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Let's Talk Greater Kruger


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#1 kittykat23uk

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Posted 25 July 2011 - 06:26 AM

Having read the thread posted by Super Leeds on his SA trip plans and the responses regarding some of the lodges for Jochen, Twaffle and others, there seems to be an opinion on this forum that one does not need to visit Sabi Sand and that you can get an equally good game viewing experience further north at places such as Timbavati, Klaserie etc. In the process of making enquiries of a few companies, I received this information below:

"We run a fleet of vehicles and we transfer people from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to all the lodges in the Mpumalanga Lowveld, and this includes private lodges which are situated within Kruger itself like Jock Safari Lodge, Lukimbi, Rhino Post / Plains Camp, Nkambeni, etc.

We also transfer guests to all the lodges in the Sabi Sand Private Reserve such as Sabi Sabi, MalaMala, Londolozi, Elephant Plains to name but a few, to lodges in the Timbavati like Gomo Gomo, Kings Camp, Motswari and Simbavati, and even further afield to the Manyeleti, Klaserie and Balule Private Game Reserves.

Just this last week we transferred guests to Sabi Sabi, MalaMala, Leopard Creek, Tshukudu Game Lodge, Shishangeni, Shumbalala and Maholoholo, so we are exposed to a lot of camps in all the different reserves, and we are told by the guests what they've seen and how they enjoyed the experience at the lodge of their choice. Very few organisations get the insight that we get.

We get better feed-back than most on what people see at the various camps and what they liked and disliked at the various camps, and this is an unbiased opinion, as we are not officially affiliated to any camp in particular.

Without doubt, the best game viewing in the whole of Kruger takes place in the south of the reserve. Also, the best game viewing in the Sabi Sand Private Reserve is also in the southern section of the Sabi Sand, where MalaMala, Londolozi, Singita, Sabi Sabi and Notten's are situated. In the northern Sabi Sand where Elephant Plains, Nkorho, Chitwa etc are located the game viewing is not nearly as good as in the southern Sabi Sand, due purely to availability of year round water, the soil and vegetation type and a lot of other factors.

The further north you go, into the Manyeleti and Timbavati, the area gets dryer, there are no perennial rivers except for the Olifants River in the north, and the vegetation turns mainly to pioneer species of plant and Mopani bush, which is not ideal for large heads of grazers (zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and white rhino) and the various antelope species like impala which are at the bottom of the food chain and who are the main prey species to leopard, cheetah. This results in less predators, and those predators that there are, have large territories due to the scarcity of prey species. Unlike the southern Sabi Sand. Extremely fertile soil, dense and varied vegetation able to support a large concentration of game thereby allowing a large concentration of predators with very small territories. Much better game viewing, in a far smaller area. Last week we had a family who spent 3 nights at Londolozi and spotted no less than 7 different leopards.

To further give you an idea. An average game drive, either morning or afternoon / evening, a Land Rover in the Timbavati covers some 25 to 30 km's looking for animals. On an average game drive in the southern Sabi Sand the Land Rover covers between 7 to 10 km's and they find more species and are able to spend more time observing the animals that their counterparts in the north.

So, if its a large variety of species that you are looking to encounter, and getting up close and spending time watching them, then its definately in the southern Sabi Sand, and that's also the reason you pay more, because you get so much more and what you get is quality.

Would you agree with the above? If not, why not?

ALl the best

Jo
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#2 Pangolin

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Posted 25 July 2011 - 06:49 PM

Haven't been to Sabi Sands since 2001. We stayed at what is now Arathusa, and without looking at a map, I don't recall just how far south it is. Here's what I do know: (1) it was quite inexpensive; (2) the facilities were just fine; (3) the guiding was excellent; (4) the wildlife viewing was extraordinary; (5) the traversing protocols resulted in a few sightings with a "waiting list" of vehicles, but all in all, we had many sightings to ourselves.

We saw (1) many leopards, (2) multiple cheetahs including a coalition of three, (3) wild dogs, (4) a rhino lumbered basically through camp on its way to a pan, and (5) much more.

A great value, and a great decision to go there, because of the eight people in our group (which took up the entire camp), four were Africa first-timers, so the plethora of predators was most welcome.

