Sunday 25 November - Trip

We left home after 7h30 to make our way to the Kruger National Park for our last trip of the year. We heard that there was a crash on the N1 north after Rigel and could see the backed up traffic so we got off the highway and made our way via Solomon Mahlangu Drive to the N4, continuing on our way as usual (via Belfast/Dullstroom, etc.)

We stopped at Lydenburg to fill up and then continued on our way to Orpen Gate. As we made our way into the fenced area to the gate, we noticed that it was 36C and exceptionally dry. All the animals that we saw (impala and kudu basically) were standing or lying in the shade of trees. We didn’t blame them!

Mammal sightings: impala, kudu, vervet monkey, nyala

Bird sightings: red bishop, common buzzard, Cape crow, pied crow, long-crested eagle, western cattle egret, common fiscal, helmeted guineafowl, hadeda ibis, yellow-billed kite, blacksmith lapwing (with chick), African green pigeon (flew over road), pied starling, long-tailed widowbird

Orpen Camp


Sunday 25 November

It was after 13h30 so we decided to take our chances at reception and they checked us into chalet 10. Because it was so hot and we still had to unpack, we went to the shop and bought ourselves ice creams to tide ourselves over (in other words, we had dessert before lunch!).

Once at the chalet we unpacked the car, and then concentrated on unpacking the contents of the cooler box first. We then had a late lunch (around 15h00) of enchiladas that I had brought from home. We saw birds moving around at the waterhole on the other side of the fence, and then some kudu and impala came down to drink. They were followed by a herd of elephants, so we grabbed our things and walked to a bench close to the fence to watch them. A wildebeest came to drink too – getting down on to its knees in order to reach the water. Then we went back to the chalet (it was air-conditioned!) and finished the unpacking.

After we spent a short time relaxing in the cooler room, we decided to take a short afternoon drive, going out only 90 minutes before the gate closed. Being at Orpen our option for drives was limited, so we drove the H7 until we felt it was time to turn around and make our way back to camp. There were some giraffe at the waterhole as we drove out. We found that it was quite windy, but it was a hot wind. We did not see much on the outside leg, but things picked up as we returned to camp.

We saw a couple of scrub hares on the verge of the road, despite the fact that it was still light. Then we came across a spotted hyena sleeping in the bush to the side of the road. This was followed by a red-crested korhaan “parachuting” back down to the ground (its mating display) and then some wild dogs! The drive had turned into a really good one!

At the turning to Maroela and Tamboti camps we saw a number of vehicles stopped so we turned down to check what was there and found three black-backed jackal pups. We didn’t spend a long time with them, however, turning around and making our way into camp – just in time.

At camp we took a walk down to the bench to see what was at the waterhole. There were some elephants drinking and we watched plenty doves fly down to have a drink. There were also some water thick-knees at the edge of the waterhole. We heard some lions roaring in the distance and just enjoyed being in the bush again. A hyena walked along the fence line and we then decided that it was time to have a light supper and an early night in preparation for an early start to beat the heat.

Mammal sightings: elephant, giraffe, scrub hare, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal (pups), kudu, tree squirrel, steenbok, white rhino, wild dogs, wildebeest

Bird sightings: bateleur, dark-capped bulbul, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, grey go-away-bird, helmeted guineafowl, red-billed hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, lilac-breasted roller, magpie shrike, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, pied starling, water thick-knee, Kurrichane thrush, southern black tit, white-backed vulture

Monday 26 November

Our alarm went off at 4h15 and we left camp at 4h45 (15 minutes after the camp gates opened). Initially it was a shock to the system but it was at least cooler (although not for too long).

We had a rather bizarre sighting. There was a bird sitting on the top part of a dead tree. We were looking directly into the sun so we could not work out what it was. But we worked out that it was a black heron (the same bird that umbrellas its wings when it fishes), when it was still there in the afternoon. There was no water anywhere around and it was roosting seemingly in the middle of the bush (i.e. the middle of “nowhere”)!

The next strange thing was that we saw a troop of baboons (with lots of babies) at and near the Bobbejaanskrans lookout. Usually if a place is named for an animal, you can almost guarantee that you will not see it!!

From the H7, we made our way down the S36 towards the picnic site. The first waterhole we came across was Rockvale. There were a couple of zebra on the road just before the waterhole, and one was braying. It looked quite skittish, so we looked around the area closely. We then noticed a male cheetah walk out of the bush making its way towards the waterhole (obviously that is what the zebra could smell). Then, we saw a spotted hyena come from the bush on the other side of the road and also make its way to the waterhole. As the hyena got closer, we noticed that she was heavily pregnant.

The cheetah hissed at the hyena a couple of times, but then they both seemed to resign themselves to sharing the main source of drinking water in the area. It was an amazing interaction. The hyena then climbed into the waterhole in order to cool down. The cheetah continued to drink.

A couple of other vehicles joined us as we watched (one of them even posted one of his SLR photos on Facebook – as opposed to the iPhone photos that I had posted). When we looked at Terry’s main photos we realized that it was definitely the same sighting.

The hyena made her way back across the road and into the bush, while the cheetah hung around the waterhole for a short while, drinking a little more. He also wandered back into the bush, staying on his side of the road. There was nothing left at the waterhole. It was almost like we had imagined such an amazing thing happening!

As we drove on, we saw our first impala lamb! It was really tiny and cute. We had noticed that the impala ewes were all heavily pregnant, having obviously delayed the dropping of their lambs due to the lack of rain so far this season.

We stopped at Mudzanzeni picnic site for a comfort break, enjoying the general game around its waterhole.

From there we made our way to Shimangwaneni Dam. It was lovely to see some water – it was the first dam that we saw that had water in it. It wasn’t full though. In fact, most animals had to wade into mud in order to get a drink. Some of them climbing right into the water to cool down and get a proper drink. Some of the animals walking away had dirty “socks” and “stockings” evidencing this.

We made our way back towards Orpen on the Talamati road. We had our first sighting of southern ground hornbills for the trip – three of them in the distance. We then came across quite a big herd of zebra – about 50 or so.

We had another sighting of southern ground hornbills – five of them – much closer this time.

We drove around the Rabelais loop (S106) and were very disappointed to find that the dam was dry and the waterhole decommissioned. The road was almost empty of game, although we did encounter a group of buffalo – 9 dagga boys, which is quite a large number.

At the waterhole outside camp there were three white rhinos sleeping under a bush.

We made our way back to the chalet, where we ate some fruit salad and then wandered down to sit on a bench for a little while. We then took a walk around camp, passing the swimming pool and making our way to the shop and back to the chalet. It was 34C, but there was a youngish girl and a guy doing speed runs up and down the road! We thought they were mad.

After relaxing in the air-conditioned room, we had home-made bread and beef stroganoff (plus vegetables for me) for lunch. While we were eating an elephant came down to drink with a youngster and a tiny calf. They didn’t hang around for very long though. We decided to go back inside where it was cooler. The nice thing was that we could see the waterhole from the window in our chalet, so we watched some more elephants come down to the waterhole to drink.

We took another short afternoon drive, going out at 17h00. Again, our only option was the H7, although we did do part of the S106 (from H7 to the Talamati road turn off). We saw a couple of vehicles stopped, from the main road, which is why we decided to take a look. But it was a vehicle with a flat tyre and some other vehicles there to assist. So we made our way back to the H7.

The best sighting of the drive was a herd of elephants coming from the waterhole, with an adorable calf – it could walk directly under its mom’s belly. Otherwise it was relatively quiet.

We had leftover enchiladas for supper and then went down to the benches to sit and watch the animals at the waterhole – two hyena and a black-backed jackal – as we listened to a pearl-spotted owlet calling in the distance.

We walked down to the shop to meet up with the night drive vehicle. We saw scrub hares almost immediately and then turned down towards the two adjacent camps, coming across the three black-backed jackal pups with their mom lying in the grass close by. A little further down the same road we came across two lionesses, also lying in the grass.

