Tag Archives: view sites

Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve

With it being a short school holiday we had the opportunity to visit the privately owned Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve for a day this past week.

The reserve was established in 1990 and is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site northwest of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. It covers approximately 1,600 hectares of undulating terrain at the transition between the open grasslands of the Highveld and the savannas of the Bushveld.

Going by the name, clearly pride of place at the reserve goes to two species. The first is the white rhinoceros, which are heavily guarded on the reserve to keep them safe from poachers – in fact, several of the reserve’s rhinos arrived here as orphans after their mothers were poached. Furthermore the horns of the rhinos at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve has been infused with a toxin that makes it unfit for human consumption to further deter the unscrupulous syndicates supplying the traditional medicine markets in Asia.

In a corner of the reserve are four large camps through which visitors are allowed to drive to view two prides of lion, African wild dogs and cheetahs in natural surroundings. Whenever we consider visiting a destination where large predators are kept in camps and enclosures we are always very careful that it is not in any way linked to the absolutely abhorrent canned hunting fraternity, cub petting or the lion-bone trade. The owners and management of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve have publicly undertaken that the animals on the reserve will not be subjected to such inhumane practices.

The first and most expansive of the predator camps at the reserve is allocated to the tawny lions. We arrived there just minutes before feeding time, and found the lions up and very active indeed!

The next camp visitors enter houses a sizable pack of the highly social African Wild Dog, also known as Painted Wolves for their beautifully blotched coats.

A pride of White Lions is to be seen in the third predator camp (regular readers of our blog will remember how excited we were to have seen one of only three known wild white lions back in January during a visit to the Kruger National Park).

In the fourth camp visitors can try and spot cheetahs, though these lanky cats use their camouflage to great effect and finding them may be neigh impossible if they don’t want to be spotted!

Another positive feature of the reserve is the vulture restaurant – a feeding station where carcasses are regularly laid out for the endangered birds. Throughout our day on the reserve we had regular sightings of the impressive but endangered Cape Vultures overhead, and many other kinds of birds were also in evidence.

Other kinds of mammals, aside from the rhinos and large predators, thrive on the reserve and roam freely over most of it. We were especially impressed by the large herd of eland and beautiful sable antelope, and we also saw black-backed jackal, black and blue wildebeest, blesbok, buffalo, gemsbok, grey duiker, impala, roan antelope, springbok, warthog, waterbuck and yellow mongoose.

Special mention needs to be made of the reserve’s population of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. Being not at all indigenous to this part of the country visitors are provided an opportunity to see the least well-known of the three kinds of zebra found in South Africa.

The main visitor centre of the reserve offers an extensive picnic site and playground, restaurant, swimming pool and the wildlife centre – a collection of endangered and mostly non-indigenous reptiles, birds and mammals, obviously well taken care of and displayed in well maintained terrariums and enclosures, among which visitors are allowed to stroll at their leisure.

Visitors can overnight on the reserve in chalets and log cabins, the latter overlooking a portion of the lion camp. Given the rather small size of the reserve the road network, all dirt, is not very extensive but the majority of roads can at least be fairly easily traversed in standard passenger vehicles while there’s also additional routes available to 4×4’s. Unfortunately the Wonder Cave which as adjacent to the reserve was closed at the time of our visit.

Location of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve (Google Maps)

 

Feeling small in the Drakensberg

This mountain, the arched back of the earth risen before us, it made me feel humble, like a beggar, just lucky to be here at all, even briefly.” (Bridget Asher)

Do the mountains have the same profound impact on you as it does for us?

These mountains, which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.” (Donald Miller)

 

Picturesque Camping at Mahai

Mahai is the larger of the two camping areas at Royal Natal National Park, and there aren’t very many camping sites that can compete with it for scenic beauty!

Isolation, the way we like it…

With South Africa preparing for a nationwide “lock-down” of a minimum three week duration in the face of the global pandemic, we’ve returned from the Drakensberg grateful for having had a chance to recharge our batteries in beautiful natural surroundings. We’ll be sharing many more photos from our latest trip in days to come and hope that they’ll bring you as much joy as the memories will for us in these trying times.

God bless you and keep you.

Crocodile Bridge was calling

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.

Camping at Crocodile Bridge, Kruger National Park, September 2019

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?

 

Quarrels with the neighbours

When we arrived at the Kruger Park‘s Nthandanyathi Hide (between Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge) early one morning in September, we found two groups of Three-banded Plovers in a heated argument about a piece of shoreline. Pretty soon they were exchanging blows, leading to one family having to beat a hasty retreat…

What makes the Kruger “THE KRUGER”?

