Flew into JNB through Virgin Atlantic and reached in the morning.
Got a Hyundai H1 through Avis looks spacious. I only wish the windows rolled down all the way rather than the half slide out in Row 2 and cannot open 3rd row.
Had pre-ordered a local SIM and picked it up at the airport store on arrival.
Picked up others landing at Lanseria and headed for Nelspruit. Day drive is so much better.
Stayed for the night at Amigos B&B in Nelspruit. Comfortable No frills place with an attentive staff. Usual continental breakfast and off we go in the morning.
Stop at Malelane SPAR which is fantastic and has everything you need.
Entered park at 9 AM had no line at all at Malelane gate. Had wild card.
Pretoriuskop – FF6D – Family Cottage
Well attended cottages by the fence. A Well looked after camp with all trees with identification. Friendliest guinea fowls. All cottage amenities up to date and available. Game was spotty. But others in the area saw cheetah and lions, but we did not.
Talamati – GC6 – Guest Cottage
Good camp, but extremely difficult to get to. S36 and S140,145 are certified spine rattlers. Game around the area is not very spectacular either. Cottages themselves are pretty good. They have a known baboon problem. The waterhole spotlight was not working the first night. But we spied on a elepant family who came for a drink. Great nightsky view.
Letaba – FQ6 – Guest Cottage
This was the best accommodation. Too expansive. My 8 year old wanted to buy that unit. Overlooking the river. The restaurant is doing ok but not the crowds that I had seen earlier. Elephant area. Unfortunately no cats.
Satara – 2 nights – GC6B – Guest Cottage
Good unit by design and layout but so many maintenance issues. Both washrooms had water issues in toilet. One of the showers was so set that if you stay too long in it, it will drill holes through you. Utensils missing a lot. And the reception staff were not very friendly.
Cat sightings are over the roof in the area. We spotted all 4 – lions, cheetah, leopard, wild cat – + hyena , jackal
Biyamiti – 1 night – NGC5V – Guest cottage
Being a bushveld camp, it was a workable unit but again wish it had better design. Staff were very helpful in getting us the extra mattress that we needed. Make sure you have extra time to reach the camp. It is a slow ride. Sightings wise, but eventually we saw a 12 lion pride. Others saw wild dogs and leopard in the area.
Lower Sabie – 1 night – FU4V – Family Cottage
Most efficient layout with river view. I wish I had two nights here but could not get that booking 11 months in advance. Restaurant is the only Mugg and Bean in the park currently and is busy. Unfortunately, there was much less game by the river. Spotted a barn owl in the restaurant ceiling.
Exited through paul kruger and drove to the panoramic route. Reached Graskop in less than two hours.
Afsaal picnic spot – Stopped for late lunch on the first day in the park after a s110-120-renosterpan loop. What an experience. While we were eating an elephant showed up just beyond the eating area and kept going through the bushes for the next one hour. At one point we were less than 20 ft and he was very comfortable.
Lake Panic – we were there for a good hour and half with the birds fish eagles, pied king fisher and doves putting on a show. And then the first kill . A darter spears a fish right in front of us and does the whole dance to get it unspeared and swallow it. Stepping out of the hide saw a Nyala as well
Orpen 9 – Driving from Talamati on a foggy morning, saw 9 lions of a young pride with 3 growing males amble on to H7 and walk towards Tamboti access road. The most amazing time ever, although their attempt to hunt a warthog did not go too far.
H4-1 – Lone Lioness – driving from Skukuza, came up on a water hole with lots of elephants just before Tshokwane turnoff, while watching I spot a lone lioness that walked into the bush behind the elephants. Seeing no other lions, we wait on the other side of the bush and she walks out – great views – she keeps going determinedly down the river. We decided to turn around at the bridge and then she crosses the road in front. An old lady decides to follow the lion reversing. I was very sure that lion is going to be run over by that vehicle.. First lion sighting of the trip.
H1-1 – What a mid morning drive with Hyena family, wild dogs, elephants, buffalo herd, kudu impala, Leopard tortoise, followed by a leopard on H3.
H1-3 elephant carcass – Two elephants got into a fight and one was critically injured and was put down by the rangers, ½ mile south of H6 intersection , 2 km south of satara. We saw jackal, hyena and then a hyena had been killed by the road side and watched as about a year old 4 cubs walked in and continue to demonstrate predator behavior on the dead hyena. Vultures and hyenas were on this for the next 4-5 days at least.
