before we joined Alec and Cathy on the S50 we quickly drove to Mooiplaas picnic site as the windscreen was not quite clean enough and The Earl wanted to get out and wipe it.   When we stopped I noticed some people pointing and looking into a tree.  I went over and they showed me where two lovely little owls were cuddled up together.

We caught up with Alec and Cathy at one of the waterholes.  They had found kori bustards but they were quite far away.  The Earl got an amusing photo of a windmill and a heron.

We followed on after Cathy and Alec and they alerted us to a small antelope than had been frightened by a wildebeest.

Steenbok nervously looking to see if the wild one hadn’t followed him.

It was fairly quiet for most of our drive but we enjoyed the usual favourites and had fun trying to photograph the ever active chestnut-backed sparrow-larks.

Magpie shrike
Yellow-billed Hornbill looking gorgeous in the bronzed Mopane
Two birds in one tree – Hornbill and Starling
Beauty of the Park – Lilac-breasted Roller
Female chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark
Male chestnut-backed sparrow-lark
An elephant has an advantage at such water tanks

When we were back on the H1-6 Cathy called us on the walkie-talkie. “We have a lioness,” she said. We crept up to where they were parked, found the culprit, snapped her portrait and then made room for others who arrived on the scene.

I consider myself to be a fairly tolerant person but there is one thing that really annoys me and that is bad driving in a game reserve. There are strict speed limits of 50 km/hr on the tar roads and 40 on gravel. Most tourists go even slower than that otherwise much would be missed. Today I was taking a photo of a lovely zebra crossing when a white Polo sped past and right up to the zebra not bothering to wait for them all to cross over. What an idiot!

Who wouldn’t want to wait for these gentle creatures. The Polo took the first gap to get through.

Soon after this there was another roadblock and I wondered if the Polo would be squashed but obviously he’d made it through.

You don’t mess with a giant
This was where the ellies were headed

We had the highest temperatures so far this trip with the maximum going up to 37 degrees C. At 11 we stopped at Mopani for breakfast and then sat in the cool of the foyer to check emails, social media and to blog.

Back at camp we discovered a hippo napping in the bush near the fence – a photo was impossible. He stayed there until just before we left for our afternoon drive when he awoke, yawned and took his leave. I have no idea why he would be out of the water in the heat of the day.

When I went to check on the woodowl in the camp kitchen, he was still there and this time with his eyes open.

We left for our afternoon drive at quarter to four and followed the H14 in the hope of finding a hyaena den we’d seen on a previous visit. It was very quiet and at half past four we turned around without having seen much. Cathy was driving their vehicle and took the lead. We hung back to take photos of a korhaan.

Female Red-crested Korhaan – We saw the male a little further on but he would not pose for a photo shoot

During a discussion about sightings in Kruger, Alec complained that he and Cathy had never had a proper leopard sighting in the park. “Just a distant spot and a tail disappearing,” he said. “I don’t believe people see them as often as they brag.”

I didn’t want to tell him that on one trip to Kruger we saw more leopards than lions. I didn’t want to increase his envy.

“I promise you, Alec and Cathy,” I said. “You will see leopards this year. You absolutely will” And when they almost did last week their response was – We are never going to see one!”

We were quite far behind when the walkie-talkie crackled and Alec called excitedly. “We have a leopard. At long last we have a leopard!”

As quickly as we could we caught up and found them with huge grins on their faces.

“He’s gone, hasn’t he?” I said. Cathy was in the driver’s seat. “Yes,” she replied. “I noticed something coming toward us and said to Alec – It’s a leopard! I stopped and snapped a shot through the windscreen. Then she walked to Alec’s side of the car and he took the camera but in his excitement didn’t get the whole animal in!” She laughed.

Cathy’s leopard
Too quick for Alec’s shot

I was over the moon that they finally got their leopard but slightly disappointed that Earl and I dipped on it this time!

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip Day 14 Shingwedzi to Tzendze

Before we left camp this morning we had a light cereal breakfast and coffee as we planned to meet some friends of Cathy and Alec at Mopani’s Fish Eagle Terrace for lunch.

The day started well when Alec called me to the camp kitchen – not to help with the washing up but to see something special.