Once back on the main road we saw a lovely sighting of a lesser bush baby jumping around in a tree. Then, ahead of us in the road, we saw a large-spotted genet standing on its hind legs close to a scrub hare. It moved off into the bush obviously hunting as it moved along through the grass.

To our amazement we came across a pack of 7 wild dogs lying in the bush to the one side of the road. They didn’t seem too perturbed by us and most of them just continued sleeping. This was the first time that we have ever seen them at night.

Our good sightings continued when we saw another bush baby and an African civet. I also saw a flap-necked chameleon in the road and pointed him out to the guide, but it was too late. I am afraid that he was run over!

Not long after that we turned around. We saw more scrub hares, another African civet and another large-spotted genet. The wild dogs were still sleeping as we drove past. We then came across a lioness on her own to the side of the main road. As we moved on, we encountered a second lioness in the road and she started making a contact call.

We made our way back to camp after a really good night drive. There we ate some fruit and then made our way to bed.

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, lesser bush baby, bushbuck, cheetah, African civet, common duiker, elephant, large-spotted genet, giraffe, scrub hare, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, vervet monkey, nyala, white rhino, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wild dog, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: bateleur, dark-capped bulbul, long-billed crombec, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, tawny eagle, western cattle egret, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, hamerkop, white-crested helmet-shrike, black heron, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, black-shouldered kite, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, black-headed oriole, red-billed oxpecker, African green pigeon, black-backed puffback, green-winged pytilia, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, common scimitarbill, magpie shrike, red-backed shrike, grey-headed sparrow, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, lesser striped swallow, red-breasted swallow, little swift, water thick-knee, white-backed vulture, blue waxbill, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other sightings: flap-necked chameleon, terrapin, leopard tortoise

Tuesday 27 November

We were out again before 5h00 in order to miss some of the heat of the day. We came across a spotted hyena walking in the road. It then moved off the road and down into a culvert.

Further along there was a white rhino walking in the bush. Then there were another two hyena. One was lying in the road and the other walking into the bush. The one in the road stood up and disappeared into a culvert. It was definitely a hyena drive, as we saw another one walking in the road towards us further along, plus two more hyena in the road a little later.

When we got to Nsemani Dam, we were absolutely stunned to see that it was bone dry! It was quite heartbreaking.

We took the S40 north and turned onto the S12 in order to see Girivana Dam. It had some water at the waterhole section, but the actual dam was dry. We watched a pair of yellow-billed oxpeckers feeding on the trunk and branches of a massive fig tree, before one made its way into their nest hole.

From there we made our way to the Timbavati picnic site, enjoying some good general game sightings including a number of giraffe.

We made our way back to camp via the S39, taking a brief detour up to Ratelpan Hide first. The part of the dam viewed from the hide had no water at all.

We came across a lion lying under a tree. We watched him for a short while and then followed him as he started walking alongside the road, while remaining in the bush. As we drove, we saw a pearl-spotted owlet (our first owl for the trip!) and stopped to have a quick look. We then caught up to the lion and he joined a second male lying under a tree. There was no greeting as he flopped down behind the second lion, so they had obviously been together earlier. Some impala started alarm calling on the other side of the road – just letting the lions know that they knew they were there!

Two other cars had joined the sighting so we decided to give them the opportunity to view the lions and we continued on our way. But we didn’t get too much further, before we found a third lion walking towards the other two! We turned around and followed him, but he crossed the road behind us to the other side of the road and managed to walk straight past where the other two lions were. He crossed down into the riverbed where we had seen the owl, so we stopped to look at it again, before turning back. We found one of the other two lions walking towards us. It crossed the road too, but then walked deeper into the bush – not where the 3rd lion had gone! And then suddenly they were all gone – obviously looking to meet up with each other again.

There was a fair amount of game as we drove along the S39, including some elephants – lone bulls. We also came across 6 buffalo bulls. There was also a herd of buffalo in the distance a bit further on.

We drove through camp and on to the gate in order to fill up the car at the petrol station. Back in camp we saw a black-crowned tchagra in the garden between the shop and reception. Back at the chalet we could see a tawny eagle on the edge of the waterhole.

We took a walk to the shop (for some exercise) and then relaxed in the cooler chalet until lunch. We ate tacos, mince and vegetables. We then went back into the cool and rested until 17h00.

Our first major sighting was three white rhinos in the bush (we presumed they were the same ones that had visited the waterhole in the days before). We also had two sightings of bull elephants wandering through the bush on their own, feeding.

We turned around in order to get back to camp on time, but it was very quiet so we got in a little earlier. Not even a scrub hare! As we got back to camp, there were some warthogs at the waterhole.

Once back at the chalet, we did some packing (including loading the car) and then had a supper of leftovers and yoghurt.

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, bushbuck, elephant, giraffe, spotted hyena, impala, kudu, lion, dwarf mongoose, vervet monkey, white rhino, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, crested barbet, bateleur, European bee-eater, red-billed buffalo-weaver, dark-capped bulbul, Diederik cuckoo, Jacobin cuckoo, Levaillant’s cuckoo, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, black-breasted snake eagle, brown snake eagle, Steppe eagle, tawny eagle, African firefinch, grey go-away-bird, helmeted guineafowl, white-crested helmet-shrike, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, brown-hooded kingfisher, crowned lapwing, Senegal lapwing, rufous-naped lark, speckled mousebird, black-headed oriole, pearl-spotted owlet, yellow-billed oxpecker, black-backed puffback, lilac-breasted roller, magpie shrike, red-backed shrike, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, violet-backed starling, black-crowned tchagra, brown-crowned tchagra, southern black tit, lappet-faced vulture, white-backed vulture, blue waxbill

Other sightings: leopard tortoise

Wednesday 28 November

We got up at 4h15 as usual and finished our packing. We were treated to the lovely song of the black-headed oriole as we packed up the kitchen. When we left camp at 5h10 it was already 28C. As a result, there were already 3 spotted hyena at the waterhole – two of them were lying in the water cooling off.

A little further on we saw a herd of elephants crossing the road to get to the riverbed. One caused a “traffic jam” as it decided that the tree on the side of the road was too delicious to leave!

Then we found a spotted hyena in the road too.

We took the S36 and made our way to Rockvale waterhole again, passing three dagga boys (buffalo) on our way. When we got to the waterhole we found that it was utter chaos! There was a pride of 8 lions – two on a buffalo kill, 5 sleeping in the general area and one across the road at the waterhole. There were also plenty of hyena around – four of them sleeping close by. There were white-backed vultures in the trees around and few hooded vultures too. One hyena ran across the road to the waterhole. In the meanwhile, giraffe and zebra were queuing up to drink, but none of them was brave enough to actually move forward. Then to add to the chaos the hyena started whooping and running in circles.

There were 12 other cars around – that was the most cars we had seen, except for in camp! We moved forward to the waterhole, where we found that a female lion was lying on the one side while a hyena was standing on the other. There were more hyena milling around and the numbers of giraffe and zebra waiting to drink seemed to be on the increase too.

We moved past and stopped to look at some vultures in the tree, only to see a white rhino in the distance. There were some more buffalo further along, under a tree. They were not too far, but far enough to be removed from the goings on at the waterhole.

We then encountered a white rhino with a small calf. The calf was on the road but it ran to mom as we got closer and they both ran deeper into the bush. It seemed as though everything was happening on this short stretch of road!

We came across some impala with a very small lamb (our 6th of the trip). It had very wobbly legs so we don’t think that it was too old – hours not days.

After stopping at Muzandzeni picnic site, we continued our way on the S36. We came across a lilac-breasted roller calling. It then flew up into the air, divied down and did its “rolling” display.

At Shimangwaneni Dam we could see that the water was slowly drying up and that the animals had to wade further into the mud to get some water to drink. There were warthogs, kudus standing in the water, impala and giraffe congregated around the dam. It was 7h23 and the temperature was already 32C!

At Lugmag Dam the dam wall was broken and there was no water at all. We saw a Natal spurfowl crossing the road in front of us – very slowly!

