Part 5- First ever trip to Africa-Final forays from Skukuza

Our final days and nights in Kruger National Park were spent in and around Skukuza. There was plenty of drama. I was awoken on the first night by a bat which upon colliding with the ceiling fan was flung onto my hand. In a half sleepy, fumbling haze of fears about rabid bats I leapt off the bed. The sheet still had hold of my foot and I went flying horizontal across the room. Fortunately my fall was broken by the other bed; unfortunately my daughters were in it and had an almighty fright. What a lot of midnight pandemonium!

Nevertheless we were up at dawn and headed out along the H1-1 to Pretoriuskop. Our first new animal sighting was a Klipspringer, perched daintily amongst huge boulders. It posed for a few minutes then nimbly hopped up and away out of sight.
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It was very wet but this was an unexpected sighting far from the sea. A species of freshwater crab decided to take advantage of the recent deluge and get out and about.
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Further onwards we came across a devastating scene. There was a clan of hyenas on the road and two dead baby hyenas. An adult hyena was gently tugging at the neck of one of the babies as if encouraging it to stand up. Another closer hyena caught my gaze, we looked into each other’s eyes and I felt challenged for intruding on this grief. In our naivety about Africa we thought the cubs had been hit by a car but later discovered that the hyenas had been attacked by a pride of lions.

The landscape views along the S10 from Pretoriuskop were some of my favourite. We also spotted a zebra with very different markings and wondered if it was a Burchell’s zebra.
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We had a wonderful view of the Sabie River and old bridge from our cottage. This banded mongoose was scooting around nearby.
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We went out on a sunset tour as a huge storm was rolling in. This battered white rhino was one of many we saw on our travels.
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I recorded the sounds of frogs while on the tour. What a joyful cacophony as they celebrated the huge volumes of rain we had in those last few days. I have an unusual ringtone for my phone.

In the evening a painted reed frog (Hyperolius marmoratus) visited while we were eating our braai.
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Throughout the night lightning flashed, the sky roared, mumbled, cracked and groaned and the rain drummed as the Sabie river marched higher up its banks. We awoke to find the Sabie twice as wide. Unfortunately the rain meant significant deterioration of the unsealed roads and they were closed for everyone’s safety. We decided to visit Lower Sabie camp via the H4-1. The Sabie in flood was mesmerising. Huge logs and great clumps of vegetation floated and dodged round snags as if they were canapés on an expert waiter’s tray.

The weather seemed to suit some birds. We got a long distance shot of a hamerkop at the torrent’s edge, a goliath heron and a saddle-billed stork.
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The wall of the toilets at Lower Sabie had a great collection insects including a marbled emperor moth (Heniocha dyops), whose larvae feed on Acacia spp, and my favourite was a yellow moth with a very fluffy head. I’d be grateful if there is someone who can identify it.
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We headed out on our last evening for a sunset tour hoping desperately for a lion sighting but it was not to be. We watched a crocodile catch his dinner instead.
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I couldn’t resist putting in ANOTHER hamerkop – this one I love because of the shadow, the branch, the relatively uncluttered surrounds and the hammerkop’s feet in the shallow water.
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The next morning we left Kruger National Park via the Paul Kruger gate. We caught our final glimpses of impala’s, kudu, giraffe and zebra but sadly no lions. Ah well that just means it is crucial that I visit again.

Part 4: Southward from Orpen to Skukuza

We left Orpen and took the H7 for a short way then back along the S106 to the S140. We watched a pair of black backed jackals for a short while but the morning light was a bit too dim for our cameras to get good photos.

We wondered whether grumpy ellie would be there again and stopped on the crest of a hill to look at the road ahead. He WAS there again sauntering along the road- a huge gatekeeper. However we were at least a hill and valley away with good vision of most of the road ahead. We waited patiently until he turned into the bush and had wandered quite a way in. Then without delay drove steadily by – there may have been leopards, servals, lions, wild dogs, an aardvark, sable antelope, a yeti… but we did not pause until well past the spot where he had turned off the road. Is there a South African equivalent of a yeti or bunyip? I guess there are so many real enigmatic creatures that Africa doesn’t need a mythical one.