It’s been a hard night – I’m not opening my eyes for anybody said this sleepy Wood Owl

No day is complete without an elephant roadblock but other creatures are not innocent and will also do their best to show the tourists who rules the game reserve.

Don’t hurry, children – The tourists love waiting while we saunter across at our own pace (Look who’s coming on the right)
Hi everybody, nice to see you again.

The tropic of Capricorn runs through the Kruger National Park which is why the weather is so awesome at this time of the year.   We stopped to take a photo.

Buffalo were the cause of the next roadblock and quite a number of them were in the bush too.  Some were being groomed by the ever-busy ox-peckers.

Come on guys, you’re going the wrong way
Really, Billy, you must take better care of your hair.
Bertie here is rich enough to hire a whole team of groomers.

Of course, I can never resist stopping to admire my favourite creature, the graceful model of the veld, the lofty legged, long-necked giraffe.

We took the Shongololo loop which was quiet but we stopped at various drinking holes and one or two hides on the way.

Female Knob-billed Duck
Terrapins sunning themselves near Shipandani Hide
Hippo near Shipandani Hide

There was another roadblock when we turned back onto the H1-6

The Wild Ones crossing over

Warthogs have been conspicuous by their absence but today they made an appearance.

The grass is rather crunchy at this time of year
Getting close to his food

At Fish Eagle Terrace not a single table was available inside the restaurant, on the deck nor in the outer reception area.   There was a coffee table with comfortable chairs where you could sit down and plug in your computer but that too was occupied.  However, after a few minutes, it became available.  We sat there to wait for Cathy and Alec and the friends they were to meet.   We tried to download emails and do banking and blogging but the internet was pathetic.   When Alec and Cathy arrived we gave up.  A waitron brought out another table into the reception area and then when a deck table for six became available he quickly ushered us to it.   While we waited for Christie and Keith to arrive we enjoyed the view and the activity in Pioneer Dam.

Come and join us – it’s lovely once you’re in
The happy hippos can attest to that

After lunch was over we stayed to try our luck with the internet. After a struggle, we finally managed to complete all the online chores we needed to do and headed back to camp to start cooking a curry for dinner.  The Earl was in charge and he used our Smart Space pot on our Gecko gas cooker.  No electricity for the Snappy Chef, I’m afraid. 

While we were waiting for dinner to cook the kids from the camp next to ours ran past very excitedly calling that they’d seen an owl. They showed the Earl the tree and then he called me. “See if you can find it,” he challenged. And even though the little bird camouflages very well, I did. The Earl got the best photo though.

Tzendze’s famous Barred Owlet

So the day started and ended with the most awesome owl sightings. Tzendze is the best!

Breaking Away from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip Day 13 Shingwedzi to Tzendze

It was cool and overcast this morning; pleasant conditions for packing up and moving on.   By 08h15 we were done.  Boy, are we grateful for the caravan movers!   We were able to turn the caravan 360 degrees and then move it gently onto the tow-hitch.  No reversing required.

We left in tandem with Cathy and Alec but just before exiting the gate Alec called on the walkie-talkie to say he thought he’d left a tent pole against a tree on the campsite so returned to check. (He hadn’t but rather safe than sorry).  

The elephants are still not giving us a break.  The first animal we saw today was Oom Olifant having breakfast in the middle of the road.  And he made us wait until it suited him to lumber off into the bush.  Dankie Oom! 

  We continued on and greeted the impala, giraffe, zebra, and wildebeest and then noticed two cars stopped up ahead.  They were staring into the grassy veld on the left but I couldn’t see anything.   We pulled up next to one and they informed us that a leopard was on the move in the opposite direction and they began to reverse.  That was no good for us towing a caravan so we called Alec on the walkie-talkie.  He was just in range and heard us say to look out for the leopard.  But unfortunately, he dipped on that one too!  It’s all a matter of being in the right place at the right time and a leopard on the move is not easy to spot.  

Before entering Tzendze you have to check-in at the main rest camp, Mopani.   We arrived there at around 10:45.  Check-in went smoothly and we then went to the restaurant for breakfast.  Mopani restaurant looks over the dam and you can sit on the deck or inside.  The restaurant was full so we went to one of the decks to admire the view and saw a fish eagle catch a fish and land in a far-off tree to eat it.  No photos as too far off.  We also observed elephants drinking from the water’s edge.

