Exeter River Lodge
 
We left home at 6am and arrived at the lodge 6 hours later. The drive was a pleasant one and once we were in the reserve we were spoiled with sightings of game. There were plenty of impala, wildebeest, some waterbuck with a fairly large herd of zebra and some kudu – a male with a couple of females. We also stopped to watch a bull elephant enjoying his meal as he wandered along.

We received a warm welcome on arrival and, after a glass of cold, homemade lemonade we were taken to Room 4. The view is stunning as due to some rain a week ago, the river is flowing. We unpacked and made a start on the Sunday paper before going to lunch.

At lunch we watched a pied kingfisher and a green-backed heron fishing while we enjoyed our own treats (small hamburgers, calamari, waffle chips and salads – they even know how to get Terry to eat a salad: make the main ingredients bacon and egg! – followed by crepe Suzette).

Butler: Difference

Evening Drive - 28 April 2013

Ranger: Mac
Tracker: Colbert

We started the drive with a decision to go south. There were 8 of us on the vehicle and the one couple was keen to see some buffalo. En route we saw a marvellous male kudu with a full set of horns. We also saw zebra, impala and some more kudus. We stopped to watch a bull elephant, but then continued on to see a herd of buffalo. The light was fading fast as we watched them. Mac then made a deal with all of us to forego drinks in order to go even further south, all the way down to Savanna camp to see a pride of 11 lions. The pride is called Southern Pride and is usually located around Sabi Sabi! It is the first time in his six years at Exeter that Mac has seen this pride. We watched them walking through the long grass, moving eastwards, almost in single file. There were some young males and a young female and a couple of big cubs. As we moved out of the area we flushed a marsh owl out of the grassy area.

We had dinner in the main living area, at individual tables. We both ate spinach and feta ravioli as a starter, then I had Tilapia, while Terry ate lamb cutlets. Dessert was panacotta, which Terry enjoyed while I had some coffee.

Morning Drive - 29 April 2013

We started the day with a sighting of a bull giraffe and then followed up on some impala alarm calling. While we were looking we heard some more alarm calls further off so we turned around and made our way there. Two other rangers found two male lions - from the Selati coalition. One was on an impala kill under a bush and the other was walking into the area. The Selati coalition is made up of 4 male lions and they were responsible for taking out the Mpogo. We made our way into the area only to have the one male notice the other, and his kill, and charge in to get his share. It was an amazing sighting even though they and the impala were all under a bush. The male with the kill sat on the rump and body of what was left of the impala and the other male charged in towards the head and throat. There was some growling and "conversation" but after we had waited for the "fireworks" they both settled in to eat from opposite lengths! The ranger can only surmise that it is because they were both so full, as evidenced by their really big bellies.

We then made our way back to where we had turned around. A little further in was another dead impala, but this time the front half was uneaten and it was hanging in a tree. Further along we found the Manyeleti male leopard. He had walked into a ditch under some branches and made himself very comfortable. It was a definite one vehicle sighting and everyone on the vehicle could not see him at the same time - we had to take turns as the ranger moved the vehicle forward every now and again.

After hot chocolate and amarula, we came across a herd of 5 bull elephants on an open area and we watched them meander across enjoying some plants as they went. Behind us the impala were going crazy as a male tried to mount a female. He eventually succeeded, but had us all amused at his antics. 

At our room we found two elephants in the river below. From our breakfast table we watched some brown-hooded kingfishers bathing and were lucky enough to see a finfoot (this was definitely the best sighting of one that we have had to date). Back at our room the elephants were there again.

Evening Drive - 29 April 2013

We made our way from camp to see if the Manyeleti male was still near his kill. As we left camp we found a group of about 11 warthogs grazing beside the road. The kill was gone from the tree so we went looking for the leopard and we were lucky enough to find him (in some more deep vegetation) feeding on the remains of his kill. We stayed with him until another vehicle came in, but he decided to move his kill even further in. We hoped that he would take it up one of the big trees, but it was not to be. Nonetheless we could see the bunched muscles in his neck as he pulled his kill along. We left him settling down to eat again. We then made our way to an open area where we spent some time watching a herd of impala in the beautiful afternoon light.

