9 Days in The Kruger (I’ll never visit a zoo or aquarium again…)

Most folks have visited a zoo or aquarium at least once in their lives by the time they reach adulthood.  School field trips, family outings, even adults trying to capture the fun and innocence of their youth.  I know that I always enjoyed them, especially after catching the photography bug some years ago.  What better way to spend a weekend afternoon than shooting great pictures of a wide selection of animals from all over the world, without having to travel very far???

We just returned from our second visit to the Kruger National Park,  a very large protected reserve in northeast South Africa.  The Kruger Park is approximately 216 miles long, has an average width of 40 miles and, at its widest point, it is 54 miles from east to west. There is a network of over 1,000 miles of well maintained paved and unpaved roads, and the Reserve has 21 rest camps, 2 private lodge concessions, and 15 private safari lodges…  SanParks, the South Africa National Parks organization overseeing the Kruger, even has a great website that allows easy reservations for camps and activities.  All you need is a rental vehicle, and you, too can take an idyllic journey through a wonderland that is home to dozens of unique animal species and some incredible scenery…

For this visit, we were to stay at Skukuza, the largest of the full rest camps for one night at the beginning and end of our journey.  Sandwiched in between would be three night stays at Biyamiti and Talamati, smaller bushveld camps located more remotely.  What they lack in amenities (no store/restaurant/fuel), they make up for in peace and quiet, and close proximity to more animals.

A few Observations after two visits to the Kruger:

  1.   Slower is better for sightings.
  2.   We generally avoid the traffic jams.  Often hard to see, and usually stressful.
  3.   We take time to appreciate every sighting, even of common animals.
  4.   We say a heartfelt “thank you” out loud for special sightings.
  5.   We marked down every unique species, and the number of sightings each   day.  It really makes each drive fun!!!

And now, on to our report!!!

Day One – 18 November 2016

After a very long 20 hours of travel from Miami, FL, our journey began with a pleasant overnight stay at the Citylodge Hotel, located on the OR Tambo airport property.  This is a very reasonable, convenient and clean hotel that included a filling breakfast buffet for around R1,700 ($130 US).  After breakfast, we walked to the domestic terminal for our short mid-morning flight to Skukuza…

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We arrived at the Skukuza Airport (SZK) at around 1100AM local time.  After completing our registration and obtaining permits from the SanParks desk, we picked up our rental vehicle, a Toyota Fortuner ($600 US for 9 Days), a wonderful vehicle for game drives…plenty of height and room, decent sight lines.  The diesel engine sips fuel…we drove over 1,000 miles during our stay, and the fuel cost was less than $100 US.

Since we could not check into Skukuza until after 2PM, we planned to drive into Hazyview through the Phabeni Gate, and pick up groceries for the week.  Being vegetarians, we knew from our first visit that the selection of suitable groceries at the camp store was slim.

Our first game drive of the trip started well…we saw elephants a short while from Skukuza, along with the usual cast of characters…zebra, giraffe, antelope, kudu, hornbills, rollers, etc..  The ShopRite in Hazyview was well stocked and reasonable, at least in USD…a week’s groceries was $125.00 US, and included purchasing 2 soft sided coolers and ice packs.  We spent an additional $50.00 US at the Skukuza camp store for 6 bottles of nice ZA wine and 6 large bottles of still water.

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(zebra mom and baby towards Phabeni Gate)

We returned through Phabeni Gate and continued to Skukuza, where we checked into unit 209, a GC6 chalet on the river, with 2 bedrooms and 2 en suite baths, on either side of a great room with nice kitchen, dining area and lounge area.  There is also a covered patio overlooking the river for al fresco dining.  The is the only GC6 cabin in Skukuza.  I’m sure that it gets booked quickly..we reserved it for the first and last night in January 2016 for our November trip. The cost was R2,320 ($178 +/- $US) per night before conservation fees.  We ate a quick, inexpensive dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, french fries and still water at the Cattle Baron take away, before getting a good night’s sleep.  We planned to be out of the gate when it opened at 430 the next morning…

