MeezersUK

First Timers in South Africa

23 posts in this topic

We are a family of four adults from the UK, just back from our first  17 night trip to South Africa. I wrote this trip report for a general holiday forum without a particular interest in South Africa, so forgive me if I state the obvious or go into too much or not enough detail.

For anyone interested in the planning details, they are as follows,

 

We travelled from July 19th- August 6th, our itinerary;

4 nights Cape Town
1 night Kaapsehoop
6 nights Kruger
1 night Swaziland
5 nights KwaZulu-Natal

 

We flew with Lufthansa, our flights ( all on the same ticket)
Birmingham - Frankfurt- Cape Town
Richard's bay - Johannesburg- Frankfurt - Birmingham
I booked our flights directly with Lufthansa as soon as they were released on 15th August 2016 , I paid £787 per person including seat reservations

 

We flew Cape Town to Nelspruit , booked direct with South African Airways

 

We hired a car from Avis, a ' mid size' Toyota RAV4 or similar, we got a Hyundai Tucson , it had a boot cover ( to conceal the luggage) and the rear windows wound all the way down.

 

Our accommodation was all booked direct.

Cape Town , 3 bedroom, 3 bath house with De Waterkant Cottages
Kaapsehoop , 2 rooms Kaapsehoop guest house
Kruger  Berg en Dal. 2x  BA3U
               Lower Sabie  FU4V
               Satara 2x BD2V
               Biyamiti NGC5V
Swaziland, 2 rooms Mantenga Lodge
Rhino River Lodge , Cottage
St Lucia ,Little Eden ( Imboniso)

 

We took £500 worth of Rands in cash and used a Halifax Clarity credit card for large payments and a Monzo prepaid card for smaller payments and to withdraw cash from ATMs. Both worked fine.

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 Day 1 Cape Town


We arrive on time in Cape Town at 10am. Immigration, baggage claim and customs are a breeze. I pick-up my pre ordered SIM card for my phone, rather expensive at £27 but it has a good call allowance & data (  being technologically  challenged , I'm not  sure what that is, but I'm sure it's a good idea to have it :D) and I also know my phone number before I leave the UK, handy incase any of our accommodations need to contact us ( well it would be if I remembered to give it to them;))
  Our driver is waiting to transfer us to our rental accommodation and we are on our way 40 minutes after touching down. Cape Town is grey and overcast, it rained earlier and we could be back in the UK, though it is winter here and no colder than an average summer day at home. :). Table mountain is covered in cloud, so we won't be going there today.
 We have a lovely three bedroom , three and half bath house in the De Waterkant area,  unaccustomed to so  much space,4 days later I've only just found the washing machine :) We dump our luggage and order our first Uber taxi to take us to Kirstenbosch Gardens. 
 First stop is lunch at the gardens restaurant, then we wander for a couple of hours. The setting is gorgeous  at the base of table mountain and the gardens are pleasant enough with sections on useful plants, scented plants, an aerial walkway and ponds with exotic ducks ( or maybe geese?) with an attitude. These ducks don't waddle , they swagger, and noise! They don't stop mouthing off . We were walking under a large tree when we heard one of these ducks shouting at us from above???? Looking up , there was a duck perched maybe thirty foot up a tree ! Weird!  There are also many little sunbirds flitting about. They look like hummingbirds, iridescent green and red , and move just as fast. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get a decent photo.
 DS18 had soon had enough of walking around gardens so I left them in the gift shop while I ordered another Uber. First obstacle, no WiFi. I pondered the problem for ten minutes until DS18 appeared and said ' use your data, that's what you bought it for'. Is it? I remind you I have no idea what I am doing as far as smartphones are concerned. With a few swipes of the screen be had me connected and an Uber was on it's way. This driver was named Prosper. I'm not sure how he's going to live up to his name as he managed to get lost in the Gardens carpark:D we were watching his approach on the map on my phone, ETA 3 minutes, 6 minutes later still 3 minutes and Prosper seems to be doing a twenty point turn in the maintenance bay. He eventually arrived and we were soon back at our house where we ordered pizza and had  an early night ready for our 5.30am pick up tomorrow, we are going shark cage diving.
 

