Towlersonsafari

OH NO! Not another Kruger Trip Report (Simon & Jane's Excellent Adventure Volume 2)

48 posts in this topic

Hello everyone, having spent much of our last trip to South Africa, in 2015, in the cold of a Karoo winter failing to see Aardvarks, for our next trip, in February this year, Jane demanded one thing above all else. Hot weather. We decided on February to also allow us to escape part of the English winter and egged on by several tremendous trip reports on this very forum, and our own knowledge of San Parks very good value accommodation ,we plumped for the Kruger, a new place for us save a three day trip 20 years ago. 9 nights and then a trip to Houts Bay, the Karoo national park and the Overberg.

 

Although we could have booked everywhere ourselves, we again went with Lawsons, a South African company who we see every year at the British Bird Fair, and who can provide a lot of valuable tips and as much birding knowledge as our poor brains can take in. In fact on this trip they also offered to meet us in Nelspruit and lend us a rigid coolbox, emergency tea and coffee, an industrial sized flask and a whole container of home made rusks! Hurrah for Lawsons!

 

We then spent an anxious time looking at the San Parks forum and praying for rain to end the terrible drought the Kruger and elsewhere was experiencing.You only have to see the contrast between @@Hads fine report and that of @@Tdgraves to see what a difference a month makes!

Driving the 4ish hours to the Kruger straight off an overnight flight in ecomomy is not ideal but to us English folk, driving in South Africa is a pleasure. Even a lap around the airport as we couldn't find the exit did not dampen our spirits. In fact a friendly policeman setting up a road block took pity on us and pointed us in the right direction. We met several road blocks to check vehilces on our trip and at each one we were met with at worst politeness and mostly friendliness.

 

We asked for a 2 x 4 to have a bit of height and ended up with a toyota Hilux 2 x 4 but with 4x4 capability. It was a fine beast but it was only after we were mildly chased by a Bull Elephant and teased by a curius black rhino that we relaised it might be they were objecting to the number plate

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The creature below the car, and along with its siblings poised to jump into the engine compartment, was a young Dwarf mongoose that visited us at our first camp Pretoriuskop. Incidentally about the drive to the Kruger, Lawsons recommended the Schoemanskloof road as an alternative to staying on the N4, a fine scenic drive that refreshed the jaded and tired driving palate.We stopped at a Spar in Nelspruit although having experienced both we remain fans of Pick n Pay.

The tactics each day would be the same.Pick a route based on the map,and not on the sightings board,Get out early armed with the flask, tea frozen liquifruit cartons that turned into slushies, rusks nibbles and water.Oh and emergency crisps and crisp breads butter and cheese. Get back before it got to hot, walk round the camp and out again for a short drive in the afternoon . We always spent longer than we planned, and never had the energy for a walk round the camps..We did try the camp run night or sunset drives, which were variable, but were responsible for 3 splendid sightings and some comedy.

Pretoriuskop was a fine camp, I think the oldest, but like all but one of the camps, very clean, well serviced and perfectly acceptable. Our tips would be, and I am sure @@Tdgraves has also said this, is take a small non-stick frying pan as the kitchen wear is builkt on a massive scale, and 2 drying up cloths as the San parks ones were , to a man, more holey than rightous (as my grandparents used to say)

Pretoriuskop was also home to a spendid supply of purple crested Turaco using a small fountain across the green in the middle of the rondavals.

Our first game drive and broad grins on our faces as here we were, in Africa, looking for wildlife. In fact we first saw a small dark mongoose, but just afterwards we came across

 

 

 

 

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A very fine gentleman indeed, munching away and so we pulled to the side of the road, made sure he had room, turned the engine off and let him wander by. Not without even broader grins and a touch of nervous tingling!

Our holiday had really begun!

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Great start -

 

"...mildly chased by a Bull Elephant and teased by a curius black rhino" - I can]t wait to read more!

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Posted (edited)

Looking forward to comparing notes @@Towlersonsafari - great start.