From there we moved down to an area on the river known as The Beach. We were looking for rhinos but found a large herd of elephant strung out across the middle of the riverbed on the islands of vegetation. We stopped opposite a group that had a number of calves who were playing with each other while the adults were eating. A couple of older calves tussled with a younger one. One even seemed to be hitting him over the head with a branch! Then another female moved out into the open and she had a young calf suckling as they walked. We stopped for drinks along the river and watched the helmeted guineafowl fly, one by one, into a tree on the river bank to roost. 
We had dinner in the Boma with the rest of our group and Mac before making our way to bed.

Morning Drive - 30 April 2013

For 4 members of our group this drive was their last. Two of them are from the US and they had not yet seen a rhino. So we went looking for a rhino and some hyena (as they and the others were keen to see them too). We drove along looking for hyena and rhino tracks and eventually found a large bull and two younger bulls in close proximity on the road. The two younger bulls moved away from the bigger bull and we decided to follow them into the bush, even though it was very thick. Mac was hoping to get a photo opportunity that showed more than just bums! We followed them to a termite mound and while we were trying to position ourselves to see them come out on the other side, Colbert saw a hyena. We could not believe our luck. Here we were in the middle of the bush and they came to us – and I do mean they: we eventually had 8 or 9 hyena moving around in the bush around us. They just kept coming... We made a choice to stay with the hyena and followed them back to a road, but left them when they continued moving into the bush on Singita’s property. We then made our way closer to a leopard sighting that we were on standby for. We found another rhino and we were able to watch him for a short while before we were called in. 

The leopard was Hlabankunzi and she was on top of a termite mound in an open area as we arrived. Before anyone could get a photograph of her she turned and pounced. We thought she had caught a mouse of bird or something else small, but Mac drove us around the other side and out she popped with her cub! The two of them then made a real game of it. The cub would move off a distance and turn its back or "hide" behind a small bush and mom would crawl closer and pounce on her. Then it was her turn to do that to mom. It was wonderful to watch. We spent some time with them and watch the cub climb into a small tree. Mom climbed in too and then jumped out the other side. The cub eventually "flew" out the other side too, but not nearly as gracefully as mom! We made way for another vehicle to come in as they were close to a bush camp and no one would be able to see them if they went in there.

We agreed that we had had a wonderful morning and that, since some of us had to pack and drive or catch planes, we would have our drinks back at the lodge with breakfast.

Lunch was warthog steak burgers and sticky chicken wings with salads, followed by white chocolate mousse. 

Evening Drive - 30 April 2013

Two new guests joined our vehicle so we were only 6 on the vehicle. We decided to cross the river and drive north looking for wild dogs that some other vehicles had not been able to find in the morning. We did not find the animals but we kept bumping into breeding herds of elephant, just outside camp and then all along the river. We had drinks in the river bed and then started to make our way back along the river. We had to stop for a flat tyre not long thereafter. And then to cap it all we had another flat on the same wheel! Mac radioed in and they sent out a vehicle with a spare to fetch us and bring us back to camp. While we waited, we looked at the stars and enjoyed the sounds of the night insects - even hearing a wild dog call at one stage.
Dinner was under the pergola at the swimming pool. We ate goats' cheese cappelletti and fillet steak for dinner. Terry finished off with a toffee pudding.

Morning Drive - 1 May 2013

We woke up this morning and heard lions roaring while we were still in our room. When we all heard it again at the dining area, it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to look for the Selati males again. The belief was that all four of them were together again. One of the guests had opted to have a lie in, so we were only 5 on the vehicle.

We went across the river and started driving different loops looking for lion tracks. One of the other vehicles radioed in to say they had black rhino and we made our way to them and caught our first sighting of the “wild” Schlebusches. We went deeper in to find the rhino again and they went off to look for the lions. After we had spent some time with the rhino, Mac ascertained that no one had found the lions so he enquired about the Ximungwe pride. They had been found but there was a long waiting list for them. We made our way to a scenic spot on the river and had hot chocolate and Amarula, watching a pod of hippos and a large crocodile in the water.

Once we started moving again, we were given a third standby for the pride sighting so we moved closer towards Ulusaba where they were located. We were called in after a short while and found three females lying under some bushes with their 7 cubs (2 females have 2 clubs each and the other 3). Two females were grooming each other and the cubs came in for a quick rub and a feed. One cub even "attacked" a branch and we watched it brandishing its kill! Another vehicle let us know that a breeding herd of elephant were moving towards the area. You could see the moment the females became aware of the elephant. They were up and calling the cubs to move and soon there wasn't a lion to be seen. It was interesting to see how hyped the one elephant was too. She was moving around quickly and picked up a branch and started hitting the ground.

