We had been looking forward to a week in Satara in the Kruger National Park for some time, in fact ever since our daughter Geraldine had booked accommodation a year in advance for a week in October 2015, school holiday time and usually totally over-subscribed.
And so Saturday 3 October 2015 saw us packed and departing early morning from Pretoria for the long drive to Satara. The route we had decided on would take us to Machadadorp in Mpumulanga, then via the N4 through Schoemanskloof after which we took the Sudwala Caves turn-off and made our way through Sabie and Hazyview to the Phabeni Gate into Kruger – we estimated this would be at least a five-hour drive with comfort stops. From Phabeni it is some 140 kms mostly northwards to Satara which, at Kruger speeds of maximum 50 km/h and including a few stops for game sightings, was likely to take 3 to 4 hours. So we had the prospect of around 9 hours on the road, eased by the fact that the last part would be in the Park and devoid of the stress of driving the highways.
Kruger holidays are like no other and in our family (and many other South African families I suspect) there are a few things to be attended to before departure – you could call them rituals :
- buying the biltong, the boerewors (farmer’s sausages) and the braai chops – if you live in Pretoria east there is a good chance that, like us, you will have visited Uitkyk or Groenkloof butchery for these all-important items.
- packing all the bush clothes you possess – every khaki shirt, shorts to go with them and a pair of longs for the evening (only to keep the mozzies away of course). There’s nothing wrong with “civvies”but proper bush clothing just adds to the feeling of escaping from the general routine for a while
- stocking up on lots of fruit – always a bit scarce in Kruger’s camps. Some of this can often be purchased at roadside stalls along the way but this depends on the time of year and season.
- making sure all the important stuff is ready and in good nick – camera, binos, birding books, scope, reptile book, mammal book, butterfly book, frog book (you never know), portable fridge, kitchen sink (just joking) and all.
Then there’s the journey itself, where you have the chance to transition from city slicker to game ranger persona – a gradual process until you get to Kruger’s entrance gate. That’s when it really kicks in – slow down to 50 km/h or less, open the windows to let the bush smells and sounds drift in, binos around the neck, eyes tuned to the bush and on the lookout for movement – ahhhhhh we’re back!
Our trip from Pretoria took the time we expected, with a first stop for an early lunch at Milly’s near Machadadorp, a must on any journey involving the N4 towards Nelspruit. Here you can fill up with fuel, have a sit-down or take-away meal of excellent quality, stock up on all sorts of goodies and just enjoy a welcome break from the highway. We chose take-away trout pies (did I mention they do a great one?) and a coffee from the Seattle Coffee kiosk. The pie we ate at an outside picnic table and the coffee was taken in the car and sipped over the next 30 kms or so.
Once on the road to Sabie I enjoyed the “real” driving as the road twisted, turned and ascended/descended in quick succession – so much so that it brought to mind the old Chubby Checker* hit “Let’s twist again, like we did last Summer”.
*Trivia alert : what do Fats Domino and Chubby Checker have in common? Think about those names – wonder which came first and who copied the other?
The last stretch between Sabie and Hazyview was quite badly pot-holed in places and required extra care to avoid tyre and suspension damage – by the time we reached Phabeni I was quite tired, but it was only 1pm leaving plenty of time for a relaxing drive in Kruger for the next 130 kms.
The drive provided a good spread of sightings to whet our appetite for the week ahead – from tiny Duikers to big daddy Elephants and a Lion and Lioness that were pairing not far from the road.
We made a comfort stop at Tshokwane picnic spot, which was unusually quiet, except for a group of baboons looking for scraps left by the visitors that morning
After a full day’s driving, Satara camp was a welcome sight and a chance to relax, loving the feel of the warm air pressing into our pores after being cocooned in an air-conditioned car for most of the day.
Some of the game along the way :
Without spending too much time on birding, we nevertheless started the trip with some nice sightings :
- Hamerkop at the first bridge after Phabeni – exactly where I had photographed one a year or so before
- Dam at Nyamundwa – White-breasted Cormorant, Gyppo (Egyptian Goose)
- Tshokwane picnic spot – Crested Francolin, Mourning Dove, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Saddle-billed Stork
- Mazithi Dam – Another Saddle-billed Stork, Purple Heron, Three-banded Plover, Fish Eagle, Wood Sandpiper
The Satara Experience
In Satara camp itself, the familiar sounds were present and remained throughout the week –
- soft calling of the Mourning Dove – often first on the scene when the crumbs are sprinkled on the ground
- Long-billed Crombec with its cricket-like call
- Screeching of Brown-headed Parrots
- the almost constant melodious call of the Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, not too difficult to track down and photograph
- occasional haunting call from the “Ghost bird” – Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, which perched for a while in the tree right in front of our rondawel
- Overhead a Yellow-billed Kite flew low over the trees, swooping lower every now and then in search of prey.
Satara is the second largest camp in Kruger and quite busy at this time of year, also attracting busloads of tourists from SA and overseas. The chalets are fairly simple and haven’t changed much over the years other than a small boma which has been added.
Most Kruger camps have their “residents” and Satara is no different – evening visitors to the chalets included African Wild Cat, Honey Badger and a cute troop of Banded Mongooses, while during the day you always have to be on the lookout for monkeys looking for a snatched snack.
Other smaller residents use the chalets as sleeping quarters or hunting grounds
Once settled in our chalet our thoughts turned to what drives we would be doing. Satara has wonderful routes that take you in all four directions and a week provides the time to try them all without “rushing about” too much.
The next few posts will cover the drives we chose to do and some of the great sightings and experiences we had