Kruger National Park: August 2016

lion cubs kumana dam

So admittedly this is a bit late because it’s now almost December and I’m FINALLY posting about our August Kruger trip. BUT I have a good excuse: I recently quit my job and moved to South Africa!  Plus I was busy creating our BIG 5 SAFARI STICKERS, which are the new must-have for your next Kruger trip 🙂 That really took up a lot of time, plus I had about 10,000 photos to edit from that trip and SO MANY NETFLIX SHOWS TO WATCH. Seriously. ANYWAY as we are heading back to Kruger TOMORROW, I figured I better finish this off and share because YOU ALL CARE SO MUCH. Don’t pretend you don’t. Before I launch into it, I want to apologise for the ridiculous length, however I can vouch for the fact it is exceptionally funny and interesting (….) so make sure you read to the VERY END.

Quick Recap:

Stayed: Skukuza 4 nights, Letaba 1 night
No. Days: 5.5 days
Saw: Everything! Big 5 + Cheetah + Wild Dogs + Honey badgers, Sable, Klipspringer and more 🙂
Favourite sighting: So hard to say but for me probably the lion cubs posing nicely on a dead tree right next to the road – I love cubs! Also loved the big male lion that walked right up to our car, the wild dog pups we found in the middle of the road, the elephants drinking at biyamiti weir (we were level with them) and the leopard in the tree right beside the road where we were there by ourselves!
Best roads: S114, S112, S100, H1-3
Trip rating: 4.5/5

Photo Gallery:

Note – you can click on the image to bring up a lightbox for easier viewing.


The Full Story:

*Once again I will omit the specific location of rhinos in the details below out of respect for anti-poaching efforts.

KRUGER DAY 1: MAGNIFICENT 7 TO START!

To say we were keen to get to Kruger was an understatement – this was highlighted by us getting up at 3AM (YES 3AM – helped by the ever useful Aussie jet lag) from the lovely Sheppard Boutique Hotel in Nelspruit and leaving at about 4am, seeing us arrive bright and early at Crocodile Bridge at 5:30am! We expected it to be busy (it is Crocodile Bridge, the most popular gate in the park) but our earliness paid off with only one other car ahead of us. That 30 minutes DRAGGED as Van and I sat there itching to get into the park and find our first animals!

Finally the gates opened and we were in the park, ready to find things! Soon after entry came the difficult choice – to stay on the tar road or take the always productive S28? No matter what you choose in these situations you are inevitably left thinking about the lions, leopards and unicorns being seen on the road you didn’t choose. Van turned onto the S28 but we ended up deciding to turn around and stay on the tar…. Reasoning? We were looking more for wild dogs and leopards and in our experience these two species were more likely to be found on the tar (versus cheetah and hyena on S28). As always, we begun to doubt our decision after driving up the H4-2 seeing only elephants and various antelope (maybe there was a giraffe or two in there too). Given there had been minimal stoppage, we were making great time so we decided to down the S28 and do another loop before stopping into our favourite brunch location, Mugg & Bean, Lower Sabie. Thankfully we came across a cheetah and her two cubs that had been spotted quite consistently on the S28 during the past two weeks. We got there just as she was walking a bit further into the scrub but she did pose nicely for a little while on a small termite mound – just long enough for me to get some semi-decent photos :). We then took the S137 past Duke and had some nice zebra/giraffe sightings before taking the S82 to Lower Sabie and SEEING NOTHING – a common theme for roads that I seem to choose! I have decided to leave all decisions to Van from now on as every road I choose mimics a nuclear wasteland the second we turn onto it – THANKS FOR NOTHING KRUGER.

