The plains around Satara in the Kruger National Park is renowned as one of the best places in South Africa to see the most regal of cats, the Lion. It therefore wasn’t surprising that our visit in December 2021 yielded no less than twenty encounters with the Kings (and Queens) of the Jungle.
Majestic they may be, but Lions are notoriously lazy too. Out in the midday heat they’re usually far more likely to be lying flat on their sides and deep in dreamland than moving around or hunting. Luckily we only had a few sightings like that, otherwise this post would not have been very exciting.
Being one of the first cars out of Satara when the gates open in the morning is often rewarded with wonderful lion sightings right on the road. Like this one, just 100 meters – I kid you not! – from Satara’s gate. As we left camp in the pouring rain two magnificent males came walking along the road from the left, straight towards us. Pretty soon the two had a large convoy following them as more cars departed from camp, so we opted to return to our campsite.
Shortly afterwards, a roaring close-by alerted us to the presence of another lion next to the fence, and Joubert got this shot of a third male as it walked past the open gate to the camp. Perhaps I should be more worried about the boy’s fearlessness when it comes to our wild places and the creatures that live there. Turns out these three enormous lions are the brothers of Satara’s famous white lion and we’d see them a few more times before our time at Satara was at an end.
On Christmas morning we saw a few giraffe and zebra acting very nervous on the H6. While they were out of view at that time, we could deduce from the herbivores’ behaviour more or less where the predators lay hidden, and sure enough our wait paid off soon enough when the lions gave away their presence, ending any chance they had at a successful hunt. These young lions were part of a bigger pride of which we encountered various members on several occasions along the H6 near its junction with the H1-3 during our stay at Satara in December of 2021.
On the 27th of December we were the first car that morning to turn onto the H6 main road towards Nwanetsi, and less than a kilometer further along came across these three “teenage” lions right on the road.
On New Year’s Day we had another encounter with some of the members of this pride, when we again came across them lounging on the H6 road to Nwanetsi.
As we left Satara on the 2nd of January 2022 to head home, this Lioness walked along with us a bit of the way. We were most grateful for the royal sendoff.
Later on the same day, just before Tshokwane, a young lion stepped into the road ahead, though he was off into the long grass again after just a brief moment.
In the early morning of the 17th of December, as we were heading along the main road northwards, we encountered these two lovely males with their stylishly maintained (“mane”-tained?) manes heading towards the Mtomeni Spruit. Just look at how beautifully their manes have been blow-dried – not a hair out of place!
It was at around 6am on the morning of the 18th of December, with the sun just nicely risen over the horizon, that we came across this small group of lions at the junction of the H7 and S106 on the way to Orpen. Two magnificent males attending to a single female, in all likelihood a trio in the throes of mating judging by the fresh scars both males were carrying on their faces and bodies. The female was the first to rise and lead the males, and all of us humans in our metal cocoons, on a walk along the H7 for about three kilometers before she was distracted by a herd of impalas and stalked off into the thickets. In the end we spent about three quarters of an hour in their company.
Just before 4pm on the 21st of December, with the weather still stiflingly hot as we left Nwanetsi Picnic Site and turned onto the S41 gravel road, we came across two lionesses lying next to the road. They didn’t appreciate our attentions though and immediately got up and walked off. Someone should tell them that this is not the way to treat their adoring fans!
On the 22nd of December we explored the roads around the Tshokwane Picnic Site. We found a pride of lions at a small waterhole on the S37 gravel drive very near to its junction with the main H1-3 road. They stayed in the general vicinity all day and we could return to them twice more before heading back to Satara.
On the 19th of December, while we were having breakfast at Nwanetsi, I realised that I left my insulin pens at Satara. This meant an adjustment to our planned route for the day in that we’d have to return to camp first. The unexpected detour turned out to be a real blessing in disguise though when we happened upon a pride of 8 lionesses about 5km from the H6’s junction with the H1-3.
The unfortunate forgetting of my insulin turned out to be even more of a boon when we arrived at a traffic jam where the main H1-3 road crosses the Nwanetsi River. The reason for the traffic jam was Satara’s White Lion and his brothers! While all we saw of the star of the show first time around was him fast asleep, he did co-operate a bit better when we returned to the scene later in the day.
When we left Satara at gate opening time (04:30) on the first morning of 2022, the air was filled with the nearby roaring of lions. We didn’t have to travel far before we saw two mighty Lions strolling towards us along the road, followed by a couple of cars. Yet again they were near the Nwanetsi Bridge and we immediately recognised that they were two of the four-brother coalition that includes the White Lion, affectionately known as “Casper” by many regular Kruger visitors. Of course we were wondering where “Casper” is, so we decided to join the cavalcade following his two brothers and see whether they’d lead us to him. Soon though both males took a game trail into the bush and disappeared from view in the long grass. Now we are driving up and down the one kilometre stretch between the Nwanetsi Bridge and the S100 turnoff when suddenly, out of the bush in the pitch dark, appears a third male – the third “normal” coloured Lion. Again we drive the short stretch beside him until he also heads of along the same trail the other males took earlier. The question now is whether the White male is ahead of or behind his brothers…
Again we slowly patrol up and down the same stretch of the road, hoping that the White Lion will also pop out of the bush like the ghost he’s named after. After 15 minutes he’s still not appeared and we start believing that he must have been in front of his brothers, and might actually already be on the road to Orpen in which direction we last saw his brothers headed. So we go around the corner, drive 2 or 3 km along the H7 road, but come out empty-handed again, and turn around to go scour the area around the Nwanetsi Bridge again. You would not believe the excitement in our car when we come around the turn to see the White Lion heading straight toward us, entourage in tow, exactly half-an-hour after we last had eyes on his brothers. Since we saw Satara’s White Lion two years ago, he has grown into a very impressive specimen. The oldest and largest of only three known wild White Lions in the world – all of them living in the Kruger National Park – and here he is walking just inches away from our vehicle. We reverse to stay alongside him as he strides down the road, and then let him pass when vehicles start arriving behind us. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2022…
With this post then ends the recollections of our epic December 2021 holiday at Satara in the Kruger National Park. We hope you enjoyed it along with us.