We then made our way back towards camp as one of the guys had a plane to catch, but then he decided to miss breakfast and we made a detour to look for some wild dogs. We found them sleeping under some trees, but they jumped up and greeted each other and went back to what was obviously a kill site. It was a wonderful sighting. Eventually though they started to move off and we drove back to camp where we had breakfast and said goodbye to the departing guests.

From our room we spent about an hour watching a breeding herd of elephant eat and drink, and swim in some cases, in the river in front of us. It was marvellous. There were still a few around that we could watch when we went in for lunch. For lunch we had lentil bobotie (delicious, and Terry thought so too!) and lamb kofta with salads. This was followed by the most amazing chocolate tart.

Evening Drive - 1 May 2013

When we went to the main area to meet with everyone we found a large bull elephant, in musth, eating only meters in front of the dining area. He was amazingly relaxed and not at all fazed by the flashes and clicking cameras!

Ranger: Stephen
Tracker: Jack

We changed ranger and tracker as Mac had to go to Nelspruit to pick up his family. Another couple left and were replaced with just one couple so we remained 6 on the vehicle. We went out to look for the wild dogs and encountered the Leadwood vehicle and the Schlebusches on our way. Our tracker then went on foot while we drove in a different direction. The ranger also took a brief walk but as he returned to the vehicle Jack radioed in that he had found the animals. We went to find him and found 9 wild dogs together (at first we only saw 8, but then another one joined – we assume he was behind us all the time). We followed them along the road and watched them interact and then lie down to rest. They showed some interest in some impala in the distance but then settled down again. A while later they started moving toward the impala and next thing they were on the move – and so were we, hanging on for dear life! Unfortunately we caught up with them on the other side and none of them had caught anything. We followed them along the road again and then they took off as we followed we could smell a really strong and putrid odour and then we were told that they had "bumped" a leopard sighting. We made our way in and saw the last few dogs disappear, leaving the Manyeleti male in a tree with his kill (you guessed, the bad smell) and a hyena running around hoping for scraps. Apparently, the wild dog had chased the hyena, looked at the leopard and kill and then made their way off across to Singita land.We decided to stay with the leopard for a while and watched him eat on his impala kill from the safety of a tree (not a very comfortable looking one). We then moved off to an open area to have drinks as it was getting quite dark by this stage. After drinks, we went back to join the Manyeleti male who was now walking on the road. We followed for a short distance and then followed him into the grass where he lay down and had a brief wash. He then resumed his walk moving deeper into the bush and we left him, making our way back to camp – a journey of less than 5 minutes!

On our return to camp we had to wait in reception until they had chased the same bull elephant further out of camp. We were then escorted to our room where the candles were lit and a bath had been run. A table was set and Difference had even put a coke and passion fruit and soda on the table waiting for us! Dinner was mushroom tart followed by Dorado. We both opted out for dessert. And while we were eating we could hear the male lions roaring again.

Morning Drive - 2 May 2013

We started the day to the sound of hyena whooping, but just for a short while as we were getting up. Our first order of the day once on the vehicle was to go and check whether the Manyeleti male was back on his kill and we duly found him there. He ate for a short while and then climbed down and made his way to a more sheltered (read difficult to see) spot. There was evidence that he had spent a lot of time during the night sleeping in the same spot.

We left him there and made our way across the river to look for the male lions, to no avail. We then took a standby on the Ximungwe pride, so crossed back over the river and made our way towards Ulusaba. As we got closer we were called in and we spent some time with the pride. They were deep in some bushes and the cubs were suckling from the lionesses and climbing over them and each other!

We made our way for morning drinks and then some of the group walked back to the lodge from the clearings while we drove back with Jack. From our room we could see elephant on the other side of the river and there was a large herd across from us at breakfast. We could enjoy our meal, the view and the animals all at the same time!

Dulini - 2 May 2013

We took a very slow drive across to Dulini, but still didn't manage to kill much time. It wasn't an issue though as they were expecting us and our room, No. 2, was ready for us. On the way we stopped for few minutes on the Dulini Bridge and saw a terrapin and a water monitor.

Lunch was served to us by Reply. We ate calamari wraps, vegetable tart and salads followed by granadilla mousse. We watched some monkeys playing in the trees and some Natal francolin calling from the riverbed.