Edited by Hads
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Pretoriuskop made a fine contrast to the other areas we visited, with wooded areas and granite Koppies, making viewing trickier but well worth it.Here are just a selection of some of the sightings we enjoyed

 

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The hyena youngsters were seen on a sunset drive, indeed we saw 2 dens quite close to each other utilizing the drainage culverts by the side of the road. We did go on a few sunset and night drives and they were a veritable united nations of folk from all over Europe certainly with a wide range of experience, and indeed interest! The couple who sang "Whim a whey" (The lion sleeps tonight) were amongst our favourites, but they were as interested in the wildlife as we were, and the clear winners were a group of young lads who appeared to speak no English - the bemused expressions on their faces were priceless as the guide tried to show them the spotlight and how they should operate it until after at least 5 brave and increasingly desperate minutes he gave up and silently handed it to someone else! Out of all the guided drives though the person I felt most sorry for was the fool who , upon seeing another hyena den so close to the first one, asked the guide if they were the same clan.The guide thought he was asking if they were the same species, and patiently explained that yes they were also spotted hyenas.Oh the shame of it. . I promised myself I would speak louder next time I asked a question but Jane seemed to find it very funny

 

 

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And so to Lower Sabie, by a very conva luted route as we had plenty of time before check in. After some distant rhino, and buffalo, Jane yelled "stop". With recations like lightning, well very very slow lightning, I braked too quickly and reversed to seeour first lions of the holiday.Disgusted by my clumsy driving they taunted us by moving off into the long grass and going to sleep just out of sight.Grrr. (that wasn't a lion impression by the way) Still we had seen cats, all was right with the world.In fact we found out later the lions were upset at our disturbing them because they were reading the latest carnivore block buster "Fifty shades of Prey" a sequal to " Lady Chatterley's Plover" (You may know it as Lady Chatterley's Thicknee, an altogether more disturbing book)

 

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It was a lovely drive, but can anyone tell us what type of tortoise this was? We get such a kick from seeing tortoise in the wild, wondering how on earth they can survive.

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@@Towlersonsafari Thanks for this meander throgh Kruger!

 

Pretoriuskop is one of my favourite Kruger camps, I didn't see Purple-crested Turaco but I remember the gentle impala an the naughty vervet monkeys.

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Reading about Kruger is always fine, and if with the added bonus of some Brit humour, a delicious thing :) . Would you be so kind and add the camp-by-camp itinerary, as that will allow me (and aybe other Kruger newbies) to follow your route better?!

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You are very kind @@xelas Our itinerary was- Pretoriuskop-2 nights ,Lower Sabie-3 nights, Satara 2 nights and Berg-en-Dal 2 nights. We originally were looking at Orpen instead of Satara but Lawsons strongly advised us-and they were right-not to underestimate the distances and speed of travel. As it was the journey from Satara to Berg-En-dal was a long one. We also wanted to stay in a tent in Lower Sabie-to help with Jane's anti-spider measures, but again Lawson's pointed out they did not have air-conditioning and we would have melted if we had not followed their advice.(although there are now luxury tents with air conditioning) although it was the summer we saw or heard no mozzies at all whilst in the kruger, which was a surprise and I don't know if that is usual. We do know that the Kruger was just beautiful with everywhere so green, and not at all crowded. We preferred the gravel roads and these were even quieter. i think we came across 2 small traffic jams, for hyena's and distant lions, and a very polite line of cars looking at very distant leopards otherwise at most there were 3 vehicles at a sighting, usually a convoy of day trippers in safari vehicles. We did come across a line of cars who perhaps had the sighting apps (frowned upon) as they were all searching for a very specific lion sighting, but no bother at all. Lower Sabie and Satara had Mugg & bean restaurants if you fancied a break from cooking-quite reasonable nothing special fare but a nice line in ice cream coffee and quite a few veggie options for Jane.the lower Sabie restaurant overlooks the river and is a fine spot to sit and contemplate the world

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Posted (edited)

@@Towlersonsafari I think the tortoise in post #6 might be a Speke's hinged tortoise.

I love your ground hornbill piccies too, great work.

It looks like you had your fair share of Hyena's as well. We saw them nearly everyday I think which was nice.

Edited by Hads
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Thanks for this trip report @@Towlersonsafari. I am glad to read the info about Lawsons as one day I plan to go on a birding safari in S. Africa.

 

Lucky you seeing Purple-crested Turacos!

