Ok so we have been a bit slack because we have had a few trips to Kruger that are yet to be posted about on here and I KNOW YOU HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING IN SUSPENSE. Ok so maybe you haven’t, but even so I think it’s time I provide a KRUGER UPDATE!! Maybe one of these days I’ll have time to skip back to our trips in November and December, but for now let’s focus on our January Kruger forays.
For anyone who follows us on Facebook (which all of you SHOULD do), you may have seen some totally amazing photos taken during our trip there at the beginning of January. We were only there for two nights, but we had AMAZING leopard luck – stay tuned for more details…
But before I launch into an overview of our awesome sightings, I feel like I have to talk about the park in general. MY GOODNESS IS IT GREEN AND SO, SO WET. It is unbelievable that this is the same park we were driving in last year during the drought. Waterholes and dams that were completely empty are now huge expanses of water – so much that you cannot even see where the water ends. IT MAY AS WELL BE AN OCEAN. There is water everywhere, and this is the case from down south at Crocodile bridge right up to the very north of the park at Pafuri. It is SO GREEN, and the grass is getting so long that it is starting to make game viewing quite difficult! The good news is I think some of the animals get sick of the long grass too (particularly when it’s wet) so at least you still manage to get some nice sightings on the roads.
I have honestly never seen the park this green or wet before, and there’s little doubt that the drought is well and truly over. In Makuleke at the north of Kruger, there has been more rain just in January than they usually see in a full year!
With all the rain comes more difficult game viewing. Animals are less likely to be seen at waterholes as there is water everywhere, and it’s so much harder to see them in the thick, tall grass. The upside though is that our herbivores are looking much healthier and the landscape around the park is absolutely stunning. Roads like the S41, S90 and S37 near Satara area that previously looked like a nuclear wasteland now look ridiculously beautiful – almost as if you are driving in the Masai Mara in Kenya. The wild flowers are out in force and seeing elephants, zebra, steenbok, impalas and all manner of animals walking through the sea of yellow or white truly takes your breath away.
The park is the most beautiful I have ever seen it, and though I do concede the game viewing has not been as good as it was during the drought (at least for predators), it has still been fantastic. So what did we see on our couple of trips in January?
We headed into the park for just two nights to kick-start our 2017 and we hit the jackpot within basically seconds of arrival. Heading in Orpen gate, we hadn’t even reached the proper gate (just gone through the boom gate) before we found the Orpen pack of wild dogs! We had seen them in late December on a day trip, and couldn’t believe our luck once again. Here’s a tip for you – the wild dogs seem to love the tar road when it rains – particularly in the early morning. We spent almost two hours hanging out with these gorgeous creatures before they finally disappeared and we continued on our way.
During the rest of the day our highlights included zebras playing right outside of Satara, millions upon trillions of zebra and giraffe on the S100, heaps of carmine bee-eaters and white storks and quite a few elephants. We checked into Olifants and decided to give Van a break from driving and do their sunset drive. Our guide said they had not been seeing many cats over the previous two weeks, so expectations were not high. We did manage to see quite a few hyenas though!
The next day was definitely the highlight of the trip – we chose to drive up to Letaba on the river road from Olifants. It was pretty quiet to begin with but just after we swapped driving (I was driving for once), Van spots a leopard on some rocks coming down to drink. I get the car into reverse but as soon as it comes to a complete stop our leopard decides to run away. Of course given I WAS DRIVING, there were no good photos to be had. On we go and once again there’s not too much happening until we get just a couple of km’s from Letaba and A LEOPARD TROTS OUT RIGHT IN FRONT OF US CARRYING ITS CUB ACROSS THE ROAD. Believe it or not, it was only about a month ago when I had said to Van “all I want to see is a leopard carrying its cub across the road”. WISH GRANTED. The moment was bittersweet though because once again I was driving and Van is a camera retard, so no footage or photographs were taken!! I felt so happy I had seen it but so disappointed I had no tangible memory to show others.
Seeing my distress, Van suggests we sit and wait in case the leopard has another cub that she needs to come back to fetch. I think this is pretty unlikely but agree to hang around. We swap seats again (inside the car) in case she does miraculously return. No sooner have we swapped than Van hears birds going crazy behind us and backs up the car to find a tiny little leopard cub sitting next to the road!! I honestly could not believe it. I madly start taking photos of this little guy but unfortunately a diesel 4WD shows up and scares the little cub away. We did get to see the mum come back across the road to fetch the cub and take it back again, but once again I was not able to get any footage! The memory (and cub photos) will have to suffice until such times as I get that lucky again (fingers crossed).
At this point we have seen four leopards by 7am and we are feeling pretty lucky. We stop at letaba for breakfast before heading down to Satara to meet our friends for some lunch. Driving the H1-6 down we come across a road block and immediately know it is something good. Sure enough it’s a leopard but nobody can see it anymore. There are plenty of impala around and apparently it disappeared from view stalking them. All the cars disperse, but not before another guy tells us that the leopard has already killed an impala and it’s up in a tree. Driving slowly past, Van spots the leopard at the base of the tree with the kill in it! Meanwhile all the cars are still leaving? So we end up being the only car there for a little while, watching this leopard contemplating climbing the tree. It takes a while, but finally he does so – but instead of eating his freshly killed impala, he decides to pull it down the tree and drag it across to another tree!
Once again there are lots of cars to see him pull it down but then everyone leaves, while we have gotten an amazing spot to watch him drag it across the fields of flowers to the safety of another tree. We sit for a while by ourselves watching him eat, but the visual is not great and he eventually disappears. Off we go to find our friends for a Mugg & Bean lunch at Satara!