On returning to the restaurant a table for four, indoors had become available.  We ordered our coffees and all had a wonderful breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, caramelized onion, and fried tomato.

Then we went to settle in at Camp Tzendze.  At Tzensze you are allocated a particular site.  Because we are sharing, Cathy asked for a site that would be big enough for two caravans. We got Number 32 on the perimeter and it is perfect.  There is no electricity here so we have to rely on our solar panels for power.   This means we need some sun but also want our vans to be in the shade.  We got the perfect combination!

By the time we’d set up it was 2 pm and already 27 degrees C.  At 3:15 we went out separately for a drive, the Earl and I leaving a little earlier than Cathy and Alec.   We ended up doing almost the same route and seeing the same game.

Our campsite seems to attract its own wildlife and today I witnessed a kill right next to my caravan.

A red-billed hornbill having lunch

We have a converter in our car for charging camera batteries etc but it does not have a three prong outlet so we went to Mopani’s Park shop to see if they had an adapter – no luck. However, it turned out that Alec had made one and lent us his.  So we will be able to charge our laptops in the car while out on game drives.   The internet is another story.  We have to go to Mopani camp for that so my plan is to keep a diary and when possible copy and paste to WordPress and upload the photographs if we happen to have lunch or breakfast at Mopani during these five days a Tzendze.  It takes time so it won’t always be possible.   I will, however, post the missing days as soon as possible.

Breaking Free From Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip Day 12 Shingwedzi

It was 10 degrees C when we left camp at 07h50 this morning but it was not long before we stripped off our fleeces and it was only necessary to put them back on after 19h00. Another wonderful day in Africa.

Today we travelled the S50 and explored all the loops along the river and visited two hides.  Sightings were few and far between. We saw waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, impala and of course lots of elephants who as usual hogged the road and only moved off when they felt like it. I’m sure they do this on purpose just to show who is boss.

But it wasn’t only elephants that caused us angst. Impulsive impala do not have very good road sense and often leap out from the bush to cross a road before you’re aware that this was their plan. This morning an impala ram caused Earl to slam on breaks to avoid hitting him. We were of course driving very slowly as is the rule in the park. Just before that one of the Sanparks trucks with labourers on the back had rattled past us at great speed. I dread to think what would have happened had they needed to stop suddenly for an errant animal.

I have posted photos of the highlights and then below I have given information about the Shingwedzi facilities.

A gentle giraffe being groomed by a yellow-billed ox-pecker
The cutest little tree squirrel saying good morning to us. I think he wanted to climb aboard
Crocodiles sunning themselves n the shallow pools of the dry river
Striated Heron at Nyawutsi Hide
Looking for breakfast
Reflecting
Two playful tree squirrels
Mommy – who are those ape-like creatures staring at us? Just some distant cousins, darling. We don’t talk to them anymore.

Shingwedzi Facilities

The caravan park is big.  Some sites are very shady while others do not offer much shade.  We paid extra for a perimeter site and were lucky that number 14 was available and had shade almost the whole day.

There is a monkey and baboon problem here but it was not as bad as Punda Maria.  A general rule to follow in every camp is never to leave caravan and car doors open even if you are right there.  Never leave food unattended.  Close up everything when you leave your site and make sure your food is securely locked away.  Leaving food in tents is not advisable.   Get a lockable cooler box.  

Like all the main camps, Shingwedzi has a shop and a restaurant. The shop does not have the variety of your local supermarket but most essentials are available and you can easily replenish your stocks without having to leave the park to go shopping. If you’ve forgotten to bring a torch, cooking pot, a bird guide, memory card for your camera or anything else, you could probably find your required item at the shop. If you don’t feel like cooking, you will be able to get a good meal at the restaurant at a reasonable cost.

Our caravans are well equipped for cooking and washing up so we don’t always use the camp kitchens but here at Shingwedzi they provide adequate basins, gas stoves and boiling water on tap. They are kept clean by the staff but sometimes other campers don’t clean up properly after themselves.

There are two ablution blocks.   The main one has a laundry between the men’s and women’s section.   The other is more central but over the road from the campsite, on the reception side.  There are positive and negatives regarding these facilities.