  

 

 

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Cape Town Day  2

So , up early today , at 5.30am our minibus transfer is waiting. We pick up another family of four , then it's just under an hour's drive to Simon's town where we are going shark cage diving. It's always pot luck whether the winds and weather will cooperate and allow the boats to go out and then of course , there is no guarantee the sharks will put in an appearance. But I'm just happy the boat is going out, some trips in the last few week's have been cancelled.
 It's not yet light when we leave the harbour , the sea is so calm and quiet, it's beautiful. Then the sun comes up and the trip is worth it for that, even if we don't see sharks. We have booked the ' air jaws' trip, July is prime time to see the sharks breaching as they hunt seals. We don't see any breaching. ( You need eyes in the back of your head, we have people positioned all around the boat keeping watch for sharks , but we still miss the initial attacks) we do see two sharks going after one seal, they get it , but with the lack of light and speed with which it happens, there is nothing gory to worry about, just fins and alot of splashing.) . 
 As the sun rises we do a circuit of seal island ,the seals congregate on the island and leave in small groups, safety in numbers, when in the water they tend to stay around the reefs where the water is too shallow for the sharks. We are told to watch out for solo seals away from the reef, they are the ones at risk. Then the captain positions the boat in the most likely place to see sharks and lowers the shark cage. Then we wait . And wait . And wait. It must be about two hours before the shout of ' shark' goes up. Four of us have changed into wetsuits. ( An experience in itself ;) ) but most people have been snoozing in the sun. I am actually stood in the sun, trying to get warm, so when the shark is sighted I am practically pushed into the cage ( not really , but that's what it felt like:) ) no time to orientate myself of grab the air supply mouthpiece, just jump in and go under. I have water up my nose and no time to switch on my camera, but I see the shark :)  I thought he was about 5 foot, but the captain said 8 or 9 ft ( typical fisherman?;)) DS18 has also managed to get in the cage in time, the other two join us and the shark does another two swim bys before we get out to let another four have a turn. They also see him, but the last two in the cage have no luck. Thank goodness I was cold and awake and didn't miss out.
  We motor back to the harbour at full power, running late cos the shark took so long to show up. We are transferred back to the house where we do a quick change then get an Uber to Table Mountain. It's clear and sunny today. Perfect for the Cableway. Half the tourists in Cape Town think so too. It's BUSY. We enjoy the views , have lunch at the café and take more than enough photos of the rock hyrax , known as dassies here. DS21 is rather concerned about their ' on the edge' lifestyle, surely they are going to fall and be killed?
 Back to the bottom and another Uber, this time to the V&A waterfront. A complex of shops and restaurants on the waterfront ( you don't say) and unbelievably , the number one tourist attraction in South Africa. What is wrong with people that a commercial tourist trap is voted higher than a natural wonder?
 We wander around enjoying the musicians and browsing some of the stalls. Then dinner at a waterside restaurant and Uber back to house. Later start tomorrow for our day on the hop on hop off bus.

