A Travellerspoint blog

Kruger National Park January 2009

Part 1

Tuesday, 06 January, 2009
Off to Durban
I was touched this morning to see how Jay and Joshua hugged Shannon when we said goodbye at 5 o’clock this morning. It’s been a wonderful three weeks, which we’ve all enjoyed for different reasons. The boys loved the horse-riding, biking, golf, fishing, playing with their cousins and having Allan with whom to fool around and rough and tumble. Lisa enjoyed special time with her sister and cousins and to horse ride every day was bliss. For Earl and me it’s always a wonderful to be privileged enough to be entertained by our children, having time with our other grandchildren and enjoying the company of our Kokstad Relatives. We had a fabulous time with everybody.
The trip to Durban airport was smooth with only a little mist in certain sections. We arrived at Durban International at half past seven, checked Lisa and the boys’ luggage through then took them to the Spur for breakfast. Earl spotted the Mango flight coming in 15 minutes early and we watched Heather and Priscilla de-plane – they were first off having got seats right in front of the aircraft.
Fortunately, we had the address of the depot where we needed to collect the tyres on Earl’s GPS otherwise; we might have taken forever to find the place. By 9 o’clock, they were fitted and we were on our way to Bonamanzi!
It was hot! We settled into Tree House 12, had lunch then slept for the rest of the afternoon! At 5 o’clock, Earl woke us up and dragged us kicking and screaming to a secluded little pool where we were the only ones beside the monkeys. After a refreshing swim, we went off to the restaurant and enjoyed a wonderful buffet supper.
Wednesday, 07 January 2009
Before leaving, we watched the weavers making nests at the waterhole. The highlight for me was a thick-billed weaver feeding its two babies. The species of weaver included, Southern-masked weaver, Village weaver, yellow weaver, spectacled weaver and thick-billed weaver. We also took a walk and observed some birds including wattle lapwing, water thick-knee, spur-winged goose and little bee-eater.

Once again, it was hot today and temperatures were in the 40s. Although Earl gets antsy at place of bureaucracy our border crossings went smoothly and the trip through Swaziland was lovely. Because we drove through game reserves, we spotted quite a bit of wildlife on the way. We were impressed with the neatness of apparent successful farming of sugar cane in the area. It looks like Swaziland is doing well.
Kruger National Park
Whenever I go to The Kruger National Park, my whole being is recharged, my senses are keener and I glow with happiness as I embrace another world, an Eden, Paradise in Africa. As we entered Crocodile Bridge Gate at 12:30 this afternoon, I went straight into ‘wild’ mode and drank in the sounds, sights and smells of my favourite place in the universe!
As expected those beautiful, gentle antelope the impala were among the first animals to greet us and not long after a small herd of wildebeest.
Within the first 10 minutes of entering the park, vultures flying overhead alerted us to the possibility of a kill and sure enough more gathered in a nearby tree and a traffic jam of cars marked the spot where a lioness was guarding her giraffe carcass. She was restless and a short distance up the road we saw two game guards dismounting from their bicycles. The lioness withdrew to the shade of a tree as they tentatively approached on foot. Lions seldom attack people on foot but if they’re on bicycles might charge so the game guards had a better chance off their vehicles.
We didn’t stay at the kill long as it was crowded with other observers and we felt we’d seen enough. The vultures and marabou storks that were hovering were interesting to see too.
I took us 2 hours to travel the 27km to our first camp Biyamati, which is a bush camp and its approaching road may only be used by residents; thus, it is quiet and other cars are seldom seen.
On a safari like this, it’s good to have everybody keenly looking out for birds and game. On this trip we had Heather who we include on our holidays not for her charm and personality but for her excellent skills of bird identification. Just joking we really love you, Heather!
We have been to a few bird club camps and outings with Priscilla and her spotting skills are hard to beat –hence Heather’s nickname for her – Unbeaten Beeton! Important to have this skill on Safari so – Welcome to Caravelle Safaris Priscilla – keep up the unbeaten record!
Earl, my darling husband, we could not do without as he does all the driving while spotting birds in spite of their efforts to camouflage themselves where nobody else would find them, manoeuvres the car for award winning photography and shops, cooks and cleans too! Then there’s me whose job is simply to organise the event and write about it afterwards! It’s hard work having fun!