We made our way onto the S34 and closed our windows in order to put the air-conditioner on, as it was already 35C and not even 9h00. We came across white-backed vultures flying overhead and on the ground, and then saw that there were some lappet-faced vultures on the ground too. Not long after that, we joined the main road and made our way to Tshokwane, where we treated ourselves to carrot cake and milk tart. We also discovered that they had little pots of gelato (made in Dullstroom) and had one of those each to cool down – choc nut fudge (T) and caramel brittle (J). They were delicious. We took all of this plus some cold waters and sat on the chairs on the veranda watching and listening to the greater blue-eared starlings that were trying to get some food from us.

We then made our way south on the H10 until the turn off to Orpen Dam (windows open again despite the heat). There was water in the dam, but it was only a fraction of the size that we remember it being. There were plenty of crocodiles – almost too many for the space there was and there was a little altercation between two of them. We saw one lonely hippo in the water.

As we made our way along the S32 away from the dam, we came across two vehicles at a sighting of 8 lions. Seven of them were sleeping in a “pile” between two tree trunks. We continued along the road making our way back to the main road so that we could enjoy the loops along the riverbed.

There we saw a herd of elephants as well as a pair of secretarybirds. There was also a black-backed jackal wandering along the road of the loop. We saw and heard an African fish eagle and found a saddle-billed stork at the close edge of one of the pools of water (partially hidden by the rocks). We made our way into the second loop from which we could see the same pools of water and found that there were some more lions – two females and two cubs, lying under the shade of a small tree on the opposite river bank. We could still see the elephants, secretarybirds and stork as we sat there. The one cub stood up and moved behind the tree, sticking its head through the fork at the bottom of the tree. It looked so cute.

As we drove up to Satara all of the dams were dry – Mazithi, Kumana and Nkaya Pan. And the temperature went over 40C! The poor animals, but we both agreed that they all looked to be in good health.

We stopped at the southern-most baobab tree. There were plenty of kudu and impala around. We then saw a young kudu bull eating a sausage pod with much enjoyment. It was too big for his mouth so he had to keep dipping his head and using the ground to reposition the pod in his mouth.

Between the H6 and H7 turn offs we saw 4 lions lying in the shade of some bushes. That was our 4th pride of lions for the morning. In total, we had seen 24 lions! We arrived at Satara a little later, just before 13h00.

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, bushbuck, common duiker, elephant, giraffe, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, vervet monkey, nyala, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, European bee-eater, red-billed buffalo-weaver, dark-capped bulbul, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, brown snake eagle, tawny eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, hamerkop, grey heron, goliath heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, African jacana, yellow-billed kite, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, red-capped lark, black-headed oriole, red-billed oxpecker, three-banded plover, red-billed queleas, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, common sandpiper, common scimitarbill, secretarybird, magpie shrike, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, greater blue-eared starling, violet-backed starling, black-winged stilt, saddle-billed stork, little swift, water thick-knee, hooded vulture, lappet-faced vulture, white-backed vulture, blue waxbill, southern masked weaver, green wood-hoopoe

Other sightings: crocodile, leopard tortoise

Satara Camp


Wednesday 28 November

We checked in at reception and then made our way to the restaurant where we had club burgers for lunch (basically a club sandwich on a burger roll). It was hot and the veranda tables were all full, so we went to sit inside the restaurant thinking that there might be some air-conditioning. But we were wrong. Even the fan was not very effective.

Once we had finished lunch, we collected our keys for Chalet B26 and moved in. Unfortunately, the fridge wasn’t working so I went back to reception to report it and we packed everything back into the cooler box. In the meanwhile, we unpacked everything else. When no one had come to sort out the fridge, I went back to reception to follow up. After a while, we checked the fridge again and it seemed to be working, so we unpacked everything into the fridge and freezer (including the ice that we had bought). We had just finished when some guys arrived from housekeeping with another fridge. They said that they would take ours in for maintenance rather than taking any chances. So we unpacked it all again and then repacked everything into the “new” fridge. Eventually we were all settled in and it was after 16h00!

A storm had been brewing most of the afternoon, but it turned out to be more thunder and lightning with very little real rain. We relaxed in our room before having a light, early supper and an early night.

Bird sightings: red-billed buffalo-weaver, grey hornbill, common myna, grey-headed sparrow

Thursday 29 November

We were out just before 5h00 and decided to drive the iconic S100/H6 loop. It was really cool out – enough that we switched the heater on, as we hadn’t thought to bring jackets! (Not after all the heat.) Even the animals seemed to be put off by the change in weather, as it was really quiet. We did some nice birding at a couple of pools though. Water-wise, there were very few pools and some of them didn’t look too savory – green and murky.

We came across an impala herd with 5 lambs! This was a first. We could still see that a large number of females had not yet dropped their calves but the number of calves around was definitely on the rise.

We also had a sighting of a proper wildebeest herd. It was lovely to see as they been either scarce or in small groups on previous travels.

Just before the end of the S100 we saw a herd of elephants spread out in the bush. There were some very small calves with them.

We made a short detour to Gudzani Dam, but this was also dry.

We came across two female elephants with a small calf each. It was lovely to watch the interactions between the calves until mom’s milk called.

We stopped at the N’wanetsi River lookout point – and there was just a dry riverbed. What was nice to see though as we continued towards the N’wanetsi picnic site, were the puddles in the road and in hollows on the side of the roads. There had obviously been more rain overnight in this area than at camp.

We also heard our first Woodlands kingfisher call, although the vegetation was so dense that we could not find it. It was still nice to know that they were around and we were sure to see one at some time (little did we know that they would be in camp too).

There was some water in the dam at the N’wanetsi picnic site and we watched some birds as we stretched our legs.

At Sonop waterhole there was water in the trough, but not an animal in sight! Obviously the rain had provided water elsewhere.

A little further on we came across a vehicle at a lion sighting. There were 5 that we could see, but they were quite far into the bush.

Since it was still cool, we decided to go south on the main road and cut across to the S36 via the S126, instead of making our way back to camp. This time, though, Rockvale had nothing to offer us in terms of cats. There were a few hyena left at the carcass, but there was really not much left – bones and head. There were still some vultures around the carcass too – white-backed and hooded; and few black-backed jackals were trying to get some tidbits.

As we watched the goings-on at the carcass, some buffalo came out of the bush and made their way to the trough to drink.

Back at the chalet, we heard another Woodlands call, but we could not find it in the trees within the circle. We relaxed for a while and then walked to the restaurant, where we both had pork ribs for lunch. This time we volunteered to sit inside. It was still cool (although we both had jackets on by now). After lunch, we took a walk around the garden and along the fence overlooking the waterhole. We then walked back to the chalet and sat on the veranda, doing some bird watching. We managed to find the Woodlands kingfisher and we also saw an African mourning dove. A brown-headed parrot flew into the tree next to our chalet so we were able to view it too.

We went out for a drive again at 16h30. We decided to drive north on the main road and make a loop on the S127, S40 and S12, onto the H7 and back. There were plenty of zebra and wildebeest around as we drove, and we came across a herd of elephants. There were impala but they were in the minority, which is unusual.

On the S40 we encountered two white rhinos. There were also a number of groups of kudus.

As we made our way towards camp on the main road, there was a spotted hyena lying on the verge. It yawned and stretched, before moving towards the camp’s perimeter fence. It was obviously going to check what was for supper!

At camp we stopped briefly at the shop before returning to our chalet, where we had a light supper. While we were sitting on the veranda two African wildcats made their way in the circle towards our chalet. They were hunting! In the distance, we could hear hyena whooping. It was a lovely way to end our day.

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, white rhino, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck, African wildcat, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, chin-spot batis, European bee-eater, brubru, dark-capped bulbul, kori bustard, African mourning dove, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, tawny eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, hamerkop, grey heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, woodlands kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, African openbill, red-billed oxpecker, brown-headed parrot, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, magpie shrike, grey-headed sparrow, house sparrow, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, greater blue-eared starling, saddle-billed stork, woolly-necked stork, little swift, water thick-knee, southern black tit, hooded vulture, white-backed vulture, white-headed vulture, southern masked weaver

Friday 30 November

We watched the beautiful sunrise at the start of our morning drive. Although warmer than the day before, there was still a lovely freshness to the morning.

