Breaking Free from Lockdown. Day 44. Kleinplaas to Home

The further south we travelled the colder it became. We were on our way back to winter! This morning at 06:00 it was 5 degrees C and it didn’t rise very much until midday.

We all felt that we’d come to the end of the lollipop and our hearts went plop! The road trip was over. This last leg of the journey was the shortest drive we had to do. We followed Route 62 and stopped at Barrydale’s Country Pumpkin for breakfast. The sun was shining and it was warmer to sit outdoors at a sunny table than inside where it was very cold. We ordered our coffees/teas and enjoyed the warming effect of the hot liquid. When the waitress took our breakfast order she informed us that as we were caravanners we got our first cup free! Good on you Country Pumpkin for being so nice to caravanners! I was the only one to order a second cup. We all had omelettes which were absolutely delicious . They were served with sweet potato crisps and a small pumpkin fritter.

Two Geckos parked outside The Country Pumpkin in Barrydale

From then on we travelled the picturesque Tradeaux pass and it was once again a pleasure not to play dodge the pothole! Western Cape roads are in good condition.

Finally we turned onto the homeward road.

When we got to Bredasdorp we stopped to say an emotional goodbye before splitting to go to our respective homes in Napier and Struisbaai. You really become close to your friends when you spend forty-four days together!

Other friends, Yolandi and Carl and their daughter, Lisa had been staying in our house while waiting to move into their new home in Napier. Yesterday Yolandi sent a cryptic message to the Earl, “Ollie and Benji can’t wait to meet you.” Who were Ollie and Benjy? Hint – The Earl is a bunny hugger!

Hello, We love your garden. Please can this be our new forever home? Benji in front Ollie behind

Of course the Earl was over the moon. I was less so – who would look after them when we travel? We have been assured that a bunny-sitter, living nearby has already been found.

We like it here!

What a lovely end to our adventure.

Thank you all for following our adventure. I hope those of you who have never been to KNP feel the urge to put this wonderful reserve on your bucket list. Should you wish to find out more about booking a Sanparks Holiday, see my tips here.

Dankie aan al die Gecko Familielede wat elke dag saam met ons gery het. Dankie vir die pragitge kommentare op WhatsApp en FaceBook. Ek hoop dat die inligting wat ek ingesluit het, nuttig is.

Tot volgende keer – Totsiens.

PS A fellow blogger, Bushboy, from Australia asked what Bobotie (which I ate for dinner last night) is, so for my non-South African readers here is a brief explanation.

Bobotie is a curried mince dish with a milk and egg custard poured over and baked in the oven. It was imported from Indonesia in the seventeenth century then adapted by the Cape Malay community whose origins are from Indonesia and Malaysia. Click on the caption for a recipe.

Recipe for Bobotie

Breaking Free From Lockdown. Day 29

Monday 23 August 2021

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.

Our first Burchell’s Coucal of the day. Several of his friends turned up to say hello during the course of our drive
This sleepyhead would not look at us
So Cathy took a close-up
This usually shy steenbok is not afraid of anyone
Uh oh, Road Block
Keeping company with the stripy ones
Cathy’s nick-name for giraffe – “Raafies”
These leaves are delicious
A call from Alec on the walkie talkie alerted us to a big surprise
This guy has huge tusks
I want to be a tusker!
A Tawny Eagle posed obligingly
A juvenile bateleur enjoying a meal
He gave the Earl a hard stare
Lots of elephants on the S100
Don’t worry, I won’t chase you today
Wildebeest were on the march

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.

Just flying in to see how you are.
Our camp at sunset
The sun dropping off to sleep

Breaking Free From Lockdown. Day 28 Satara to Timbavati Picnic Site

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.    

The Earl’s photo
Cathy’s photo

Then just after that another member of the Big Six birds of Kruger National Park made an appearance.

The Heaviest flying bird in the world is the Kori Bustard
Males can weigh up to 19kg

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.

Purple Roller

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.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Ready for an after breakfast nap

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.