Today two birds of prey caused great excitement among us. First, a brown snake eagle, its yellow eyes and yellow legs – un-feathered, makes it not a true eagle in spite of its name. We continued to see this bird quite often during the rest of the trip. Then there was the king of prey birds – the martial eagle, which we found beautifully perched in a tree. It was still a juvenile but glorious none the less and we all got fabulous photographs of him.
Iconic in the park are the woodland’s kingfisher and lilac breasted roller – both beautiful birds which we never tire of seeing. The woodland’s call fills the air, summoning one to find him and giving one great pleasure when one does. The lilac-breasted roller is a show-off and poses conspicuously on branches close enough for wonderful photographs. There is no excuse for not capturing this bird digitally forever.
A bird that caught our attention early in the trip was the white-winged widow bird. In Kokstad, we see long-tailed, red collared and fan-tailed widow birds so it was wonderful to become familiar with another of this sub-species.
We arrived at Biyamati at and checked into cottage 13 at half past three, unpacked and had a rest. The yellow-billed and red-billed hornbills are quite tame, They have discovered that they can peck insects off the windowpanes.. This is cute but annoying if you want some peace and quiet! Other birds we saw in the camp garden were cinnamon-breasted bunting, grey-headed sparrow and go away birds
It was very hot so we rested for the rest of the afternoon and had supper at about 7 o’clock.
Thursday, 08 January 2009
Early Morning Start
Everybody else in camp left earlier than we did so we had the road to ourselves. The first exciting sighting was when Heather spotted Small Buttonquail scurrying along the edge of the road and into the long grass. It was a real privilege to see these birds as they are shy and run for cover as soon as they feel threatened. Some birds are camouflage experts and I was almost fooled by one doing an impersonation of a stick. As we crossed the ford where it was lurking I yelled, “stop’, and made Earl reverse. The stick turned out to be a beautiful Little Bittern.
Another of the highlights of the day was seeing elephants with babies rolling and spraying each other in a mud puddle. One of the youngsters was very cheeky and mock charged us. One of the big bulls also looked quite aggressive and waved his trunk at us.
We really enjoyed observing the antics of the birds and laughed when we saw a starling chase a poor little mongoose running down the road. He was probably quite innocent but he has a reputation for stealing birds’ eggs.
Priscilla wanted to see a carmine bee-eater and Earl managed to find one for her. We also saw Jacobin cuckoo twice, a Walberg’s Eagle on its nest feeding its baby, a bateleur flying overhead and many other stunning birds.
We stopped at Afsaal, a rather commercialised picnic site for lunch and Priscilla showed us where they have a resident Scops Owl in a cordoned off tree. After lunch, we made our hot way back to camp but stopped frequently to see birds and animals.
We arrived home at 3 o’clock. It was very hot and Biyamati does not have air-con so we switched on the fans and collapsed on our beds to rest, and gather our thoughts.
Friday, 09 January 2009
Biyamati to Berg en Dal
We were up very early and ready to leave camp by 5 o’clock. The first exciting spot of the morning was a martial eagle. However, this was topped by the cute little harlequin buttonquail we spotted running along the side of the road. These birds are difficult to spot as they disappear into the grass so quickly but we got good views of them and were able to take some reasonable photographs.
In an open clearing near a water hole, I spotted something in the grass, which I thought might be a korhaan, but turned out to be an African Wattled Lapwing. Nearby were some smaller wattled birds and I said, “Hey it’s got babies.” Much to my embarrassment Earl pointed out that the babies were actually wattled starlings! In the same area, we watched lesser-striped swallows, red-breasted swallows, lilac breasted rollers and European bee-eaters. We had quite a feast of birds all at once.
Not long after this, we saw other interesting birds including a striped cuckoo, black-crowned tchagra, long-billed crombec, brown snake eagle and Sabota lark
The bird and animal abundance died down as the day grew warmer but we did see squirrels, tortoises, steenbok, kudu, elephants and impala from time to time.
We arrived at Berg en Dal at about 11 o’clock, which was too early to check into our accommodation so we ordered toasted sandwiches, and ate them in the air-conditioned dining room. It was closed but the manager allowed us to sit there as long as we didn’t mind the maintenance man fixing the air-con. After lunch, we took a walk along the perimeter and saw dabchick, reed cormorant, a pied kingfisher trying his luck, a white-faced duck looking for a place to land and an African Jacana. Earl and I walked off on our own and heard parrots in a tree – we saw one fly out but it wasn’t a good sighting. We also saw a yellow-billed kite perched happily in the shade of another tree.