As we drove south on the main road, about 10km away from camp, we saw an African wildcat walking in some longer grass to the side of the road.

We also saw two pearl-spotted owlets in a tree on the other side of the road as we continued on.

We came across two giraffe that appeared to be circling each other slowly. They would then stop and continue after a short break. Eventually they started necking – although it didn’t look too violent, so it was probably a mock challenge. As we drove further, we saw plenty of other giraffe.

We came across a spotted hyena on the road. After a short while, we drove around it and carried on our way.

We encountered a large herd of impala, the biggest that we had seen on this trip. It was lovely to see how healthy they looked, despite the apparent water situation. For the size of the herd, there were not many lambs – an indication of the lack of rain.

We saw some buffalo in the distance.

As we approached Tshokwane, an oncoming vehicle flagged us down. The driver told us to continue past the picnic site and we would come across some wild dogs that had just finished a kill on the side of the main road. We did as told and found some other vehicles still with them. There was little evidence remaining of the kill, although some hooded vultures were feasting on the carcass.

The pack totaled more than 20 dogs. Some were moving across the road and into the bush, while others were lying down as if settling in for a rest. Unfortunately, though, a SANP employee on a bicycle came down the road. As soon as they saw him, some of them “barked” and they all moved off deeper into the bush. Some of the vultures also took off. A spotted hyena used the opportunity to sneak in, chase off the remaining vultures and make off with the rest of the carcass! The hooded vultures landed again and had to resort to feasting on scraps lying around beside the road.

One of the vehicles at the wild dog sighting told us that there was sighting of a pride of 10 lions just down the H10. So, we decided to go and have a look. Another vehicle stopped us and told us the same thing. When we got to the area indicated, we found a female lion in the road. But she was the only one to be seen. We drove up and down looking, but the others had all gone. The female then moved off into the deeper bush.

We also saw a pair of saddle-billed stork standing on and next to an anthill in the middle of the bush – no water in sight. There were also three spotted hyenas hanging around the area.

We made our way back to Tshokwane via Orpen Dam. There we had hoped to buy pies for breakfast, but they weren’t ready yet so we bought some sandwiches and “breakfast yoghurt” from the shop. The sandwiches were quite bland unfortunately, but the gelato made up for it.

At the loops along the river, we watched an elephant drinking in a hole in the sand again. (We had been trying to work out what the hole was for the previous day, when one of the elephants had demonstrated for us).

As we continued north we saw a buffalo on the other side bank, followed by some buffalo on the side of the road.

We drove up via the gravel road, stopping at Sweni Hide. It was lovely, with a good amount of water (even though you could see that it had shrunk). There were plenty of crocodiles around. While we sat in the hide (it was quite full), we watched some elephants come down to drink. Some vultures also flew overhead – white-backed and lappet-faced.

We made our way back to camp via the H6. It was hot again (26C and not even 10h30). Elephants were standing in the shade of the trees, and we didn’t blame them. We came across a pair of kori bustards (I had read that they were common in the grasslands areas surrounding Satara).

We got back to camp at about 11h00 and filled up the vehicle, before moving into the coolness of our chalet to relax.

We walked to the restaurant for lunch, doing some birding around the swimming pool area as we walked. Believe it or not, the swimming pool was closed for maintenance! (It apparently had been closed for months, but there were at least people working on it and it looked like they were starting to put water in.)

For lunch Terry ate cornflake crusted fried chicken (way too much, but a “doggy” bag was welcome) and I had cornflake fried chicken salad. Both meals were delicious. We went back to the chalet via the shop. I even managed to have a short afternoon sleep!

We drove out again just before 17h00, driving along the S100 until it was time to turn around and get back to camp. At the water pools, we saw an African fish eagle and a hamerkop. We continued along the road but saw mainly general game. Just after we turned back, we saw a black-backed jackal.

Back at the water pools, we heard two fish eagles and then watched them fly over. A hamerkop was still fishing, and a water monitor was making its way to the left of the two pools. We watched it move to a tree, climb it and then disappear into a hole.

An African fish eagle flew in with a branch or leaf in its talons. It dropped it as it landed in a tree behind the pools. The hamerkop then flew and two other birds flew in. Terry couldn’t find them in his binoculars so he didn’t know what they were. I had a look and told him to have a good look – it was a pair of greater painted snipes. We had seen one for the first time a month before, and it wasn’t nearly as good a view.

As we continued back to camp we saw two different herds of elephants.

We sat on our veranda and enjoyed a glass of Amarula over ice, updating the map and book with where we had travelled. We made some rolls for breakfast and then had the last of the home-made bread, toasted, for supper.

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, common duiker, elephant, giraffe, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, slender mongoose, vervet monkey, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wild dog, African wildcat, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, acacia pied barbet, bateleur, dark-capped bulbul, kori bustard, black crake, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, Namaqua dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, brown snake eagle, tawny eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, hamerkop, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, woodlands kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, speckled mousebird, pearl-spotted owlet, red-billed oxpecker, brown-headed parrot, three-banded plover, black-backed puffback, lilac-breasted roller, common sandpiper, magpie shrike, red-backed shrike, greater painted snipe, grey-headed sparrow, chestnut-backed sparrow-lark, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, Cape glossy starling, greater blue-eared starling, black-winged stilt, saddle-billed stork, Marico sunbird, European swallow, lesser striped swallow, red-breasted swallow, little swift, hooded vulture, lappet-faced vulture, white-backed vulture, African pied wagtail, blue waxbill, emerald-spotted wood-dove, green wood-hoopoe

Other sightings: crocodile, water monitor, terrapin

Saturday 1 December

We were out before 5h00 again and we headed north on the main road. We came across three spotted hyenas standing in the road, one of them had a piece of a carcass in its mouth. There were also two black-backed jackals close by.

We came across a black-crowned tchagra. Much to our surprise it was sitting on the top of a tree and singing, not skulking at the bottom like we usually see.

We came across a turning to a road – S147 – that was not on our maps. It said it was one-way and 7km so we decided to give it a try. Luckily we did. It followed the course of a river and there were spots were there were some pools of water. We saw some herons – grey and goliath and Egyptian geese.

We were less than halfway along the road, when Terry spotted a leopard. It was a female (based on size) and as we got a closer look, we noticed that she was carrying a dead impala lamb – its head was in her mouth and its legs dragging on the ground as she walked. This was our first leopard for the trip! The impala in the area were barking and one ewe was standing and staring at where the leopard was. We wondered if that was the poor mom. It did cross our minds that we had barely begun seeing lambs and here was the first one that we saw killed (already).

She climbed a tree in the riverbed, next to the road and placed the lamb in the crook of a branch. She then jumped down and disappeared. Another vehicle had arrived and it moved forward. We assumed that they could see her through the deep bush. Our assumption was that either she was tired from the kill and going to rest before eating it, or (our preference of course) she had gone to fetch a cub. We sat with the kill for well over an hour, but she did not come back. We decided that little was going to happen in the heat of the day so we continued on our way.

The road joined the S89 and we made our way from there back to the main road. We then took the S39 and drove down past Roodewaal on our way back to camp. As we approached Piet Grobler Dam, we realized that there was a fair amount of water close to the dam wall and that Ratelpan Hide was quite far from this.

We cut back to the main road on the S127 and then made our way back to camp. There we relaxed before having a lunch of leftover pork ribs and cornflake fried chicken with some vegetables.

We left camp again at 15h00 as we wanted to go back to the S147 and see what had happened to the leopard kill. There was a lovely waterbuck bull standing in the reeds just after we turned onto the road.

We got to the tree and the worst possible thing happened – the lamb was still there, untouched. We felt that first prize was that the leopard (and its cub – wishful thinking) was at the kill. Second prize was that it was gone and we at least knew that we hadn’t been wrong – she had come back for it. This way we would not know what had happened!