Day 2 – 19 November 2016

This was moving day…our transition from Skukuza to Biyamiti bushveld camp.  As the crow flies, Biyamiti is not all that far from Skukuza.  In fact, the most direct route is perhaps 50 km from Skukuza.  However, why take the most direct route, when you can spend a long, wonderful day driving though the Kruger, with potentially incredible sightings waiting for you around every corner.  Also, you must drive slowly, if you expect to see all that is around you.  On the tar (paved) roads, the posted speed limit is 50 kph (30 mph), and 40 kph (24 mph) on the unpaved roads.  That being said, if you drive at the speed limit, I suggest that you will indeed miss out on many potential sightings…the hippo below was tucked way back in a small water hole, and would probably have been overlooked had we been driving along at 40 kph…

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Our route took us out of Skukuza in a generally southwest direction to our first stop, Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, where we would have breakfast at the Wimpy.  We drove on paved roads all the way, averaging 30 – 35kph.  We again saw three of the big 5 – including elephant and cape buffalo, along with many other animals…the one highlight was spotting a regal, male sable antelope very close to Pretoriuskop.  According to park data, there are only perhaps 300 sable antelope in the entire park, so this was indeed quite a sighting!  Regrettably, he was very shy, and immediately took off behind our vehicle and across the road before we could get a shot off with our cameras….

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After a satisfying, if slow breakfast and pit stop at the Wimpy, we headed southeast on the Voortrekker Road , eventually aiming for the Afsaal Picnic Site around lunch time.  We actually passed the picnic site initially, and worked our way south towards Malelane, then looped back north.  A passing car told us of a pack of African wild dogs with a kill near Renosterpan off of the H3, about 5 clicks south of Afsaal.  We arrived there just before noon, and experienced our first traffic jam of the trip.  More than a dozen vehicles jockeying for position to see the 4 or 5 wild dogs perhaps 70 meters into the bush.  Occasional heads peeking up, a flash of movement.  We both managed some nice photos…

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Tiring of the traffic jam, and the fact that the dogs were very hard to see, we proceeded further on towards Renosterpan.  We were rewarded by seeing a flock of a dozen or so southern ground hornbills, which proceeded to parade across the road in front of us.  We were the only car around, and managed to take some great photos of these fascinating avian friends…

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As it was getting well into the lunch hour, and our breakfast sustenance had long worn off, we headed north to the Afsaal picnic site.  We had read some unfavorable reviews previously, and recently some reported that the restaurant was under new management.  We are happy to report that the restaurant is quite good, and reasonably priced.  We did not see much vegetarian fare on the chalkboard menu.  We asked the nice young lady, and she said, “you eat eggs and cheese?”  “Yes”, we replied.  “Bush Toast”, she said, and smiled.  We ordered three bush toast, and a couple of bottles of still water.  Soon she delivered three of the largest sandwiches I have seen in a while, each with a generous portion of french fries and homemade coleslaw.  They were delicious…and very filling.  I finished one, and JET finished only half.  We asked for takeaway boxes for one order of fries and 1.5 sandwiches, which would be part of two future dinners…lunch cost R150 ($12 US) with tip…

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(note: that is one sandwich cut in half on the plate in the background)

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With full bellies, we pressed on to our final destination for day two, Biyamiti Bushveld Camp.  It is located on its own private access road, restricted to SanParks personnel and registered guests.  The road is sometimes referred to as the “Magic Road”, and it lived up to its reputation.  We saw many of the Big 5 on the 18 km of unpaved road to the camp, including a large bull elephant shortly after we entered the restricted road…

…and this fellow, a resident male leopard who surprised us as we rounded a bend, coming out of the bush right in front of our vehicle.  We were unprepared to get much more than “butt shots”, but what a sighting nonetheless…

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We checked into Biyamiti (unit #9), which sits on the banks of a (now dry) riverbed.  Our cabin was near a bird hide, and had an excellent location on the river.  We saw many different animals while staying there, including a splendid ellie family…

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Unit 9 at Biyamiti, with our trusty Fortuner

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Ellie family in the dry riverbed looking from our cabin at Biyamiti

After unpacking, and confirming arrangements for our private, full day game drive the next day with reception and the ranger, we made a quick supper, and turned in for a good sleep.  The 3 AM alarm would come very quickly, so we would be ready to depart at 4AM.

