Highlights of Mpumalanga Trip

June 2018

After a couple of weeks back home, we decided that it was time to go somewhere warmer! We haven’t been to Mpumalanga in a long time (last time was end of 2009) and it met our criterion of “warmer”. Neil accompanied us as we hired out a 6-bed cottage in Hazey River Reserve on Da Gama dam, near Hulala Lakeside Lodge.

15 June

We left home after traffic and made our way via Schoemanskloof towards White River, bypassing Nelspruit. We stopped at the Baghdad Centre, opposite Casterbridge, and had lunch at the Baghdad Café. Terry and I decided to share some snail spring rolls (we had eaten them when last in the area and they were really good). He then had a Thai fillet curry, Neil ate a salmon steak and I had rolled smoked pork hock. We all really enjoyed our meals.

From there we made our way to Hulala to check in and get the key for Sycamore Fig Cottage (unit L4).

At the cottage we unpacked and settled in. Our room was lovely and sunny so we decided to enjoy it by lying on the bed reading! Later on we sat on the veranda chatting, before having an early supper and making our way to bed.

16 & 17 June

Saturday (16th) was a public holiday and Sunday Father’s Day, so we decided that the weekend would be a time to run errands, relax and read, in order to avoid the crowds.

On Saturday morning we went shopping. First we stopped at Mario’s Butchery in White River and filled up at the garage right there. We then went to the Eskort butchery just outside Nelspruit, Halls and Food Lover’s Market.

Both days we had a braai for lunch. Saturday was boerewors and spare ribs (from Eskort butchery and really divine!) and fillet steak for Neil. Sunday was pork belly for us and chicken fillets for Neil.

Saturday was such a lovely day that we decided to go for a walk on the reserve. Sunday on the other hand was much cooler, and grey and wet when we got up in the morning, having rained in the night as predicted. We expected no less since it was us on holiday!

Otherwise we rested, read and the guys watched the rugby.

18 June

We were up early (still dark) and on our way to Phabeni Gate, Kruger National Park. By the time we had queued and paid, we drove through the gate at 6h30. The veld to the right of the road had been burnt, recently as some of it was still smoldering and smoking.

We turned onto the S3 and came across a herd of buffalo. Two the buffalos locked horns and started jousting with each other.

We made our way to Transport Dam to look for the juvenile Egyptian vulture that had been hanging around (last reported sighting was the Saturday before), but unfortunately we did not see it. It was still a pleasant drive and the dam was lovely to view, with hippos, crocodiles, a fish eagle and other birds. As we turned from the dam road back on the main road, we saw a pair of blue waxbills sitting in a tree. One was a perfect miniature of the other and they were cuddled in close, so it was probably a mom and fledgling.

We drove to Lake Panic hide. Terry and I cannot believe that we have never been there before. Neil knows it well. It is really pretty and we saw a fish eagle dive to catch a fish, flying off with its talons caught in a lily pad! Not long after it flew away and we heard some comments about it being too embarrassed to stay around. We also saw a brown-hooded kingfisher, crocodile, African jacana, pied wagtail, black crake, hippos and a water monitor. Terry and Neil could have had a serious case of lens envy – there were some really big lenses in use!

We stopped for a quick comfort break at Skukuza and then made our way towards the low water bridges. We first thought that we could see vultures circling overhead, but when we looked closer we realized that it was more than 20 marabou storks.

The first bridge was very quiet. But we drove across the second one 3 times, enjoying the viewing. At the first stretch of water, there was a large crocodile on the bank and we could see a grey heron, two woolly-necked storks, a western great egret and a squacco heron in the trees between the crocodile and our vehicle. Further across we saw a buffalo. We also saw a green-backed heron and wire-tailed swallows. We also heard two fish eagles calling. As we drove back across, we saw them in a tree in the middle of the riverbed. A pied kingfisher caught a small fish and sat on the side of the bridge while eating it.

We drove back to Skukuza and had lunch at the Cattle Baron (same restaurant that is at Addo main camp). Terry had chicken bacamberry, Neil hake and calamari, and I had sirloin Nevada. It was all lovely. We then went to the shop, where Terry and I had an ice cream cone for dessert.

From Skukuza we took a slow drive back to Phabeni Gate. We were very lucky to see white rhino. Our first sighting was of a single rhino and then we saw a group of three rhinos not long after. This is the first time we have seen rhino in the Kruger since we have been travelling on our “retirement”. Unfortunately we also had a third sighting, but this one was a carcass. It was lying on the slope of a hill with its legs up in the air. We could not see its head so don’t know for sure that it was poached, but we suspect that may have been the case.

At Nyamundwa dam we saw a pod of hippo lying on the bank. Some youngsters were standing just in the water. There were also two saddle-billed storks and we watched one catch a fish!