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Cape Town  Day 3

A later start and more leisurely pace today as we are using the hop on hop off bus to see some of the city. The nearest stop is 14 minutes walk away. I have printed out directions from Google, basically a right, left and two rights. Easy. Half an hour later we admit we have missed the last right. We stop to ask a guy loading his car for directions and he says he will be heading that way in 2 mins, jump in and he'll take us. We then get a mini guided tour of the area and a potted life history, everyone we have met so far has been so friendly and helpful.
 We are dropped off at the bus stop and are on the downtown tour a few minutes later. We see District 6 , go past one of the townships and see some of the historical buildings. There are so many vagrants and people sleeping rough in Cape Town. We've been told that during apartheid, many South Africans sought refuge in other African countries and now South Africa is returning the favour with an open door policy for many refugees. They can apply to live in the townships or pay a few pence to stay the night in a shelter, but many live on the streets. I find it rather uncomfortable that there are so many with nothing living among those who have everything. We pass a large store selling beds, several people are arranging their cardboard to spend the night on the street outside, I wonder if any of them have ever slept in a bed. At traffic lights and intersections many are wandering about amongst the traffic begging or selling stuff to drivers. All the Uber drivers lock their doors as soon as we get in.
 We do the blue route afterwards , stopping at Hout Bay for lunch then the Constantia vineyards for winetasting. I'm the only wine drinker in the family, but that's not going to stop DH and boys from joining in. I think our wine pourer soon has the measure of us , with DH and boys grimacing and pulling faces with each tasting  and me telling DH I prefer my usual £4 bottle from Aldis :). DS21 has downed his five tastings as though downing cider, and wonders why he feels dizzy ( he rarely drinks alcohol and never wine)  and once back on the hop on hop off bus DH promptly falls asleep :D We have a last stop at Camps bay for photos, DS18 is accosted by one of the many craft sellers, he takes a liking to one of the paintings on canvas ( it is nice, but way overpriced) and buys it after a bit of haggling. We walk along the seafront to take photos and five minutes later the artist's 'brother' catches up with us and offers DS a 'special price' if he buys a second painting:D  His ' brother' must be a very prolific artist as we see his name on every other canvas artwork in Cape Town.;)
 Back at the start of the route we are in time to catch the last free walking tour of the day. This one is taking us around the Bo Kaap area of Cape Town, originally settled by the freed Muslim slaves and famous for the brightly coloured houses. It's interesting and we get to taste a type of fried doughnut ,a local treat who's name I can't pronounce. We tip our guide and he leaves us with directions to walk back to our accommodation. Of course we get lost. A rather dodgy looking character sees me looking at my map ( always a mistake to admit you don't know where you're going) and insists he'll show us the way. He's quite persistent when we about turn and say we don't need his help. We power walk in a random direction for a block ignoring him following behind , we eventually lose him and get back on course but a 15 minute walk takes half an hour. We were in a busy area and there were four of us, I imagine it would be rather unsettling if you were alone in a quieter street.
 Dinner tonight is at a Turkish restaurant, 9 minutes walk from the house. We don't get lost but a large section of the road is closed and both pedestrians and traffic are diverted to a parallel street. We arrive at the restaurant ten minutes later than intended to find they are fully booked, I never thought to make a reservation. While we are working out how to get to the restaurant that is plan B , the owner comes out and tells us one of his reservations is late and if they don't show within five minutes we can have their table, so for once our extended walk worked in our favour. The meal is OK, nothing to rave about, we actually manage to walk home without getting lost.
 No walking tomorrow, we have a private tour of the Cape Peninsula.

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Cape Town  Day 4

 

We are off on a tour of the peninsula today.  Our driver heads first to Hout bay where we stopped on the hop on hop off bus, then along Chapman's peak for some scenic views before heading down to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape point. It's gorgeously hot and sunny, have to remind myself it's winter here. We get the funicular railway up to the lighthouse. Lot's of people here and the baboons are hanging around waiting for an opportunity to thieve.  One woman leaves her handbag on the wall while she takes a photo, I'm about to warn her, but too late, a baboon grabs her bag and after a rummage,  scarpers with a bag of crisps. He then sits and eats them, looking very pleased with himself.
 We have lunch at the two oceans restaurant, lovely setting with fantastic view. Back up the coast with a stop at Boulder's beach to overload on photos of cute penguins. Back at the villa we pack, ready to leave tomorrow and get our last Uber to dinner.
 I'm not sure how I feel about Cape Town, it has a lovely setting and friendly people but lacks the ' wow' factor for me.  I'm glad we visited but doubt I'll be back.

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Cape Town to Nelspruit Day 5

 