Kruger Roads

Our lack of luck continued at Lower Sabie where we were informed there was no power so we weren’t able to order brunch – TIA – but after about 10 minutes power was returned, Van was able to order his Big Daddy burger and order was restored on Earth. We enjoyed the South African winter in our t-shirts by getting a nice burn before heading on up to Skukuza on the famed H4-1. This is road that you rarely drive without seeing lions, leopards or both and of course it didn’t disappoint for us – within the space of about 15 minutes we had lions and two separate leopard sightings! Caveat being that 1) visibility was pretty poor (all in riverbed or on other side of riverbed) and 2) the typical ridiculously crazy south Kruger traffic jams were in full force. Seriously, this is the issue with this road – you come across about 30 cars all stopped on the road, blocking all traffic from either direction and your hopes soar – you assume that there is a lion mating with an aardvark because what else could attract this level of absolute SHIT FIGHT – but NO, it’s just a leopard, lying under a tree, about 10KM away that can be seen only after looking for 10 minutes in EXACTLY the right position, with military-grade binoculars. WTF KRUGER PEEPS? This is why I have started avoiding the Lower Sabie area – yes, there is cats galore but the number of cars and safari vehicles to cats is now at a ratio of about 100000:1. NOT WORTH IT.

baboonfmlFrom there we decided to go West towards Phabeni and were tipped off to a good sighting by a safari vehicle flying past us nearing the speed of light – these guys are not meant to tip each other off on the radio (to avoid exactly that) but clearly they still do. Eventually we found what the fuss was about – a mating pair of lions about 100M from the road. We decided to stay for half an hour but I guess the guy had lost his usual stamina because nothing but sleeping ensued. We left and went to the nearby dam where we enjoyed an awesome sighting of elephant bulls playing and frolicking in the water.

To finish off our first day we chose to take the S65 – one of our favourite Kruger roads from our April Kruger trip – and saw NOTHING (OK I lie, there were some ellies)… so funny how Kruger changes from one day/week/month to the next, as we drove this road three different days of this trip and never saw anything more exciting than elephants. Things got a little more exciting when we turned onto the H1-1 at the junction with the H3, as we came across something that was IMMEDIATELY exciting given the 30+ vehicles lined up along the two roads (literally). Turns out a lioness was stalking some impala. Despite the impending kill, time was running short and so was our patience with all the vehicles, so we chose to leave – heading down the S112 we were rewarded by a pack of WILD DOGS in the middle of the road! My brain failed to compute for a few moments when I thought there was a bunch of guinea fowl running away – but it turned out to be about 10 wild dog pups running up the road! In our absolute excitement we failed to get the best photos (OK, I failed) and then all of a sudden the dogs were gone with no trace! It was my favourite sighting of the day though as it was so unexpected, exciting and we were there by ourselves! We headed around the corner to Renosterkoppies to find a small family of elephants heading for a drink – but mum did come up to our car to check us out (followed by the whole fam) before going back and resuming her drink. In true CaraVan style we made it to the gate at 5:59PM – one minute to spare 🙂