It was too hot to sit around and wait (and we had tried that in the morning) so we decided to continue our drive. Our disappointment had no time to take root, however, as we came a cross a vehicle a little way ahead. They told us that there was a leopard and her calf lying on the other side of the bend in the riverbed. They had watched the cub playing with an impala leg and told us that they could see the cub eating on the carcass of an adult impala. So, our story had progressed. The leopard had probably caught the impala after the lamb, on the way to fetch her cub, and then rather taken the cub to the bigger kill. We reversed and we were able to see the cub (in deep). It then walked towards the adult and picked up an impala leg. It dropped it and then sat down, before climbing down into the riverbed and lying down.

At this stage, a few vehicles had joined the sighting. When another vehicle joined, they asked us if we had seen the male leopard just before the kill in the tree. So, we reversed back to the spot and turned into a small loop, where we found the male leopard. It lay there for a while and then stood and sharpened its claws on a tree. It then started moving in the direction of the other leopards. We were a little worried. It then approached the tree with the kill and took the lamb into its mouth (by its neck), jumping down and moving towards the other leopards. We were starting to get really worried by this stage. Then the most amazing thing happened – it dropped the kill in the riverbed and the cub ran to it. They head butted each other and then lay down with the adult grooming the cub.

The female leopard then came down and made its way to the impala lamb, picking it up and moving off, while the male moved up to the carcass to eat. However, things were not as they seemed. From our photos and a video (seen once we got home), we realized that we had been misinformed. The leopard with the cub originally was actually the male. The “male” that fetched the impala lamb carcass was actually the female that had caught it in the morning and stashed it there. So, it was the female that the cub was so happy to see and the male who took off with the lamb carcass.

Once we had sorted out the dynamics, we were no less amazed. The female had effectively left the male “babysitting” the cub! What an amazing experience we had still had. At this point, we decided that it was time to move on as we still had some way to go to get back to camp and we wanted to give ourselves time to enjoy any sightings along the way.

Back on the main road, we came across some hyena cubs on the verge of the road. There were 4 youngsters (all fluffy) and 2 small cubs (almost black in color).

We then saw two black-backed jackals drinking at Nyamrhi waterhole.

As we continued on our way, we had a couple of sightings of kori bustard, we saw a black-bellied bustard pair and we stopped to enjoy the antics of a Temminck’s courser on the side of the road.

I then noticed a black-backed jackal under a bush and we stopped to have a look, discovering that there was a honey badger really close by. The honey badger ran off and the jackal remained under the tree, watching. A second honey badger then appeared and the two of them ran from bush to bush digging as they went. (We subsequently discovered that the jackal often follows them, because they are such good diggers, and eats anything that they may have disturbed but missed.) We sat with the badgers for some time, flagging down two vehicles to share the view with. The first one did not seem to understand that this was an amazing opportunity, but the second one did. We eventually left them to enjoy the badgers on their own.

Our last special sighting of the drive was a hyena and a cub on the side of the road.

As we reached camp, there was a queue of cars coming from the other side. We had been told that there was a sighting of mating lions south of camp, but we had no time left to make our way there. And we weren’t complaining! Not after the drive we had had.

We decided to celebrate by buying pizza and ice creams for dinner. We ate them on the veranda, chatting about the days events. While we were eating (and preparing rolls for breakfast) a resident honey badger walked past our chalet. Our neighbors chased it off, as they are known for turning over the dustbins and scavenging for food.

The neighbor from the other side popped across to borrow some Tabard (theirs had been stolen by the monkeys). She had been at a vehicle at the leopard sighting in the morning and we filled her in on the rest of what (we thought) had happened and generally chatted up a storm.

We packed a little before going to bed.

Mammal sightings: baboon, honey badger, elephant, giraffe, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, leopard, slender mongoose, vervet monkey, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, European bee-eater, orange-breasted bushshrike, black-bellied bustard, kori bustard, rattling cisticola, Temminck’s courser, African mourning dove, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, African paradise flycatcher, spotted flycatcher, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, goliath heron, grey heron, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, brown-hooded kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, rufous-naped lark, ostrich, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed oxpecker, black-backed puffback, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, magpie shrike, grey-headed sparrow, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, Cape glossy starling, greater blue-eared starling, marabou stork, lesser striped swallow, little swift, black-crowned tchagra, lappet-faced vulture, white-backed vulture, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other sightings: leopard tortoise

Sunday 2 December

We left camp just before 5h00 and made our way to the S100. There was a large troop of baboons on and alongside the road. There were lots of youngsters too and they were chasing each other and generally getting up to mischief. We watched one pull the other’s tail.

We then came across the mating lions. We had been told that they were on the H7 and had made a detour there before taking the S100. Instead, here they were on our planned route! We sat and ate breakfast while watching them sleep.

As we moved on we came across another troop of baboon. This time the youngsters were wrestling in the road.

We watched a black-breasted snake eagle dive down and land in some taller grass. It then took off and we could see that it had a snake in its talons. It landed in a tree to enjoy its meal.

At Gudzani East waterhole, there was a young male lion. It stood to the one side of the waterhole and then went and lay in the shade of a bush, hidden from view. The zebra decided to chance coming down for a drink, although they could see the lion, but they were obviously very skittish.

We made our way back to camp and finished packing up. We relaxed until check-out time and then went to reception to check out. They told us that we could fetch the key to our new chalet (a perimeter one) at 12h30. So we took another drive.

We drove to Rockvale waterhole via the H7 and back again. This time there was literally nothing to be seen, except the last of the buffalo carcass.

Back at camp, we went to the restaurant for lunch. We both ate cornflake crusted fried chicken (planning to have leftovers for lunch on one of the other days). We then fetched our key from reception for our new chalet, G172, and moved in. We spent the afternoon and early evening relaxing. We had a light supper and then made our way to reception for the night drive, even though it had rained lightly and was still threatening.

The guide turned onto the H7 and the skies opened, with rain blowing in the side of the vehicle. He offered to turn around and cancel the drive if we wanted and we all did!

Mammal sightings: baboon, bushbuck, common duiker, elephant, giraffe, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, European bee-eater, dark-capped bulbul, kori bustard, black crake, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, black-breasted snake eagle, brown snake eagle, martial eagle, tawny eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, red-billed firefinch, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, hamerkop, green-backed heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, woodlands kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, ostrich, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed oxpecker, black-backed puffback, lilac-breasted roller, magpie shrike, grey-headed sparrow, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, Cape glossy starling, saddle-billed stork, European swallow, lesser striped swallow, red-breasted swallow, black-crowned tchagra, southern black tit, lappet-faced vulture, white-backed vulture

Other sightings: water monitor, leopard tortoise

Monday 3 December

The sunrise was very pretty as we made our way out in the morning. We decided to drive down to Tshokwane for one last time. The drive was really quiet but the spotted hyena and elephant didn’t let us down. We also had a lovely sighting of a Verreaux’s eagle owl.

We also came across a troop of baboons who were sitting in the road grooming in pairs and drinking from puddles.

We were quite early so we drove further south on the main road to discover that Silolweni Dam was closed off and Leeupan had no water.

As we made our way back to Tshokwane, we came across a vehicle stopped in the road. We crept forward until we could see the martial eagle on the ground. As we watched, it flew up and there was a monitor lizard in its talons.

We also saw a Burchell’s coucal – our first for the trip!

At Tshokwane we were able to get some pies this time. We bought kudu pies for breakfast and buffalo pies to have at another meal. The kudu pies were delicious and very filling, but we had to have our “breakfast yoghurt”.

We drove back via the S37 and we saw plenty of steenbok. (In fact, steenbok had been fairly common throughout most of the trip.)

We then crossed the main road and took the S33 and S125 back to camp. En route we saw some southern ground hornbills and two white rhinos. We also saw a martial eagle sitting at the top of a tree.

Back at camp we went to reception to sort out the night drive. There was no power, but the gentleman wrote down the details and said it was sorted.

