Weather wise this was the most interesting trip so far. This started off in Amsterdam where their plane was delayed for over an hour while the flight crew defrosted the ice from the wings after having just left a chilly England with temperatures plummeting to around -6°C. OR Tambo’s temperature at 23h00 was easily hovering around the mid 20’s. Luckily the next day was quite ‘mild’ and our visit to the Pretoria Zoological Gardens was, for our recently frozen English guests, rather pleasant.
Ann Williams and Anna Humberstone had brought over a very small group of eight girls with them on their annual South African trip. We followed the ‘normal’ tried and tested trip visiting the Pretoria Zoo, Moholoholo and associated rehabilitation Centre’s, the Panoramic Route, before ending off in the Kruger National Park.
The main reason that Kirklees visits the Pretoria Zoo is so that the students can compare South African Zoos with their English Zoos. Also, something that I believe does not happen very easily at home, is the behind the scenes visits such as the aquarium and the various laboratories where all sorts of scientific research is carried out such as DNA, pathology, the animal kitchen and the numerous other ‘ology’s’ where people in white lab coats peer wisely into microscopes. We were also very privileged to have our own Gorilla talk by the extremely passionate and enthusiastic keeper.
The following day we headed off to Moholoholo and our next interesting weather experience. After leaving Dullstroom we could see that the weather was threatening by blinding flashes of lightening painting the sky. This the students found quite exciting as lightening isn’t very common at home. This excitement quickly turned to apprehension and finally to good old fashioned fear as we were caught in one of the worst hail storms that I have ever experienced. I parked as best as I could under a tree, and as far as possible off the road, gob smacked as cars continued sweeping past us. Initially I wasn’t too concerned about the hail until golf-ball sized pummeled the Quantum and I had visions of the windscreen or one of the side window shattering under the relentless pounding. Later Ann confessed that she looked at me and as I didn’t appear to be concerned she wouldn’t concern herself either; this was until a huge stone hit my driver’s window and I jumped. Now, Ann resolved, was time to start panicking! Fortunately the hail quickly passed and we were able to continue to Origstad passing two of the vehicles that had sped past us languishing in a ditch after their wheels lost their battle with the road and the hail forcing them off the road.
Our following four nights we spent at Mt View visiting the various places of interest and rehabilitation centers. Sunday morning we started the day off with an early morning bush-walk guided by Daniel from Mt View, before heading to Khamai Reptile Centre. The morning at Khamai started with a very informative lecture and presentation followed by the opportunity to hold a large snake, a Burmese Python this time, then some free-time to wonder around the enclosures looking at the various snakes, lizards, chameleons, spiders’ crocodiles etc. Following this the students feed the Plated Lizards and a friendly Chameleon. Some of the more adventurous students even feed him meal worms from their mouths.
The dangerous snake handling presentation follows this where the students are ‘taught’ how to handle them. Generally Khamai is well-received and the student always gain a lot of knowledge from their visit.
A highlight of every trip is the visit to Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center, mainly because the students are spoiled and get many behind the scenes sightings and get to stroke or hold some animal or other. This visit was no exception and the students bottle fed a baby impala and a baby sable, stroked Bullet the ambassador Cheetah and met a few of the ‘tame’ honey badgers. Added to the ‘fun’ component they gain a lot of insight into some of the problems associated with animal rehabilitation and what to do with the animals after rehabilitation – how difficult it is to find reserves to release them onto.
The visit to the center is a full day affair ending with the feeding of the wild vultures.
Day 3 we spent doing the Panoramic Route starting off at Graskop for a bit of shopping and a visit to Harries Pancakes for a coffee refuel. Fortunately the weather had cleared and the mist that had been hanging around the mountain peaks had burned off so the trek up to God’s Window was worthwhile. It was then off to Lisbon Falls followed by lunch at Burkes Luck Potholes. Fortunately the baboons were nowhere to be seen, which was a great relief for me, as they have honed their pinching skills and what they want they get! From here we ended the trip at the Three Rondavels before heading back to Mt View.