Leaving Cape Town today. We fly from Cape Town to Nelspruit airport, approx 90 minutes from Kruger. We pick up our hire car from Avis , the only ones who'll let DS18 be an additional driver. He is pleased with our Hyundai Tucson, he drives a little Toyota Yaris back in the UK. Not so pleased to discover it's an automatic though, he says it's like driving a go cart, takes all the fun out of it. It's handy later in Kruger though when we can just trundle along at five miles an hour without stalling or changing gear.
 But our first stop is not Kruger, we are heading West to Waterval Boven where DH has booked a tour of the stone circles. Large parts of South Africa and neighbouring countries are littered with hundreds and thousands of these circles, many thought to be older than Stonehenge . 
 Our Navmii app sets us in the right direction and I am soon whizzing down a dual carriageway at the 120 km speed limit with a solid yellow line on my left , which I assume is marking the hard shoulder and a pick up truck sitting on my tail. He over takes first chance he gets, which is when nothing is coming from the opposite direction , not when the road markings allow! Only to be replaced by another car on my bumper. I double check the speed limit, yes, 120 km, then understanding dawns when I watch my previous overtaker move onto the hard shoulder to make way for the car who's now passing me, who then flashes his hazards by way of ' thank you' . Not only is no attention paid to speed limits, the hard shoulder is used as an unofficial ' slow lane' for anyone driving at the speed limit, ie, tourists ;) but  the hard shoulder is also used by the many pedestrians as an unofficial footpath. Surely an accident waiting to happen.
 I am just observing how free of congestion the roads are when we round a bend and find a woman stood on the verge ( not daft enough to stand on the hard shoulder) waving a red flag, what's that all about? Roadworks is the answer, the flag I assume means ' slow down' but no-one is paying attention, the number of flag wavers increases as we near the stop sign, this is manned by a guy jumping up and down doing semaphore with two flags, I puzzle over this as I continue past in the queue of traffic at 40 Kms an hour, I realise too late that he is telling our lane to STOP so he can manually move the stop sign from the opposite lane to ours, but of course , everyone is ignoring him! I feel bad, I have never driven through a stop sign in the UK.
 We eventually reach the small museum where we meet our guide, have lunch and get a tour of the museum and  a nearby circle. Unlike Adam's calendar these circles are not made of standing stones, but flat stones layered one on top the other, each stone rings like a bell when tapped. One theory is that the circles were made to harvest/ produce sound energy. Our guide is certainly passionate about her interest and DH is enjoying himself but the boys are a bit bored and I'm wanting to get to the nights accommodation before dark. DS18 drives us to our b&b, 40 minutes away in the private town of Kaapsehoop. Luckily no roadworks, but the town is up a track that goes up and up, my ears pop and the scenery would probably be stunning if it was light enough to appreciate it.
 We arrive without incident at our b&b, have dinner and then an early night, tomorrow we have a tour of Adam's calendar ( another stone circle) before heading to Kruger.

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Adams Calendar and Kruger Day 6

 