I’ve had enough
Still hungry
Timbavati is an unfenced picnic site kept beautifully by a caretaker. In good weather it is lovely to picnic here. It has a good view over the Timbavati River

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.

I know I am a handsome chap

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.

Well hello there

Looking down from an omrit overlooking the river we saw a lovely riverside scene.

Yellow-billed Storks and Grey Heron
Lazing by the riverside

There were plenty of impies about.

We like doing things together

At 11:15 we turned onto the  H1-4 and continued to see more creatures

Buffalo looking curious
I’m tired of leaves, think I’ll try some dry grass

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.

Two species in one tree – Lilac-breasted roller and glossy starling
A road block

And to end, a lovely Emerald-spotted Wood Dove.

Breaking Free from Lockdown. A Gecko Road Trip. Day 22 Letaba

Both Gecko 82 and Gecko 109 find that they’re running short of supplies. The temporary Park Shop is not as well stocked as the previous lovely one would have been. They have no stocks of wine (horror!) and what alcohol they do sell is more expensive than elsewhere so the disgruntled campers decide to go to Phalaborwa to restock at Pick ‘n’ Pay.

After a leisurely cup of coffee, making notes and gathering themselves together they leave in tandem to make the one and half hour drive to the town. The radio crackles and Alec complains, “What’s going on here? We’ve been driving for 20 minutes and not a creature in sight.” They complete the journey after spotting an zebra or two, a lilac-breasted roller and a few white-crested Helmetshrikes who really didn’t want their portraits taken.

Come on Helmetshrike – show us your face.
So happy to see you Zebbie but I see Mom is just not interested
You never disappoint do you, beautiful bird

It doesn’t take too long to complete their chores but breakfast at the Spur is less than satisfactory. People who arrive after them are served first and it is forty five minutes before their order is brought – and that is only after they complain. So they are not in the best of moods and cannot wait to get back to the tranquility of The Kruger National Park!

Perhaps the creatures realise that these Gecko owners need some excitement. “Let’s make an appearance and give them a bit of an adrenaline rush,” the mischievous animals scheme together.

Alec stops when he sees what’s up ahead. “Road block,” he calls on the walkie-talkie.

This is a really big boy

The Earl comes up alongside his friend and they discuss what they should do. The Earl decides to sneak forward to see what happens.

“I think I’ll just slip past,” say the Earl. “Don’t you dare!” warns his terrified wife.

Then another one emerges from the left.

This guy has even bigger tusks
Which are great for resting a long snout on.
The Earl sits tight thinking the ellies will move off together
But Oom Olifant waves his trunk
And charges toward the Everest

The Earl is not afraid but his terrified wife screams and almost drops the camera as she videos the scene. Alec reverses at top speed to make room for the Everest’s escape. But Oom Olifant is just messing with them and doesn’t continue the charge. Eventually both ellies go off into the bush, probably laughing their heads off. Everyone breathes a big sigh of relief.

When the Earl stops to photograph a zebra, Alec overtakes and is once again in front.

Ha ha – I heard about the ellie incident!

Alec calls on the walkie-talkie – Fish eagle to the right.

The Ranger moves on while Helen takes some photos of the fish eagle.

The Ranger is already quite far ahead when the Earl stops again. He’s seen two warthogs in the bush. “Look there,” he says. “Behind that bush. Get the photo!”

“It’s no good,” I can’t. “Oh wait, reverse, no forward. Darn – they’ve gone!”

By this time the Ranger is out of range and doesn’t hear the call to come back for the next sighting.

The Earl is driving quickly to catch up to his friend. “Stop! Go back. Look!’ Helen calls excitedly

Do you see what Helen sees?
The impala do and they stand stock-still staring at the predator
A spotted hyaeana comes closer and closer
But walks right on by the trembling buck
And climbs up the embankment right next to the passenger window of the everest

He then crosses the road behind the car and walks in the opposite direction.

The Earl reverses so Helen can photograph him.