Back at the chalet we saw some kudu bulls resting in the shade and watched two African hoopoes having sand baths.

We enjoyed a lunch of leftover chicken on rolls and salad (J).

Just before 17h00 we went out for a drive along the S100. It was very quiet. Terry kept driving further in the hope that we might see something, but eventually we turned around. Not long after that, he saw a male leopard on the side of the road. It walked into the drainage line and then lay down (just before he would have been out of view!).

Further along we came across a game drive vehicle and told them about the leopard. They pointed out some lions. They were better seen from their vantage point, but we could just see one male’s head above the grass.

A herd of impala was spread out on either side of the road a little further on and their were 6 lambs, all standing together in the road.

We stopped at the water pools and saw an African fish eagle, water thick-knee, black crake and crocodile.

As we made our way back to camp we enjoyed the beautiful sunset.

Mammal sightings: baboon, common duiker, elephant, giraffe, spotted hyena, impala, black-backed jackal, kudu, lion, dwarf mongoose, white rhino tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, chinspot batis, little bee-eater, kori bustard, Burchell’s coucal, Temminck’s courser, black crake, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, black-breasted snake eagle, brown snake eagle, martial eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, amur falcon, African firefinch, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, goliath heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, woodlands kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, crowned lapwing, rufous-naped lark, ostrich, Verreaux’s eagle owl, red-billed oxpecker, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, magpie shrike, red-backed shrike, chestnut-backed sparrow-lark, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, violet-backed starling, Marico sunbird, European swallow, red-breasted swallow, little swift, water thick-knee, white-backed vulture, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other sightings: crocodile, leopard tortoise

Tuesday 4 December

We were out early and made our way to the S100 intending to head north on the S41. Once again, there was a beautiful sunrise.

We came across the mating lions. Before we saw them, however, we could smell the leftovers of a kill. It was quite rank.

We also came across a yellow-billed kite, sitting on a branch eating its breakfast.

At Shibotwana waterhole we had the most amazing sighting – 100 plus zebra with a few wildebeest. They were everywhere you looked – quite “dazzling” (as per my sister-in-law’s comment on our Whatsapp group)!

We saw a tchagra fly across the road and into a bush so we stopped to look at it, but it flew off before we could check which one it was. As we looked around though we saw two male lions on the other side of the road. One got up, walked to a bush and flopped down behind it – now invisible from the road.

As we made our way back along the S37, we watched a young female giraffe push a male giraffe from behind. It almost looked like a young bull challenging another bull, but the horns were definitely those of a female. It did it a second time.

Back at camp, filled the vehicle and then made our way to our chalet. We spent some time sitting on the veranda updating the map/book and enjoying the bird life.

For lunch, we had buffalo pie and salad. It was also delicious. Definitely worth buying pies at Tshokwane!

We went out just before 16h30 and drove north on the main road, encountering a black-backed jackal on our way.

There was a warthog on the side of the road. It was incredibly skinny and did not look at all healthy. We assumed that it must have some disease or illness and would probably end up being someone’s meal soon.

We turned around at Ngotso Dam. On the way back we found a spotted hyena walking alongside the road and a pearl-spotted owlet. Further along there was a spotted hyena walking in the road. It was walking towards another hyena and the den. Ultimately there were three hyenas and two cubs just in from the road. They were all greeting each other and the cubs kept running backwards and forwards.

Back at the chalet, we packed our clothes and had a supper of cheese and biscuits. At 7h45 we went to meet up for our night drive. Only there was a problem – our names weren’t on the list. There was a second couple (father and son) that had the same problem. Initially the guide didn’t see her way to solving this despite the fact that there was plenty of room on the vehicle. We waited and she eventually went and found someone who told her to write our names on the bottom of the list. So, eventually, we were allowed out on the night drive!

The drive started with a bang: African civet and large-spotted genet at the same time – one on either side of the road. After that it was quiet with only a few scrub hares and two spotted hyenas. We did, however, also see an owl. The guide told the others that it was a pearl-spotted owlet, but with our binoculars we could see that it was an African scops owlet.

When we got back to camp and the chalet, we were very tired and felt that it was way past our bedtime!

Mammal sightings: baboon, bushbuck, African civet, common duiker, elephant, large-spotted genet, giraffe, scrub hare, spotted hyena, impala, kudu, lion, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: bateleur, European bee-eater, kori bustard, mocking cliff chat, black crake, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, Wahlberg’s eagle, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, green-backed heron, grey heron, African hoopoe, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, hadeda ibis, woodlands kingfisher, yellow-billed kite, red-crested korhaan, crowned lapwing, rufous-naped lark, ostrich, red-billed oxpecker, African scops owlet, pearl-spotted owlet, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, common sandpiper, magpie shrike, red-backed shrike, greater painted snipe, grey-headed sparrow, house sparrow, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, wattled starlings, saddle-billed stork, European swallow, red-breasted swallow, little swift, white-backed vulture, white-headed vulture, African pied wagtail, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other sightings: crocodile, water monitor, leopard tortoise

Wednesday 5 December

This was the first morning that we did not set an alarm – but we still woke up at 4h30! Terry managed to doze some more, but I read instead. We got up and showered at 7h30, finished packing and then had breakfast at the table on our veranda. We handed our keys in at reception and were out the gate by 8h30.

Although it was still early, all the animals were in the shade of the trees as the temperature was already 33C.

We took the S90 up towards Olifants. It was really dry and mostly we saw kori bustards and steenbok.

We drove down the S41 to the waterhole and along there we found a few more animals – zebra, waterbuck and elephants. We even saw an African fish eagle flying past.

Back on the S90 we found some waterbuck lying spread out in the shade of some trees. Then we had a really strange sighting: there were 4 steenbok in close proximity on the side of the road. The one male was standing over a female that seemed to be cowering. A second male distracted him and the female ran across the road only to be chased by another female! And not more than 5-10 metres away there were another two steenbok. We have been told that they are loners (but they mate for life) and that they are also territorial, so the only explanation we can think of is that their territories met up at this point.

We passed Balule and drove onto the low water bridge. This was to become a favorite spot for us as it had water flowing quite strongly on both sides. We saw elephant, Egyptian geese, blacksmith lapwings, a white-breasted cormorant and a malachite kingfisher.

We turned onto the S92 and cut through to the main road, stopping at a viewpoint over the dam wall. There we saw African openbill, yellow-billed storks and a pod of hippos.

We drove down the main road to the Olifants River Bridge and watched an eagle land and spread its wings out as it lay on the grass. After a while, it stood up and preened itself, before repeating the move.

We continued north towards camp. It was really hot – 39C and not even midday! We took the H8 and then decided to take the loop around along the river (S44). In two shakes, the temperature was 41C and it still wasn’t midday!

Once we had completed the loop, we made our way to Olifants camp.

Mammal sightings: baboon, elephant, giraffe, hippo, impala, kudu, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: crested barbet, bateleur, kori bustard, white-breasted cormorant, Namaqua dove, knob-billed duck, African fish eagle, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, grey heron, squacco heron, African hoopoe, malachite kingfisher, yellow-billed kite, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, African openbill, black-headed oriole, ostrich, African pipit, European roller, magpie shrike, red-backed shrike, grey-headed sparrow, African spoonbill, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, wattled starling, marabou stork, yellow-billed stork, European swallow, black-crowned tchagra, lappet-faced vulture, white-backed vulture, emerald-spotted wood-dove

Olifants Camp


Wednesday 5 December

Upon arrival at Olifants camp we made our way to lunch, where we had a chicken stack (T) and a bacon, spinach & feta chicken burger (J). We asked for lots of ice in our drinks as it was sweltering!

We then checked in and made our way to Chalet 1, which was right next door to the restaurant area and had a view as spectacular as the lookout point.

We unpacked and settled in to relax. At 17h30 we moved out onto our veranda to sit and enjoy the view. It was still hot – almost airless. We saw a herd of elephants come down to the river to drink. A storm was brewing – we could see the lightning strikes all around us.