This is the day both DH and I have been waiting for, DH because we are visiting Adams Calendar, me because we drive to Kruger.
 We meet our guide on the edge of the village and buy water for our walk. Adams Calendar is approx an hour's walk away and not sign posted as it's such a sensitive area. This is thought by some to be the oldest stone circle in the world, way older than Stonehenge.  On the way we encounter several of the wild horses that Kaapsehoop is famous for. On reaching the circle we have views from the sheer drop nearby and the guide's explanation of the stones positions and purpose is quite interesting , but I couldn't say this was the  highlight of my trip ;)
  Back at the b& b the car is loaded,Navmii app set with our location in Kruger , ( I have preloaded all our possible destinations into Navmii, AND printed out Google maps AND bought a paper road map, all bases covered;) ) and we are on our way. The plan is to stop at a large supermarket enroute to Kruger and stock up on some braai ( BBQ) items, I eat fish but not meat, and while the rest camps in Kruger stock a reasonable selection of groceries, I doubt they'll have much choice where fish and vegetarian items are concerned. Ever organised I have my itinerary, drive times and shopping list all printed out.  I aim to arrive at camp with a couple of hours to spare, we will have a look around and then have our first braii ( keep wanting to say BBQ, but it's braai over here)  most of the camps have restaurants, but all accommodations have braais and it sounds like a fun way to keep to our budget.
We are making good time and are less than 10 Kms from the supermarket when we round a bend and come to a stop.  Traffic is backed up as far as we can see,more roadworks? After 20 mins several police cars, traffic patrols, medic response units and ambulances pass us in the opposite lane, and there is nothing coming towards us, looks like an accident then , and a bad one judging by the number of emergency vehicles attending. We sit and wait some more. We are on a two lane highway and many of the vehicles are big trucks. No way they can turn around so surely they'll get the road open as soon as possible? After an hour some cars have about turned and I'm wondering if we should do the same, though we are so close to our location and getting to the next nearest entrance to Kruger would put us well behind schedule. Eventually the police drive down the queue telling everyone who can to turn around, the road won't be open anytime soon. We follow a long line of traffic up a mountain and down the other side, we haven't a clue where we are, we can't find it on our roadmap and Navmii is hysterically telling us to ' do a u turn' so we turn it off. The policeman told me we would come out near the Kruger entrance gate so I try not to stress how time is running on. 
 Both the Kruger main gates and restcamp gates have fixed open and close times, if you don't arrive at the main gate in time to make it to your restcamp before gates close , you won't be allowed to enter. This is beginning to look like a possibility and I'm mentally going through options of where we can stay the night. Over two hours later we arrive in the town near the gate, Navmii comes to life again and immediately takes us in the wrong direction, luckily I realise, but not until we get stuck in more roadworks. We get some strange looks as we drive through , about turn and drive though again :)  We make it to the Kruger entrance gate 30 mins before gates close. We only have 12 Kms to go to our restcamp so we are admitted no problem, but the speed limit inside the park is 50 Kms per hour on the sealed roads and you have to allow for hold ups due to wildlife on the road. We know we'll get to camp, but if we are late we can be fined. So, no relaxed drive , game spotting as we go, just a 12 km drive at the speed limit. And wouldn't you know it, we have two rhino crash out of the undergrowth infront of us, DS18 can't believe his luck, we were hoping to see rhino but nothing is guaranteed and now here they are, and we don't have time to stop and watch! Rounding the next bend a pack of wild dog are all over the road. Wow,wow and wow. Another longed for sighting and again , DS gets a quick pic on his phone and we continue, we pass zebra, baboons and giraffe. No time to appreciate any of them. We get to camp with less than ten minutes to spare and with no groceries , we eat at the camp restaurant, which seems to be fully booked and understaffed. Our meals take ages to arrive. But , we are in Kruger and tomorrow is another day. ( And we don't see the wild dogs again and only get a glimpse of the rhino :( )
I find out when we're back in the UK that it wasn't an accident that held us up, but a ' cash in transit heist' involving guns and explosives! Ignorance is bliss, I'm glad we assumed it was an accident.

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Kruger.  Berg n Dal - Lower Sabie Day 7

 

Early start for our first full day in Kruger. We are going on a bush walk. Sanparks run walks and drives from all their camps and they often give you the opportunity to be out of camp before the gates open or after they close. So at 5.45am ten of us are in a safari vehicle with two armed rangers. We drive a few Kms out of camp, then get out and walk for a couple of hours. The rules are single file, no talking, no loud noises and do what the ranger says. Surprisingly this is never ' run!' thank goodness, as I've only got short legs :)  we are warned that in certain situations we may be told to ' get behind that tree' , I think I can cope with that :). It is rather surreal though to be walking in the vicinity of wild animals. We see elephant and I am astonished at how quietly they move and how easily they blend into their surroundings. It would be very easy , and possibly dangerous to stumble across one. We then see rhino, two white  ( 'white' doesn't refer to the colour, it's a corruption of the Afrikaans for ' wide' referring to the mouth/ lips)  the rhino are fairly close and we are upwind of them, they are obviously aware of us, they have poor eyesight but excellent hearing and smell. The rangers go about repositioning us and I daren't take a photo incase the camera  noise results in a charging rhino LOL. DH has no such qualms and manages to get a couple of photos.
 We have a break for snacks and juice and then a gentle walk back to the vehicle, learning about some of the native plants and trees and being told how to recognise animal tracks. DS21 asks me the classic question ' why was there a lion track where we were walking?'  he hasn't got his head around the idea that we are in their habitat :)  
 Back at camp we pack up, pay a quick visit to the camp shop ( and confirm my suspicions that vegetarians and fish eaters are an afterthought) and then start our very first game drive enroute to our camp for the next two nights, Lower Sabie. It was so exciting to be able to drive along , spotting our own wildlife. You can tell all the newbies on their first drive as they are the ones stopping at every impala and wildebeest ;)  As well as the compulsory impala we saw; elephants, steenbok, kudu, buffalo, hyena, giraffe, zebra and hornbills. As we neared Lower Sabie there were half a dozen vehicles parked blocking the road. I'd read about this and announced ' I bet it's lions' otherwise known as a ' cat jam' :) sure enough, a pride of maybe eight lions were lying on the road, we assumed they were enjoying the sun warmed tarmac but later learnt they can also lie on the road to pick up the vibrations of hooved animals crossing further along and so plan their evening's hunting. They were in no hurry to move and not at all concerned about the vehicles manoeuvring through the one  gap left. I couldn't believe we were passing within four feet of a fully grown male lion, with only a car door between us :D.
 We arrived at Lower Sabie with plenty of time to look around and buy a few more essentials for our first braai. Vegetable kebabs and baking potatoes seemed to be the extent of vegetarian goodies, no fish, fresh or frozen.  
 Before dinner we drive a short distance out the camp to Sunset dam, where , you guessed it,we sat and watched the sunset, with hippos , crocs and storks in the foreground. Absolutely beautiful.
 Back at camp we start our first braai. Unlike our frustrating and lengthy attempts to get the BBQ going in the UK this was easy. We bought a ' braai in a box' a clever assembly of kindling wood, newspaper and charcoal with firelighters.  You simply light the firelighters then stand the box on top of them. Instantly well alight, works every time. Wish they sold them in the UK.
My Vege kebabs and jacket potato were acceptable and DH and boys tried their first ostrich steak, apparently it tastes like beef!
 And so ends our first day. I love the smells, the sights and especially the sounds around us. I hope I don't get used to it too quickly.

