Tag Archives: Kruger National Park

On our way to the wilderness – day 3

Just before sunrise on the 17th of August – Joubert’s final day as an eleven-year old – we headed out of Skukuza towards Pretoriuskop, driving along the Napi Road and intent on visiting every one of the waterholes along the way.

Just past Transport Dam we have the first big-ticket highlight of our morning: a cheetah on the hunt! Unfortunately the cheetah caught its steenbok prey at an awkward angle behind our vehicle and immediately carried it into the long grass away from the road, so these are basically the only photos we have of a most thrilling sighting!

Just a few kilometers past the scene of the cheetah kill we encountered a pack of very excited spotted hyenas in and next to the road. It appeared that an interloper was coming a bit too close to their den, causing quite a stir among the resident cubs.

At Shitlhave Dam this grey old Buffalo bull posed for some pictures.

While it was quiet along the Voortrekker Road towards Afsaal, with the day heating up nicely it was easy to decide where to head next: all along the Biyamiti River in the general direction of Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie. As expected, lots of animals and birds where congregating along the dwindling stream of water to quench their thirst.

Nearing Lower Sabie we felt compelled to cross the causeway over the Sabie River, and then back again (as most everyone visiting this part of the Park is wont to do) before heading into camp.

The last stretch of our route today again followed the course of the Sabie River back to Skukuza, through a part of the Kruger National Park famous for its teaming wildlife.

And so the sun set on another extremely rewarding day in the Kruger National Park. The next day would be Joubert’s twelve birthday – more on that in the next installment!

Not for sensitive viewers: a vicious Baboon assault

It was the afternoon of the 16th of August 2021 and Joubert and I were parked on the shores of Sunset Dam, just outside Lower Sabie in the Kruger National Park, enjoying the serene scenes playing out all around us as a myriad of birds and animals, including a troop of Chacma Baboons, mingled at the water’s edge.

Baboons peacefully foraging on the shore of Sunset Dam

Suddenly there was a frightful commotion as the baboons started screaming in alarm. Almost immediately we noticed a young baboon, shrieking to high heaven, being chased by two slightly older “teenage” baboons. This in itself was not abnormal, as there is often disagreements in a baboon troop, and peace usually returns quickly after the necessary discipline has been dispatched. The young baboon rushed into the muddy water at the dam’s edge, eliciting even more worried squeals from its mother as Sunset Dam is home to some monster crocodiles.

However, as soon as one of the “teenage” baboons got hold of the youngster, it was clear that this attack was much more sinister. We have no idea about their motive, but judging by the viciousness of their bites to the skull, neck and throat and the very rough way they tried to pull the younger baboon apart limb from limb, there was no doubting that the two teenagers were intent on killing their unfortunate target. At one stage early into the encounter an adult, perhaps the mother of the younger one, tried to intervene but this proved only a temporary reprieve – instead of running away the badly injured youngster tried to hide in the mud again where he was soon cornered once more.

By now the attack had gone on for about four minutes. Probably as was to be expected, the fracas attracted the attentions of a large crocodile that was hitherto lying dead still on the bank. With the tables likely to be turned on them within a second, the attacking baboons let go of their quarry and ran for safety.

The youngster that was so viciously mauled also scampered away, heading over the road towards the Sabie River, and out of our sight. His attackers apparently also lost track of him, as they searched every bush in the general vicinity looking for the young baboon without success.

One of the murderous baboon “teenagers” passing by us as he looks for their victim. (photo by Joubert)

Whether the little one could’ve survived its injuries we’ll never know, nor whether the murderers managed to track him down and finish the job… This definitely was one of the most harrowing experiences we’ve ever had in the bush.

 

Fish Eagle caught in the act

The call of the African Fish Eagle is so evocative of Africa’s wild places, and seeing one is always a special treat, high on the wish-list of many safari-goers. Especially when you get the chance to see it in action; gracefully descending with claws outstretched to snatch a fish from just below the water’s surface and then majestically soaring away with its prize grasped in its talons. The stuff nature documentaries are made of.

During our mid-August trip to the Kruger National Park, Joubert and I were lucky to see a Fish Eagle catch a sharp-tooth catfish from the waters of the Sabie River just downstream from Lower Sabie Rest Camp. While this particular individual won’t score a perfect ten for the execution – that splash-down would have had the Olympic audience snickering, and thank goodness for that sandbank! – it nevertheless was an amazing sighting. Most of these photographs were taken by Joubert.