Day 3 – 20 November 2016

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Sunrise from cabin 9, Biyamiti Bushveld Camp

Biyamiti is a world of peace and tranquility.  Have a listen to the camp before the sun rises…not much to see, but the sounds of the bush waking up are intoxicating…

In addition to the regular game drives and activities available at camps in the Kruger, private, full day game drives in a 10 seater with ranger can be arranged.  Costs seem to vary at each camp.  At Biyamiti, we paid R3,060 for two of us in a 10 seater.  Simon was our ranger/guide for the day, which started promptly at 4AM.  That is a benefit of arranging one of these drives…you can leave 1/2 hour before the camp gates open, giving you ample opportunity to see nocturnal animals, and beat other traffic to the roads.

We saw many animals on the morning portion of our drive, including a nice group of giraffe and an African fish eagle in a tree 150 meters away…

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We slowly made our way toward Lower Sabie rest camp, taking the restricted access power line road.  This is cheetah country, with open areas they prefer.  We did not see any cheetah this day…we did see a group of 7 or 8 lions moving to shade a couple hundred meters away…

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Our growling stomachs suggested that it was indeed time for lunch, so we stopped at Lower Sabie rest camp for a pit stop and lunch at the Mugg & Bean restaurant.  While there, we had some unexpected excitement.  Apparently, a deadly black mamba snake had found its way into the rafters of the restaurant.  Fearing that the snake might drop down on unsuspecting diners, the interior of the restaurant was evacuated, and all of the large sliding panel doors closed, effectively quarantining the interior of the restaurant while a snake wrangler was summoned.  Abdul, the snake wrangler, arrived a short while later, and had the wayward serpent safely in a plastic storage container within minutes.  He proudly posed for pictures and questions…

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After lunch, we started heading back toward Biyamiti.  We had one more lion sighting, complete with requisite traffic jam.  Being in the heat of the afternoon, the lioness was comfortably in the shade, and 75 meters away, which made for tough shooting conditions…

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We made it back to Biyamiti by around 4 PM, satisfied with another full day of exploring the Kruger.  After a nice dinner which included some of the delicious sandwiches from Afsaal the day before, we spent some time reviewing our photos from the last couple of days, and made it an early night so we would be up and at ’em for a 430AM start the next day.

A note about Biyamiti….we would stay in this camp again, mainly due to the quiet location and privacy assured by the restricted road.  We would most likely choose a different cabin, though.  Ours (#9) was a 2 bedroom, which made it nice to spread out.  However, there is no place inside to sit down, other than on a bed.  The sit down furniture is all outside on the patio.  This can be inconvenient if the bugs are biting (they were), or if you are not fond of bats, which have nests in the rafters of the covered patio…just sayin…

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Day 4 – 21 November 2016

Day 4 started early, 430AM out the gate.  The morning was ordinary, if there is such a thing as an ordinary day in the Kruger.  Although we did not see many Big 5 animals before lunch, our slow drives did yield a number of sightings of some of the smaller denizens of the park:  a leopard tortoise, a three banded plover and a sand piper…

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Three banded Plover

After fuel, coffee and a pit stop at Crocodile Bridge, we headed north, once again in cheetah country.  On our first visit to the Kruger in November 2015, we did not see any cheetahs or wild dogs.  Having checked off one of the two previously on this trip, our hopes were up.  Low and behold, we came across a lone cheetah lying quite well hidden in the shade.  There were three large ellies nearby.  At some point, the ellies moved closer to the large bush the cheetah was laying under, finally starting to rub their huge bodies against the bush.  With a look of “oh, for the love of Pete…”,  the cheetah abruptly stood and exited, stage right…