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Thanks very much for the "likes" everyone, and thank you @@Hads for the kind comments and the tortoise Id-having used your pointer it does seem to be a Speke's Hinged tortoise-another first! I do like the idea of having a tortoise named after one-or indeed anything although sadly Mr Speke, an English explorer of Africa, died when crossing a style with his shotgun and shot himself. We did see a lot of hyena's with about 4 dens in total-we loved how vocal they were. Thanks also @@offshorebirder Lawsons are I think primarily birding experts-they make allowances for our lack of knowledge-and friendly as well so you would be in good hands. one of the highlights of this trip-coming up soon in very bad pictures-was seeing for the first time Amur falcons and lesser kestrels at what must have been a termite swarm.all of them refusing to perch at the bushes i kept trying to pre-focus on much to Jane's amusement-but what a splendid sight it was. My father, who was a keen birder, had a thing about kestrels-there is a common kestrel engraved on his gravestone-so it was a sentimental sighting as well!

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Well we did see a sleeping pride about 12 strong on the way to Lower Sabie but impossible to photograph lying deep in the woods, so we eventually got to LS at about 12.00 noonish ready fro a cool drink and lunch.Alas there was aroutine maintainance power cut so no food no drinks no nuffin.Change of plan and off to Mlondozi dam for an impromptu picnic! We had not appreciated what a good thing the picnic sights were. all that we visited had good loos all had attendnats and some had hops and coffee! Several had very naughty monkeys.

In fact Lower Sabie gave us a few problems.We could not lock the door but maintainace fixed that, the perimeter hut patio looked onto next doors patio so we enjoyed the sight of a largish person in night attire having a fag fist thing in the morning on their patio. . As we were dropping off to sleep a car alarm went off in the distance.We felt very sorry for the owners as it did it several times.At three in the morning our car thought it would join in.The confused mixture of panic, sleep,and overwhelming embarresment added to the fun of finding the car keys! Nothing seemed wrong with the car so we settled back down, for at least 20 minutes before it did it again.anger was added to the mix but didnt make us any quicker! we left it unlocked that night.

Still next morning we were nearly up with the lark and were met with a spooky mist. Wooooo we thought-and now apologies for attempts at arty/spooky pictures........woooooooooo

 

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The fog lifted eventually.

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Mr Swainson, he of the Swainson's Spurfowl, has 17 birds named after him.That seems a trifle greedy.And he never even set foot in Africa.He never saw his own Spurfowl.the best that can be said was that he did not name it after himself (not quite the way to behave) and indeed was the first Governer General of New Zealand.The man not the spurfowl.

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I tried to convince myself this was an immature Crowned Eagle and not an immature Martial Ealge but I pointed out I just get too excited and an immature Martial Eagle is still a very fine thing

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We came across quite a few flocks of Wattled Starlings which were great fun to watch

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And more European Rollers than you could roll a stick at. Named after the Reverend Runcible Roller apparently

This Korhaan was shocked when we told him who was now the US president!

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To see a ball of dung rolling towards you on the road is a fine thing indeed!

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@@Towlersonsafari thanks for including the stories behind some of the bird names, very interesting.

 

Reverend Runcible Roller certainly rolls of the tongue!

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Fantastic Korhaan photgraph and a nice caption too (obvious, but sometimes simple is best!)

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Thoroughly enjoying your trip report @@Towlersonsafari.

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Thank you @@Davesg @@pault and @@Treepol I always aim for simple and obvious! There is a splendid book called "Whose Bird" by Bo Beolens, Michael Watkins (ISBN: 9780300103595) that is great fun with potted histories of all the people they can find who have birds named after them-mostly it seems to be a case of hoping for patronage.

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Giraffe's in the mist - I like it!

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@@Towlersonsafari - do you know what the Ground Hornbill is dining on in #6 - I can't make it out. Also I believe ground hornbills are becoming quite rare in SA - is that your understanding.

 

You and @@Hads have had me doing some homework on tortoises (I've yet to see a tortoise in Africa) so I googled Speke's Hinged Tortoise and was intrigued with a commentary describing them as " the heartiest and most personable" of the African hinge-backed species.

 

Pleased to see that the industrious dung beetle was given right of way and I imagine he kept his back to your number plate.

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Thanks @@Hads the less successful sequal to Gorillas in the mist!

