Kruger 2015

Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 1

(I’m back-dating these posts. This will probably confuse both my readers, but it will make sense in the archives. I hope).

So it was decided that we would take a trip to the Kruger National Park. At first we thought the kids would come with, but they got a better offer :-) and it ended up being just the two of us. Hey, the fewer the merrier.

Two people can fit everything and a tent in a car, but I’d already decided to take the teardrop, which still needed some more work. But all’s well that ends well, so on Wednesday the 9th of December we headed north.


The mission: Tanya wanted to see leopards and cheetahs. Preferably leopard and cheetah cubs. Playing with one another. In a tree. Oh and maybe some lions too. And I’d never seen wild dogs so that was on my list.

Tall order, I know :-/

So being, well, me, I joined the sanparks forum and started doing research. Turns out that the Lower Sabie / Skukuza / Pretoriuskop area is the place for cats, with Satara being good for lions. Or so they say. So I went online to book (the online booking is excellent. Possibly the best I’ve encountered anywhere). This was at the beginning of July, and places were already starting to fill up. I would have liked three nights at Lower Sabie, could only get two. At this stage we didn’t know whether the kids were coming with, so I booked the campsites for two people — you can change this when you arrive in camp, pay the difference.

The itinerary:

  • 2015-12-09: Wednesday: Drive to Bloemfontein
  • 2015-12-10: Thursday: Drive to Nelspruit
  • 2015-12-11: Friday: Get up early, get into the park as early as possible, camp at Lower Sabie
  • 2015-12-12: Saturday: Lower Sabie
  • 2015-12-13: Sunday: Drive up to Satara
  • 2015-12-14: Monday: Satara
  • 2015-12-15: Tuesday: Drive to Skukuza
  • 2015-12-16: Wednesday: Drive to Pretoriuskop
  • 2015-12-17: Thursday: Pretoriuskop
  • 2015-12-18: Friday: Spend as much time in the park as possible, leave in the afternoon, overnight at Witbank
  • 2015-12-19: Saturday: Pick up toys first thing in the morning, head south, see how far we get
  • 2015-12-20: Sunday: Get home
  • 2015-12-21: Wouter back at work for a couple of days.

I didn’t really have much of a plan about where to stop over — The Formula 1 (now SUN1) chain is always good, but we have the teardrop so camping it is. Somewhere along the way I googled it and came up with Reyneke Park. Phoned them, they had lots of space, so that’s where we went.


Didn’t even bother to unhitch the teardrop.


Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 2

We were on the road by 1/4 to 6.


There was a sign just outside Bloemfontein, saying that due to the roadworks it was advisable to take the R30, which from experience is not a great road. I decided to go via Bethlehem / Vrede / Standerton — a route I’ve taken before. Stopped at Pro Sport Standerton because we still needed a table, a hat for Tanya, and a braai grid. A long time ago I bought two guns off an old fellow in Vrede, and Pro Sport stored them for free until I licenced the one and a friend licenced the other. I’ll stop there every time I pass by, find something to buy. Their prices are good too.

The road to Nelspruit goes via Badplaas, a place I spent way too much time in once — but the less said about that the better I guess.

In Nelspruit we went shopping, buying food from the Spar, a cap for the teardrop’s Burquip axle from Nelspruit Trailer Parts, and way too much booze. Camped at Lakeview Lodge, again courtesy of google and a quick phone call.




Braaied a steak (on the gas braai, shock, horror – but it was good).


This little fellow came to visit.





Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 3 (Kruger Day 1)


And so it begins. The road to Malelane gate.

Checked in at the gate, got a map. My advice is, don’t bother. The free map is useless. Go to a Park’s Shop (the shop in camp) and buy the Honeyguide map. R70 but worth it.


They say the impala wait for rain before giving birth. This is not true, but the rain is generally on time. Saw lots and lots of little ones.


Hello Zazu.



We drove via the S114 and S25 to Crocodile Bridge. These are dirt roads presently in pretty good condition. Along the way we spotted big five #1 (elephant, all over the place) and #2.


Those are two rhino, asleep. Hey, it was our first rhino. Little did we know how many we would end up seeing.