From Phabeni Gate we made our way back to the cottage where we settled down on the veranda, enjoying the last of the day’s sun.

19 June

We had a slightly later start than the previous day, but not too much as Terry was going out on a microlight flight with Wally (same guy he went out with previously) at 08h00.

Terry had opted for the four dam option so his flight was 45 minutes long. They flew south from Hazyview over the R40 and over Da Gama dam. Terry could see both Hazey River estate and Hulala Lakeside Lodge. They then flew over Klipkopje dam and on to Pine Lake and White River Country Estate (as well as other adjacent estates). They continued west to Witklip dam, turning north east into Sabie River valley and east back to Hazyview.

Neil and I had coffee with Daveen (Wally’s wife) while Terry was on his flight. Then some tour operators arrived – Dean and his daughter, from Johannesburg – and we all chatted up a storm, even after Terry and Wally landed.

We then drove on to the Graskop Gorge Lift (across the gorge from the big swing). We went down the lift, which takes you down into the gorge, and then walked around the 600m boardwalk. We walked slowly, savoring the views, vegetation and bird life. It was really beautiful in the gorge forest. We saw greater double-collared sunbird, Cape white-eye, grey cuckoo-shrike, Knysna turaco, pale flycatcher and mountain wagtail. We also spent some time sitting on a bench just enjoying the Motitsi falls.

We drove to the Pinnacle and looked over from the main viewpoint. We walked down to the waterfall and then walked back up to the top viewpoint. It was lovely, if just a little hazy. And the Pinnacle itself had beautiful aloes flowering on top of it and in crevices down the side.

We had lunch at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop. Terry had a chicken liver pancake, Neil a savory mince pancake and I had a chili con carne pancake. We then did a little shopping at Shautany Chocolates and Biltongland.

We drove back to the cottage via Sabie and narrowly avoided a puffadder in the road.

Once back at the cottage, we sat on the veranda enjoying the last of the sun (putting on jackets as it got cooler). A bushbuck ram walked down the side of the house, enjoying some of the garden plants.

20 June

We treated ourselves to a slightly later start, only leaving home at 08h30! Terry and I then went to the Lowveld Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit. Neil opted to have some “me time” at the cottage.

We went in at Entrance 1 and walked past the Cascades waterfall. We walked over the suspension bridge and onto the aerial boardwalk into the African rain forest. It was beautiful, but more foreign in many ways than the gorge forest of the previous day. It was also really quiet bird-wise.

We walked through the SA forest section (still very quiet) and then took the circular route past the clivias and the cycads. We stopped at a play area with tables and sat at a table doing some bird watching. There were plenty of different sunbirds flitting around from tree to tree and plant to plant.

We then continued walking until we could see the Nels river falls. From there we made our way back on the other side of the circular route, through part of the forest boardwalk, over the suspension bridge and to the exit.

We drove to Halls to have lunch at Sophie’s Bistro. It had a really good write up in one of the magazines, but we were really disappointed. We both had calamari and prawns. The food wasn’t horrific, but we have certainly had better.

We made our way back to the cottage via the Superspar at The Grove shopping centre and the Sasol garage.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing.

21 June

We had an even better lie in and then had breakfast on the veranda.

We drove to God’s Window but it looked too hazy and cloudy, so instead of entering and paying, we drove on to Wonder view. There we could see the clouds hanging over the view, so we knew that we had made the right decision.

We carried on to Bourke’s Luck Potholes and walked along all the pathways and bridges.

From there we went to view the Blyde river canyon. First we stopped at the Lowveld viewpoint. It was hazy, but still beautiful. A little further on we stopped at the Three Rondawels viewpoint. It is really beautiful and we could see some boats on the dam. It is something that we would like to do (take a boat trip) next time we are in the area.

We drove back towards Graskop stopping at both the Berlin and Lisbon falls.

When in Graskop we decided to go to Harrie’s Pancakes again for lunch. This time Terry and I both had sticky pork pancakes and Neil had a chili con carne pancake. We did some quick shopping again and then made our way to Hazyview to get some things at the Pick n Pay.

We only got back to the cottage after 16h00 so we spent the rest of the day relaxing, tired after our long day. (In fact, Val commented on Whatsapp that we need to come home to have a break!)

22 June

We drove out on the Kiepersol road towards Sabie. Our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls. It is a long, relatively steep walk, but at least it was drier than the last time we went there (and we are a lot fitter!).

We then stopped at Horseshoe Falls. We haven’t been there in a very long time. When we parked, a border collie rushed across from one of the houses to greet us. She was really sweet. She sat on your foot and leaned into your leg, lifting her head to be scratched. The owner called her and the second dog that came after and they both rushed back home.