KRUGER DAY 2: OUT OF PETROL & LATE TO THE GATE

Being the responsible one in our relationship, I wisely suggested we get petrol before heading out on our second day, as our petrol was showing only about 150KM or so left in the tank. Van, itching to be one of the first out of the gate at 6am, was not keen on the idea but after snapping at me and then seeing my angry face, relented and drove to the petrol station. OF COURSE (TIA) nobody came to help us and after waiting for a few minutes we gave up and drove out – wanting to go in search of the same wild dogs we saw the previous evening. As usual whenever you go looking for something specific you don’t find it and thus there were no wild dogs to be found – and not much else for that matter until we hit the S23 and Van’s ultimate ranger skills came into play! Noticing some Francolins more upset than usual hanging out at the top of the tree, Van was pretty adamant that a leopard was nearby. We drove slowly around until NEK MINIT a lovely little leopard was on the road! This young girl (think it was a girl) was clearly inexperienced at hunting and not really sure what she was doing, dancing around trying to get birds but failing miserably. It was such a fleeting sighting before she ran off that I didn’t even get my hallmark blurry shot in! After trying to locate her for a little while (and failing) we were kindly alerted to a sighting down the road a little of 4 male lions (since identified as the Eastern Bank males), and off we went to get our next cat sighting for the day. This was the first time I had driven on the S23 and I have to say, it’s a beautiful little road ending at Biyamiti Weir, a really stunning little location – and where our big four male lions were hanging out on this sunny morning… much to the annoyance of a herd of impala, who were huffing and puffing about their presence, and even coming closer to eye them off.. But not quite brave enough to continue onto the water! Wise decision. We stayed for a little while until I realised we were just about to RUN OUT OF PETROL so we carried on down the S114 off to Berg-en-dal for petrol and breakfast. Seriously WE JUST MADE IT – our little petrol indicator had completely given up after counting down the remaining KMs we had left – it was so angry it quit and ran away. Even the guy who filled up our car commented on how empty it was! I have never run out of petrol before and I did kinda think the middle of the South African bush probbbbabbly wasn’t the best place to start – but of course IT WAS VAN’S FAULT. Nonetheless all’s well that ends well I guess! At Berg-en-dal we had a lovely sighting of buffalo rolling around in the mud and playing while having breakfast – and then alarm calling from kudus suggested there was a predator lurking but all we managed to see was a nice herd of elephants and more buffalo.

lions-kruger-S112We visited the lions at the weir again but not much was happening so we ventured back to the tar road and saw more lions, elephants and more on the H3. Up past De Laporte where there were heaps of elephants drinking and playing and then we took the S3, S1 and S65 (not much to report) before hitting the S112 in the late evening again – hoping to catch our wild dogs… sadly no dogs to be found but we did come across three lovely lionesses who very nicely got up and walked right by our car shortly after we arrived. Given the late hour there was only a couple of safari cars and us. We then managed to get ourselves stuck as we had one lioness lying down just in front of our car and two safari vehicles right behind us with the other lioness up behind us next to them… we couldn’t leave! At this point we knew we were going to be late but what can you do when you are surrounded by lovely lions in the middle of the bush. ENJOY IT AND HOPE THE GATE GUY IS NICE. The driver of one of the safari vehicles kindly alerted us to the fact we were cutting things fine but I’m not really sure what he expected us to do? Run over the lioness in front of us, or perhaps run down the one behind us? Either way it was likely to ruin his guest’s sighting in my estimation. Finally the last of the lionesses walked past us so we were free to turn around and drive THE SPEED LIMIT (…..) back to camp. Wouldn’t you know it within about 2 minutes I spotted what looked like a leopard walking to the road but OF COURSE THERE WAS NO TIME BECAUSE THE GATE GUY WAS WAITING AT THE GATE TO TELL US OFF AND POSSIBLY FINE US. Double ‘of course’, we were then halted by a herd of about 10,000 elephants crossing the road to have a drink at De Laporte. Van thought this was the proof we needed as to why we were late to the gate and tried to film the never-ending crossing, but I knew it wasn’t going to save us because IT WAS ALREADY DARK! Mini tantrum from both of us and then we spotted a gap in the world’s largest elephant herd to squeeze through and keep driving. We made it to the gate by about 6:10pm and GATE GUY WAS NOT HAPPY. HASHTAG LATEGATE HASHTAG ANGRY FACE. His happiness was further depleted upon the revelation that I did not have our permit with us, which apparently you are meant to carry at all times (makes sense). I think he then decided it was time to knock off and have a drink because miraculously he let us go with no fine. HOORAY! Another Big 5 day in Kruger!