Evening Drive - 2 May 2013

Ranger: Nick (is actually the manager and we met him at Rock Lodge, Phinda) Track: Tyron
 
There were 4 of us on our vehicle. We started by going out to look for a pair of mating leopards who were last seen not too far from the camp. We found Dewane and Xikavi and they put on a real display for us that included a wide range of growling, hissing and spitting! As we moved off we found a rhino and we spent some time watching him.

We made our way south to look for buffalo and the male lions but the buffalo went back onto Singita. We came across a herd of elephants so we stopped and watched them as the light faded. The impala nearby then started to run, jump and rock themselves. It was impressive to see – Terry just wondered why they couldn't do it when it was light enough to take photographs!

After drinks at a dam, we made our way back to camp taking a detour to look for the Selati lions after some tracks were found, but that came to naught.

Dinner was in the Boma with all of the guests and the rangers around one table. We ate vegetable soup, lamb shank & boerewors with veggies (well me, anyway) and finished off with berries in phyllo cups.
 
Morning Drive - 3 May 2013

We encountered a female rhino and calf, followed by a more relaxed bull rhino. We stopped to enjoy a pair of waterbuck – the male had a wonderful set of horns. Further along we saw another group of rhinos with a youngster but they were really deep in the bush. We then joined a sighting of the Southern Pride – 11 lions in all – and watched them playing a little and walking in the road. They then settled down stretched across the road and verges. But when a new vehicle made its way in they got up and rushed into the bush. We decided to move off and enjoy our morning drinks.
 
On the way back towards the lodge, we saw a couple of elephant sightings – two young bulls and a breeding herd. Nick was sneaky though and drove us in from a westerly direction, taking us to the wild dogs sleeping on top of a rocky area (despite telling us that we would go look for them this afternoon). They had found a piece of shade to be cool, but were all huddled together which seemed to warm them up again! We watched them for a little while but then left them to their slumbers while we made our way to breakfast in the camp.

Once we returned to our room we watched a group of Retz's helmet-shrikes from our veranda.

We had lunch on the lawn and we could hear the Shikra calling, but did not find it. We did, however, see an orange-breasted bush-shrike. Lunch was a cold melon soup, beef and vegetable pie and a fruit-filled pancake. It was delicious!

Evening Drive - 3 May 2013
 
We had a quiet drive tonight. We saw a lone bull elephant and later we turned around and drove across the river to join a sighting of two of the Ottawa lionesses. The third one is believed to have cubs, although one of the two we saw looked like she was suckling cubs too. She looked really keen to hunt and eventually she convinced the other lioness to follow suit. When they moved down into the river area though, we left them to get on with it.

After drinks we made our way back to camp without finding any other animals. At camp we found that we are having dinner in our room. So I had a lovely warm bubble bath and phoned in our order – we ate broccoli and blue cheese soup (yes, Terry too!), coconut dusted prawns and pork cutlets with pineapple chutney. Terry ended off with the dark chocolate mousse for dessert.
 
Morning Drive - 4 May 2013

This morning started very quietly and then we bumped into our "mandatory" elephant for the drive. We heard about a sighting of a male and female lion on the beach and took a standby for that, but as we were making our way into the general area a leopard crossed the road at a bend in front of us. So we pulled out of the lion standby and spent some time following Dewane as we wandered through the bush, crossing roads but going deeper in. We eventually left him with another vehicle and one making its way in. We were able to get another standby for the lions so we made our way down to the river area, but made a detour to a rhino carcass. The rhino was young and it was gored by another rhino. The staff had done a bit of an autopsy and removed the horns and the ears, before leaving it with the thick skin cut open on the spine for vultures and other scavengers to feed on. There was one hyena present when we arrived, but another made its way in as we sat watching. It was very skittish, but also very curious. After a while we moved on and got closer to the river, where we saw a male and female Nyala with a really small calf who was running around in the bushes. We also saw a female bushbuck with a calf.
 
When called in we made our way to the beach to find 2 vehicles on our side of the river (1 Singita and 1 Inyati) and 2 on the other side of the river (both Singita). At first we were all looking at a male lion lying under a tree on the Singita side of the river (the far side from us) and then we realized that the other male and a female we on the sandy beach area, mating. The female was obviously the missing Ottawa lioness so we realized that the female with the cubs already was one of the two we saw the day before. We stayed and watched for a little while, also seeing a pied kingfisher while there. Then we made our way to a small dam wall/sluice gate and had drinks.

