Tag Archives: view sites

Doornkop Fish & Wildlife Reserve

Doornkop Fish & Wildlife Reserve is a private 2,000 hectare conservation area nestled in the rolling foothills of the Drakensberg near Carolina on the Mpumalanga Highveld.

The undulating terrain of the reserve is covered by open grasslands and bushveld, with a wide variety of non-threatening indigenous mammals and more than a hundred kinds of birds to be seen.

Aside from several crystal-clear mountain streams the reserve is watered by the Komati and Swartwaterspruit Rivers, both home to healthy populations of indigenous yellowfish, while ten dams situated near the chalets are stocked with exotic trout, a magnet for fly fishermen. At night, the banks of the dams are alive with various kinds of toads and frogs.

The reserve’s game-viewing roads – a 4×4 vehicle is a definite advantage – stretches to almost every corner of it, while the more energetic visitors relish in the network of horse trails, hiking trails, running trails and cycling trails that traverse the valleys and hills.

This past weekend we had our first taste of this very beautiful destination and we’re quite certain we’ll be returning before too long. We were allocated one of the spacious chalets along the bank of the Swartwaterspruit for our two night stay and from our shady veranda could have spent hours taking in the vast hillside dotted with herds of grazing animals just beyond the stream or the regular visits from feathered friends – could have if there wasn’t so much else to do on the property, even with some very inclement weather from time to time. The resort offers 6, 8 and 10 sleeper chalets, all fully equipped with everything required for a comfortable self-catered stay. At the main building guests can make use of the swimming pools, games room, indoor and outdoor kids play areas, tennis court and little tuck shop and fly shop.

Doornkop is only about 2½ hours easy driving distance from Johannesburg and Pretoria.

On our way to the wilderness – day 4

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…

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.

 

 

Surprise Weekend at Marakele; Sunday 13 June 2021

It was the morning after Marilize’s milestone birthday, which unfortunately coincided with South Africa experiencing a “third wave” of Covid-19 infections precluding any big commemoration with the extended family and friends. It was up to me and Joubert to make the event memorable, so we surprised Marilize with a weekend breakaway to Marakele National Park.

Having spent all day Saturday at our comfortable safari tent overlooking the dam at Tlopi Tented Camp, we decided to prolong our departure back home to Pretoria on Sunday by exploring the roads leading through the Marakele National Park before checking out. There were lots of animals and birds to be seen, but it is Marakele’s awe-inspiring scenery that steals the show every time!

Check-out time at Tlopi Tented Camp is at 10:00 in the morning. While I was packing the Duster, Joubert was keeping an eye out for thieving monkeys and getting some final photographs of life in and around Tlopi.

It was time to head for the gate. Along the way we detoured to the Bolonoto Pan and the graves of the Coetzee family, but no matter how we tried we just couldn’t stretch our weekend any further. Around midday we handed back the key for Tlopi unit 10 to the friendly reception staff and said our goodbyes to Marakele National Park, till next time.

Surprise Weekend at Marakele; Saturday 12 June 2021

Round about 04:45am on Saturday, the territorial rasping of a leopard really close lured Joubert and me out of our cosy tent into the cold winter morning air at Tlopi Tented Camp. Try as we might using our spotlight and headlamps the big cat remained unseen, so we warmed ourselves with hot drinks, waiting for the first rays of sunshine to appear. It was the morning of Marilize’s milestone birthday, and unfortunately this coincided with South Africa experiencing a “third wave” of Covid-19 infections precluding any big commemoration with the extended family and friends. It was up to me and Joubert to make the event memorable, so we surprised Marilize with a weekend breakaway to Marakele National Park

First light made an appearance around 06:20 and a stream of birds started arriving at the dam – first a few double-banded sandgrouse, then a hadeda and a pair of egyptian geese, waking up the arrow-marked babblers in the tree shading our tent. It was only at 08:10 that the sun first peaked over the cliffs of the Waterberg towering over Tlopi and started heating up the crisp air. Somewhere in between Marilize joined us on the deck of our safari tent.

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One of the most active actors on the dam stage was a pied kingfisher that regularly made attempts at dive-bombing fish in the shallow water, and was very successful at it too, providing us excellent views and photographic opportunities from very early on in the day.

There appears to be a very healthy population of bushbuck in the thickets around Tlopi. They regularly ventured out into the open to drink and feed in and around the dam.

Throughout the day a family of tawny-flanked prinias put in regular appearances:

The vervet monkeys had us laughing. As soon as they spotted anything on our deck that appeared to be food they could steal – and seeing as we were celebrating a birthday it must have seemed like a feast to them – they’d arrive from all corners, including from across the dam, to come and try their luck, in vain.

There truly is no need to venture out of Tlopi Tented Camp to go and look for Marakele’s wild inhabitants – there is a constant queue of animals and birds arriving at the dam in front of the camp, and around your tented accommodation, that would keep any nature lover enthralled all day long.

From about 14:00 in the afternoon, two herds of elephants made their way past the camp to the dam. They spent quite a while enjoying the water and the greenery around the dam, allowing us to take photographs of them to our hearts’ content. The little ones were especially endearing. Be sure to catch our next post to see what drama erupted next to the dam thanks to the elephants!

At the end of a beautiful and happy day, with the sun setting to the west of Tlopi while the smoke from our evening braai (barbeque) wafted on the slight breeze, Joubert set up his camera for a few night shots after it went dark.

To be continued…

Surprise Weekend at Marakele; Friday 11 June 2021

This past weekend Marilize celebrated a milestone birthday, and unfortunately this coincided with South Africa experiencing a “third wave” of Covid-19 infections precluding any big commemoration with the extended family and friends. It was up to me and Joubert to make the event memorable, so we surprised Marilize with a weekend breakaway to Marakele National Park. We left Pretoria just after 1pm on Friday, routing through Bela-Bela (Warmbad) and Thabazimbi, and arrived at Marakele’s gate just before 4pm.

After performing all the requisite formalities, which these days include a questionnaire on the recent medical history of the entire family, we set off on the 17km drive to Tlopi Tented Camp in the golden glow of the bushveld sunset.

In our estimation Tlopi Tented Camp is Marakele’s most beautifully situated accommodation option, and we were very lucky to be allocated unit 10, “Loerie”, right at the far end of the camp. Tlopi looks out over a dam frequented by a large number of birds and mammals, and the mountains of the Waterberg beyond.

To be continued…