Don't know if that fits into the model of Kittykat23uk, but that's the way it was, September 2001.
One pangolin to rule them all......

#3 Super LEEDS

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Posted 25 July 2011 - 07:32 PM

Hey Jo

Very interesting stuff. From my short-lived, intense research (reading Jochen's posts and the lodge/camp websites and reviews on trip advisor), here a a couple of my 2p-worth thoughts:

1) Elephant Plains charge around 1900 ZAR pppn and from various reports, you're almost guaranteed to see everything you'd like to on their concessions. The point being, how much more would you pay at the ridiculously priced places for the same thing?

2) Following from the above, the argument could be you'd see everything sooner, quicker or closer (to the lodge) than say EP. But that would be another negative for me, something perhaps SA safari is labelled with regularly, "safari on steroids". I would prefer a little hunt/chase though admittedly there is a fine line between working for your sightings and not seeing anything! Would one think they perhaps 'cheated' by staying at these places? I suppose everyone has a different view on going on safari and what they want from it. It sounds like you pay all that money to be shown the animals on cue. A drive-thru safari if you like.

Its funny, I would almost want a lot LESS for paying that much MORE than what those luxury places offer.

Of course, this is all on paper so those who have been there and done it will have more valid opinions than I.

Leeds

P.S. Read Pangolin's post after I posted - here's a map a company sent me when I was emailing for quotes

Map

Edited by Super LEEDS, 25 July 2011 - 07:45 PM.


#4 kittykat23uk

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Posted 26 July 2011 - 07:26 AM

Hi Leeds I've seen that map. Thanks. Pangolin, Wow what a haul! Well looks like you stayed further north than I did, I went to EP. We had one night there and saw two leopards (one nice sighting, one back end), four male lion which we nearly ran over, hyena, elephant, white rhino and buffalo. So not quite the big 5.

Edited by kittykat23uk, 26 July 2011 - 07:27 AM.

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#5 ZaminOz

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Posted 26 July 2011 - 08:02 AM

So not quite the big 5.


?? :huh:

You saw:
leopard
lion
elephant
rhino
buffalo

That is the "Big Five"
...
*******
Warning, if any safari camps wish to employ me as a guide, I expect a salary far, far, more commensurate than my actual experience!

#6 Super LEEDS

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Posted 26 July 2011 - 08:53 AM

ZaminOz

I was about to say the same thing but something clicked... through my previous traulings of this forum, its the BLACK rhino that makes up the Big Five, I think!

Your list would be good enough for though :P

Leeds

#7 Sverker

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Posted 26 July 2011 - 11:39 AM

Black or white doesn´t matter - apartheid is abolished since two decades ... :D
Slower is better!

#8 kittykat23uk

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 06:19 AM

LOL yep Black Rhino is the other one of the Big Five, which we saw later on during a sunset drive at Lower Sabie on the same day as the good leopard sighting an also had a lion on a dead giraffe that evening. :D

Oh something else that another company mentioned to me. The density of the vehicles/lodges and whether or not the guides are out there looking for the animals whe people are not on drives, will also play a role in generating more sightings. For example, in Sabi Sand where there are a lot of lodges, there are more people out spotting animals for you. I've been advised that in Balule there are much fewer lodges and so less people out in the reserve and so there is more ground to cover - so sightings are harder.

At EP we spent a larege part of our game drive searching fruitlessly for a leopard in front of a lodge because the staff had seen one briefly some time before. But they couldn't recall excactly where. We also encountered difficulty with traversing rights when a leopard moved into another lodge's property.

Edited by kittykat23uk, 27 July 2011 - 06:27 AM.

If an experience is amazing enough to be "once in a lifetime," I want to do it every year.
Alex: "Whoa! Hold up there a second, fuzzbucket. You mean like, uh, the live in a mud hut wipe yourself with a leaf type wild?"
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#9 Jochen

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 08:25 PM

Black or white doesn´t matter - apartheid is abolished since two decades ... :D


This just made my day! Excellent humor!!

:lol:

#10 Jochen

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 08:35 PM

Jo,

Sorry for not replying sooner. Needed my time for this reply, as I want to make sure what I write is complete and not misunderstood.