We had a light supper and prepared rolls for breakfast. A wind then started to blow up and we realized that going on the night drive would not be pleasant, so I walked to reception (close by) and Terry started clearing up things on the veranda (which was very exposed). On the way back from reception I was nearly blown off my feet, and back on the veranda the chairs were even moving around. We turned them over and anchored them under the table, before making our way inside. There we had to resolve the issue of the windows rattling as if they would break.

After about an hour or so, the wind eventually died down but the rain continued. We read for a while and then slept.

Mammal sightings: elephant, giraffe, waterbuck

Bird sightings: house sparrow, violet-backed starling, marabou stork, Marico sunbird, white-bellied sunbird

Thursday 6 December

We were out early in the morning (about 5h00). And we made our way along the H8 and S92/90 to the low water bridge. On our way we encountered a dead snake in the road.

At the low water bridge, there was a giant kingfisher sitting on the side of the bridge. The river was definitely flowing much stronger after the overnight storm and rain.

We continued along the S91 to the viewpoint over the dam wall and there we saw a pod of hippos again. This time some of them were standing up out of the water. We continued on this road spotting a number of elephants and a black-bellied bustard.

At N’wamanzi lookout there were three impala lambs in the road and we could see yellow-billed storks on the side of the river.

From there we made our way north towards Letaba. We encountered our near “daily” spotted hyena. As we drove along the main road, we noticed that there was a lot of water hyacinth choking up parts of the river, but there was still open water in the main channel.

We took a drive along the S62 to our favourite loop. There we found that the water had dried up and there was only water right near the actual dam area. We had a pleasant time looking at the different water birds and there was a spotted hyena on the other side of the dam/river. Terry then spotted a buffalo, lying very still and it was next to a massive crocodile. There were also two more crocodiles close by. We watched for a while, but we could not see any movement from the buffalo. But none of the crocodiles seemed to move either. We deduced that the buffalo was probably dead and that it was too big for the crocodiles to drag to the water, and/or it was too hot for them to do anything. We drove to Mantambeni Hide, but it was too far to get a view of the buffalo.

We stopped to look at a red-crested korhaan that was fluffed up with its crest displaying, and also to look at a wood sandpiper on the edge of a big puddle in the road. There were also three brown snake eagles flying alongside the road and the river.

We popped into Letaba and then drove the loops from the other side of the river of the river, but we couldn’t see the buffalo from there either. We did come across a water thick-knee with its chick. It was really cute and fluffy.

We returned to Olifants via the S94 and S46. Once back on the main road, we came across a herd of buffaloes.

As we got close to camp we found two yellow-billed kites sitting in a tree.

Back at camp, we walked to reception to sort out our night drive. What a difference from Satara – it was already sorted out and all they needed to do was stamp our forms with the new date. We sat on the veranda, updating the map and book, and watched an elephant drinking in the distance. We then escaped the heat by moving inside.

We “walked” to lunch – not very far! There we had hake & chips (T) and T-bone steak & salad (J).

After a relaxing afternoon in the air-conditioned chalet, we went out for a short drive just before 17h00. We drove to the low water bridge and back. We saw two hippos out of the water on our way. At the bridge we moved carefully past a terrapin sitting on the side of the bridge. But when we made our way back over the bridge, it had moved into the centre of the road and we could not safely move past (for its safety that is!). Eventually after some backward and forward movements with the car, it moved over to the side and we could get past.

After a quick detour to the dam wall viewpoint, we made our way back towards camp. We had yet another spotted hyena sighting.

We sat on our veranda and had a light supper, before getting ourselves ready for the night drive.

The drive was a quiet one. We saw a scrub hare almost immediately and then a hippo wandering between some impala. Then we saw a springhare, which was lovely. We then saw plenty of springhares for the rest of the drive. One thing we learned was that springhares are normally found near a river (they make their burrows in the sand). We did see a spotted hyena. The highlights for us were a thread snake in the road and a thick-tailed scorpion on the verge of the road.

Back at camp, we walked back to our chalet, only to find a thick-tailed scorpion on the side of the path to the chalet. We gave it as wide a berth as we could and made our way inside to sleep.

Mammal sightings: baboon, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, scrub hare, springhare, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, kudu, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, zebra

Bird Sightings: bateleur, chinspot batis, European bee-eater, dark-capped bulbul, black-bellied bustard, mocking cliff chat, Burchell’s coucal, black crake, Jacobin cuckoo, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, black-breasted snake eagle, brown snake eagle, western great egret, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, spur-winged goose, goliath heron, green-backed heron, grey heron, grey hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, hadeda ibis, African jacana, brown-hooded kingfisher, giant kingfisher, pied kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, yellow-billed kite, red-crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, African openbill, red-billed oxpecker, African pipit, black-backed puffback, lilac-breasted roller, common sandpiper, wood sandpiper, house sparrow, African spoonbill, crested spurfowl, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, red-winged starling, violet-backed starling, marabou stork, yellow-billed stork, lesser striped swallow, water thick-knee, African pied wagtail

Other sightings: crocodile, terrapin, leopard tortoise, thick-tailed scorpion, thread snake

Friday 7 December

We were out at 5h00 again and we made our way to the main road to head south to the S147. We saw a raptor fly into a small tree chased by fork-tailed drongos. We think it was a kestrel but it flew out of the tree and deeper into the bush before we could identify it.

At N’wamanza lookout we watched a hippo walking on one of the islands in the river, while we had some breakfast.

We drove very slowly along the S147. We saw a spotted hyena and two very muddy warthogs. Despite the lack of animals, we decided to circle around and do the loop again, just to enjoy its beauty.

As we made our way on the S89, we saw three southern ground hornbills. On the main road we encountered a lone wildebeest that had been digging in the mud – as evidenced by its muddy horns and face. Back on the S147 we saw 3 three-banded plovers in the road and some other birds.

We then made our way via the S89 and S90 to the low water bridge (definitely our favourite spot near Olifants).

Despite the heat, we decided to do the loop along the river on the other side of camp (S44). We were pleased we did as we had our first sighting of klipspringer. We also saw some elephants.

Back at camp we went to fill up but the power was off and the generator needed 30 minutes to power up. We heard some parrots calling overhead but we couldn’t find them. So, we took a drive through camp to see how the other chalets were laid out (it was a long time since we had last stayed there).

We ate the rest of our breakfast and then I sorted out some things while Terry went to fill up. Fortunately, the power had come back on so we could escape the heat by moving into our air-conditioned room.

Lunch was a bacon, spinach & feta chicken burger (T) and a Cajun chicken salad (J). We went to the shop and then wandered down to the lookout area, but decided that our view was as good. So we made our way back to the chalet. There we did some packing in preparation for our departure the next day.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and then did some more packing and preparation for the next day. We had planned to sit on the veranda but it was so hot that we moved back indoors. We moved onto the veranda again just before 18h00 and enjoyed the sunset. It was still hot and airless though. The house sparrows and red-winged starlings were also suffering from the heat. We watched a hippo out of the water in the distance.

Mammal sightings: baboon, elephant, giraffe, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, klipspringer, kudu, vervet monkey, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, bateleur, dark-capped bulbul, white-breasted cormorant, black crake, Cape turtle dove, laughing dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, green-backed heron, grey hornbill, red-billed hornbill, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, half-collared kingfisher, pied kingfisher, woodlands kingfisher, blacksmith lapwing, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed oxpecker, three-banded plover, red-billed quelea, white-browed scrub robin, wood sandpiper, grey-headed sparrow, house sparrow, Natal spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, red-winged starling, violet-backed starling, wattled starling, saddle-billed stork, yellow-billed stork, lesser striped swallow, African swamphen, little swift, lappet-faced vulture, African pied wagtail, blue waxbill

Other sightings: crocodile, water monitor, giant snail, terrapin, leopard tortoise

Saturday 8 December

We were up early and we finished the last minute packing, before leaving camp just on 5h00. We had decided to drive north to the Phalaborwa Gate, making our way home via the N1.