KRUGER DAY 3: LIONS, LIONS & MORE LIONS ON THE WAY TO LETABA

lions-Kruger-LetabaI do feel like this is quickly becoming the world’s longest Kruger monologue so I guess I should try and speed things up a bit. Today we were excited to be heading up to Letaba, driving one of our favourite roads – the H1-3 up to Satara. The drive started off slowly (translation: spectacular sunrise, elephants, giraffes, waterbuck and ground hornbills ) until we hit the current lion hot spot Kumana Dam. Here we encountered the full Kumana Dam super lion pride complete with 4 big male lions (Hilda’s rock males). This was all very exciting but nothing prepared me for what was to happen next…. Van spotted a few cars stopped a little way up the road so after I had taken obligatory 5,000 photos of the dispersed pride, we drove up to check what the fuss was about. LION CUBS!!! Right next to the road, posing nicely on a tree. AMAZING! Working his magic, Van got the car in exactly the right position and here we stayed taking photos and videos until the little cubbies got down and walked away. It was such a lovely sighting. We went to hang out at the pride waiting for the cubs to show up but in typical friendly Kruger style, someone pulled up next to us to let us know a leopard had killed a porcupine down the road so off we went, post-haste. Even though it was only about 1KM away, by the time we got there Mr leopard had dragged his kill under the road. THANKS LEOPARD, YOU DICK. We didn’t want to hang around not knowing if he would come back out so we returned to the pride, spent some time with them and then came back and checked the leopard again. He had obviously realised what a dick he had been and was now out lounging around under a tree. No porcupine to be seen unfortunately. At this point we realised we were starving and so headed to Satara via the S100, S41 and S90? The S100 did not disappoint, with a huge male lion with a kill next to the road and only two other cars. The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful (not surprising as it was middle of the day). After lunch we headed North, seeing some more lions lying under trees in the distance and then more lions AGAIN by the road just north of Olifants. They weren’t doing much and there were a few cars so we carried onto Letaba. As we got there by about 3pm we decided to give Van a break from driving and take the sunset drive. So after checking in, dropping things off and drinking a beer (Van) we went off on our sunset drive. Not surprisingly we went back to the same lions we had seen earlier but given it was getting much darker they were being a lot more exciting. Unfortunately our wonderful guide had failed to impart the typical rules of not standing up / walking in the vehicle and so it had become a bit of a free-for-all to get the best positions to see and take photos of the lions. I’d like to say that I refrained from this but let’s be honest… MOB MENTALITY. Anyway after a little while the male and one of the females came forward and gave the other female a nice hug… and things got even more interesting as we spotted another, much younger male lion come from the opposite side of the road and lie down on the road, looking at the lions. It didn’t seem like they realised but what do I know? I’m not David Attenborough. At this point the pandemonium on the SanParks sunset drive vehicle was too much for the first male lion to handle and decided HE HAD ENOUGH and charged the vehicle with a very anguished growl/roar (groar?). He was not happy. At this point they all freaked out and ran away but not before the other male lion decided it was his chance and he ran in and got in on the action and a lion-on-lion altercation ensued. However by this point they were not visible anymore so we missed out on seeing the action, we just got to hear it. The only other eventful part of our drive was when our driver/guide spent a long time explaining how this young male elephant was by himself because he got kicked out of the herd… only to have the rest of the herd join him two minutes later. AWKWARD. I bet she really hated that elephant. ANOTHER BIG 5 day for us. THE END (of day 3).

KRUGER DAY 4: OUT ORPEN AND INTO TIMBAVATI

Another slow start to the morning until we came across a leopard nice and close to the road – always nice to have this as your first sighting of the day (Ok I think maybe we did see an elephant before this but whatever). We hung out with him for a little while until he got up and walked away then off we went down past Satara and onto the S100, where vultures were having a field day with the remains of the male lion’s kill from the previous day – and we even saw a lappet-faced vulture (typically I only got a blurry photo!). We went in search of the famed white lion but sadly missed him again, but our consolation prize was a family of four cheetahs but they were a little too far from the road. We were rewarded after a few minutes with them getting up and walking off, but unfortunately not in our direction! Still it’s always nice to see cheetah (particularly more than one!). Not much else for our drive out on the H7 unfortunately and for our first day this trip in Kruger (albeit it was a half day) we did not see lions! That was rectified later that day while at Motswari, but that’s for ANOTHER overview, if I ever get around to it (I can tell you cannot wait).

