The northern parts of the Kruger National Park harbours populations of antelope rarely seen in the wild elsewhere in South Africa, and of course the Wild de Wets just love going in search of these special creatures. Our recent visit during the winter school holidays, basing ourselves for nine nights at Shingwedzi Rest Camp, yielded wonderful encounters with Eland, Nyala, Sharpe’s Grysbok and Tsessebe (and we’ll just have to get back there soon to find the roan antelope, sable antelope, lichtenstein’s hartebeest and reedbuck that eluded us!)
The northern parts of the Kruger National Park suffers from an inaccurate perception that predators there are fewer and harder to find, and consequently that part of the Park sees far fewer visitors than the area south of the Olifants River. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – fewer people looking for predators means fewer people finding predators – that suited us just fine when we visited the area around Shingwedzi Rest Camp during the winter holidays. We returned home bragging about several splendid encounters with lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and both side-striped and black-backed jackals and hardly ever having to share the experience with other visitors. Please don’t let the secret out though – we’re only telling you! 😉
Last week, we were so excited to tell you about our time at Kruger National Park’s newest accommodation offering, the Pafuri Border Camp, that we skipped over the part of our visit leading up to our time in the extreme Far North of the Park.
We’ll take this opportunity to rectify that now.
We arrived at Phalaborwa Gate on the Friday, early enough to allow a slow drive along the H14-road up to Mopani Rest Camp, where we were booked for a one-night stopover on the way to Pafuri Border Camp.
A quick afternoon sojourn past Mooiplaas, the Nshawu Vlei and Tinhongonyeni delivered no less than 6 tsessebe sightings, lots of energetic zebras, good numbers of other animals and birds, and a very dramatic storm brewing over the plains…
That evening we enjoyed a lovely meal at Mopani’s restaurant, the howling wind putting an end to any ideas we might have had of braaiing (the traditional South African barbeque) at our bungalow. Afterwards we searched for nocturnal animals among Mopani’s natural vegetation, and were not disappointed.
Leaving Mopani as soon as the gate opened Saturday morning, under heavy skies accompanied by a constant soft drizzle, we anticipated at least one good predator sighting. Sure enough, near Olifantsbadpan, we had a terrific encounter with two big female spotted hyenas and three of the cutest, most playful cubs you could imagine. Only afterwards did I realise that they were so close to our vehicle that I didn’t manage even one full body photo of them!
We expected to have good sightings of elephants around Shingwedzi, and our favourite rest camp delivered the goods just as we had hoped. It was still raining softly as we set of from Shingwedzi after breakfast, heading northward past Babalala Picnic Spot. The north of the Kruger Park is also well known for its exceptional birdlife and all these special sightings made the long road seem much shorter.
The midday heat of a Lowveld summer can get exceedingly oppressive. If you can muster the courage to keep yourself out of the swimming pool and head to a waterhole, you may just be lucky enough to enjoy the antics of a herd of elephant playing around in the refreshing water. These shots were taken at the Klopperfontein Dam, near Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park.
“Summer Lovin‘” is the theme for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge
It’s a long drive down from Pafuri to Letaba and, at game viewing speeds with regular stops for photographs and leg stretches at the camps and picnic spots along the way, it took us the entire day to cover the distance of 250km, reaching Letaba just before the gates closed. Covering such a distance in a national park like Kruger, you’re bound to come across some great sightings and some thrilling experiences, but we didn’t count on getting growled at when we stopped at Mooiplaas picnic site for a bit of a break. We were back in the car in a flash, and still have no idea what it was that was so irritated by our presence…
When you’re hoping for great wildlife sightings in any wild place, you have to be out-and-about at the times that the animals are most active, being the early morning and late afternoon, to maximise your chances.
We set out early from Letaba the next morning, heading towards Olifants Rest Camp along the gravel roads that follow the courses of the Letaba and Olifants Rivers. We were soon rewarded with a great sighting of a spotted hyena, followed shortly afterwards by the highlight of our trip: an encounter with wild dogs! The dogs came running along the road in the opposite direction we were travelling in, and passed us in a flash. We had to make a u-turn and followed them a couple of hundred metres, before they decided to take a bit of a break right in the middle of the road. These animals are so rare and sightings so infrequent that we spent quite a bit of time with them before moving on.
Shortly before reaching Olifants we crossed a small stream and noticed lots of terrapins and a lone juvenile crocodile sharing a pool next to the road. It soon became apparent that these animals have become accustomed to being fed by passing tourists as they started moving towards our vehicle the moment we came to a halt. This aberrant behaviour is exactly the reason why the park authorities are so strict about visitors not being allowed to feed the animals, but some choose to ignore it nonetheless. We didn’t stay long, fearing that the terrapins would end up beneath our vehicle preventing us from driving away.
We spent the hot hours of the day walking around the Letaba campgrounds, enjoying the peace and quite and the company of Letaba’s resident bushbuck and birds.
Our afternoon excursion focused on the riverine drives to the north of the camp. Again we were not disappointed, seeing two waterbuck bulls sparring, herds of other game, including elephants, hippos, impalas, nyalas, bushbuck, giraffes, buffalo and baboons, various bird species, even some fish at a river crossing, and of course beautiful scenery.
A fascinating but gruesome sighting of a ground hornbill using its massive bill to kill and devour a tortoise in its carapace was a reminder that this is still wild Africa after all…
With the sunrise the next morning it was time to pack up and head to our next destination, the Forever Swadini Resort in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. It wouldn’t be our last taste of the Kruger National Park however, and as we were heading towards the Orpen Gate we could console ourselves in the knowledge that we were planning one last day visit for later in the week.
We’ve previously dedicated a special post to Letaba – have a look here if you’d like to read more about this peaceful rest camp