We bid Mt View farewell at 5h15, keen to get into the Kruger National Park to see some of the wild animals that we had seen in various ‘cages’ up to this point. Day 1 is always a long and tiring day as we travel for about 10 hours. Granted it is an extended game drive but tiring none the less; traveling from Orpen Gate to Pretoriuskop in the south. Ann had set us a target of 120+ bird species to be recorded which would beat last year’s total. This is not a huge number – especially during February when all the migrants are still present, but quite a challenge when surrounded by a group of people who aren’t interested in birds, so ‘birding’ definitely takes the back-seat. Having said that we did manage 127 species making next year’s trip even more of a challenge. Sadly the only bird on Ann’s wish list, a Secretary Bird, did not show itself.
We decided that we’d take the Voortrekker Road, have lunch at Afsaal, then return via the tar road. A very good decision as we found a leopard relaxing in a Marula tree adjacent to the road.
Pretoriuskop is one of the better areas in the Kruger to see rhino – but not this trip. We searched and searched and it was only on the second day that we managed to get a glimpse of two grey lumps as they lay partially concealed by the long grass. Not a good sighting but rhino finally ticked off the list. We spent two nights at Pretoriuskop before heading to Skukuza for the last three.
A lot of people are anti Skukuza as it is the largest camp in the Kruger. I personally like it as it has plenty of roads and being located on the river, is very good for game viewing.
We started our stay at Skukuza with a somewhat disappointing evening game drive with the KNP staff followed by a fantastic dinner at the newly opened Cattle Baron’s Restaurant.
On the second morning Ann and three of the students did the Kruger’s early morning walk while I took the remaining student on a game drive. “Do not find wild dog and if you do I don’t want to hear about them or see any pictures” Ann told me in no uncertain terms. Of course 11 wild dogs were just about the first animals that we came across lying slap bang in the middle of the road having just killed an impala! Fortunately, having full bellies, the dogs were quite happy to stay where they were so on the drive after breakfast we were able to locate them and show Ann and the other 3 students. What a relief as wild dog were the animals that Ann had on her wish-list. We’d decided that Lower Sabie would be a good place for lunch as game viewing around that area is also very productive and I desperately needed to find lion and cheetah. Stopping at Nkuhlu picnic site we were told of a crocodile trying to drown an impala male in one of the nearby dams. Apparently this battle had been ongoing for at least an hour but had reached a stalemate as the croc was in shallow water and the impala wasn’t going to be pulled into deeper water. We, along with a hundred other vehicles, did witness this gruesome battle but after about 30 minutes in the boiling hot sun we decided to leave them to it and carried on to Lower Sabie for lunch. What the final outcome was we don’t know but I suspect that the impala eventually lost the battle as it was looking very tired when we were there.
A short distance from there we found lions. There were 2 lionesses stalking impala with a male lion further back but the bush was very thick so the sighting was not good.
After lunch I decided to go further south as cheetah had been seen along the S28. Being the middle of the day it was HOT so they had obviously decided to seek some shade. What we did get was a very good sighting of 2 white rhino lying in the shade by a pan.
Travelling back to Skukuza along the S128 was one of the hottest days that I can remember ever experiencing in the Kruger, so hot in-fact that Ann commented that it’s so hot that even her feet were sweating! It was quite a productive game drive ending off with a sighting of the wild dogs that we had seen earlier.
Whilst at dinner we experienced another violent electrical storm with a little rain and quite a bit of wind which caused quite a bit of concern amongst the students who were staying in the safari tents.
On our last game drive we finally managed a good sighting of lions lying in the middle of the road close to Skukuza. Both were very skinny and I actually thought that the one was dead but fortunately she did sit up and prove me wrong. Both were covered in ticks and definitely not the best looking lions I had seen in the Kruger.
All in all it was a very good trip, we had good sightings, interesting weather, and the students were a great bunch, always on time and keen to learn. Ann and Anna did a sterling job and I look forward to their next trip and to beat the 127 species of birds we recorded this year.
Thank you everyone.