I think we were a little weary of taking photos on this stage of the journey. We did capture a leopard tortoise foaming at the mouth, a male steinbok and a white-backed vulture. I did a quick web search on foaming mouths in tortoises and in pet tortoises it indicates a respiratory infection such as pneumonia.

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The most memorable scene on the drive to Tshokwane from Orpen was this pair of duelling male giraffes. We were horrified at the violence and power in their blows. They have hitherto seemed such docile, gentle creatures.
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We stopped for a while on the bridge across the Sabie near Skukuza to watch a family of baboons and a very cute baby. Other visitors to the river at the bridge were a three banded plover and giant kingfisher.
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The next morning we took a trip to the edge of the park, the Albasini ruins, via the S1. It was drizzly. A hamerkop was striding out along the road.
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We saw some impalas and relatively small elephant who seemed agitated. It was swaying, throwing branches about, trumpeting and doing short charges at something we couldn’t see. However when we returned along this road there were three hyenas resting in the vicinity of the place we’d seen the elephant.
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I confess that prior to this trip I’ve never been particularly enamoured with hyenas. My favour has fallen on cats. This close encounter with hyenas changed my impression. They would have been about 1.5-2m at the most from my window. I think I was bewitched by them. They are beautiful now- absolutely magnificent creatures.

Part 3 – First Ever African adventure

We ventured out for a night tour from Olifants. Early in the evening the driver switched off the engines and the chatter melted away; we listened to a lion roaring. A little further on and we espied a leopard patrolling a riverbank. It was a good night for cats but sadly not photos of them. We also saw some lovely birds-a spotted eagle owl and a red crested korhaan. The spring hare hopped away from us quick smart. We were impressed by the eye shine even though it was facing away from us and presumed this indicated good vision of anything in pursuit. A handy feature with all the predators likely to be lurking in the undergrowth!
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We said goodbye to Olifants as the sun rose and did a small backtrack along S44 to the lookout. Some yellow daisies caught my eye, I think they are Geigeria sp. and a steinbok was kind enough to pose for us.
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We stopped at N’wamanzi and the caretakers showed us a lovely Scops owl. Our journey south was interrupted by some ostriches who decided to cross the road. The car gives a fabulous perspective of their size. We turned off the main road and onto the S39 which winds along the Timbavati River. One of culverts along this road was a tantalising tease. There were huge cat paw prints in the moist sandy mud. Another culvert was occupied by a terrapin.
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There were lots of beautiful browsing and grazing herds, including an inquisitive young male kudu. He was very handsome and was kind enough to strike a fine pose. We saw lots of guinea fowl on our trip generally hanging out in big family bunches. They were amusing to watch especially when we tried to pass them and they had a big panic, zig zagging along in front of the car briefly then finally scrambling into the bush.
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A kettle of vultures heralded a dead elephant. It was gut wrenchingly stinky but the vultures were having a wonderful time.
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We spotted this zebra – the one that got away…well most of it did.
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Around Orpen we managed to see some lovely birds: A southern carmine bee eater, a European roller, sandgrouse and the very comical looking southern ground hornbill.
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Our rooms and verandah at Orpen camp had some wildlife delights and surprises. A frog was living at the back of one of the chairs. We think this species of frog is the one that lays its eggs in white foam bundles on vegetation above ponds. A gecko was darting about the wall and catching insects.
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Our first night at Orpen was restless. One of my daughters was woken by what they described as the hugest spider they had ever seen. I fumbled around in semi darkness looking for the source of consternation. I thought it was a mouse at first-scuttling across the floor. Slowly I realised it was a bat. I shooed it into the other room and hastily shut the door. Eventually we all settled down to sleep. Later I was woken again, another jolt of adrenaline. The window next to my bed was open (with screen closed to keep out nasty biting bugs) and a lion was roaring nearby.
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The following morning yielded a gorgeous sunrise. We set off past Rabelais hut and onward down S140. A family of dwarf mongooses were dallying on the road and in the grass verge. A couple of cars were stopped ahead just past a dip in the road. We didn’t see what they had stopped for until we were quite close. It was an elephant having a lie down in a muddy pool. He got up we reversed to give him space – we couldn’t go forwards because the two cars ahead were abreast. He stepped forward onto the road and we reversed some more, expecting him to move right into the bush in the direction he was facing. However this was not his plan. He suddenly turned, flapped his ears and raised his head slightly. There was no mistaking his ire. My husband didn’t hang around; he reversed at high speed as the elephant charged forwards. We were all very scared of this huge elephant with enormous tusks. He followed us for a long way and we decided not to take the S140 that day. Instead we drove to Satara for lunch where a big monitor lizard kept us company.
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A night and day of thrills was followed by a peaceful evening watching visitors to the waterhole at Orpen. A zebra was hosting an ox-pecker conference.
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Part 2: First Ever African Safari