Unfortunately the S100 has not been as lucky for cats for us recently as it once was, but we did find the Shishangaan pride (minus males and the white lion) on the S41, and decided to hang out with them for most of the afternoon. Then we took the AMAZINGLY STUNNING S90 up to Olifants, and what a beautiful drive it was. I honestly felt like I was in Kenya, with lush expansive green plains that were full of zebras, wildebeest and giraffes. It was so lovely to watch the sun setting as we drove to Olifants. Right near Balule there was a hyena den already in full force but we didn’t have time to stop and enjoy – as usual we were cutting it fine to get to the gate in time, but we arrived at 6:29 with one minute to spare!
The next day was very quiet on the predator front, though we did drive past a traffic jam on the S41 where there were about 50 cars hanging around for an ‘alleged’ two cheetah that were lying down under a tree somewhere within about 4km vicinity (allegedly). AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT. After waiting an eternity for some douche to move out of the way, we head on, and then Van and I had to leave the park. We said our farewells to our friends and hightailed it (at the speed limit or below) back out Orpen gate. Once again we managed to hit the jackpot between the official gate and the boom gate, finding a gorgeous female leopard lying in a tree RIGHT BESIDE THE ROAD! Now one of the friends we had just farewelled had always wanted to see a leopard lying in a tree, just as this one was doing (legs over either side of the branch). She was back at Satara, about an hour away… was it worth trying? OF COURSE!! Thankfully she was at Satara and had phone reception, so we told her to GET HER ARSE TO THE GATE and we then proceeded to wait for the full hour for them to arrive! And what a lovely little leopard we had, as she obligingly stayed in the tree, only moving around to find more comfortable spots a couple of times. Our friends arrived to realise their lifelong (or maybe just a year or so long) dream and we head back to Karongwe to continue our EcoTraining adventures!
Well folks, that’s what we are all about! Making people’s Kruger dreams come true 🙂
Now if you have the time (of course you do, what else is more important.. Work? No, I thought not), let me tell you about our second January trip to Kruger!
We were heading to the EcoTraining camp in the North of Kruger (Makuleke), so we decided to spend a couple of days in Kruger on the way (also I really was craving some air conditioning after spending two months camping in 40+ degree weather).
Our itinerary was as follows: 2 nights Satara, 1 night Shingwedzi (my favourite camp!). Now as the previous section was so long, I’m going to try and cut this one right down.
For once we didn’t find the Orpen wild dog pack on our way into the park but we did have a few lions close to the road right near Satara on the H7. After the previous week where we had been spending quite a good amount of time with the lions in Karongwe, this sighting didn’t meet our extremely high expectations and so we continued on to see what else we could find. As it turned out, not a huge amount! The S100 did not produce any cats for us but my goodness were there a lot of elephants!! Huge herds of ellies all around, and it was lovely to stop and spend time with them as they ate, drank and bathed.
The next day we had some great lion luck, finding a lovely male lion (Ngotso male) on the S90 before then finding the Shishangaan pride (minus the white lion) on the S41 at Gudzani East. We just managed to spot them in the long grass, but after a little while they very obligingly walked over to the road and lay just a few metres away from us! Some people pulled up next to us to tell us there were some male lions a few kms down and so we went to check that out – sure enough the four Shishangaan male lions were lazing about, but they were much further from the road so the visual wasn’t great. The rest of the day was relatively quiet, though we did see some of the Kumana pride of lions at kumana dam but again, a very poor visual due to the long grass. I actually think we saw another lion somewhere that day but it was also not a good sighting… but I cannot quite remember where that was! We did end up going and checking on the shishangaan pride in the afternoon but they had moved even further away and you could barely see them.
On our next morning (leaving Satara) we decided to drive the tar up to Mooiplaas for our breakfast and then take the S50 straight up to Shingwedzi. Not long after we set out we came across some extremely entertaining hyenas on the H1-4. Just north of Satara. One of the youngsters was so curious we did get worried it was going to jump in our car at one point! We spent a little bit of time enjoying their antics before we carried on. Lots of elephants once again but not much else until we hit a lovely road block on the S50 where about 15 giraffes and two zebras were having a nice lunch break in the road! We stopped again for quite a while to enjoy the sighting as it isn’t that often you get that many giraffes (along with a couple of zebras) hanging out on the road! By the time we hit Shingwedzi it was pouring rain! That afternoon we did go out for a short drive but did not manage to see anything too exciting (by our extremely high standards).
Our last morning heading up to Makuleke was also pretty quiet UNTIL we managed to find TWO CHEETAHS next to the road! They walked into the long grass but luckily we stayed with them because they ended up coming back to the road and even posed nicely on a Kruger sign (see my best ever Instagram photo here) before continuing their hunt in the thick grass where we lost them. It was such a lovely sighting, and there was an elderly South African couple who also enjoyed the sighting and they were SO EXCITED about it because in all their years of visiting the park they had never properly seen cheetah! Well I have to say I was pretty happy because I had said to Van that I really wanted to see a cheetah and voila! I should probably say things like that more often 🙂
Stopping in at Pafuri picnic site on our way to Makuleke was incredible – at parts the grass was higher than our car (not on the road but next to it) – it would be virtually impossible to see any animals, even elephants might be hidden in some of the grass up there! Pafuri picnic site is beautiful though and definitely somewhere I am looking forward to spending more time at in June (or maybe even beforehand)!
So that was the very long story of our Kruger adventures in January 2017 (also read about Kruger April 2016, Kruger August 2016 and Kruger April 2017 if you are keen:)). Kruger park is so very lush and green, and it has been amazing to see the transformation from just a few months ago, where everything looked so dead. It is a little harder to see the wildlife, but the beauty of the flowers and green grass (and happy herbivores) definitely makes up for it!