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After a lunch break at Lower Sabie, we checked the sighting board for the day.  There were reportedly several lion sightings north of the camp, so we headed north, and stopped first at Sunset Dam for a look.  Not much in the heat of high afternoon, although a pretty Pied Kingfisher did make an appearance…

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After leaving Sunset Dam, we came upon a small group of cars. We asked what they were looking at.  A woman said that there was supposedly a lion, but no one could see it.  Luck would have it that we were perfectly positioned for a few photos of the lioness, again some 50 or so meters from the road…

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We had to get back to Biyamiti, as the afternoon was winding down, and we were tired from 12 hours on the road.  We did manage to see some kudu, baboons, a couple of crocodiles and one of my new favorite birds, a Hamerkop at a water hole very near the Biyamiti private road turnoff…

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Baboon on the S114

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Hamerkop near Biyamiti

Day 5 – 22 November 2016

Another moving day, since our 3 nights at Biyamiti were complete.  After a quick breakfast, we packed up the Fortuner and were out the gate by 430AM, heading north toward Skukuza.  Notable sightings along the way were a family of hyenas and a superb black chested snake eagle…

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We stopped for a rest at Tshokwane picnic site, and checked the sightings board for any intel.  Pressing north with a destination of Satara rest camp for lunch, we encountered an ellie roadblock and hippos floating in the morning sun…

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We made it to Satara for an extended lunch break.  After lunch and checking out the store, we again checked the sightings board.  A young man standing there told us of a leopard sighting at the intersection of the H1-3 and the S125 south of Satara.  Apparently, 2 leopards had a warthog kill up in a tree, with one leopard in the tree and the other on the ground.  We decided to head there, since it was in the general direction of Talamati bushveld camp, our home for the next 3 nights…

We arrived at the intersection of the H1-3 and S125 and…nothing…nada…zilch…certainly no trees large enough that looked like they would hold a leopard and warthog.  We drifted south a couple of clicks on the H1-3, and looked at a family of ellies under a grove of trees near a large water hole, and some hippos floating in the water.  After taking some more “ellie” photos (can you really ever have enough?  I think not), we turned around and headed back north to the S125, then headed west toward Talamati.  About a click off of the H1-3, I spied a large bird circling in the air.  I pulled over to try and shoot a pic for identification.  A car approached and stopped with sweeter news that I have never heard (at least on this trip).  “Reset your odometer…” said the man…. “drive exactly 12 kilometers from here…two male lions right by the side of the road, sleeping…they have been there all day…”Thank you…” we said.  “Any other cars?”  “No..” said the man, and he drove off.

Twelve kilometers is a pretty short distance, and it was quite possibly the longest we have ever experienced.  About half way to the sighting spot, JET says, “There’s a Kori Bustard…wanna stop?”  “I don’t think so…”  I said…”Kori Bustard vs two male lions right beside the road.  Sleeping.  I think the lions win..”  She agreed.

We arrived at the spot, and there they were, 5 meters from the road.  Only one other vehicle.  We spent an hour there, in absolutely elated awe.  What beautiful, noble animals.  We each took probably 100 photos, tack sharp, with perfect lighting.  There were never more than 3 vehicles there, including our own.  A 10 seater full of tourists arrived and stayed for 15 minutes.  One of the guys in the rear most row dropped a lens cap over the side.  I looked at him with a look that said “Looks like you’ll be shopping for a new lens cap…”

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Post-trip note regarding this lion pair.  Sandmans, a destination expert for the Kruger Park on TripAdvisor, made the following comment after reading this report:

“most likely they are the Mluwati Pride, a coalition of two males residing around the S125, very handsome boys, one being darker maned and the other a little lighter…”

