Tag Archives: Letaba

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 – 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!

Travel in the Time of Covid – Kruger National Park – Moving Day

Thursday 19 November 2020

It is quarter to five. I wake to the sound of the dawn chorus and drag myself off to the ablutions. Today is moving day. It takes just under an hour to pack up and get ready to move. Maureen and Jim drop round to say farewell. They will continue on at Satara and we arrange to meet at Olifants Camp for breakfast tomorrow.

It is already quite hot when we leave at five past six. We stick to the tar road as we are towing.

The first creatures to greet us are some wildebeest and zebra. A car up ahead is looking intently at them. We pass by and I say, “He’s looking rather intently – perhaps he is seeing something else. The Earl obediently stops.

You nearly missed me

Yes we nearly miss her but we watch and follow as she continues on her mission. The other car drives off.

And this is who we see.

Thanks to the other car for alerting us to a lovely hyaena sighting. Sorry he missed the second one.

Soon we find ourselves in the land of mopane trees. Spotting game in amongst them is not easy but they are very pretty. In some parts we are next to the Letaba River and from time to time we spot a few things.

Mr Saddle-bill Stork
Waterbuck in their favourite habitat
A lovely Fish Eagle

I am sitting next to the back left passenger window. My head is down checking my photographs. The Earl comes to a sudden halt. Terrified, I look up and see Horace Hyaena staring me straight in the eye.

As I lift my camera, he saunters off.

The Earl is laughing. “I didn’t realise I was looking at a creature until this rock moved!” Next we come upon a herd of buffalo crossing the road and slipping behind the Mopanes

Bartholomew studies me and apologises for the fright Horace gave me. Hyaenas are like that, he says.

It’s eight o’clock when we arrive at Letaba. We check in and find a suitable campsite under the shady Mopanes. We need to fill the caravans water tanks and there is a tap nearby. The Earl un-hitches the caravan, takes out the hose and finds it is not long enough! But he is a man with a plan and although the roof is already up and the stands are down he decides to tow the caravan into position to reach the tap. He lifts the stands, hitches up again and I guide him forward. He then fills the tanks and reverses back to our original spot. I am most grateful as this will save me going to the camp kitchen to wash up.

With the setting up complete we are now thirsty and hungry. We go to the restaurant for breakfast.

The usual Covid protocols are strictly adhered to

Letaba’s Tindlovu restaurant has a wonderful view across the valley. Sadly it is quite dry and much rain is still needed.

View from the deck
The breakfast is excellent

The internet is down and the card machine does not work. The Earl leaves his name and number and promises to come back later as we don’t have cash.

We go for a game drive and decide to stop in at Olifant’s camp, 32 km away. Letaba’s shop burned down a few weeks ago and has still not been rebuilt. We can shop at Olifant’s and get cashback if they’re unaffected by the internet disaster. How reliant we have become on modern technology, even in the African bush!

We do not see much on our drive there – it is already very hot – 41 degrees C. At Olifants we buy a few groceries and get some cash from the check-out. Then we go to the deck where you can look down on the Olifant’s River

Spot the hippo out of the water

We then go to the petrol station to refuel. The attendant notices the left front tyre looks a bit soft. He checks it and finds it has a puncture which he plugs for us. What a star for noticing.

On our drive back we have a few interesting sightings but mostly in the distance making photography tricky. Here are just a few I can’t resist showing you.

William Waterbuck is wondering what Gregory Goliath is doing.
Sammy Southern Black Tit has caught his lunch
Not a wonderful photograph but the sun catching Mr Violet-back is quite beautiful.

There is a workshop at Letaba and when we return the Earl takes the car there so they can properly fix the puncture. Our spare is a ‘biscuit’ and we don’t want to drive in the park on that! The Earl is very impressed with the service he receives from the workshop.

Letaba is a beautiful, shady campsite and the facilities are the best we have had so far.

Shady Mopanes
Gecko 81 all set up
Camp Kitchen
Four two-plate stoves and a microwave as well as boiling water syphon
Two sinks
Coin op Laundry
Adequate sized shower, a bench and three strong hooks for hanging clothes and towel
Big basins
Make-up and hair-drying area

Letaba camp is famous for its owls especially the Scops Owl which resides in the mapane trees. This morning a neighbour who was about to leave told us that they had seen the owl in the tree under which we set up.

This evening as we prepare our braai we hear an owl but it is not the call of the scops.

The braai is on the go when we hear the owlet call
Other campers hear the call too and one of them finds the pearl spotted in our tree and points him out to me (Correction – it is a barred owlet)

Later we hear the Scops but it is too dark to find him. Tomorrow we shall look again.