So that lovely sighting gives them enough of an adrenaline rush to last for the rest of the day.

Their journey is almost over but just before reaching Letaba Rest Camp a noisy troop of close relatives appears.

The little baboons screech and play just like human children
Hold tight baby, I can’t hold you and walk at the same time

Alec and Cathy are already unpacking the shopping when Earl and Helen arrive. The afternoon is spent sorting out the caravans, doing laundry etc. At four o’clock Alec and Cathy go out for a short drive. They find a bateleur couple acting strangely in the river bed.

The bateleurs keep walking around as if looking for something
And a beautiful lilac-breasted roller brightens their day

Today the temperature reaches a maximum of 24 degrees C. The evening is somewhat cooler but still warm enough to enjoy an outdoor braai. It is a lovely way to end the day.

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

Travelling in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Farewell

Thursday 3 December 2020

When I was very young Max Bygraves sang a song about the feeling one had when coming to the end of eating a lollipop. That song always comes to mind when something I really enjoy comes to an end. All that is left after enjoying a lollipop is the stick.

But unlike the one which Max refers to, the stick I have left, holds all the memories of yet another amazing holiday in The Kruger National Park! Little did Mr Bygraves know that decades on, ‘stick,’ would have another meaning.

This morning was cool and overcast and the temperature the lowest it’s been since our arrival thirty-three days ago. However, 18 degrees C did not last long and by midday it was in the mid-twenties.

We left for our drive at quarter past six starting with the Matjulu Loop then made our way to Afsaal picnic site on the H3 for breakfast.

It was very quiet but a few creatures showed up to say farewell.

There were heaps of buffalo lounging about.

Goodbye – Thanks for visiting – Sorry for not getting up but it is rather early

The ellies were milling about too.

Nice meeting you – have a good trip home

All all along the loop there were a variety of vultures hanging about in trees.

Yes, we know. You’re going to miss the vulture trees. See you next year.
It ws great seeing you again!
I’m not just a pretty face! Come back soon!

We came upon a hyaena den where there were two adults and just one pup visible. The others must have been hiding.

You’re leaving tomorrow?
Say goodbye, Henry – remember your manners.
Sally Sabota sang us a farewell song

Zig-zags of zebra were grazing in the veld and several had young.

Zack, the smallest zebra baby we have ever seen was surprised to hear we were leaving so soon.

It was still chilly when we got to Afsaal Picnic site so we put on jackets to sit at the outdoor tables. They don’t do English breakfasts only toasted sandwiches using roosterkoek which I am not particularly fond of. It is a traditional South African bread baked on a grid over the coals. They are made from flour, yeast, salt, sugar, oil, and water, rolled into small balls of dough then brushed with butter and grilled until charred. We settled for wraps instead. The Earl had chicken mayo and I had a delicious one made with roasted aubergine (egg plant) and a few other ingredients.

The Earl looking a bit grumpy about the last African Bush Breakfast for a while.
Afsaal Picnic Site tries to keep a traditional African atmosphere
The Trading Store

On our return trip the rhinoceroses showed up to say goodbye.

We are not going to come out unless you promise to stay another day or two!
Excuse my two rude friends – Goodbye and please come again.
Mom says I must pose nicely for you as you are such regular visitors. I’m sure I will have grown by next year!
You’re leaving?
If that’s how you feel – goodbye then!

We saw lions far in the distance but they did not come close enough to bid us farewell. But that’s okay. We chatted a few days ago.

I know you’ll be back – I’m not walking all that way just to say goodbye!

We returned to the camp at midday and did some laundry and sorted out the caravan for our return trip. At three o’clock we decided to go for one last drive. What a good decision that was because Leopold was not going to let us leave the park without at least one Big Five day!

At first he hid shyly behind the foliage
Then he decided to come down
Here I come
You’ve got your Big Five day and I know I’m the best of them all!
See you next time!

We were lucky enough to be the second car on the scene and had wonderful views of him. The Earl took all the above photos of Leopold Leopard.