I can't comment on the abundance of game in Kruger NP itself (north vs south) as I hardly know it. I've only been there once, for one day. This was Skukuza & Lower Sabie area, and game was average (compared to private reserves).

So; about the game in the private reserves... I'm not saying their view is totally wrong but...

We also transfer guests ... to lodges in the Timbavati like Gomo Gomo...


1) someone should tell them that Gomo Gomo is in Klaserie now

and

2) there number of good sightings depends on much more than just the proximity of water.


(I'll write my personal view in a separate post)

Edited by Jochen, 27 July 2011 - 08:36 PM.


#11 Jochen

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 09:38 PM

K, here's my view.

There's a number of factors that influence your number (and quality) of sightings. To summarize a bit;

- The habitat. Where there's water, there's life. True. But we should not exaggerate this. In general I'd say that this difference in availability of water (north compared to south) is not so big anymore. Nowadays, there's plenty of artificial waterholes around, to lure animals. So many in fact, that game numbers are a bit "artificial" as well, and that some environmentalist complain that it is changing the landscape, and pushing some species out while others increase too much in numbers ...not that this is likely to change any time soon. After all, any owner is correct when he says "no animals, no customers". I must add to that though, that I do see some effort here and there to keep the habitat as diverse as possible. There are properties that very clearly have open plains, riverine habitat, mopane blocks, mixed woodland, bushy patches, etc... and that put effort in keeping it that way.

- How long the area has been in operation. The longer, the better. Animals get accustomed to vehicles after a while. The more that happens, the better your sightings are going to get.

- Sharing of sightings. One thing I learned by now is that sharing sightings with other lodges does help. The more you do this, the more sightings you get (and thus; the more chance on exceptional sightings as well). But there is a trade-off! You can have too much of it as well. At EP, we hated it. The guide was listening more to the radio (earpiece) than to his guests. And, while not that much, we did have a few occasions when they worked with time slots. Very annoying.

- Location of traversing rights. Sounds silly? It isn't. If your lodge is in the middle of an area where traverse is shared and/or if that area is rather square shaped instead of a stretched out in length, then you will get to other sightings faster, and will be able to spend more time.

- Quality of guide and tracker. I think this needs little explanation.

- The season / weather. Green season obviously means spotting less animals. But even if you go in winter; if you are there when a cold front rolls in (bad luck) then you are going to see less.

- The length of your stay. If you spend more time at every particular lodge, there's a better chance for you to see what there is to see.

-Price. Basically almost the same as the previous parameter. The faster your money is spent, the less long you can stay, the fewer your sightings.




Now, mix all the above in a little bag. Shake, don't stir. And pour it out. There's your "safari result". What I'm trying to say is; you should try to control these parameters as much as possible.

Of course, you cannot control all of them. What will the weather be? Who will you get as guide?

Let's stick to the parameters you can control. For those parameters, my experience is certainly not as simple as "south is better than north".

Here are some examples of my results (in lodge choices);

- The biggest bodies of water we've seen are actually not in Sabi Sands but in Timbavati (the dammed river in front of Simbavati River Lodge) and Manyeleti (the huge lake in the middle of the reserve). Compare that to, for instance, the northern block of Sabi Sands, where EP and Arathusa are in. There are no perennial rivers in that block. And yet we had plenty of good sightings in all these locations!! :) My conclusion would be that the south has no advantage when it comes to water.

- My experience is that in upcoming reserves, people do more their best to find the animals. They need to, as these are less accustomed to vehicles. No worries though, because the best guides are often found there. They are trend setters. They like a challenge. Tracking is a sport. And they get bored at places where sightings are handed to them on a silver plate (you may remember what I wrote on the tracker of EP who was the most disinterested guy ever). At places with a lot of traversing rights and very tame animals, the first guide to spot the animal is simply the one that happened to run into it first, on that particular morning or afternoon. OK, I exaggerate a bit, but it's just to make my point clear; there's a tendency of the more dedicated guides/trackers moving to new areas. The best guides and trackers I had was at AOF, nThambo and Umkumbe. My conclusion; upcoming reserves have an edge over well-established reserves when it comes to guiding and even more so with tracking.