H6 – Cheetah family – Cheetah mom and 5 cubs continue to play around about 100m from the road for an hour and a half. The most glorious time.
Birds Birds Birds – Kori Bustard, Ostriches, fish eagle, Saddle bill storks, Martial eagles, tawny eagles, bateleurs, hawks, queleas, Vereaux eagle owl, the satara scops owl and the lower sabie barn owl – was one good bird sighting after another. The best was the malachite kingfisher at transport dam and the giant king fisher at Gudzani dam. Many Martial eagles, one right over the road on H7 which tried to hunt birds. Most astonishing was the fish eagles on H4-1 which get dead twigs from trees much the same way they catch fish. Multiple sightings of southern ground hornbill as well.
The major story of Kruger is Lions galore. Many super prides. On the same day we saw a pride of 12 near gardenia hide and then a pride of 18 just north of lower sabie. There was talk of another pride of 14 near Nkuhlu picnic spot as well. Coming from the drought of last year, lions are really the story.
Satara to Orpen – stay around there for cats. It was raining Lions, leopards and cheetahs.
Letaba and around for elephants. Saw several large bulls including one of emerging tuskers in the water holes in the area. Amazing experience to see them lift their head and tusks into the water dams.
Babies everywhere – baby zebras, baby elephants, baby giraffes, all kinds of babies everywhere.. baby elephants chasing impalas around; baby giraffes chasing butterflies all these really happen.
Masorini Loop – Came across several lion and cub footprints on Masorini loop and then a friendly spotter tells us he spotted a pangolin which was on the road and walked into the bush and he was certain it was still there. But we had to pee !!! so we go to masorini picnic spot and decide to come back. Till then the location was one vehicle after another. So we decide to position ourselves, cut the engine and decide to wait it out. 5 minutes later out comes the pangolin. OMG !! we were over the moon.
Slow day out of biyamiti so we loop around to S114 and south to S119 by gardenia hide and a gentleman stops us and tells us to go 200 yards down to see the lions. We catch up with them and find 3 lionesses and 9 cubs. One of the lionesses starts looking up and walk farther and out pops to glorious male lions. Much posturing, growling and roaring and they settle down to some R&R.
Saw a lot of Rhinos which is a good thing.
Many thanks to the gentleman who parked his truck across the Satara Olifants road.. we didn’t get it until we come closer and find that he was letting a chameleon cross the road… Made the day for my 8 year old.
Driving towards Satara from Talamati we pass by a cluster of trees on a rather low sighting morning and my 8 year old goes OWL OWL.. we dismiss him as no one else saw it etc. but he insists he did see it and make us reverse nearly 50 meters to a glorious Vereaux eagle owl.. Made my day. While leaving the park, past the gates and the by river we see the last cluster of impalas and kudus and my son waved them good bye and was visibly sad. There.. Right there.. I realized I had successfully planted the seed.
Tar roads produced more sightings than gravel roads. All but one of our lion sightings were on tar roads.
Get around and look. No planning can help you find the animals as they are always in motion. All you can do is drive around and ask the people. Most of our lion sightings came from talking to people. I had planned daily routes but ultimately, I was not covering even 40% of it.
Head for satara for cat sightings. Evening drive out of satara provided a 1 hour walk with a leopard plus a lion pride.
Drive slow. and keep enough time to get back to camp, so you can avoid speeding, especially true for bushveld camps
Lions – 52, leopards – 3, Cheetah – 6, Hyena – 15, Jackal – 8, African wild cat – 1, b
Elephant, Zebra, wildebeest waterbuck, giraffe, impala, buffalo – too many to count.
Other antelopes – steenbok, tsetsebe, reedbuck
Dwarf and slender mongoose,
Eagles – Martial eagle, fish eagle, tawny, bateleur – several
Hornbills – ground hornbill, grey hornbill, yellow and red billed
Hoopoe and wood hoopoe, giant, pied, malachite king fisher.
Vereaux, scoops and barn owls.
Kori bustard, secretary bird, the queleas were spectacular at sunsets;
Also, the suicidal francolins and quails that run in front of the vehicle
i am missing a lot more here…
Many thanks to everyone who contributed with the planning. It was an amazing trip.