Positives

  • The staff keep them spotlessly clean.
  • Adequate hot water
  • No broken tiles
  • Doors closed properly and locked
  • The main one provided a section with mirrors and plugs for hair drying and space for putting on make-up.
  • The main one had enough space in each cubicle
  • There were three shower cubicles on the second one and only could you open the door without stepping into the shower space.

Negatives

  • Plastic shower curtains
  • Shower Cubicles in most are too small
  • Paper towel not replaced often enough.
  • No disinfectant spray provided to clean basins etc Come on Sanparks – COVID!

We are visiting the park for 38 days so having laundry facilities is important.  What I love about coming to Kruger is that they have laundrettes with coin operated machines.  At Shingwedzi there are two washing machines and two dryers. Only one washing machine is working. The other sports an out of order notice dated 21 June 2021. The washing machine takes two R5 coins for a 45 minute cycle. One of the dryers also takes two R5 coins but the other takes five R2 coins. Tokens throughout the park would be a better option. Dream on!

There is a swimming pool which we did not use but I went to take a look and it was sparkling.

In spite of maintenance problems and poor management in some areas, Kruger National Park is still a great place to visit.    Just be prepared that things won’t be perfect and come prepared.  Bring you own sanitising sprays, spare paper towel and/or wiping cloths.   Most campers try to leave the facilities clean and neat after using them but there are always those who think somebody else is going to come along and clean up after them.

Tomorrow is moving day. We are looking forward to spending five nights at rustic camp Tzendze.

Breaking Free from Lockdown – A Gecko Road Trip Day 11 Shingwedzi

We enjoyed another beautiful warm day in the Kruger National park today. At 7 o’clock when we awoke it was 12 degrees C and by the time left for our game drive just after 8 it had risen to 19 and continued to climb until a maximum of 30 degrees C. Sitting outdoors in the evenings is also very pleasant and we have not even needed fleeces before 8 pm.

This morning we travelled the H1-7, S56 and S57 with S56 being the most productive for birds. We travelled in tandem with Cathy and Alec and kept in touch with walkie talkies which have a range of about three kilometres.

Our first adventure began early on the H1-7

The elephants were out in full force and were determined to block our way on several occasions
They seemed to enjoy terrorising us

Our route took us along the S56 which was good for birds and mamals.

Our first good sighting of Swainson’s Spurfowl this trip
This cutie must be a female weaver of some sort – perhaps a red-headed weaver?
Wanda Wood-dove tried to her face but showed her emerald spots beautifully (Emerald-spotted Wood Dove)
And I think this cheeky chap flicking his tail at me is a tawny-flanked prinia
Jameson’s firefinch posed pettily

There is an African proverb that goes, “If vultures surround you try not to die!” It seems horrible that vultures eat dead things but in nature they are invaluable because they help control disease spreading by eating creatures that have died. They are nature’s rubbish disposers. There were lots around this morning but we did not find any dead bodies.

A gathering of white-backed and lappet-faced vultures.

The river is mostly dry with ponds of water in places. It was lovely to see a line of zebra using it as a road to wherever they were going.

I’m tired, can’t I just take a nap in the warm river bed?
No – come on now – get up or you’ll be left behind.
Sally Saddlebill is wondering where the river’s water has gone!

As we returned on the road next to the river we saw two hippos enjoy what water there was.

And a crocodile looked on
A huge herd of elephants came down to drink

We spent the heat of the day in camp and after a lunch of tuna mayonnaise salad, went out again at quarter past three. We wanted to make sure we got back well before the six o’clock gate closing time. So we took the S52 to Red Rocks and then turned around at half past four without actually finding the lookout! We’d missed the loop and by the time we realised our mistake we were in a hurry to get back to camp. But we enjoyed the creatures we met on the way there and back.

We haven’t seen all that many wildebeest and until today I have not taken a decent photograph of one. Today this guy obliged and sends his regards to my friend, Erich in Australia.

Hi Erich , I’m waiting for you here in Africa. Miss you buddy!
And this one is for bushboy who loves birds. White-fronted Bee-eater
This is for Heather, who when she first saw one just loved their eyes. Double-banded Sandgrouse
Male with female hiding behind him
If it’s not Elephants then it’s giraffe blocking our way!
The sweetest baby giraffe
Mr and Mrs Saddle-bill dropped in just before we entered the gate
View up the river

For dinner we had delicious beef kebabs, baked potato and salad. Cathy treated us to jelly infused with fruit and served with custard for dessert – just delicious.