KRUGER DAY 5: IN ORPEN AND BACK TO SKUKUZA (Day 7 of our trip)

whitewalker-lion-cub-KrugerAfter a couple of slower days at Motswari we were itching to get back into Kruger park! We made it to Orpen at about 12:30 or so and had some cool wildlife experiences before we got to the second gate – including a big elephant slipping down the side of the road and then trying to act as if nothing happened – classic! No cats on the H7 but we did find our family of 4 cheetahs once again on the S100 a few kms in and stuck around long enough to get a fantastic sighting of them on the road and then playing! We were running shorter on time so we decided not to drive the rest of the S100 but double back and take the tar down. The resident Kumana pride were not at the dam, but we did manage to see the tiniest lion cubs I have EVER seen at the same dead tree we had our cub sighting the few days earlier. It was difficult to see them but luckily Warren from Africa-in-Motion had a good spot and offered to take a photo with my camera. Unfortunately he’s a Nikon man and I’m a canon girl so he didn’t know the settings well enough but we still got a decent shot (I may have edited it slightly to appear as a whitewalker cub). We hung out for a little until Van was getting anxious about the time and just as we were leaving Kumana a big male lion pops out right beside our car! Another awesome sighting where I could have literally reached out and touched him as he sauntered past (NOT RECOMMENDED). That’s when things got interesting as he clearly wanted a cool afternoon drink but a young elephant had other ideas. As the lion tried to get down to the dam, the elephant came right around and chased him! Then Mr lion came and lay on the road by our vehicle, pretending it never happened and his self-esteem and place as king of the bush was still intact. At this point Warren pulled up beside us again with a hot tip on a leopard down the road so off we went in search of our leopard to complete another Big 5 day! Sadly when we got there it wasn’t to be seen and we didn’t have the time to hang around (since then we found out they did find it again) because we had to get back to Skukuza (could not risk pissing the gate guard off again). We missed leopard but it was still a great day! In the gate at 5:59 again – we time it to perfection! I think one of our favourite sightings though was our 300g Cattle Baron steak, because we were pretty damn hungry by the time we went to dinner!! OH and another welcome sight was Van’s family, who were waiting for us when we arrived but all ordered CHICKEN at Cattle Baron. WHAT THE?! Everyone knows it’s steak, steak or steak when you eat at CB. C’mon guys.

KRUGER DAY 6: HONEY BADGERS, SABLE AND THE BIG 5

sableOnce again we got up early and found ourselves sitting at the gate, ready for opening at 6am. We organised to meet the family at Kumana Dam later that morning – our intent was to get up to Kumana Dam quickly and hopefully enjoy the super pride of lions with not too many cars around. We had to stop the car for some pics though as soon as we stumbled upon a small herd of SABLE on the H1-3 – I think this was only the second time I had seen Sable in the park (incidentally I think the other time was on the same road but further on). We continued on an enjoyed a special sighting of a klipspringer surveying his surrounds at the very top of a rock (iconic!) and then in much excitement a little further along we spotted a honey badger crossing the road. We pulled up alongside him and watched him forage and chow down some food before carrying on. There were a couple of lions in the far distance at Mazithi Dam but unfortunately the super pride were nowhere to be seen at Kumana. We did glimpse the tiny little cubs in the bottom of the dead tree for a moment, so we sat next to the tree and waited for the rest of the family to find us. We had started to worry that they got lost (and we were stressing as we had no phone reception) but sure enough they arrived just before we were going to set off looking for them. We decided to head up to Satara for some lunch, but not before trying our luck on the S100 and S41 to find the white lion or perhaps the family of four cheetahs we had already seen twice this trip… it wasn’t to be though and it was a pretty quiet drive. The first time the S100 didn’t produce cats for us!!