Thanks to Sandmans for the comment.  We could have stayed for another 3 hours with these spectacular fellows.  Sadly, we had to move on to make it to Talamati before the gate closing.   We knew that we had just been part of a rare occurrence, even for the Kruger, and our hearts were permanently changed that day…

Day 6 – 23 November 2016

We had arranged for a second private, full day game drive during our trip, this time from Talamati.  Driving for 12 – 15 hours every day definitely takes its toll.  If you are an avid photographer, it can be doubly tiring.  Our ranger/guide for this trip was Eulandah (Yo-lahn-dah), one of a handful of female Sanparks rangers.  She picked us up at 4AM sharp, and we set off.  Slowly.  20kph slowly, about 12 miles per hour, no faster than a leisurely bike ride.  I thought that her speed was because it was still dark.  I was wrong.

We saw a honey badger digging in the predawn darkness less than a click out of camp, but our pictures did not come out well…too dark.  We saw another rare sable antelope in the darkness, and this time had photos to prove it…

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We passed the sacred marula tree just before the junction with the S36 and then turned south.  Creeping along, slowly but surely, watching the Kruger awaken before our eyes.  Eulandah was economical with her words, but they were effective.  She abruptly stopped the 10 seater.  “Leopard..” she whispered, and pointed.  We looked to our right, and saw nothing in the early morning light.  “Look down…” she said.  And there it was, right below us, and 5 meters from the vehicle…a beautiful leopard, lying crouched, staring intently at a nearby drainage culvert.  A second crazy good sighting of one of the Big 5 in as many days, and not another car in sight.  We spent 30 minutes with this handsome boy…

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“Let’s see what else the bush will show us today…” said Eulandah, as we slowly drove away…

We headed toward the spot where we had seen the Mluwati lions the day before, hoping that they might still be around.  When we arrived at the spot, the lions were no longer there.  However, another large leopard surprised us as it crossed the road and disappeared into the bush.  Two different leopard sightings in less than an hour…..incredible…

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As we moved south towards Tshokwane, our first pit stop, we were still moving at 20 kph.  On the tar road.  Cars buzzing by us.  I was a little frustrated.  My urban USA impatience was vying for control.  I suppressed it, hearing her words again.  What will the bush show us?

Up ahead, Eulandah gently stopped and pointed to a huge, well cleaned carcass, probably an elephant.  “Jackal…” she said and pointed.  We saw it, but the other drivers cruising at 50 kph surely missed it.  A black backed jackal cleaning up the remaining scraps of a kill..

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We continued on, seeing waterbucks, wildebeests, and many other animals.  We stopped at Tshokwane for a break.  We had now been on the road for 5 hours.  One does not travel very far, very fast at 20 kph.  And that’s the beauty.  My paradigm shifted that day, and I thank Eulandah for it.  From that moment on, we never approached our game viewing in the Kruger the same.  Slow and steady…the tortoise wins the race.  We even saw our third leopard sighting of the day: sleeping beside the road.  There was a huge traffic jam, so we moved on after a few minutes…

We finally made it to Skukuza, and one of Eulandah’s guide friends told her of a lion sighting near Nhlanganeni, a little to the south.  We slowly motored our way down there and finally saw the traffic jam, and it was epic, even for the Kruger.  The vehicles were 3 and 4 deep in places, all trying for a better position.  We finally saw the cats, about 100 meters away, and they even started to run along the river bank.  Eulandah was courageously trying to work into a better viewing position, and we stopped her.  We have seen the lions, and we don’t want to be part of this jam-up…it’s OK to move on, we told her…even so, we managed a few shots…

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After a lunch of tasty veggie sandwiches at the Skukuza Golf Club restaurant (included in the price of the full day drive), we set out to the north and Talamati.  It was now about 2PM.  At this speed, we would most certainly not be anywhere near the camp by 630PM gate closing.