A memorable encounter with Sable Antelope

As mentioned in our previous post, the chief reason why Joubert and I decided to spend the first morning of our August trip to the Kruger National Park around Mlondozi Picnic Site was the recent sightings of a beautiful herd of sable antelope in that vicinity. Being one of our favourite antelope we couldn’t let the opportunity go by without going to see whether we can find the herd as well. Only on our second circuit around Muntshe Mountain and along the Mnondozi stream were we rewarded with the encounter we were hoping so dearly for. Without a doubt the best sighting I have had of Sable Antelope in over 30 years. As they crossed the road one-by-one we counted 25 individuals ranging from the magnificent bull to the long-eared calves.

On our way to the wilderness – day 2

Joubert and I were the first people out the gate at Skukuza on our first morning in the Kruger National Park when we visited last week. In the week before our arrival other visitors were bragging on the Park’s social media pages with their sightings of a big herd of sable antelope north of Lower Sabie, and as these rare and beautiful antelope are a favourite of ours, our route for the morning took us along the Sabie River and then in the general direction of the Mlondozi Picnic Spot. Along the way we had the joyful encounter with the young elephant knight we showed you two days ago.

By the time we reached Mlondozi, we hadn’t yet found the sables we came looking for. We were planning on having brunch at the picnic spot, but it was packed with other visitors and not a single table was available. We spent a few minutes enjoying the view, getting pictures of the birds and animals, and waiting for a table to clear, but eventually decided to rather move along.

We decided to use the extra time we had available due to the postponed lunch to do another circuit around Muntshe Mountain, and how wonderfully that turned out! We found the sables, and had probably the best sighting of these magnificent antelope I had in 30+ years! More about that soon, I promise.

Extremely satisfied with our morning, we headed for Lower Sabie where, just before the camp, we had a quick sighting of a leopard and enjoyed the abundant life that always congregate at the causeway over the Sabie River.

In contrast to Mlondozi, the picnic site at Lower Sabie was deserted, and Joubert and I could lunch in peace surrounded only by birds and butterflies.

By the time we finished lunch it was still too early to head back to Skukuza, so we drove south in the direction of Crocodile Bridge for a few kilometers along the main road, returning along the gravel Mativuhlungu Loop to Lower Sabie. Stopping at the causeway over the river again we were rewarded with a clear, though distant, view of an African Fish Eagle swooping down to snatch a catfish from the water. We’ll share that full sequence of pictures with you another day this coming week.

Just outside Lower Sabie, on the way to Skukuza, Sunset Dam is always a great place to stop and sit for a while, just soaking in the sights and sounds of the bush. On this occasion however the usual serenity of the place was shattered when a pair of teenage male baboons savagely attacked a much younger baboon at the water’s edge, seemingly intent on killing it. Baboons are always fascinating to watch, but I definitely have never experienced such a disturbing glimpse into their behaviour before. We’ll share some pictures from this harrowing sighting this coming Saturday, but please be warned!

It’s just a 45km drive, but with so much to see along the way it still took us 3 hours to get back to Skukuza and we made it back into camp with just a minute or two to spare before the gates closed. Our last sighting of the day was a pack of African Wild Dogs guarding the scraps of their kill against a bunch of vultures – what more could we ask for after such a wonderful day!?

Before ending off, I have to show you these photographs of a family of white rhinoceros we came across on day 2 of our trip to the wilderness. I won’t disclose when and where we saw them though so as not to tip off any poachers.

 

 

On our way to the wilderness – day 1

Before dawn on the 15th of August ’21, Joubert and I had the Duster packed and were ready to set off for the Kruger National Park. The whole route from Pretoria to Malelane Gate we drove under overcast skies, with thick mist and occasional drizzle.

Signing in at Malelane was a breeze and in no time at all we were on our way to Skukuza. With Afsaal picnic site packed to the brim with visiting people when we arrived we decided to give it a miss. We enjoy the Park packed with animals of all description much more than jostling with other picnickers for a spot at a table.

Right at Skukuza’s gates we found this elegant nyala bull – only to find that he wasn’t as elegant as first impressions suggested…

At Skukuza’s reception our check-in went just as smoothly and pretty quickly we were unpacked and settled into our bungalow, allowing us a chance to stretch our legs and gawk at Skukuza’s resident birds.

By the time we hit the road for our afternoon game drive there was only about three hours left before the gates would close, so we stuck to the roads around camp and along the Sabie River.

After our braai (barbeque) – what else would two South African men be eating when they’re forced to feed themselves than “pap en wors” (maize meal porridge with barbequed sausage) – and before going to bed, we walked around camp with our torch looking for nocturnal creatures.