We walked through to the falls, feeling a little disappointed at how low they were. Then Terry discovered another pathway up and we found the real falls! You can tell that we hadn’t been there in a very long time.

Our last stop was Lonecreek falls. The easiest walk (pathways, bridges and some steps – up and down) but by far the biggest falls in terms of water volume. Terry spent some time playing with some filters while taking photographs, while Neil and I just enjoyed the scenery.

We then took the road from Sabie to Nelspruit, calling in at Eskort Butchery to buy some more ribs and things to take home.

We stopped at Baghdad Centre again for lunch, but this time we went to Picasso Tacqueria – a Mexican restaurant. It was lovely. We shared some crispy bacon jalapeño poppers. Then Terry had a pulled pork quesadilla, Neil had a chili con carne burrito and I had a beef fillet sizzling fajita. All of the food was delicious.

We made our way back to the cottage where we relaxed and read. Neil and Terry took a walk to the hotel and back. Unfortunately this was the last day of “holiday” so some of the evening was spent packing in preparation for the next day (as checkout was before 9am the next morning).

23 June

We had a relaxed breakfast on the veranda, before driving up to the hotel to hand back the key. We drove to Halls in Nelspruit so that we could buy some avocados and bananas to take home.

We were home before 13h00 after an uneventful trip.

Mammal sightings:

1. Baboon (K)

2. Buffalo (K)

3. Bushbuck

4. Common Duiker (K)

5. Elephant (K)

6. Giraffe (K)

7. Hippos (K)

8. Impala (K)

9. Kudu (K)

10. Dwarf mongoose (K)

11. Vervet monkey

12. Nyala (K)

13. Tree squirrel (K)

14. Steenbok (K)

15. Warthog (K)

16. Wildebeest (K)

17. Zebra (K)

Bird sightings:

1. Bar-throated apalis

2. Yellow-breasted apalis

3. Arrow-marked babbler (K)

4. Black-collared barbet (K)

5. Crested barbet (K)

6. Bateleur (K)

7. White-fronted bee-eater

8. Dark-capped bulbul

9. Lizard buzzard (K)

10. Yellow-fronted canary

11. Familiar chat

12. Mocking cliff chat

13. Black crake (K)

14. Pied crow (K)

15. Grey cuckoo-shrike

16. Cape turtle dove (K)

17. Fork-tailed drongo

18. African fish eagle

19. Verreaux’s eagle

20. Western great egret (K)

21. Common fiscal

22. Ashy flycatcher

23. Pale flycatcher

24. Grey go-away-bird (K)

25. Egyptian goose

26. Dark chanting goshawk (K)

27. Sombre greenbul

28. Helmeted guineafowl

29. Hamerkop (K)

30. Black-headed heron

31. Green-backed heron (K)

32. Grey heron (K)

33. Squacco heron (K)

34. Grey hornbill (K)

35. Red-billed hornbill (K)

36. Yellow-billed hornbill (K)

37. Hadeda ibis (K)

38. African jacana (K)

39. Brown-hooded kingfisher (K)

40. Pied kingfisher (K)

41. Black-shouldered kite

42. Black-winged lapwing (K)

43. Blacksmith lapwing (K)

44. Rock martin

45. Neddicky

46. Black-headed oriole

47. Red-billed oxpecker (K)

48. Three-banded plover (K)

49. Drakensberg prinia

50. Tawny-flanked prinia (K)

51. Black-backed puffback

52. White-necked raven

53. Lilac-breasted roller (K)

54. Purple roller (K)

55. Magpie shrike (K)

56. Southern white-crowned shrike (K)

57. Brown snake-eagle

58. Swainson’s spurfowl (K)

59. Burchell’s starling (K)

60. Cape glossy starling (K)

61. Greater blue-eared starling (K)

62. Red-winged starling

63. African stonechat

64. Marabou stork (K)

65. Saddle-billed stork (K)

66. Woolly-necked stork (K)

67. Amethyst sunbird

68. Collared sunbird

69. Greater double-collared sunbird

70. White-bellied sunbird

71. Wire-tailed swallow (K)

72. Black-crowned tchagra (K)

73. Water thick-knee (K)

74. Groundscraper thrush (K)

75. Kurrichane thrush

76. Yellow-rumped tinker-barbet

77. Southern black tit (K)

78. Knysna turaco

79. Purple-crested turaco

80. White-backed vulture (K)

81. Mountain wagtail

82. Pied wagtail (K)

83. Blue waxbill (K)

84. Cape white-eye

85. Emerald-spotted wood-dove

Other sightings:

1. Puff adder

2. Crocodile (K)

3. Water monitor (K)

4. Terrapin (K)

(K) = Only seen in Kruger Park