“There’s still time…”, she said…

Over the next 5+ hours we saw a boatload of animals.  We had started to keep track of unique species sightings, and the number of sightings.  By the time we left Skukuza, we were up to 25 different species, some with multiple sightings.  We saw zebra, giraffe, hyenas, buffalo, scrub hares, kudus, many birds including a stunning woodland kingfisher and a hippo out of the water as dusk approached…

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Exhausted and elated, we finally made it back to Talamati, well after dark, and well past the gate closing.  We used the same spotlights on our approach as we had to begin the day, over 15 hours earlier.  No honey badger or sable, but we did see the tell tale glowing eyes of bush babies in the trees as we slowly drove past.  We thanked Eulandah for a stupendous day, one in which we saw the complete Big Five, most of them of them multiple times, and learned how to truly enjoy the bush…

Day 7 – 24 November 2016

Back behind the wheel after the epic day before, I was excited as we pulled out of Talamati at 430AM for another game drive.  Slow and steady no longer seemed to drag.  We immediately started to track our sightings, JET dutifully recording them as I called out “Impala…mark it a 9, dude…”.  We encountered several foot patrols and a truck patrol of armed rangers on anti-poaching duty.  Comforting to see, given the poaching problem in the Kruger.  We spotted a lone southern ground hornbill crossing the road ahead.  The light was perfect…

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After a while, we heard the clarion call of a Red Crested Korhaan, the bird well known for its bizarre mating ritual of flying straight up into the air 30 feet or so, then contorting itself into a football shape and dropping dangerously close to the ground before coming out of the fall and gliding to a stop.  We saw one do this a year ago.  The one we saw this morning would not put on a show…

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As the sun really started to rise, we saw something crossing the road ahead.  Perhaps 4 or 5 vehicles were there watching. Another cheetah!  We spent about 15 minutes watching it pace back and forth across the road.  We both took some great photos…it was truly breathtaking to see him lope across the ground…

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We continued on our journey that would next stop at Satara for an extended lunch break, and give us a chance to plug in for a couple hours.  Talamati is a beautiful camp, but you are unplugged.  Again, we were marking down all of our sightings.  Zebra crossing?  Check.  Wee steenbok cleverly hiding under a far away bush?  Check…

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After our lengthy lunch/rest, we headed back on the road toward Talamati.  The sun was high.  We checked out a lion sighting near Satara…another traffic jam including some of the biggest tour buses we have ever seen.  We quickly nixed the plan and reversed our steps, seeing more baboons and waterbuck on the way…

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As we approached our turn onto the s125 toward Talamati, we spotted a beautiful martial eagle high up in a tree.  The lighting was less than ideal, but nonetheless a splendid sight…

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We wound our way west on the S125 in the fading afternoon light, JET saw a lone hyena making its way to a nearby waterhole.  The dappled afternoon light made for some nice photos as it took a bath…

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Today’s count:  32 species, half of them with multiple sightings.  We packed up our bags and partially loaded the Fortuner, then had one last dinner at Talamati.  Tomorrow would be our last full day in the Kruger, and another moving day, back down to Skukuza.

Day 8 – 25 November 2016

Days 5 – 7 had been off the charts successful.  We had so completely eclipsed our first visit a year ago, which was in itself a great trip.  Now, as we said good bye to Talamati for the last time, we were beginning to set our sights on Skukuza, and preparing for the long journey home to Miami the next day…

And then this greeted us…

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Words can’t do this image justice…well, maybe Robert Frost could, but I digress…was this exquisite sunrise a sign of good things on the horizon?  JET said that now that we had ticked off so many things on the viewing list, she would like to see some lionesses and cubs.  We made our way to Satara for one last time, where I picked up a couple of cups of coffee to go.  As we were walking by the sighting board, a man swaggered up to the board, obviously just back from his own early morning drive, and with no shortage of flourish, placed a marker indicating lions on a road north of the camp, and smugly walked away.