(As an aside, the SANParks forum forbids discussing where you see rhino and elephant. This is in my opinion a completely knee-jerk reaction with absolutely no merit. We didn’t spot rhino and elephant in one small area, we spotted them everywhere. And as they say, past performance is no indication of future performance — by the time you get there the animals would have moved on. So feel good about not telling people where the rhino are, if it works for you — but that’s not how you stop poaching).


Martial Eagle.


Pied Kingfisher.

Took the tar road to Lower Sabie, checked in, found a camp site relatively close to the ablution block, parked the teardrop. Then noticed it was site #13. Hey, I have no problem with that.


Ja, it was hot.

We took the S28, S137 loop.


Kori Bustard.



Two rhino.


A Monitor Lizard.


And two more rhino. This was turning into a nice day for rhino.


Baby warthog are cute.



We ended the day with a fairly disappointing night drive. Remember what I said about the mission being leopard? Back in 2000, Elmari and I took a night drive at Lufupa in Kafue, Zambia. They drove us up to a leopard then proceeded to follow the leopard until he caught supper. So I figured leopard on a night drive is like shooting springbok with a light. I was wrong. Even though the blackboard in camp proclaimed that the previous night’s drive encountered “leopard (with kill)” we were not so lucky. We did see some nocturnal critters you don’t see in the daytime, so all was not lost. But don’t count on the night drives for leopard.






Lower Sabie

When we went to Etosha the idea was to eat at the restaurant. That was a disaster. We ended up cooking, completely unprepared.

So this time we took way too much food with us. Because it turns out that they recently revamped the restaurants at the rest camps in Kruger. These are now all franchises, and they are all excellent. You know how the restaurants at South African airports suck, because captive audience? This is not like that at all. The complete opposite.


(View of Lower Sabie restaurant from the other side of the river.)

In Lower Sabie the restaurant is a Mugg & Bean. We stopped there for lunch, Tanya ordered the Sriracha Chicken, Pineapple & Avo Salad and a bottomless lemonade. I was paying attention to the wildlife, didn’t notice, until Tanya’s face started going red. Sriracha chicken is hot :-)

The bottomless lemonade is excellent, BTW. But I had beer.

I think the whole franchise thing makes the restaurants more expensive. But the quality and the experience is excellent.

Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 4 (Kruger Day 2)


We got up early* and drove over to sunset dam to see whether there was anything interesting there. Not really. Went back over the bridge and took the S128 towards Skukuza.


Rhino in the bush.


Korhaan through the bush.


Something big died here (looks like buffalo?)



An approaching car stopped, told us there were lion (with cubs) in the dip ahead. We carefully scouted the first dip but it turned out to be the second. Not hard to spot since there were a few other cars there already.





Tanya has more photos. Plenty more photos.


Woodland kingfisher.

Stopped at Skukuza for a beer. The restaurant there is a Cattle Baron and my only problem with them is their limited choice of beer.


However, any beer is good in these temperatures.

We drove down the S114 to the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial, and back to Skukuza via the H1-1. Didn’t see much, not surprising because everything goes into hiding in the heat.


Klipspringer at Stevenson-Hamilton.

Along the H4-1 back to Lower Sabie we saw 4 female lion and later on the N’watimhiri causeway three males, but they were all hidden in the bushes so no nice pics.


That’s a baby hippo nibbling on the hind end of a cape buffalo. An old single male cape buffalo. Apparently they’re friends.

For the second night at Lower Sabie we’d booked an afternoon drive. This departs about an hour before the gates close and you come back after dark.  We took the Mlondozi road, the Muntshe Loop and back via the H10.




Ratel / Honey badger.

Also waterbok, kudu, warthog with babies, and more rhino. Twelve rhino in total for the day. And fourteen lion.

* But not too early. Some people queue at the gate. It’s still dark. No sense being that eager.

Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 5 (Kruger Day 3)

By now I had figured out a Cunning Plan. Since we only needed to be out of the campsite by 10, we could go out for a drive early, then come back and hook the teardrop. I don’t understand people hooking their caravan and being out the gate by 04:30. Maybe they want to get to the next camp early, but the camps are not that far apart and you can’t settle in before 10:00 anyways.


So we drove down the S82. Now the thing about this is that you can be thirty seconds early or thirty seconds late and you don’t see the animal cross the road — there’s a *lot* of luck involved. Ours panning out in the form of two hyena crossing the road and disappearing into the bushes. And did I mention the tortoises crossing the road? We must have stopped for around twenty of them in all.