- At EP, we had a leopard that almost decided to use the bonnet as a ladder to get out of the tree she was in. And no leopard ever tried to get away from us. Conclusion; well-established reserves have an edge over upcoming reserves when it comes to relaxed animals. In my view, the animals in the north of Timbavati are equally relaxed than the ones in Sabi Sands!

- As I wrote above, sharing sightings at EP was over the top. Compared to that, nThambo was better: just enough lodges sharing sightings, but not too many. Actually, Simbavati River Lodge is about as good as nThambo.

- The northern part of Sabi Sands is a bit better when it comes to distances, compared to the other places I've been. This is because of the shape of the area where traverse is shared.
Compare EP to AOF/nThambo in Klaserie; they've got about 3000Ha of traverse with lodges nearby, in the south. But they have another 3000+ Ha of traverse on the northern side of the reserve (Tulela, Senalala, ...). The only problem is; there's private areas in between both areas, and reserve rules state that you cannot even use boundary roads if you do not own the property or have traversing rights on it. So to get from one area to the other, they must use the tar road at the edge of the reserve. A time loss of about 45 minutes (unless you spot something on the way, which almost always happened, plus some sightings - like the mating lions - were definitely worth "losing" 45 minutes for).
Another comparison; in Timbavati, the northern lodges share about 6500Ha as well. But some are really up north, like Simbavati RL and Motswari (which is actually in Umbabat!). While others are a bit more south (Tanda Tula, Umlani, ...). To get from one side to the other, all lodges have to make a detour as well, through the Jaydee and Oud Nederland plots. Why? Well again because there is a private property east of the Nhlaralumi river that does not want vehicles passing on their property.


"How about making a ranking of the places you visited?" I hear you say.

I couldn't do it even if wanted to.

- Our best leopard sightings were at EP (north Sabi Sands). But tracking sucked and sharing sightings was too much. (*)
- Best Rhino; Umkumbe (south Sabi Sands). But no sharing of sightings and no traverse. (*)
- Best lion; a ) Simbavati River Lodge (north Timbavati). So many, and many cubs! And b ) nThambo (south Klaserie). The white lioness and the mating lions! But much less water here, and long distances to get from one area to the other. (*)
- Best buffalo; AOF (south Klaserie). Every year we spotted a very big herd. I think it's rather resident; they're regularly at the dam in front of Gomo Gomo. But apart from that dam; much less water there, and long distances to get from one area to the other. (*)
- Best elephant; Shindzela (south Timbavati). Ellies drinking from a pool close to your tent; fantastic! But no traversing rights there and so no sharing of sightings either.(*)
- Best Cheetah; Pungwe (Manyeleti). But no sharing (vehicle didn't even have radio), and very big area. (*)


I could go on, but I'll stop here. I've put that * to show that EVERY place that stood out for a "best of" also had shortcomings. The perfect place does not exist.

My ultimate advice would certainly not be to just stick to the south, but rather to pick a few lodges N to S (Hoedspruit to Nelspruit, if you want to hear it in airport-language) or vice versa, and stay long enough in each location.

Ciao,

J.

Edited by Jochen, 27 July 2011 - 09:47 PM.

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#12 kittykat23uk

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Posted 28 July 2011 - 07:01 PM

That's really interesting Jochen. It's a shame you haven't been to Balule I'd be interested in views on that as there is an interesting looking budget option for six days including some day trips into Kruger. I've been wondering if it's worth taking a punt on that rather than spending probably 3x that much (as a single traveller with transfers to/from Jo burg) on one of the better known areas. :huh:

http://safaritalk.ne...?showtopic=7075

I should add my main interests going forward on safari are cats, predators, night creatures and birds, with the emphasis on watching behaviour. The safari operator above have offered to put me with their best bird guide and happy to tailor the trip to my needs (e.g adding a game drive instead of the rehabilitation centre etc).

My concerns remain that to much time might be spent moving between the lodge and Kruger (Balule is nearly an hour away from Orpen gate) and the game viewing potential of Balule itself.