Family Cottage 82 is cool but rather dark, with low ceilings, nowhere to hang your towel and probably designed by a clever architect trying to win an aesthetic design prize. We had an afternoon nap then went out again at 4o’clock. We saw elephants, rhino, purple indigo bird and black fly-catcher. On our way home we stopped to look for owls in a tree that I thought would definitely have on but instead we saw a green pigeon!
As it was too hot to sit outside and braai this evening, we cooked a rather delicious chicken casserole in the electric frying pan!
Saturday, 10 January 2009
Berg en Dal to Afsaal
We left Berg ‘n Dal at 5:45 this morning. The first thing we spotted was a marabou stork at the top of a tree. Another highlight was seeing a spotted hyena that seemed a bit disoriented and was crossing from one side of the road to the other. He disappeared into the bush and we thought he’d happily re-join his mates. We continued to the water hole then returned along the same road and there he was again doing the same criss-crossing of the road before going off into the bush again.
Interesting birds this morning were a group of double-banded sand grouse with their beautiful yellow eyes. We also saw a Burchell’s Coucal at the top of a tree, which was rather a strange place to see him.
We had a lovely experience when we stopped on a bridge and scanned the river for life. We spotted two small turtles in the water and were about to move on when a big brown bird flew straight at us, It was a hamerkop and he landed right next to the car and began to look for something to eat. We got stunning views of him and another flew over too. When he flew off a little three-banded plover dropped down and then we moved on. A few meters down the road and I spotted a paradise whydah but he flew off before we could get photographs.
Before we arrived at Afsaal, we saw a few elephants but no other big game.
At Afsaal, we had toasted sandwiches for breakfast, Priscilla charged her camera batteries at the shop and I downloaded my photographs onto the computer in case I ran out of space. The rest of our trip was uneventful. Two young men waved us down. They were clearly inebriated and having lots of fun and they asked “16 November – is that anybody’s birthday.” “My daughter’s,” I replied. “I knew it he yelled and slapped his pal on the back. I just had this feeling it was somebody’s birth date!
“Have you seen a bugger-all? Well you’ll see another one along this road,” and they roared with laughter at their own joke. Then they said, “We’ve see a Lion, a Black Label, a Windhoek and that’s about it!
They were from Milnerton!
All we saw after that was black saw-wing swallows, zebra, wildebeest, impala elephants and waterbuck!
We arrived at Pretoriuskop at 12 and checked into our two bungalows – Heather and Priscilla are in number 7, Earl, and I in 118. Earl and I had to pay another R120 because we were upgraded to new bungalows, which had not been built at the time of booking. I think we should have been given them at the old price – after all that’s what we’d booked!
It was a relief when a thunderstorm broke this evening as everything cooled down but it put our braai fire out and we had to cook our meal on the brand new stove – which had a non-functioning hotplate. The newly equipped cupboards were also short of a dinner plate!
Sunday 11 January 2009
Pretoriuskop to Skukuza
We left Pretoriuskop at 06h00 and drove the whole day until 17h00 with a stop at Afsaal for breakfast at half past eleven. The weather was cooler with quite a bit of cloud cover and some rain.
Earl needed to deflate the tyres and as we drove to the petrol station, I spotted a woodpecker on the ground. Heather, Priscilla and I got out of the car to photograph it and got some lovely shots of the Bennet’s on the lawns and the Cardinal in the tree.
This was a good start to the day. The next exciting spot was when Priscilla saw a pearl-spotted owlet in the fork of a tree. It was close and we enjoyed watching and photographing it. Owls camouflage so well that it’s always a thrill to be able to see one.
We have been lucky spotting birds of prey and today we saw Brown Snake Eagle, Eurasian Hobby African Harrier-hawk and Lizard Buzzard.
Other thrilling bird sightings were pygmy kingfisher, common scimitar-bill and ground-scraper thrush.
While we were travelling along a dirt road toward Skukuza Lisa phoned to tell me that Pretoriuskop had found one of my bags – the one with my video camera and hairdryer in it! Thank goodness it wasn’t stolen. I responded by calling them and they promised to send it on to Skukuza.
Several cars stopped to tell us that the road was blocked by a fallen tree but we continued as we were seeing lovely birdlife. When we got to the tree, we called Skukuza to inform them