Part 2
On our last evening at Punda Maria we had a night drive and saw a magnificent chameleon. It was quite a damp evening so unfortunately there wasn’t much else out and about for us to see.

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The morning of our departure was also wet. We came across some vervet monkeys who seemed very agitated. A little further on was the reason for their distress – a hyena.

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We waited for Ms Millipede to get to the other side of the soggy road. Ms is a guess by the way!

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Morning tea was at Babalala Picnic spot. It was still drizzly and very sombre. Nevertheless there was an albino magpie shrike and some noisy yellow billed hornbills to watch while munching on rusks.

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A little way away from Babalala along the S56 the rain cleared and the sun came out. We saw quite a few squirrels along the way enjoying a reprieve from the rain.

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I liked the rocky outcrops and scrubby vegetation along this road. According to our map it is Mopane/Bushwillow woodlands on granite. I had a sense I was being watched by predators unseen but failed to get a glimpse of any. There was a young elephant some distance from the road but we didn’t notice it until it trumpeted as we idled by. We all got the giggles – it took us by surprise and three of us had never heard anything like it.

We wound for a long time along the river, stopping at many of the viewpoints. However we didn’t see much until we were quite close to Shingwedze. Elephants won the day. We waited awestruck as a huge herd of at least 40 elephants crossed the road ahead of us.

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Back on the main road we came upon another large herd. It was a short drive to the bridge and we were pleased to alight. The view from the bridge was marvellous; turtles, hippopotamus, a buffalo, a saddle billed stork and spoonbills. This is where we met Viking for the first time I think. My daughter also composed a ditty entitled “Happy Hippo” which stuck with us for the rest of the trip and beyond.

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Whilst strolling around the Shingwedze camp ground we came across a group of grumpy monkeys. They were harassing a giant eagle owl in a tree. Much to our delight the owl decided that we might be less irksome company than the monkeys and plopped down on the ground beside us.

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This immature hoopoe looked at us quizzically.

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From Shingwedze we set off south-west along the H1-6 then the S144. The vegetation, labelled on our map as Mopane shrubveld gradually opened up to vaster expanses of grassland. I quite like spiders….from a distance. Their webs are magnificent…when viewed from the car.

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We dallied a while at Tihongonyeni drinking point. Here we watched a large herd of wildebeest, zebras, warthogs and Egyptian geese.
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There was a set of elephant bones including its huge skull, a buoy on the gently rolling sea of grass.

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Further along were ostriches and more elephants.

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We reached Mopani in the heat of the day and it was welcome relief to sit in the shade with cool drinks overlooking the lake.

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The road to Olifants S93 seemed to have herbivores at every bend including several giraffes, an impala with an oxpecker and a grysbok. Finally an eagle who seemed a bit grumpy with us. I think it is a tawny eagle.
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Watching the sun set from the lookout at Olifant’s was magical. I looked across the bend in the river to the bushy plain and saw giraffes browsing in the distance. The bush and river stones took on a golden halo. The river, in contrast, sparkled with a silvery light. This is a memory to treasure.

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First Ever African Safari -February and March 2014

This is the itinerary of my first adventure in Kruger National Park and first visit to Africa.