Speaking of Kruger, we found game viewing to be quite sparse, particularly the road in from Phalaborwa gate. Plus the general scrubbyness of the terrain makes viewing difficult. However, we did have some good sightings, massive herd of buffalo, Huge pride of Lions on the orpen road, eles, those two leopard, Jackals, hyena, lion on a giraffe, and I know several people who saw wild dog, cheetahs etc. You just have to be in the right place at the right time.

Edited by kittykat23uk, 28 July 2011 - 07:08 PM.

If an experience is amazing enough to be "once in a lifetime," I want to do it every year.
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King Julian: “Who wipes?”

#13 Big_Dog

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Posted 01 June 2015 - 03:06 PM

Sorry to hijak this, but i didn't see a Kruger thread and so thought this topic would suffice fine. :)
Saw this on the SANParks website : http://www.sanparks....hp?f=67&t=86042
What do we all think to this news?
I personally think it may be very interesting to see Kruger return to it's earlier, dryer form pre-70's when boreholes were introduced, and we may see an increase in Roan and Sable / resident Brown hyaena, and less lion, spotted hyaena, elephant, zebra and wildebeest if I can remember my studies.


"What, no hyaena pictures?"


#14 ice

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Posted 01 June 2015 - 06:09 PM

this actually old news, check out this article

 

http://conservationa...gers-elephants/



#15 ice

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Posted 01 June 2015 - 06:11 PM

I personally think it may be very interesting to see Kruger return to it's earlier, dryer form pre-70's when boreholes were introduced, and we may see an increase in Roan and Sable / resident Brown hyaena, and less lion, spotted hyaena, elephant, zebra and wildebeest if I can remember my studies.

 

and most importantly, less elephants


Edited by ice, 01 June 2015 - 06:11 PM.


#16 Big_Dog

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Posted 01 June 2015 - 06:59 PM

Oops, my mistake @ice.
But yes, 'elephants vs biodiversity' is an important crux too. Keeping boreholes open along tourist routes...may perhaps improve game viewing?


"What, no hyaena pictures?"


#17 ice

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Posted 01 June 2015 - 09:01 PM

I think that's one of the ideas behind, a welcome side effect, so to speak



#18 Bushfire

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Posted 24 July 2015 - 12:11 PM

Just a quick few things:

 

- It is correct that there is a rainfall gradient in the kruger an adjoining reserves, north being the most dry and south being the wettest. But it is not as simple as that. There can be a possible difference in rainfall between let's say sabi sands game reserve and timbavati, but to which extent this is responsible for possible game densities is less obvious.

- It is correct that the northern part is being almost entirely mopani shrubland/woodland and mopani is less favorable for most browsers. So in general I might assume game densities are less here. But this does not inhibit some really good game viewing !

 

- One thing that isn't mentioned is bush encroachment.  The area around sabi sand/Skukuza restcamp is very densly vegetated which makes it a heaven for leopards. One of the reasons of bush encroachment is that savanna fires, one of the natual factors determining the fragile balance between woodland and grassland (savanna), are mostly kept out of this area (tourists don't really like black scattered earth...).

 

Regards,

 

B



#19 Alexander33

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Posted 02 August 2015 - 06:05 PM

In September 2013 we spent 4 nights at Ngala Tented Camp (Timbavati) and 4 nights at Simbambili (northern Sabi Sands, sharing traversing rights with Elephant Plains, Arathusa, etc.).

We actually had better overall sightings in Timbavati. There was a lower density of leopards there than we experienced in Sabi Sands (although leopard sightings we had in Timbavati were -- simply by chance, in my opinion -- higher quality).

I hadn't thought of it previously, but we did travel further for sightings in Timbavati. I don't see that as a negative, though, because we encountered far fewer other vehicles than in Sabi Sands and didn't have the various traversing restrictions that we had in Sabi Sands (there was one instance there where we had traversing rights over a certain property only for cats, but not for the rhinos we had spotted).

In both cases, we saw the Big Five (okay, white rhino, not black) multiple times, plus wild dog at both and cheetah at Timbavati. The night drives at Timbavati were slightly better, with a tad higher count of civet, genet, and lesser bushbaby. We had a higher bird count in Sabi Sands.

Overall, I would be happy to go back to either place any time -- although I would like to check out the southern Sabi Sands.

Edited by Alexander33, 02 August 2015 - 06:07 PM.

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