Take a look back with us at the wonderfully wild South African places we visited in 2021.
The 18th of August arrived. Joubert’s twelfth birthday. With great excitement the two of us packed the Duster at Skukuza and got ready to depart for Satara, where we’d join the Sweni Wilderness Trail that afternoon. It was still pitch dark when the gates opened at 6am, and we were already on the Marula Loop by the time the sun peaked over the horizon.
With the morning sun lending a beautiful golden glow to the morning, Joubert noticed a few tawny bodies moving through the dry grass as we passed the Orpen Rocks. The pride of lions quickly disappeared behind the rocks, only to emerge on top of the boulders to provide us with an awesome photo opportunity – and even better as we were the only vehicle there for quite some time!
By the time we leave the lions a few other vehicles had already joined the sighting, so we leave the cats to their other adoring fans. Soon after, at Leeupan, we find a herd of elephants enjoying their early morning drink, with the youngsters terrorizing their thirsty neighbours.
A quick detour to Orpen Dam has us amazed at the number and size of the crocodiles lazing on the bank.
The day has really become very hot by the time we set off on the second half of our drive to Satara, having stretched our legs at Tshokwane Picnic Site. Very few animals show themselves in heat like this, and the number of Olive Grass Snakes we see crossing the hot road is very surprising.
We reach Satara in time for a quick picnic lunch before getting our gear ready, a last visit to the shop for drinks and snacks, and checking in for the Sweni Wilderness Trail…
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!
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.
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.
On Sunday we’ll tell you about day two as we prepared to tackle the Sweni Wilderness Trail from Joubert’s 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.
The September school holidays presented the perfect opportunity to visit the Kruger National Park again, this time basing ourselves with family and friends in the south-eastern corner of the Park at Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp.
Crocodile Bridge is located in one of the Kruger’s most game-rich areas, and even inside the camp there’s an abundance of wildlife that I found quite distracting from camping chores… From blossoms to butterflies and birds, bats to bushbuck, all placed themselves in the cross hairs of our camera lenses, and when we were quite certain we got enough shots of them we could peer just over the fence (or through it, in Joubert’s case) towards the Crocodile River flowing in front of the camp for even more subjects.
Despite being right at the southern border of the Kruger Park, Crocodile Bridge offers a multitude of drives to choose from when heading into the Park. Heading in a northerly direction towards Lower Sabie is a selection of different routes making for comfortable excursions and providing great sightings along the way. Whether you choose the main H4-2 road or one of the gravel S28, S130 or S82 routes, you are bound to arrive at Lower Sabie excited with what you’ve seen. You can then return to Crocodile Bridge along an entirely different option, getting a glimpse at different habitats and having all new wildlife encounters to boast about too!
Whether you stop in Lower Sabie for a simple body break, an ice cream from the shop or a meal at the Mugg & Bean restaurant overlooking the river, don’t miss the chance to stretch your legs with a walk on the lawns along the river in front of the bungalows. From the deep shade of enormous trees you can gaze over the river, perhaps being lucky like we were to see a pair of lions hunting right there, and revel in the songs of a multitude of birds flitting about the branches above you.
Quite literally a stone’s throw north of Lower Sabie is the Sunset Dam, one of two wonderful wildlife magnets no visitor to this part of the Kruger Park should miss out on. There’s a constant stream of wildlife coming and going at Sunset Dam at anytime of day, and the resident crocodiles and hippos (including these boisterous buddies) are easily among the most habituated of their kind anywhere in Africa, making for excellent photographic opportunities.
Just on the other side of Lower Sabie, the causeway over the Sabie River is another highlight. Here too there’s always crocodiles (like this one having fun in a cascade), hippos, terrapins and all manner of wading birds in attendance, often accompanied by elephants, buffaloes, antelope, baboon and giraffe, while the elevated vantage point provided by the bridge offers excellent views into the clear water of the Sabie below.
Because there was so much to see around Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie, we didn’t really feel the need to venture farther, and only took two extended drives to other parts of the Park. One of those excursions was to Skukuza, roughly a four hour drive from Crocodile Bridge along the most direct route past Mpondo Dam. After spending the midday hours at Skukuza’s nursery and a delicious buffalo pie at the golf club, we headed back to Crocodile Bridge via Lower Sabie again.
We only wandered north of the Sabie River once, putting a full day aside to traverse the routes between Lower Sabie and Tshokwane Picnic Spot – where we had to contend with a dusty, blustery wind of note while trying our best to enjoy our picnic lunch! Our rewards for sticking to the planned route despite the deprivations of sand and dust on our ham-and-cheese sandwiches was the little leopard cub and flashy hornbill we showed you a few days ago, so you’ll hear no complaints from us!
Sad as it was to return to Pretoria at the end of a fantastic week, we could at least console ourselves with the knowledge that the December holidays aren’t that far way… Guess where we plan to be heading?
Impala Street is a road through the staff village at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, and it leads past the indigenous nursery where the public may purchase local plants for their gardens at very reasonable cost. And just to prove how well deserved the name is, a male Impala was available to pose perfectly on cue for Joubert to take this picture in September.
We should have taken a drive to Lion Street, just in case…
Well, if you ask us what makes the Kruger National Park “THE KRUGER”, our answer wouldn’t be the prolific game or birdlife, awesome as that might be. To us, what makes the Kruger National Park special is the wide variety of habitats and scenery where all this life finds a niche to flourish. At almost 20,000km² in size, the Kruger National Park is bigger than some countries, and naturally a piece of land that enormous would encompass many different landscapes and habitats; in fact there are pronounced differences in the scenery as one travels from south to north through Kruger’s 350km length.
The north of Kruger has a quite different character to the southern parts. Here, the Mopane and Baobab trees dominate the landscape, by virtue of their numbers and size, respectively.
This gallery of images were taken during our visit from 15 to 24 June to the northern reaches of the Park (based at Shingwedzi Rest Camp)