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.

This first gallery of images were taken during my solo visit at the end of May to Pretoriuskop and Skukuza in the south of the Park.

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)

 

The allure of the waterhole

There’s always a sense of anticipation when we approach a waterhole in any of South Africa’s wild places, and especially so in the vast expanses of the Kruger National Park. Being literal fountains of life, the Kruger’s waterholes attract streams of wildlife to quench their thirst as the dry season drags on, causing the many ephemeral pans that followed the rains to disappear and forcing the animals to congregate around the shrinking pools in the streams and rivers.

Sitting idly waiting by a waterhole, even if it appears deserted at first, is often handsomely rewarded with the most memorable wildlife encounters, as anything from fish to elephants may make an appearance in the grand show.

But as with so much in life there’s also two sides to the story of the waterhole. It isn’t only life-sustaining; sometimes it’s a death-trap as predators know that a waterhole is a like a magnet to their prey…

Given so much danger around, this Green-winged Pytilia drinking from a leaking hosepipe at Babalala Picnic Spot instead of taking his chances at the nearby waterhole is probably very clever!

Green-winged Pytilia

Winter Highland Holidays – Giant’s Castle

Just two days after we returned from Shingwedzi in the Kruger National Park (which we’ll be telling you all about soon, promise!), we headed back to Giant’s Castle in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park to pick up where we left off when we had to cut our trip in March short due to illness.

Part of the planning for our original trip was to spend a day visiting the crafters and speciality shops in the KZN Midlands between Mooi River and Howick along the R103-road, particularly to stock up on a variety of cheeses and other delights to enjoy in the evenings in front of the fireplace. With check-in at Giants Castle being only from 14:00 onwards, we decided for this return visit to then get the “shopping” out of the way first before heading to the reserve. An early (04:00am) start out of Pretoria allowed us to visit all the nice stalls and shops we wanted to, discover a few new ones and do some birdwatching along the Lower Loteni and Kamberg roads on the way before arriving at Giant’s Castle just after 16:00 in the evening (dusk comes really early in the ‘Berg in winter!).

We were allocated Chalet 26 for our 4 night stay, a 2-bedroom unit which is very privately situated and offers a spectacular view of the slumbering Giant that looms over the reserve named after it below.

In a scenically grand environment like you’ll find at Giant’s Castle there’s beautiful landscapes all around, making hiking an absolute joy and the reason why we spent so much time on the different trails (thankfully we had really good weather during our visit)

Of course, being one of South Africa’s oldest protected environments there’s no shortage of wildlife to be found at Giant’s Castle, even if it can often be easily overlooked in the grand environs they inhabit!

Horses and ponies are an invaluable tool to rangers in mountainous areas, and while they’re not indigenous these beautiful animals look very much at home in their highland abode.

The Drakensberg may not boast the richest variety of birdlife in South Africa, especially in winter, but we still had a great time bird-watching while out and about, and often the birds came to visit us while we were relaxing at the chalet.

We had a wonderful time at Giant’s Castle, and are incredibly grateful that we could return so soon. Along the most direct route, Giant’s Castle lies about 500km from our home in Pretoria, but with our four days in the mountains flying past unbelievably quickly we decided to prolong our return journey by taking a more scenic road over Oliviershoek Pass and through Golden Gate Highlands National Park (where our Autumn Highlands Holidays kicked off in March 2019).

 

Autumn Highlands Holidays – uKhahlamba Drakensberg

After kicking off at Glen Reenen in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the next destination on our Autumn Highlands Holidays itinerary was the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in Kwazulu-Natal Province – we planned to spend five nights at Thendele in the Royal Natal National Park followed by five nights at the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve.

The Drakensberg is a favourite destination for many South Africans (like us!) and international visitors alike – with such magnificent scenery and diverse activities on offer to enjoy the great outdoors it is easy to understand why! We’ve already shown off the beauty of the Amphitheatre and the Cascades but the Drakensberg has so much more to see – just look:!

One would expect that any plants occurring in the often difficult climatic conditions of the Drakensberg would be very tough and hardy – and they are, but that doesn’t mean the plants found here are any less pretty than those found in more tropical climes! We’ll be showcasing a few of them in more detail in the coming weeks.

The number of invertebrates that find a home in these harsh highland habitats always astounds me – there are interesting insects and spiders to be found almost everywhere you look! You can look forward to new posts featuring a few of these in the coming weeks as well!