The rest of our drive was quiet but we were delighted that the kudu were polite enough to a us a last farewell

Cheerio

Friday 4 December 2020

This morning we were up by four o’clock and had the caravan packed and hitched by five. Malelane Gate opens at half past five but they let us out at twenty-five past. We are now overnighting at Midmar Dam and tomorrow will make our way to Kokstad where we will spend ten days with our relatives there. The internet is almost non-existent on the farm so I won’t be blogging much for a while.

Thank you to everyone who has followed regularly or dropped in now and then. Watch this space for more news of my soon to be published book, “A Judge Decided”, and other travel tales in the future.

Travelling in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Satara to Skukuza

Tuesday 1 December 2020

It was not a good start to the day again this morning. Yes, the water was working but my back was not! Thank goodness there was no heavy packing to do.

By six o’clock we were on the road and I soon cheered up when the creatures started to greet us. On the H1-3 we were happy to see wildebeest, zebra and impala. The baboons were also quite amusing. And of course we stopped to snap a bird or two.

Oh please let school open soon – homeschooling is driving me nuts!
A majestic ‘blond’ tawny eagle

Just before Tshokwane picnic site, the Earl called out, ‘hyaena!”

He had stolen a lovely bone from somewhere

His friends came to join him but he was not sharing. They had to find their own bones.

We stopped at the picnic site for coffee at about half past seven and although they were not officially open they made us each an Americano. Definitely the best coffee in the park at this place and the staff are friendly and helpful. The Earl went to the shop and found that they were selling buff pies and even though it was a bit early for such fare, we indulged! Well – my back was sore – I needed comfort food.

The H1- 2 gave us a big surprise. It was quarter past eight and the temperature was already 30 degrees C.

A morning nap was definitely needed.

The trip to Skukuza did not take long and we arrived at half past nine and set up in a lovely shady spot. My back was no better so I decided to medicate. Myprodol is my drug of choice. I use it only when I am in real pain and it usually works quite quickly. I lay flat until around half past two when we went for our afternoon drive. I already felt loads better.

The temperature had soared to 40 degrees C. We thought a nice long drive to Lower-Sabie in our air-conditioned vehicle was the best way to deal with it. Being so hot the first hour did not produce much but then – two sleepy lionesses hiding in the shade of some thorn bushes.

She stuck her snout in the air and refused to chat to us
And her friend didn’t even have the decency to wake up
Oh what bliss!
Giraffe always improve the scenery

By the time we arrived at Sunset Dam, just outside Lower Sabie Rest Camp, it had clouded over and a storm was threatening. We saw the usual crocodiles, hippos, weavers, jacanas, stilts. storks and water dikkops. Some impala also came down to drink.

Black winged stilt
Slaking their thirst
Lesser-masked Weaver
Mr Pied Kingfisher
And a legawan put in an appearance too

We popped into Lower Sabie for a loo break and to buy some water and then made our way back. The rain came down quite hard and there was thunder and lightning which was a tad scary!

There were lots of vultures decorating the trees and marabou storks and tawny eagles were on the banks of the river too. None of the photographs are good enough to post here.

When we got to the place where we’d seen the lions there were three or four cars blocking the road. We saw one of the lionesses moving through the bush. She was not easy to photograph. We wanted to move on but the cars would not move. When we finally maneuvered into a space we saw that they were staring at a lioness in the middle of the road. Fine, but she was going nowhere so please move to the side so we can get through. That was not going to happen and when cars from the opposite direction arrived on the scene they too parked three abreast. The poor Earl was frantic. No way did he want to miss gate closing time!

What’s all the fuss about? Haven’t you seen a lion on the road before?
Oh for Goodness sake, people. Move on!

Eventually, somebody started moving past stationery cars forcing them to move out of the way and that created a gap for escape.

We made it through the gate by six o’clock. My back by now was almost back to normal. We both went for a shower and then to the Cattle Baron for their famous Chateaubriand. We just can’t resist it every time we’re at Skukuza.