JET looked at me as though to say maybe we should head north and see if we can locate it.  I said that we should really point ourselves south, that we had a long drive and had to keep south if we wanted to arrive in Skukuza by mid afternoon.  We jumped into the Fortuner, and headed south on the H1-3 toward Skukuza.  Soon, we came to the junction with the unpaved S100.  We had earlier talked about going east on that road to the S41, and taking that south to the H6, then back to the H1-3, for a nice loop.  Do we turn left, or go straight?  My gut was telling me we needed to go straight, continuing on the H1-3.  Good call…this is what greeted us a couple clicks down the road…

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Yes, a pride of 20 something lions and cubs resting on the H1-3 with barely a car in sight.  Two cars, actually, including ours.  The night had been quite cool, and they were probably on the road for warmth before the sun rose.  We enjoyed them for 10 minutes before they headed off into the bush on the right.  Only a single other car joined us, from the south…

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We felt fully blessed and in awe that we were witnessing such a sight…

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After 10 minutes or so, they all made their way into the bush to our right…

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After they disappeared, more cars started showing up, totally unaware of what had just happened.  We drove ahead in silence, because we really could not articulate the feelings we had.  Our adrenaline was sky high.  We actually pulled over to the side of the road for about 10 minutes, to process what we had just seen.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to ordinary folks.  This was National Geographic worthy…

After regaining some equilibrium, we proceeded south once again.  And there it was, another sighting we were hoping for.  A secretary bird.  We saw two of them last November 2015, for a brief second, before they hurriedly took off.  We did not get any photos then.  We did this time…

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We stopped at Tshokwane for a break, and I marked the lion sighting on the board.  As we were about to leave, JET noticed a guide in a close by vehicle talking to another driver.  She could tell the guide was giving the driver intel, and gave a three fingers sign.  That surely meant “3 of something”.  So, we followed the car as they headed north and turned east onto the S35 toward the Orpen Dam.  About 3 clicks from the tar road, we saw what the intel was about.  3 lionesses resting in plain sight, about 30 meters from the road.  Again, only us and another vehicle, which only stayed for a few minutes.  We spent 45 minutes with them, watching as cars came and went, never more than 2 others…

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By this time, we both were mentally fatigued.  Sensory overload.  We stopped a couple vehicles on our way south and passed on the intel regarding the Orpen lionesses.  We arrived at Skukuza mid afternoon, and checked into unit #209 once again.  We unpacked the Fortuner, and I drove it over to the car wash by reception to have the nice young fellow wash off a week’s worth of the Kruger and make it pretty again.  We repacked most of our luggage for the journey home tomorrow.  We then plotted our final half day of game drives for tomorrow morning, before catching our flight to JNB.

We had a celebratory dinner at the Cattle Baron, tipping our glasses to the Kruger, in thanks for a great week (s0 far)…

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Day 9 – 26 November 2016

Rain.  That is what greeted us as we awoke.  The Kruger is in dire need of rain.  There has been a severe drought for many months, so the rain was a welcome sight.  It also made the thought of our journey ending easier to bear.  We headed out from our cabin at 410AM, and were second in line at the gate.  We decided to stick to tar roads with the newly washed vehicle.  We had roughly 4 hours to drive, which would allow us 90 minutes to shower and finish packing before checkout at 10AM.

After an hour or so, we came upon a mother hyena sleeping by the side of the road with cubs tucked close to her body.  Juveniles were playing on the road…

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We turned around, intending to head back closer to Skukuza and take a different road for an hour.  After 10 minutes or so, we came upon a few cars stopped in the rain.  A cheetah mother and cub in the bush on our right.  I made the mistake of slowly pulling forward while we looked.  Of course, they emerged from the bush and crossed the road…behind us.  Even so, we got some nice shots.  Lesson learned…going forward, if we ever are in that situation, I will back up and let it play out in front of us…

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After the third cheetah sighting of our visit, we spent another hour or so slowly driving, always watching the clock.  We saw more animals, dutifully marking them down.  Pretty soon, it was time to take the turn that would point us to the SZK airport and home…

There is a waterhole near Pretoriuskop named “Shitlhave”.  To us, it looked like “Shit I have”.  Much of US culture is centered upon conspicuous consumption and accumulating “things”.  Seeing the sign for “Shitlhave” reminded us that the “shit we have” is more about memories than things, and we are OK with that.