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Very good! 

 

Wild dog and rhino in a hurry to the restcamp. How frustrating! I'd have paid the fine. :D (But maybe not if it was my first trip).

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A well rounded trip with lots of variety, good job in all the planning.  

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Great read, @MeezersUK! If only you would add a photo or two ...

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Xelas, I'm trying to figure out how to add photos. I thought I could add them to  text after posting, but maybe not? Do I have to add them separately?

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Unfortunately, you only have two hours after first posting to edit your post.  You can still add the photos separately though.  Just click by the paper clip below and choose the photos you want to add.

 

Nice report, by the way!

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P1020111.thumb.JPG.375febbcee61229ccac71cc0e2ea96b8.JPG OK, I'll see if this works. Our rhino welcome and bush walk

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OK, this could take some time.( I did say I was technologically challenged in my first post :) ) I'll start with photos from Day 7

 

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Lower Sabie Day 8

 

While in Kruger I was intending that we get a few early starts as early morning and late afternoon are supposedly the best times for seeing the animals. The really committed Kruger guests are sat in their cars waiting for the gates to open , 6am in July. I knew we'd never be that early but I was hoping we'd be out the door by 7am, this morning was 7.40am and that's the earliest we managed 
We drove south down to Crocodile Bridge restcamp, hoping to find the wild dog pack we saw yesterday. We didn't see much at all and I blamed our late start, not that it made any difference to the following morning's start times. ( Looking back at the photos on the camera, we actually saw a heck of a lot )
A troop of baboons entertained us, playing and lounging on the road just outside of camp

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We saw the usual impala, kudu and giraffe

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We had coffee and snacks at Crocodile Bridge ( you can use the restaurants and shops at any of the camps) and then drove back to Lower Sabie on a dirt ( gravel) road . All along the dirt road we had hornbills playing ' chicken' infront of the car. We couldn't work out what they were doing , why they would sit in the road until the car was almost upon them before flying off. Until a huge grasshopper flew across the windscreen and a hornbill dove after it, catching it midair. I assume these grasshoppers/ locust things were also attracted to the gravel road and the hornbills were waiting for the car to disturb them . It was quite comical how many of these birds would ' leapfrog' the car to always be infront of it

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In fact we saw alot of birds today, maybe cos we saw little of the larger, distracting animals. I love the little lilac breasted rollers, they look as though a child has coloured them in

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  Back  at LowerSabie we had lunch at the restaurant, the deck overlooks the Sabie river, can't be many places you can eat while watching hippos and birds. 