A perfect end to a lovely day

Travelling in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Letaba to Satara

Monday 30 November 2020

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.

Not in the mood to start the day just yet.
Walter Warthog down on his knees – lucky thing found more water than I did!
About time you showed up, Korri – You haven’t been around much lately have you?

After spotting the Kori Bustard, I called out, “Jackal!

“Where?” said the Earl.

“There,” I replied. “Quite far behind that bush.”

“What 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.

It’s quite far away
Scan with your binoculars – It’s behind a log
Oh, there! You said far away – That’s just here!

Conversations like the above are common in The Kruger National Park!

We continued our journey and stopped for some more special sightings.

Brown Snake-eagle
Yellow Mongoose
Grumpy Gnu gives us a look while Zelda Zebra laughs at Gilbert having a sand bath

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.

Me enjoying a giraffe sighting’
Just ignore here – She’s snapping that camera again!

The Earl captured an African Hoopoe with prey!

We found three different swallow species in one tree

White-throated
Red-breasted
Lesser Striped
Donkeys in striped pyjamas were everywhere. “Does my ‘ass’ look fat in these stripes?”
Hurry Mom – I don’t like those humans staring at us
Uh oh, She spotted me!
We are rather cute, aren’t we!

We also visited Sweni Hide but didn’t stay long as it was rather hot.

Mrs Saddlebill was on her own
Kevin Crake had some fun
Ian and Ivor Impie fighting for dominance

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.

Mom and baby having fun
Proud as Punch with the knob on his nose
Eyes right but there’s always that one duck! White-faced ducks
We also got the Levaillan’ts Cuckoo

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.

Ha – Got here before you, now you can jolly well wait!
The tiniest member of the herd
Don’t mess with our baby – you’ll come off second best!
And I’m not afraid on anyone!

In the evening we joined Jim and Maureen for a delicious Pork Belly dinner cooked by Jim in their black pot.

The Boys
The Girls – ching ching

It was a simply stunning evening with a full moon shining

And to top it all we had an uninvited visitor.

Abe the African Wild Cat felt quite at home. He sat under the car and groomed himself just like your kitty at home would do. But, don’t be fooled – try to pet him and you will regret it!

Travelling in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Punda Maria to Letaba

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.

As far as the creatures of the game reserve are concerned, the road is for them, not the tourists!

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.

“Wild Dog,” who said that? Oh it was me! Now I’m excited.
Are we all ready? Let’s go!

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.

Good Morning – sorry my sisters are hiding behind the tree.

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.

A special one to see – the Paradise Fly-catcher – the male would not pose but we got his wife.

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.

Gotcha, you sneaky thing – Don’t try to hide behind that leaf!
Oh alright, I’ll pose nicely then.

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.

Thanks for keeping the roadside neat, Mr Buffalo.

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.

So refreshing

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.

Travelling in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Letaba to Mopani and Back

Saturday 21 November 2020

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!

Great White Egret and Grey Heron
Greta Grey Heron catches a ride on Horace Hippo’s back – She uses her wings to balance as he moves forward

“Thanks for the ride, Horace,” she says. “You’re welcome,” he replies

I then spot the squacco but the Earl spies a brown-crowned tchagra. I’m not winning at this game!

Squacco Heron

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.

Immature Fish Eagle

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.

Lioness guarding the buffalo kill
Woolly-necked Stork
Female Saddle-billed stork

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.

Entrance to Mopani’s Restaurant

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!

Golly, it’s a Goliath Heron
Giant Kingfisher
Mocking Chat
White-faced Ducks

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.

I get a good photo of his teeth!

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.

Mooiplaas Picnic Site
Resident Scops Owl

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.

A Paradise Fly-catcher on its nest

This is certainly the highlight of my day.

Other creatures we see and score points for.

Tsessebe
Steenbok

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

Zebra
And of course giraffe

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!

Red-crested Korhaan

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!