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Thank you to the SanParks organization for maintaining such a stellar game preserve.  Thanks to the friendly people of South Africa for their warm hospitality, especially the teams at Biyamiti and Talamati.  And thank you to the animals of the Kruger for allowing us into your home.

A note on rhinos:

Current estimates suggest that 25,000 rhinos are left on the entire African continent, with the largest concentration being in the Kruger National Park.  Poaching is a huge problem, and the worst of it targets the Kruger.  We were blessed with seeing 51 different white rhinos during our 9 day visit.  I have intentionally avoided mentioning them in this trip report.  There are many evil people out there looking for all means available to locate and poach these beautiful animals.  We should all do everything we can to protect them…

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The End

Tall Guy & JET 2016

Photo Details:

Sony Alpha A77 (2 bodies), Sony A77 mkII, Sony A550, Sony RX-100

Sony 70-400mm SSM GII (2 copies)

Sony 500mm f8 AF mirror lens

Sigma 8-16mm super wide angle

no polarizing filters used

all photos shot in RAW format except for the A77 mkII body, which was shot in jpeg extra fine.  Post-processing in Lightroom 4.4

Author: TG&jet

Nature photographers - wildlife, landscapes, underwater; travelers; bloggers

10 thoughts on “9 Days in The Kruger (I’ll never visit a zoo or aquarium again…)”

  1. Great trip report, I love the Kruger and spend much time there (I live in South Africa now). Just some additional information about the mamba at Lower Sabie… There have been 2 living for some time there in the restaurant up in the rafters. Photos surface on different facebook groups from time to time. I was there in April and saw a rather large one (about 2 metres) cruising around up in the rafters during dinner one night. They were letting him stay for the time, as he mostly stayed high up, but still I thought it pretty risky (he did get a bit close a few times apparently). I think it is good they finally decided to relocate him. There was also a small python who took up residence in the birdbath outside of reception back in April but I do not know if he is still around.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, Bruce: Thanks for the note. It was a collaborative effort, using both of our photos. Not all of the sightings allowed much time…the second and third cheetah sightings were perfect examples. The cheetah was not stationary, and the entire sighting lasted about 10 minutes in each case.

      As each day passed, we knew that we were being blessed at an unusual level. Our first visit in November 2015 was probably more typical, and it was great. We are still dumbstruck as to what we witnessed…

      Like

  2. Great report and interesting reading. Didn’t you think of mixing Kruger with a private game reserve which would have given you a different perspective.

    We did both 2 years ago and have fallen in love with S Africa are going back in Easter 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Jimmy: When we first considered a South African safari several years ago, we originally focused on private concessions. Once we discovered SanParks and the Kruger, though, we have never seriously considered them again. Maybe it’s because we are generally loners and do-it-yourselfers who have never enjoyed group tour environments, and/or everything being taken care of. For us, we can stay at the best accommodations in any of the Kruger camps (which are really nice), book private, full day game drives in a 10 seater with just the 2 of us and ranger/guide, eat out or cook as much as we choose, and still pay considerably less than what a mid range private concession would cost for two people. More than just the cost, though, it is about independence. Regarding game viewing, I would put our 7 full and 2 haf days of viewing up against anyone – be it in the Kruger or a private concession. 51 rhino, almost as many lions over multiple sightings, 3 leopard sightings, 3 cheetah sightings, 2 sable sightings, countless, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, kudu, waterbuck, bushbuck, steenbock, duiker, klipspringer, hyenas, hippos, crocodiles, mongoose, baboons, even wild dogs and a honey badger, a wide variety of birds including a martial eagle, hamerkop, secretary bird…

      Nothing at all against private concessions…they are just not our cup ‘o tea…

      Liked by 1 person

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