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We were entertained by the starlings who replace monkeys here, waiting for you to turn your head or leave your plate so they can grab a morsel. There are water squirters strategically placed but we enjoyed their chatter and cheekiness

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We went out for a short drive late afternoon, apparently we saw a lion, I'd forgotten about him! Also a varied selection of animals at a waterhole

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We stop on the bridge over the river to watch the hippos and sunset

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 Another braai for  dinner, another vege kebab,the accompanying glass of wine and view from our braii area raise it from mediocre to unforgettable. All the accommodation I have booked in Kruger is on the perimeter of the camp and has a view beyond the electrified perimeter fence. This means at worst you can see any wildlife that approaches the fence outside the camp, at best you get a view , in this case of the river. We can listen to hippos as we eat  

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Lower Sabie to Satara Day 9

 

We change camps today. Kruger is huge ,about the size of Wales. The vegetation and therefore the density and type of animals varies so it is best to move around to increase the chances of seeing certain animals.
Today we head north to Satara ,a camp in ' cat country' . There are consistently good sightings of lion, leopard and cheetah here, though we have already seen lions close up near Lower Sabie, so nothing is guaranteed, the animals don't read the guidebook .
We head out at 8 am on a tar road. Yesterday's lack of sightings has left us disappointed with the quieter dirt roads preferred by some. There are so many places to stop on the way and multiple choices of route, it can take all day to drive a short distance if you want it to. There are Ellie's just outside the camp and the usual zebra, kudu etc to divert us .

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How do you hide an elephant? Stand it behind a tree of course! There was an adult Ellie behind this tree, you can just see it's left front leg.

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How many zebra can you see? :)

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We stop  at a view point where we have an incredible , panoramic view of what seems like half of Kruger spread out below us. 

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Three hours and 50 Kms later we stop for an early lunch at a picnic site. Kruger's version of motorway services :). comfy chairs , shop selling takeaway food items , souvenirs and essentials, clean toilets and cafe serving tasty, cheap food. And monkeys. Like most of Kruger's rest areas, this site is plagued with them. They sit around waiting for an unattended plate , or to snatch a morsel from the bin before it is emptied ( every few minutes by the staff)all very amusing for the guests but a nuisance for the employees.

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At every restcamp and picnic site there is a sightings board, a map where guests can pin a marker on the place they have seen a lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog or elephant that day ( rhinos unfortunately can't be included due to risk of alerting poachers to their whereabouts) Leopard and cheetah have been spotted nearby today, so we make it our mission to find them.
We continue our slow drive North , detouring to see the most southerly baobab tree and to watch elephants drinking and playing at a waterhole.

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 Approaching the turn off where the leopard was spotted we come across another ' cat jam' not leopard though, lions again. But they are lying in long grass and impossible to see. Having had our close up view at Lower Sabie we aren't inclined to wait for them to show themselves. We head down a dirt track near where the leopard was spotted ( the sighting locations aren't exact, they just get you to the general area) and unusually , this normally quieter dirt road is quite busy. Maybe this is a good sign? An oncoming vehicle stops and tells us the leopard is a few Kms further on , on the left Yes! Most people in Kruger are keen to pass on special sightings and will flag you down to tell you of something worth seeing. We find the leopard, due to the cars parked up , not by spotting him, that takes a few minutes with the binoculars, how the first person spotted him I don't know. He is draped over a branch asleep, he doesn't open his eyes, let alone move. But still! It's a real live leopard! We watch him far longer than his comatose state justifies, then head on to Satara, arriving at camp at 3 pm. It has taken us 7 hours to drive 98 Kms!

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We have perimeter bungalows again, this time the boys have their own as each bungalow sleeps two.
The accomodations at Kruger range from guesthouses that sleep 10 to basic huts with nothing but a single bed . The perimeter bungalows I've booked are generally a bit dearer than the other rooms, but still good value. They are basic but have kitchen and bathroom, sometimes a bit worn, but clean and comfortable, and in the park! What more could you want?

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I have booked a sunset drive tonight. Another Sanparks activity. We leave the camp at 4.30 and get to stay out until 7.30, 2 hours after the gates have closed. There are ten of us on the drive, DS18 and I are at the back and are given the task of using the spotlights when it gets dark. Our guide has heard about the invisible lions from earlier and knows just where to look for them. They have moved from their grassy hideaway and are now at the side of the track we took to see the leopard. It's a lioness with cubs of varying ages, so obviously not all hers, she is babysitting. We have a lovely, unobscured view and we don't have to share it with anyone. 