We think this might be a baby Turner’s Thick-toed Gecko (photo by Joubert)

On Sunday we’ll tell you about day two as we prepared to tackle the Sweni Wilderness Trail from Joubert’s birthday.

A Wilderness Birthday

Parents often anguish about the perfect gift to give their children on their birthdays. This year however, for us anyway, things couldn’t have worked out better in preparation for Joubert’s 12th birthday.

You see, the minimum age requirement to join one of the wilderness trails in the Kruger National Park is 12 years. Joubert has been wanting to go on a trail for almost as long as he can walk. When a late cancellation then became available on the Sweni Trail, the most popular of all the trails in the Kruger Park, right on his birthday, there was just no way we could pass on the opportunity, even if it means he’ll have to work very hard to catch up his missed school work this coming week.

Joubert and I spent the past week in the Kruger National Park, half of it on the trail. This first set of photographs were all taken in the days leading up to his wilderness birthday.

Of course, there’s a bunch of stories to be told – and you can be sure that we will – but as a little teaser, Joubert was 12 years and 1 day old when these lions took offence at us invading their territory ON FOOT. We will tell you all about it soon.

 

Back from our Easter Bush Breakaway

We’re fresh back from our Easter break around Skukuza and Mopani in the Kruger National Park, and of course well be sharing lots and lots more photos from this beautiful place with you soon! (as well as replying to all the comments you left us over the last few days).

Napi Wilderness Trail

And so on Sunday afternoon the time arrived. Ranger-guides Ronnie and Saul met us, and four fellow trailists, at the designated spot in Pretoriuskop for the start of our time on the Napi Wilderness Trail in the Kruger National Park. Excitedly we packed all our baggage into the trailer, ensuring that our cameras and binoculars stayed close at hand, and clambered into the open game viewing vehicle that would transport us into the Wilderness.

We had barely left camp when we encountered our first special sighting: a magnificent sable antelope bull – a prime specimen of one of the rarest species in Kruger! As good an omen as one could hope for at the start of such an epic adventure.

It took about an hour to reach the Napi Wilderness Trail’s base camp, our home for the next three nights. Located on a bend in the Biyamiti River between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza, the camp consists of four two-sleeper tents (with en-suite bathrooms!) with a central thatched “dining room” and cement slab for the obligatory nightly campfire. There’s no electricity (or cellphone reception) at the camp, with gas-powered geysers in the bathrooms and paraffin and solar lamps used for lighting. We also meet Armondo, the camp’s shy caretaker and talented cook.

After a good night’s sleep we are guided out of camp by Ronnie and Saul just after sunrise (and a welcome rusk or two dipped in an even more welcome cup of coffee!). We cross a few dry stream beds, stand beside mud wallows and rhino dung middens, gape in awe at the enormous size of an elephant skull, watch astonished as Ronnie coax two dozen (maybe even more) tiny spiders from a communal nest, listen to him explain the intricacies of trapping egg-stealing snakes with the shell of a dead Giant African Land Snail and enjoy a picnic in the unexpected downpour of a winter rainstorm, all the while soaking in the Napi wilderness surrounding us. Heading back to camp we find our way blocked by a huge herd of one of Africa’s most dangerous animals; the African Buffalo, but under the safe guidance of the two rangers we’re free to admire these powerful creatures at close quarters until one cantankerous bull, separated from the herd and with the devil’s fire burning in his eyes, decides it is time for us to move on…

Relaxing back at home base we find out that the human guests are not the only ones waiting for Armondo to finish preparing lunch, as a pack of Dwarf Mongooses scurry around his kitchen hoping for a few scraps (that never came). We also find out that the camp is alive with birds and small reptiles, and that there’s also a wide variety of wildlife arriving at the small waterhole in front of camp to quench their first.

Our late afternoon is spent walking a short circuit around some of the enormous granitic outcrops, which is such a familiar sight in this part of the Kruger Park, before enjoying a glowing red African sunset from one of these special vantage points. Driving back to camp we pass the busy den of a clan of Spotted Hyenas, where the cute cubs have everyone on the vehicle smiling from ear to ear, and again find our road back in the darkness blocked by a herd of buffalo.

At night there’s just as much life inside as outside the Napi Wilderness Trail’s base camp. At least three species of owl frequent the camp, their distinct calls punctuating our fireside conversations, and walking around with a spotlight is sure to show up some interesting nocturnal bugs!