Just before 14h00 we turned onto S4. We were travelling quite quickly to make up time lost on the blocked road and there had been no exciting spotting for quite some time. At times like this it can become quite boring in the car and one can lose concentration. Priscilla had fallen asleep, Earl was concentrating on his driving and it was left to Heather and me to spot! I was praying for some excitement when suddenly there she was – a leopard in a tree! I yelled – Stop – Leopard. Earl screeched to a halt and shouted – where, where? I already had my binos trained on the animal, Heather saw it immediately and said, Right here in this tree., Priscilla had a rude awakening from her doze and we all just stared at the beautiful creature. She was looking into the bush – scanning for prey, we presumed, and then as quick as a flash she slid down and slunk off into the bush. We could see some impala a distance away and guessed she would circle them and approach downwind. Had we come two minutes later we would have missed her. It was so interesting to see her in the most unlikely tree but she was using it to scan the area not to devour her kill. We continued on our way, basking in the afterglow of a wonderful experience.
At Skukuza, we were assigned Family Cottage 223, which was comfortable but the air-conditioners were very noisy!
The kitchen was well equipped and while Priscilla and Heather went to use the inadequate launderette, I cooked a casserole for supper.
Monday, 12 January 2009
Skukuza to Orpen
The past few days have been rainy or overcast giving us cooler conditions but making photography difficult in some cases. We still have not needed to put on jerseys!
We left Skukuza just after 6 o’clock. We were enjoying our bird watching having seen pied wagtail, boubou, marabou storks and blacksmith lapwings, when a car waved us down to tell us to look out for lions on the road. We were amused to find that this is literally, where they were – a pride of five, lazily lying in the middle of the tar fast asleep at half past six in the morning. They did not flick a tail or bat an eyelid, clearly exhausted after a night of hunting.
Bored with watching inactive lions lying around, we continued our excursion. A grey duiker was one of our interesting observations in the next couple of hours before we came across another group of lazy lions also thinking the tar road made a comfortable bed! Earl tried to wake one up by splashing his juice on her but she didn’t even lift her head!
Our most exciting event was when Heather called out – Stop - Sable antelope – Earl reversed quickly and we all managed to get a good look at this magnificent creature before he disappeared into the bush.
Waterholes, dams and rivers are often interesting places to park off and this morning next to the Skukuza river we saw a knob-billed duck in a tree, a yellow-crowned bishop – a lifer for us all – and a bird half hidden in a tree which Priscilla drew our attention to. After careful observation when it showed a bit more of itself, we were delighted to discover that it was a dwarf bittern.
One of the birds that I most look forward to seeing in Kruger is the endangered beautiful black and white Saddle-Billed Stork. with their enormous slightly upturned black and red bills made beautiful by their yellow saddles. The males have black eyes and the females’ are yellow. We spotted these lovely birds just outside Nhlanguleni Picnic Site where we stopped for breakfast and got some lovely photographs of them.
We had a good day of game viewing today and saw elephants with babies, herds of buffalo – though some has snotty noses, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, and kudu. We also spotted interesting little mongooses and steenbok from time to time. The birdlife was good too and interesting birds we saw were lesser grey shrike, melba finch, coqui francolin, purple roller, carmine bee-eaters, green pigeons, double banded sand grouse, red-crested korhaan and cardinal woodpecker. A bird that has us completely confused is the red-billed buffalo weaver. We have seen birds that fit the description but all except the bill, which to us appears to be white! We assume that the white-billed ones must be juveniles.
We checked into Orpen at around about 5 o’clock and were delighted with our accommodation – family cottage number 14. It had a lovely outdoor kitchen. Orpen is a small camp with only 15 cottages and the best pool in the park. We spent some time cooling off in the pool as the clouds had cleared and it was quite hot in the afternoon. We braaied chicken wings as a starter and had chops and sausage for our main course with sweet potatoes and salad.
We thought we’d animal proofed our fridge but during the night a honey badger managed to push it into a position where he could open it and stole eggs and bacon from the fridge. He also over-turned the bin and nibbled the chicken bones. I heard the noise but when I shone my torch I could only see the bin and didn’t realise he’d raided the fridge until the next morning.

Posted by fenwickh 22:51 Archived in South Africa Tagged ecotourism

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