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We then continue down the road to see if the leopard is still there, he isn't, so back to the lions who have now moved to the tar road and are lounging about creating a one vehicle cat jam' :) the look the lioness gives us when she finally deigns to move aside for the vehicle leaves us in no doubt that she's moving because SHE wants to, not because it suits us :) Altogether on the drive we see impala, elephants, zebra, waterbuck,giraffe, hyena,lions and DS spotted a Genet, but it was gone before we could get a picture.

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We eat at the camp restaurant tonight , we are too hungry to bother with a braii and there are only so many vege kebabs a person can eat

 

 

Edited by MeezersUK
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Now that is a proper trip report! Lions on the road ... they rally slow the traffic 😁

 

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Love your bird shots in particular.

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19 hours ago, Marks said:

Love your bird shots in particular.

Thank you. I wonder if anyone can identify the eagle ( ?)  I can manage the obvious like the Bateleur and LBR , but if it's generally brown or black I'm stuck :)

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Hello @MeezersUK I think your eagle is a juvenile Batleur which are brown just be confusing with a dark eye and short tail

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Satara


We are on a cheetah hunt today. Based on the markers on yesterday's sightings board we head out 
to drive the river loop, a 60 km circular route on mainly dirt roads , before heading North for lunch at Olifants restcamp. After the first 20 Kms anticipation quickly gives way to boredom. There is nothing to see ( I don't mean that literally, there are always impala, wildebeest, waterbuck etc but their novelty has worn off, though we do occasionally feel guilty about taking them for granted and stop to say hello  ) The road follows a river, on one side we have a lush , green but dry riverbed. With the huge old trees we could be in England, until we turn our heads to see the acres of long, dry grass on our other side. 
When we get to a junction we decide to forego the rest of the dirt road loop and head back towards the tar road. A few Kms along several cars are parked up , all heads turned towards the sea of dry grass. We ask what they are looking at to be told ' apparently there are cheetah somewhere in there' Great, we've found the haystack, now to find the needle  We sit and scan the area with binoculars, trying to pinpoint where people are aiming their huge zoom lenses. Then DH shouts ' I see a head' it's a young cheetah, not fully grown and he has sat up long enough for us to get a couple of photos. The adult then stands up , turns around and lays down again. Laying down they are impossible to see.

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 We wait a few minutes longer then agree to be happy with our sighting and continue on to Olifants for lunch. So that's everything we hoped to see seen. How lucky are we? We are in such a good mood we stop to say hello to some impala :)
 The drive up to Olifants has to be the most boring of the week. We get off to a good start with
 elephants just outside Satara. We can sit and watch ellies for ages.  But after that , nothing ( except for impala and kudu etc  ) all the way to Olifants. 

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Olifants camp is as far north as we get on this trip. It's known for it's lovely location high up , overlooking the Olifants river. We have lunch while enjoying the view.

Leaving Olifants we stop on the bridge over the river and watch baby baboons playing in a tree. They are taking it in turns to climb up a branch, leap across a five foot gap, swing down and climb up again. They are very well mannered, all waiting their turn and obviously enjoying their practice at being ' big ' baboons. They remind me of toddlers in a playground. 
A non eventful drive back to Satara, we have a wander around the camp looking for photo ops and find a group of monkeys playing on the benches of the outdoor cinema. They seem to be playing tag and take turns jumping up and bobbing down to hide. We watch for so long , it grows dark and our stomachs are rumbling. 

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We have another restaurant dinner. Then DH and I take our torches to walk along the perimeter fence to see if we can spot anything on the other side. After 100 metres of so we decide this is a waste of time and turn around to find a hyena less than four foot away from us .He was probably following us silently all the time we were walking. It made me shudder

 

 

Edited by MeezersUK
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8 minutes ago, Towlersonsafari said:

Hello @MeezersUK I think your eagle is a juvenile Batleur which are brown just be confusing with a dark eye and short tail

Thanks, that would explain why I couldn't match him up with anything in the guidebook :)

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