We heard lions roaring during the night, but I didn’t expect that we’d come across their fresh tracks as close to camp as we did the next morning. Our ranger-guides tried their best to follow the big cats, but they must have been aware that we were tracking them and only led us in circles. This strategy did however bring us close to another enormous herd of buffaloes – likely the lions were stalking the same herd when they became aware of us. Ronnie and Saul brought us to a small termite mound where we could stand and watch as the herd approached closer and closer. Being confronted by a throng of bellowing buffaloes, hundreds strong in number and probably less than 30 meters from us by the time we moved out of their way, surely must be my favourite memory of the Napi Wilderness Trail.

Lunchtime in camp is just another excuse to appreciate the plethora of wildlife species both inside and outside the camp’s low perimeter fence from a more relaxed position, and although there isn’t much sitting going on once you start following birds between the tents trying for decent photographs of them, it is still an utterly relaxing exercise!

Our final outing from the camp is a drive with expert guide Saul at the wheel to Transport Dam. We enjoy our sundowners in the presence of hippos, crocodiles and a menagerie of thirsty animals and birds before returning to camp, and a traditional braai (barbeque) prepared by Armondo, passing the hyena den again on the way.

After dinner we go in search of the camp’s owls again, and while the Pearl-Spotted Owlets only serenaded us with their calls without posing for photos, the African Scops Owls and African Barred Owlets were much more accommodating.

Come Wednesday morning and Armondo’s beating on his breakfast drum signaled that our time on the Napi Wilderness Trail has come to an end. After a hearty breakfast, with scrumptious freshly baked bread, we’re off back to Pretoriuskop and civilisation. Another sighting of a sable antelope and then a pride of lions feeding on a young buffalo helps to bring some consolation…

The 60km drive from Pretoriuskop down to Malelane Gate went far too quickly for our liking. Lucky for my sister she could join up with her husband at Malelane Gate for four more nights’ stay in the Park, but for me, my mom and brother it was time to head back to hectic Gauteng.

This was my third Wilderness Trail experience in the Kruger National Park; having previously participated in the Olifants and Sweni WIlderness Trails (follow the links to read about those trips). South African National Parks offers a total of seven Wilderness Trails and three Backpack Trails in the Kruger National Park, each three nights in duration and accommodating no more than 8 participants twice a week (commencing Wednesdays and Sundays), and guided by two knowledgeable rangers.

 

The night before we ventured into the Wilderness…

Earlier this month I was joined by my mother, sister and brother in the Kruger National Park, chiefly to participate in the Napi Wilderness Trail, one of several guided multi-day walking trails available in the Park.

However, with the trail only starting on Sunday afternoon, we weren’t going to let the weekend go to waste and got underway from Gauteng to Kruger in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Arriving at Kruger’s Malelane Gate around 07:30 allowed us time to enjoy a quick picnic breakfast and coffee before following a meandering route along the quieter gravel roads as we made our slow way to Lower Sabie, making frequent stops to appreciate the wildlife and scenery for which the Kruger Park is world renowned.

Our accommodation for the night was a basic but comfortable 4-bed hut located close to a communal kitchen and bathroom at Lower Sabie‘s eastern fenceline. These huts are surrounded by enormous trees and indigenous shrubbery frequented by a myriad of birds and small reptiles that are quite used to having humans poking lenses in their faces…

Our game drive for the afternoon took us first to Sunset Dam just outside the camp’s gates, then a quick detour across the causeway over the Sabie River, and then along the S28, S137 and H4-2 roads to the south of Lower Sabie, returning to camp just before the gates closed.

Walking around camp in the dark after dinner, looking for nocturnal wildlife with a flashlight, is a firmly entrenched tradition for the de Wets. Both inside and outside Lower Sabie, there’s always plenty to see, and we’re almost unwilling to go to bed for fear of missing out on something interesting!

Being one of the first vehicles to leave Lower Sabie when the gates opened at 06:00 on Sunday morning, we opted to take the main road to Skukuza before this hugely popular route gets too busy with traffic. A quick detour along the short Nwatimhiri causeway-loop rewarded us handsomly with a sighting of three young lions trying to hide, with limited success, in the thick riverine vegetation. Along the way we also popped into Nkuhlu Picnic Spot, Skukuza’s airport, the Skukuza Golf Club and Lake Panic birdhide, before heading for historic Pretoriuskop, all the time enjoying some more of the Kruger Park’s sights, sounds and smells.

After arriving at Pretoriuskop there’s more than enough time to pop into reception to complete all the necessary formalities for the Napi Trail and then take a gentle stroll through the camp appreciating the astounding variety of birdlife that occurs there.

Right on time (at 15:00) we were met at the designated spot by our two guides and group of four fellow trailists for the main event; the Napi Wilderness Trail (more about that wonderful experience in our next post, so stay tuned!).