leopardmurder

After our lunch at Satara we drove back down to Kumana Dam to see if the little cubs had come out yet – still no luck, however as we were sitting there searching, a car came past to let us know there was an amazing leopard (in a tree) sighting on the S86. Craving a quality cat sighting we hightailed it there to find this leopard in a tree RIGHT BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. Better still, the car that was there when we arrived left as we arrived, so we had the sighting to ourselves!! The leopard had recently made a kill, which he was hugging tightly. Perhaps he felt a bit bad about the malicious murdering, but suffice to say it was a bit late for misgivings. We sat with him and after a little while he moved to an even nicer posing position before hopping down to the ground. Then it was back to Kumana Dam again – at which point various elephants, giraffes and baboons decided to frolic in the water. AWWW AFRICA!!! We still had to make it back to Skukuza so after the obligatory 5,000 shots of this AFRICA SCENE we heading home, only to bump into a typical Kruger traffic jam a few kms down the road, caused by a lovely young female leopard hunting. Talk about right place, right time as this girl hung out right in front of our car! We visited the other leopard, told him he should get out and check out the fine piece of leopard just a few kms away but he was too busy being bothered by a vervet monkey terrorising him from above in the trees. Personally I wanted him to show the monkey who was boss, but obviously he was too tired from murdering and then hugging/regretting murdering the little duiker earlier that day. Farewelling our favourite leopard for the day, we drove back to Skukuza, finding another honey badger on the way! Back home for another delicious Cattle Baron steak – and this time we managed to convince Van’s parents to order steak as well! All was well with the world.

KRUGER DAY 7: DEVASTATION AS WE LEAVE THE PARK (BUT NOT BEFORE SPOTTING THE BIG 5 AGAIN)

We awoke with great trepidation as it was our last day and we had to leave! These are always the worst days as not only are we devastated for having to return to our normal lives (DEVASTATED), but we also have a 12 hour flight to look forward to AND there is so much pressure to see lots of animals in the final few hours because it MAY BE YOUR LAST EVER CHANCE. You know, in case we die or the world has a nuclear war or some such. The pressure was even greater as Van’s family were tagging along (in their car) so we had to try and make sure we picked the good roads with lots of cats and pangolins else maybe they would bitch about us once we were gone (just kidding, they would never do that… I hope). Things didn’t get off to a good start as the park mimicked downtown Hiroshima for the first couple of hours until we hit Biyamiti Weir and a family of lovely elephants came over for a drink. We hung out with them (taking more than a couple of photos) and at one stage they came right over next to us. It’s a pretty amazing feeling when you are sitting eye level with water and there are elephants looming above you only a metre or so away!! There were also the CUTEST Egyptian geese babies hanging out making for great photo ops as well.

Onwards and it wasn’t too far down the road and there were two cars parked… we assumed it would be a rhino or an elephant or something else BORING (kidding) but our little dirt road paid off again when it was actually THREE MALE LIONS, lying literally on the road. And to make things even better the other two cars left so we had them to ourselves! Cue 10,000 photos. The highlight was definitely when one of the male lions kept kicking his brother in the balls, which was evidently quite upsetting to his brother. Endless hours of enjoyment. Well, that was of course until a safari vehicle rocked up and radioed in his friends. At that point we decided it was our cue to leave and we set off, looking for a leopard to complete our big 5 for the morning. We were getting close to the gate when we came up to a decidedly leopard-looking area. I even went as far to declare “here’s where we’ll get our leopard” and lo and behold… we did! It wasn’t the best sighting as the leopard was not being very obliging by hiding behind some grass, but it was still A LEOPARD. And with a leopard there’s never a bad sighting 🙂

It was on to Malelane gate where there were tears from Van’s mum (as usual) as we said our good byes and then we set off, bound for Joburg airport and HOME again. Cue sadfaces and overall devastation.

And that, my friends, was our August Kruger trip. Even more awesome than most of our other Kruger trips, which is not even easy because KRUGER IS SO AWESOME. What was not as awesome was the huge evidence of the drought all over the park – it was SO DRY, though I have to say it probably wasn’t as bad as when we went in February. Next trip coming up in NOVEMBER SO GET EXCITED.

 

 

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