Long flight from Auckland to Johannesburg via Perth.
Johannesburg to Nylsvley with pit stop in Bela-Bela,
Nylsvley Nature Reserve, Sun 23rd Feb 2014
Nylsvley to Punda Maria Gate, Kruger National Park, Mon 24th Feb
Punda Maria camp, Tues, 25th Feb, leopard, warthogs, zebra
Punda Maria camp, Wed, 26th Feb
Shingwedze, Thurs, 27th Feb
Olifants, Fri 28th Feb
Orpen, Sat 1st Mar- First bat experience, lions roaring, elephant chase
Orpen, Sun, 2nd Mar, giraffes fighting, dead elephant
Skukuza, Mon 3rd Mar- more bats
Skukuza, Tuesday, 4th Mar, dead bat on pillow, still no lions
Skukuza, Wed 5th Mar
Skukuza, Thursday, 6th Mar, Still no lions
Skukuza to Johannesburg then the long flight home via Perth, Friday, 7th Mar-Sun 9th March

My travelling companions were my husband and my daughters. This was my first, hopefully the first of many, visit to Africa. I spent a large chunk of my youth dreaming of travelling to Africa. However, I got waylaid with studies, a science career and children. Now as I meander through mid-life and down the other side of the mountain I need to make up for some lost time!

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We entered Kruger National Park via the Punda Maria gate having run the gauntlet of a well-used road with pedestrians, cyclists and lots of cows. Giraffes, impala and an elephant were the first magnificent animals to be seen on our way to Punda Maria camp. We settled into a family cottage, “it was bigger than our house” my daughter wrote in her travel diary. We loved the two levels, the dark, chunky wood furniture and earthy coloured décor. It was a gentle, cool relief from the intense, bright midday sun. The view from the upstairs balcony was pretty good too. I was delighted by a steenbok which had ventured out from the undergrowth to the edge of the veranda.

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We set off in the late afternoon on the Mahonie loop. There were plenty of European rollers, an elephant, some kudu and impalas to be seen.

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Female kudu amongst Bauhinia galpinii
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That evening we went out on our first sunset tour and the highlights were a couple of genets, several spring hares and our first sunset in Kruger National Park. One thing I particularly enjoyed about the evening drives was the smorgasbord of smells, ranging from sweet, hypnotic herby or woody to the intense and unmistakable assault of animal. I guess that as the light fades senses other than sight start to wake up.

The girls were delighted with the geckos and insects attracted to the outside light on our return from dinner. Particularly this katydid.
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Day 2, we headed north to Parfuri. Getting up early was quite easy due to our jet lag. My husband was particularly hoping to see Pels Fishing owl. On our way to the bridge we saw our first big groups of zebras, a greater blue-eared, glossy starling and impalas. Warthogs are comical and we stopped to watch a family of them.

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I was wonderful to get out and stretch our legs at the bridge. We spotted a fish eagle, a baboon troop and a stunning fly.

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We all piled reluctantly back into the car and set off toward Parfuri picnic spot and Crook’s Corner. Suddenly a leopard leapt out of the bush and onto the road in front of us. It paused on the road to peer at us then sauntered off into the grass. We drove slowly to the point where it entered the bush on the other side of the road. It had moved into the grass but stopped. All we could see was a long tail, swishing petulantly for wee while before it moved gracefully on and was swallowed by the lush, long grass. I was so moved by my first big cat sighting that a couple of big tears rolled down my eyes.

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On route to Crook’s Corner we saw nyala, kudu, more impala, vervet monkeys and a magnificent martial eagle.

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Crook’s Corner inspired an immense childish delight – I think it was the combination of its colourful history and my Australian upbringing- it’s a novelty to be able to stand in one spot and survey three different countries! I took a picture looking up into a big Acacia tree here. By now the sun was directly above and the shade of this magnificent tree was a relief.

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We spotted an elephant on our way back to Punda Maria who also clearly appreciated the shade of a big Baobab tree. I think the shot of the elephant from a different angle illustrates how such a large beast can seem to vanish as if moving into a portal to a different dimension.

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