Afterwards we made our way towards camp and drove past the entrance to find Hlabankunzi (female leopard) on the road with the other Dulini vehicle. We followed her along the road and stopped when she did – either to scent mark, smell and listen or watch and once to lie in some shade. We continued to follow her in the road and Nick said we would turn towards camp at the crossing and leave her, but she decided to turn there too. We followed her until she left the road and settled in some shade under a bush a few meters in from the road. We heard another vehicle turn onto the road and left her with them. As we drove the 400m or so to camp, we stopped on the Dulini Bridge to look at a juvenile malachite kingfisher and a Levaillant's cuckoo.

While at breakfast we could hear the monkeys alarm calling, no doubt because of the leopard moving around so close to camp!

Lunch was fish cakes and spinach & feta quiche with salads. Terry had a chocolate fruit wrap with chocolate ice cream for dessert. While we were at lunch we watched the malachite kingfisher. On the way back to our room we saw a pair of Bennett's woodpeckers.

Evening Drive - 4 May 2013
 
We headed out from camp in a loop to look for Hlabankunzi along the river bank but instead saw a small crocodile, some warthog and some impala. We doubled back and made our way out in the other direction only to have her walk towards us on the road, but still no cub in sight. We followed her along the road and then bundu-bashing through 2 blocks until she came out at Inyati airstrip. Here the impala, wildebeest and warthogs all reacted to the presence of a leopard. We moved off leaving her with some other vehicles. We then made our way across to the Ximungwe pride where we found them all sleeping. The cubs though started to get restless and next thing they were rolling over each other and playing – even the adult females weren't an obstacle; they just climbed or jumped over them! Once it was almost dark we left them and went to find a safe spot to have drinks.

We passed a rhino on the side of the road while we were off to see the other two male lions of the Selati coalition, but they crossed to Singita before we got there. So we made our way back to camp. It took us 13 drives before we did not see an elephant on the drive! 

We had dinner in the Boma again. We had Sweetcorn chowder and a choice of lamb cutlets, chicken curry and crocodile kebabs with salad and vegetables for main course. Terry tried all of the meats, while I had lamb and veggies. Terry insisted that I at least taste the crocodile, and while I shuddered at the thought of what I was eating, I will concede that it did not taste bad. Terry had the malva pudding for dessert.When we got back to our room, we had a little drama – a bat flying around our room. Terry tried to open the door to get it to go out and then we called security who also battled. Unfortunately it flew into the fan in the lounge area and we think it may have broken its wing.

Morning Drive - 5 May 2013

This morning started with more drama – something calling loudly from the trees near our front door and above us. We could not make up our mind what it was (monkeys calling because of something in camp?) so we recorded it to follow up with our ranger.

We didn't need the recording, the staff confirmed that it was monkeys and that they were probably alarm calling for a leopard, but search as we might in the bush around camp, we could not find the culprit! Tyron walked through camp and thought whatever it was, was at room 1. Unfortunately the occupants were sleeping in so we couldn’t follow up. It was overcast and cold this morning, but not as cold as a few of the other mornings. Animals were scarce. The mating lions had crossed over to Exeter so we went to see them but they looked and acted exhausted. We then found a rhino in the bush and just to show that our elephant mojo was still working we came across a young bull elephant walking in the road. He mocked charged us until we pulled into the bush (i.e. off the road) and then he ran past and away from us as fast as he could! We also came across a lone dagga boy, which is the first time we saw buffalo since our first drive.

We saw some general game and also a brown-snake eagle and a bateleur, but generally it was a really slow morning. Despite that we managed to see 4 of the big 5 – just the elusive leopard remained outstanding.

Overall we have had a wonderful trip. It was full of elephant sightings and we could calling the "elephant trip" but we saw lions – all three prides and the males, 9 leopard sightings, 3 wild dog sightings and numerous hyena. So it was really just a wonderful trip filled with really good sightings across the board...

Other Animals:

Scrub hare, duiker, steenbok, kudu, bushbuck, dwarf mongoose, Nyala male, female Nyala with young, slender mongoose, wildebeest, tree squirrel, warthog

Other Birds:

Martial eagle, grey heron, Brown snake-eagle, white-backed vultures, Red-billed hornbill, Burchell's starling, helmeted guineafowl, crested francolin, Reed cormorant, Magpie shrike, crested barbet, red-billed oxpeckers, Blue-collared kingfisher, African black duck, Striped kingfisher, spur-wing geese, grey go-away bird, brown-hooded kingfisher, chanting goshawk (immature and adult)