Thank you all for following and a special thanks to the Gecko Group who have posted such kind comments on our WhatsApp group.

Breaking Free from Lockdown – A Gecko Road Trip Day 10 Punda Maria to Shingwedzi

We were sad to bid farewell to Punda Maria this morning but packing up and hitching the caravan with the help of our new caravan movers was a pleasure.

When we move from camp to camp in a game reserve we stick to the tar roads and try to get to our destination with as little stopping as possible. Caravans at sightings are not a pretty thing. But Murphy was at work with his law again and today was the day that we needed to stop several times for some really lovely sightings.

As we turned onto the H1-7 we saw a huge herd of buffalo. They were a bit far off heading toward us so we waved and moved on. Cathy and Alec were a few minutes behind us but we found out later that they had seen them too.

The Earl will only stop if he doesn’t have to maneuver into a good position. Stopping for birdds is usually not a problem.

A juvenile Bateleur – always a delight to see

At ten past nine, we noticed a few cars stopped up ahead. We pulled up behind a jeep jockey. The guide was alone and taking photographs of something. Then I saw that partially hidden by bush were two lions on a kill, presumably a buffalo. After a few minutes we discovered there were three feasting and a fourth was lying under a nearby bush.

Nobody is going to take my breakfast!
You’re a big disgrace with blood on your face!

The Earl tried to get Cathy on the radio and after the third try she responded. He passed the three parked cars ahead of us and they slipped into our spot. We were able to see a bit more before moving on so as not to block the road for other cars arriving on the scene.

Next up were zebra and the cutest little foal stole our hearts.

I’m a little shy so will just stick close to Mum.

It’s a 70km drive from Punda to Shingwedzi but with the speed limit being 50km per hour and actually going a lot slower than that and stopping from time to time, it takes a lot longer. So it was already ten to ten when we stopped at Babalala Picnic Site for a loo break. This is an unfenced site and has a caretaker making sure that everything is safe and kept in a pristine condition. We find that these rustic sites are far nicer than the busier fenced ones in the south. The ablutions were spotless and although we didn’t stay to have a snack we know from past experience that you can get boiling water from a pot that the caretaker keeps going on a gas stove, you can hire a skottel to cook breakfast and there is also a washup facility.

Babalala Picnic Site
Beautifully clean and well maintained ablution – note the old green Sanparks tiles

The next bird we stopped for had us confused at first. We were hoping for a Martial Eagle but it was something way smaller.

African Hawk Eagle

At Boyela Waterhole we found a mix of browsers and grazers – wildebeest, zebra and giraffe.

Zebra and giraffe often keep company with each other – From his lofty position the giraffe can warn the zebra of pending danger
This trio seemed interested in us

Cathy and Alec were in the lead and called us on the hand held radios. What a great surprise. They’d spotted two cheetah hiding in the grass and keeping a close eye on the the game. We could see them clearly but they did not face us and so most of our shots are of the backs of cheetahs! Cathy got the best one which I’m sharing here.

You do not want to meet up with elephants when towing a caravan but when they’re a fair distance away then it’s perfectly okay. We watched with joy as a herd came marching down an embankment and then began digging holes in the dry river bed and giving themselves a dust bath. The babies are the most adorable creatures.

Watching them charge down his is so amusing.
An elephant parade
‘Come on Mom let’s get started
Isn’t that the cutest thing you ever saw.
Just kneel down, my boy and dig.
This is such fun.

Finally we arrived at Shingwedzi, checked in at reception and then went in search of a good camping site.

Shingwedzi Entrance Gate
The Park Shop
Reception
Each camp in Kruger has a sightings board outside reception or a restaurant or both. One can indicate where you’ve seen certain animals by placing a coloured pin on the map – each animal has a different colour.

To get a perimeter site at Shingwedzi you have to pay a little extra. You are not given a particular number but can choose any one of the 26 sites available. At first we were devastated to see how many were already taken and thought we might have to settle for one without shade but luck was on our side and we have the best, shadiest site you could ever wish for. This afternoon we observed an elephant wander past and as we sat round the braai fire a hyaena patrolled the fence.

As I wrote this blog I heard a scops owl calling and various other wild sounds including the distant roar of a lion. I couldn’t wish to be in a more amazing place.