Saw these fellows hanging around, looked for lion or anything dead, didn’t spot anything.


Fish Eagle (at the limits of Tanya’s zoom lens).


More rhino.


Dwarf mongoose. Cute little buggers.


Went back to Lower Sabie, hitched the teardrop, (belatedly) attached the yellow ribbons and headed off towards Satara.


More rhino.


Not a great picture of zebra, but…

“Why are they stopped?”. There were two lionesses crossing the road.


(You’ll also notice that it had started raining. Makes for dull photos, but at least it broke the past few days’ heat).


They spotted the zebra and proceeded to stalk them.




In the end they went for the little one, but a zebra can move when it’s running for its life, and all five got away.

Stopped at Tshokwane, loo break, bought drinks. Just after this stop I spotted something in the bushes on the right-hand side of the road.






Now remember, we’re towing, and for the record this towing thing is new to me. But I managed to reverse and we got pics of a leopard coming out the bush, crossing the road, then climbing a tree trunk and performing like anything for target audience: us.



My tree.


Right in front of us.








Yea, we’re a little puddy tat.


This must have been the. most. spectacular. first leopard sighting evah. We had trouble holding the cameras still, what a rush.

Proceeded on north.


Fish eagle.


Tanya was battling with her camera. Note the perfectly in-focus bush, front left. Also, a zebra mother & foal…




Proceeded on north. “Why are they stopped?” — young-ish male lion with a buffalo calf he’d presumably caught, right next to the road.


Ran into another bunch of cars just south of Satara. More lion, but hidden behind a tree to the point where some idiots are sommer parked in the bush on the other side of the tree to see better. We got to see lots more of this group of lions later.


Finding a campsite at Satara is a bit iffy. Some sites have electricity, some have a braai, some even have both. The one we found had no shade, however. But this is why I bought the cheap gazebo from Game, so all was well.


Met sparrow and Heksie, both on their way to their campsite on the wire. Didn’t get a chance to chat, we went on a night drive and they were off to a hide the next night, and the night after that we were at Skukuza (where we didn’t spot any yellow ribbons at all).


We were figuring out how to take photographs on night drives. This lioness was at the Nsemani dam — people had spotted a white lion cub there and we went to look a few times but no luck.

Eight lion, seven rhino (four might have been the same ones we saw yesterday) and a leopard.

Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 6 (Kruger Day 4)

Some people make a point of being at the gate at 04:30, to be the first out. Problem is, it’s still dark. But we woke up early, so we ended up tenth or so in the queue. I think there were at least five cars ahead of us on the S-100 (the other half went down the H1-3,  presumably to check up on the lions). We took it slowly (second gear on the Golf gives 20km/h or so at idle), looked around a lot, saw a few sleepy impala and the like.


When we eventually caught up with someone  it was just one car — we figure the other cars passed straight by the two lionesses sleeping next to the road.


Must have been a hard night.


So we sat there waiting for them to wake up, which they eventually did.




Came back via the H6, spotted three juvenile, or at least young-ish, hyena.



Apparently there’s a pack of hyena who live in that area.


Nice tusks.


Back on the H1-3 the lions were still there, three lionesses.


One went into the bushes, there was a snarling, and a bunch of cubs jumped out. Turns out daddy was nomming on the waterbuck behind the bush.



Just like our cats at home these guys seem to sleep all day.


Some excitement…


Naaah, bugrit.


We sat watching them for quite some time. The little ones woke up and went to get more food, then daddy came out.


Quick loo break at Satara and took the H7 (we heard there was a white lion cub somewhere around Nsemani dam, didn’t spot it) and the Timbavati Road (aside: the dirt roads are corrugated like crazy. Some maintenance required. Seriously, it spoils the fun if your car is disintegrating around you) to Olifants. Spotted ground hornbill and some vultures on a kill, no idea what the kill was though. Saw baby baby elephant and hippo out of the water, not something I’ve seen in daytime before.


(All together now “Ag Shame!“)





Saddle billed stork, pied kingfishers, egyptian goose.


More baby warthog.


On the way back on the H1-4 “Why are they stopped?”. Three cheetah, under a bush, about 7km north of Satara.


We needed a loo break, so we went to Satara, checked to see if the lion were still there (the male was sleeping, looked like the rest had moved on) and went back to see the cheetah get up and walk off direction roughly Girivana.