Not far out of camp we came across some hyena on a buffalo carcass. Some ran off, but one stayed and tried to break off pieces from the carcass. Two walked up the road away from us. A second hyena then came back and the one that had remained grabbed the piece it had broken off and moved away. The third hyena also returned and the two hyenas fed on the carcass together. One then picked up a piece of the carcass and moved off, leaving the last one with the carcass.

We decided to continue on our way as we still had the long drive home.

Just after we turned onto the H9 at Letaba, we found three side-striped jackal pups on the side of the road at a culvert. They were really cute and we spent some time watching them as they waited for their parents to return (we think).

We saw three buffalo bulls, and two Wahlberg’s eagles in a tree, as we drove further.

We made a detour to Sable Dam and discovered that it had shrunk considerably. All we saw was a grey heron and some red-billed buffalo-weavers. There were no elephants and almost not enough water for them to swim in had they been there!

And then we were at the Gate and our trip to Kruger was over!

Mammal sightings: buffalo, hippo, spotted hyena, impala, side-striped jackal, kudu, tree squirrel, steenbok, waterbuck, zebra

Bird sightings: arrow-marked babbler, red-billed buffalo-weaver, black-bellied bustard, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, African fish eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, grey heron, African hoopoe, grey hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, red-crested korhaan, black-headed oriole, white-browed scrub robin, lilac-breasted roller, southern white-crowned shrike, African spoonbill, crested spurfowl, Swainson’s spurfowl, violet-backed starling, little swift

Other sightings: leopard tortoise

We left the gate just after 7h40 and after an uneventful trip we were home just after 13h00.

Mammal sightings: baboon, slender mongoose, warthog

Bird sightings: pied crow, western cattle egret, helmeted guineafowl, yellow-billed kite, common myna, white-necked raven, lilac-breasted roller


Summary

Overall, we had a wonderful trip to Kruger. At the beginning we had anticipated calling &Beyond to see whether we could get into Ngala for some nights, but for a number of reasons we didn’t do this: it was really hot, it was really dry, and we had such wonderful sightings that we didn’t think we could have any better luck there!

The downside of the time we spent in Kruger was the lack of water. It was incredibly dry and the number of dry waterholes, pans, dams and rivers we saw was frightening. The one good thing, however, was that the animals seemed to be coping. Except for the one warthog, all the animals looked well fed and in good health. The impala had compensated for the lack of rain by not dropping the lambs. We did see a number of small lambs as the days progressed, but they had definitely not yet started to drop en masse.

Shortly after we left, we saw on Facebook that there had been good rains in Satara and hopefully that would have helped in the water department.

In contrast, we were spoiled with some wonderful sightings during our stay. We have only seen jackal pups once before and that was in the distance as they played with their parents at night (on a night drive in Addo). To see both black-backed jackal pups and side-striped jackal pups (the latter in full daylight) was amazing.

Rockvale waterhole gave us some amazing views of cheetah, hyena and lions. And the S147 was an amazing drive – not just because of our encounter with three leopards together.

This was our last trip for 2018, but what a trip! In total, we saw 145 species of birds, 35 mammals and 8 other (see lists below).


Total Trip Bird List

1. Arrow-marked babbler

2. Acacia pied barbet

3. Crested barbet

4. Bateleur

5. Chinspot batis

6. European bee-eater

7. Little bee-eater

8. Brubru

9. Red-billed buffalo-weaver

10. Dark-capped bulbul

11. Orange-breasted bushshrike

12. Black-bellied bustard

13. Kori bustard

14. Mocking cliff chat

15. Rattling cisticola

16. Burchell’s coucal

17. Temminck’s courser

18. White-breasted cormorant

19. Black crake

20. Long-billed crombec

21. Diederik cuckoo

22. Jacobin cuckoo

23. Levaillant’s cuckoo

24. Black crake

25. African mourning dove

26. Cape turtle dove

27. Laughing dove

28. Namaqua dove

29. Fork-tailed drongo

30. Knob-billed duck

31. African fish eagle

32. Black-breasted snake eagle

33. Brown snake eagle

34. Martial eagle

35. Steppe eagle

36. Tawny eagle

37. Wahlberg’s eagle

38. Western cattle egret

39. Western great egret

40. Amur falcon

41. African firefinch

42. Red-billed firefinch

43. African paradise flycatcher

44. Spotted flycatcher

45. Grey go-away-bird

46. Egyptian goose

47. Spur-winged goose

48. Helmeted guineafowl

49. Hamerkop

50. White-crested helmet-shrike

51. Black heron

52. Goliath heron

53. Green-backed heron

54. Grey heron

55. Squacco heron

56. African hoopoe

57. Grey hornbill

58. Red-billed hornbill

59. Southern ground hornbill

60. Yellow-billed hornbill

61. Hadeda ibis

62. African jacana

63. Brown-hooded kingfisher

64. Giant kingfisher

65. Half-collared kingfisher

66. Malachite kingfisher

67. Pied kingfisher

68. Woodlands kingfisher

69. Black-shouldered kite

70. Yellow-billed kite

71. Red-crested korhaan

72. Blacksmith lapwing

73. Crowned lapwing

74. Senegal lapwing

75. Red-capped lark

76. Rufous-naped lark

77. Speckled mousebird

78. Common myna

79. African openbill

80. Black-headed oriole

81. Ostrich

82. Verreaux’s eagle owl

83. African scops owlet

84. Pearl-spotted owlet

85. Red-billed oxpecker

86. Yellow-billed oxpecker

87. Brown-headed parrot

88. African green pigeon

89. African pipit

90. Three-banded plover

91. Black-backed puffback

92. Green-winged pytilia

93. Red-billed quelea

94. White-browed scrub robin

95. European roller

96. Lilac-breasted roller

97. Purple roller

98. Common sandpiper

99. Wood sandpiper

100. Common scimitarbill

101. Secretarybird

102. Magpie shrike

103. Red-backed shrike

104. Southern white-crowned shrike

105. Greater painted snipe

106. Grey-headed sparrow

107. House sparrow

108. Chestnut-backed sparrow-lark

109. African spoonbill

110. Crested spurfowl

111. Natal spurfowl

112. Swainson’s spurfowl

113. Burchell’s starling

114. Cape glossy starling

115. Greater blue-eared starling

116. Pied starling

117. Red-winged starling

118. Violet-backed starling

119. Wattled starling

120. Black-winged stilt

121. Marabou stork

122. Saddle-billed stork

123. Woolly-necked stork

124. Yellow-billed stork

125. Marico sunbird

126. White-bellied sunbird

127. European swallow

128. Lesser striped swallow

129. Red-breasted swallow

130. African swamphen

131. Little swift

132. Black-crowned tchagra

133. Brown-crowned tchagra

134. Water thick-knee

135. Kurrichane thrush

136. Southern black tit

137. Hooded vulture

138. Lappet-faced vulture

139. White-backed vulture

140. White-headed vulture

141. African pied wagtail

142. Blue waxbill

143. Southern masked weaver

144. Emerald-spotted wood-dove

145. Green wood-hoopoe


Total Trip Mammal List 

1. Baboon

2. Honey badger

3. Buffalo

4. Lesser bush baby

5. Bushbuck

6. Cheetah

7. African civet

8. Common duiker

9. Elephant

10. Large-spotted genet

11. Giraffe

12. Scrub hare

13. Spring hare

14. Hippo

15. Spotted hyena

16. Impala

17. Black-backed jackal

18. Side-striped jackal

19. Klipspringer

20. Kudu

21. Leopard

22. Lion

23. Dwarf mongoose

24. Slender mongoose

25. Vervet monkey

26. Nyala

27. White rhino

28. Tree squirrel

29. Steenbok

30. Warthog

31. Waterbuck

32. Wild dog

33. African wildcat

34. Wildebeest

35. Zebra


Total Trip Other List

1. Flap-necked chameleon

2. Crocodile

3. Water monitor

4. Thick-tailed scorpion

5. Giant snail

6. Thread snake

7. Terrapin

8. Leopard tortoise