For the second year in a row we spent a week in Kruger National Park in October, this time spending 6 nights in Olifants rest camp in the northern part of Kruger, with one night stop-overs at Berg en Dal and Pretoriuskop rest camps on the way in and out respectively.
Once again our visit was inspired by Andre and Geraldine who came all the way from Mossel Bay with their two daughters (our grandkids) to visit what is probably their favourite place on earth for the umpteenth time.
Writer Samuel Johnson once said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” which can equally be said of Kruger National Park, especially if you are a lover of nature and the unique beauty of unspoilt Africa, but it may be as well to change “a man” to “a person” so that no one feels left out.
Friday : The trip to Berg en Dal
We were packed and ready to go by mid-morning and caught up with the Leonards, who had left earlier, at Milly’s near Machadadorp, where we had the customary Trout pie with salad, as delicious as ever. After Milly’s the road narrows and traffic got heavier so it was slow going all the way through Schoemanskloof and past Nelspruit to Malelane gate into Kruger.
As we crossed the Crocodile river just before the gate, Kruger performed its magic trick yet again, changing our mood in an instant from rather stressed concentration to one of relaxation and eager anticipation. Never mind that the first stretch showed signs of the severe drought and veld fires, just being in Kruger creates a state of mind like no other, as the stresses that modern life brings seem to physically drain away.
The 10 kms to Berg en Dal rest camp were uneventful with game and birds quite scarce – just a few Giraffe, Kudu and Impala in the greener parts and the bird life mostly confined to the hardier species such as Magpie Shrikes (Langstertlaksman), Fork-tailed Drongoes (Mikstertbyvanger) and Cape Glossy Starlings (Kleinglansspreeu).
Just before 4 pm we arrived at Berg en Dal, which we last visited several years ago and we were soon settled in No 73, enjoying tea with the sounds of Purple-crested Turaco (Bloukuifloerie), Grey-headed Bushshrike (Spookvoël) and Black-headed Oriole (Swartkopwieliewaal), each with its own very distinctive call, in the background.
A group of Retz’s Helmet-Shrikes (Swarthelmlaksman) put in a surprise appearance, not staying for long as they moved through the tree canopy in ragged unison. Later a few other calls demanded my attention – Greater Honeyguide (Grootheuningwyser) with its “Victorrrrr”, Arrow-marked Babblers (Pylvlekkatlagter) as raucous as ever, good old Hadeda Ibises (Hadeda) outdoing the others in sheer volume and the shrill call of a Water Thick-knee (Waterdikkop) near the Reception. After dark it was the turn of the African Scops Owl (Skopsuil) to take over night duty with its soft “prrrtt” call carrying far through the camp gardens.
Saturday : The Long Drive to Olifants
I was up early for a walk through Berg en Dal camp in welcome soft rain, adding several species on call alone, including Grey Tit-Flycatcher (Waaierstertvlieëvanger), whose soft trilling call has become a familiar one to me, Orange-breasted Bushshrike (Oranjeborslaksman) whose call is known to many birders as “coffee, tea or me?”, Sombre Greenbul (Gewone willie), Green-backed Camaroptera (Groenrugkwêkwêvoël) and Black-backed Puffback (Sneeubal).
After my walk I joined the rest of the family in loading the cars – a surprise awaited when I picked up our suitcase to take to the car – hiding beneath it was a scorpion with tail raised threateningly. Turned out it was a relatively harmless type, so I was glad I ignored the calls to destroy it and carefully transported it outside.
On the drive back to the main road to Skukuza, we added Golden-breasted Bunting (Rooirugstreepkoppie), Lesser Striped Swallows (Kleinstreepswael) – colourful in the soft cloud-filtered light – and White-backed Vultures (Witrugaasvoël) to close out the Berg en Dal pentad at 37 species.
The long trek to Olifants lay ahead – 210 kms does not normally present a challenge but at Kruger Park speeds of 50 km/h maximum and stops along the way it meant a minimum 7 hour drive was on the cards.
No shortage of game and birds…..
Regular sightings of game and birds and comfort / snack breaks at Afsaal and Tshokwane picnic spots meant the journey was never boring. Afsaal was also the place where we had a brief rendezvous with Andre’s brother Eddie and while enjoying a coffee an elephant close to the picnic spot caused some excitement and had us seeking the relative safety of the undercover area.
Game sightings kicked off with a roadside sighting of an adult White Rhino with a youngster, followed by more distant but regular sightings of Kudu, Elephant, Giraffe and more Steenbok that I can recall seeing on any previous trip.
A lone antelope near a waterhole looked different and turned out to be a Grey / Common Duiker, despite its name not an everyday sighting in Kruger.
A large herd of Buffalo crossing the road at their usual slow pace caused a minor traffic jam, and a Hippo out of the water presented an unusual sight as it grazed in a grassy spot near the river.
“Big cat” sightings were limited to a pair of lazy Lions lolling under a shady tree, while near Skukuza a crowd of vehicles had gathered near a tree with a dead Impala in the fork – clearly a Leopard kill stored in the “pantry” to mature, but there was no sign of the butcher and we did not have the time to hang around and see if it returned.
The birding was equally up to expectations with regular new species added to the trip list. Bird sighting of the day was an African Harrier-Hawk / Gymnogene (Kaalwangvalk) moving through the bush, being mobbed by Fork-tailed Drongoes (Mikstertbyvanger) at every turn. One Drongo displayed partial leucism with some white on the top of its head.
Just after passing Skukuza, a flock of 100+ Marabou Storks (Maraboe) circled in a massive column – just as a plane took off from Skukuza’s airport and seemingly flew right through the middle of the column, fortunately without striking any.
Mazithi dam just after Tshokwane had a bevy of waders exploring the very shallow waters, including Common Greenshank (Groenpootruiter), Little Stint (kleinstrandloper), Common Sandpiper (Gewone ruiter) and Ruff (Kemphaan), and a lone Cattle Egret (Veereier).
Closer to Olifants we came across 3 Ground Hornbills Bromvoël), one of which was a juvenile which had been ringed and which I photographed for submission to the research team doing a study of Ground Hornbills in Kruger.
A lone Saddle-billed Stork (Saalbekooievaar) at Nyamarhi waterhole was one of our last sightings before arriving at Olifants rest camp around 4.30 pm, quite tired after the long day on the road, and settling into Rondavel No 37 for the week’s stay, in good condition after restoration work (the rondavel that is)
More about Olifants rest camp and the routes taken on our game and birding drives in forthcoming posts……..