So we went back to camp and had some Amarula.


Ten lion (eight new, since we saw two of them yesterday already), three cheetah. First day with no rhino.

Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 7 (Kruger Day 5)

For our early drive I chose the H-7, S-36, S-126 route in the hope that the cheetah had ended up somewhere around there. This road circles a hunk of land about 200 square kilometers in size, so your chances are slim, maar nou ja. Did spot a tiny zebra though. And one of the lionesses from the waterbuck kill, in the riverbed under the road just south of Satara.



Zebra crossing (yea, I know).


Hooked the teardrop, headed south to Skukuza. Ran into the normal traffic jam, asked someone who told us there’s a male lion under a bush. Not too exciting for us, we’d seen plenty lions from much closer.


Squirrels at Tshokwane.


Ran into another traffic jam. Turns out there were two cheetah under a tree, 130 / 150-ish metres into the bush. This is as much as one often gets to see, we were extremely fortunate with our earlier sighting (there are not many more than 200 cheetah in the whole Kruger, although they are behind with the census taking, since they’re using the resources to fight poaching).



Three rhino, mommy daddy and baby, crossed the road and walked off. Couldn’t get all three of them in the same frame though.


And here we are, parked off at Skukuza.




On the night drive we saw a pack of wild dogs. Fifteen or so of them. This is a first for me.

One lion, three rhino, two cheetah and one pack of wild dogs.

Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 8 (Kruger Day 6)


By now we were a bit clapped out, so we got up late, did laundry, hooked the teardrop (I only booked one night at Skukuza), and headed off to Pretoriuskop.



And we saw rhino. Plenty rhino.


When we got to Pretoriuskop (which is tiny) we abandoned the teardrop under a tree and headed off down Voortrekker Road. , where we saw a lone tsessebe (well, with a bunch of impala, but only one tsessebe).


These guys are rare, to the point where there’s a register in the camp office where you can note down sightings (Hartbees and tsessebe, sable and roan, and reedbuck).

We also saw two sable on the night drive, around the Shabeni loop. Pretoriuskop is well suited for night drives because of all the loops around the area, it’s a nice drive but sightings wise it was rather disappointing.


Seven rhino, two sable, one tsessebe. In all fairness it’s difficult to improve on the earlier parts of this trip.

Wouter and Tanya’s Excellent Adventure, Part 9 (Kruger Day 7)

Another shitty day in Africa.

We couldn’t get decent photographs of the sable on the night drive, so I figured we can head out that way, see if we can find them.

But there was a traffic jam just outside the gate.


A leopard, and we see it’s moving SW-ish so I reverse and go down the other road, got some nice pics.




Optimistically contemplating breakfast.


We’d seen enough (Tanya had taken more than 170 photographs at this point) so we tell some newly arrived people where to look and they say “there’s another one in a tree around the corner” so there we go.


Yup, it’s there all right.


She (I’m guessing she, because I don’t see two males sharing territory like this) got out of the tree and walked into the bushes.


I managed to get through the road block and we headed off.

Didn’t see the sable we were looking for, continued on to the S1 because I remember there being a family of hyena living in a culvert somewhere, but looks like they’ve moved.


So we ended up back at Satara (hey they make good milkshakes).


Turtles on a rock.


That’s no rock!


All right, what have we here?

Spent a while getting into position (some people just ram in, me, I’m polite. Still seem to get to see everything, without pissing people off).



Got back to Pretoriuskop and there was no water. What a mess.

We decided to go for an afternoon drive around Fayi loop, maybe our leopards from this morning is in the vicinity. Got close to where we’d seen them, and yes, there’s a whole lot of cars. I start scanning the trees, trying to find out where the leopard is — Turns out there’s a lion, two actually, right next to the road, I’m looking way too far away.


My original plan was to spend as much time in the park as possible. This would be a morning drive tomorrow, then hook the teardrop and drive down to Malelane gate, maybe after lunch at Berg-en-Dal. But by now we’d had enough, and seriously, things couldn’t really get better. And also, there was the water issue.

So we decided that if there was still no water in camp we hook the teardrop and get out Numbi before it closes, go back to Nelspruit. If there is water (there was) we head back early the next morning. So we got ready to leave.

Three leopard, two lion.