And that is wonderful @@Caracal about the tortoise! From now on I will rate each tortoise according to its personable nature or otherwise! Species was 6 out of 10 as it did not run away was polite and seemed quite hearty! As for the Ground Hornbill we think it was eating most of a rock monitor.another one had possibly the other piece.They are endangered they need a lot of space and they are used in traditional magic.there is a programme of ringing them to try to help

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We set out early as usual on the S21 and slowly followed a saloon car who very kindly pulled up so we could both see some hyenas, and then by the side of the road 4 white Rhino! one rhino soon moved off but when another car pulled up behind us, we each had some fine views.Both cars and rhino were very well behaved!

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It was a splendid sighting and one of the best we have had of white rhinos!

A herd of elephants took precedence.

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We saw a lot of elephants on this trip, including herds of 60-70 on occasion. As I think @@Dave Williams has said in his report, there is always a frisson of excitement when you are self-driving and you encounter elephants close up.You ope you do the right thinks, slow right down, look for signs, are they eating? are they nervous? and try not to suprise them or make sudden moves .We were travelling along another gravel road when a woman in an estate car coming towards us flagged us down.She seemed rather flustered and genuinely concerned and warned that a large Bull elephant was not letting cars passed him, and in a bad mood! We decided to continue, with caution, and soon had the pleasure of his company!

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He was approaching in what seemed to us a determined manner.His trunk was swinging and he was trumpeting smallish "trumpets" He did not seem happy to see us ! Now we were undoubtedly influenced by the helpful lady who had stopped us.But he was not eating and not relaxed.His ears were flapping but it was the trunk swinging and snorting dust that worried us as well.We quickly debated pulling over and hoepfully letting him past but it was a narrow road and so we felt it better to reverse! We don't know if that acted as a spur, but if anything he increased his pace, sow e kept reversing well in advance and he folowed for about 100 metres (it seemed longer) We found a bit of wider road and without making too much noise did a rather nifty 3 point turn (not like Jim Rockford) and decided on a different route!

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We would be very interesed in opinions as to whether we did the right thing but to our minds we kept out of mischief and nobody got hurt! Probably he would have just walked by but why take the risk?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wow! One minute you were next to a can opener, the next a can crusher. Did the right thing ? That's when I would discover that adrenaline is brown I imagine.

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We had a fine night drive at Lower Sabie-after one that was very quiet-you know the guide is struggling when he talks a lot about Water Thicknees. but to make up for it we almost immediately heard a lion roar, drove round a corner and there picked out in the headlights was a fine male, in the middle of the road. A collective awe filled intake of breath from all on the truck just demonstarted how much enjoyment we get from seeing such magnificent creatures.Nearly as impressive was the guide who, sensing he was nervous, picked the right time to move off.Later we saw a pride at the beginnings of a hunt and everyone was very happy indeed.

(Not a lion)

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The drive to Satara was via the impressive picnic site Tsokwane-with a shop and very fine coffee

 

All along the tar road to the picnic sight we were accomapnied by low flying Barn Swallows and fine views of elephants-and the grass as @@Hads had predicted was nearly as high as an elephants eye

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including 2 males sparring, the one on the right being the instigator

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And for me a very fine sighting-my first ever Amur Falcons-there must have been a termite eruption as they were everywhere-save where I could get a photo half as decent as otheres recently posted by rather more talented photographers! Please excuse the quality but it was a lifer!

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as were lesser Kestrels also en masse As an example. post-47279-0-30026100-1490132093_thumb.jpg

Finally a bird big enough for even me to photograph

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And a steppe buzzard, once apparently thought to be a sub species of the common buzzard but now a seprate species

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From thre last post, the monkey fascinated by the bushbuck.,

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On the kruger map there are waterholes marked with a red giraffe.These were built in the 1960's, after a sequence of drought years, but this altered the balance of wildlife to the detrement of Sable and Roan, who could not compete in the now richer environment and now there is a programme of closing them.How this contributed to the increase in elephant numbers I could not find out, the perils of unintended consequences.

A waterhole, now defunct post-47279-0-12309700-1490133317_thumb.jpg

 

The drive became very quiet, we had once again misjudged the distances, and were slowly crossing a concrete bridge when something must have raised its head.

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and at higher magnifacation on Janes travel camera post-47279-0-46173100-1490133419_thumb.jpg

Through binoculars we could confirm our sighting.I mention it because even though it was distant, every lion sighting is special, and it was me wot spotted it-usually Jane is the cat expert and definetly the chief spotter! Also this was the second sighting of lions in the middle of the day using wet sand by a river to cool down.The other was too tricky to try to photograph

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