Category Archives: National Parks

A Week in Kruger – Satara to Muzandzeni

The Route

This lesser known route is not renowned for its big five sightings but there is every chance of seeing a variety of game, with the added pleasure of getting off the beaten track for a while and enjoying a picnic spot that you will often have all to yourselves.

The route starts by heading south from Satara camp for about 10 kms where you turn right (west) on to the S 126 which marks the start of the gravel road to Muzandzeni picnic spot, a drive of about 22 kms which should take an hour or more, including stops to view game and birds as you come across them.

This stretch winds along the Sweni river for much of the way, but don’t expect there to be water during the winter months and early summer before the rains set in. The roadside scenery is dominated by many large trees, interspersed with open areas which look ideal for the big cats to use as hunting grounds.

After a break at Muzandzeni, whether for coffee/tea, or a full-blown brunch, the best way back to Satara is to complete the circle by heading north along the S 36 gravel road which joins up with the H7 Orpen-Satara tar road after about 10 kms and from there it’s an easy 20 km run along the H7 back to Satara, with a recommended stop at the Nsemani dam which usually has something of interest.

Habitat

This description from the krugerpark.co.za website sums up nicely what to expect along the Sweni river road (S 126):

“The Sweni River Road is a surprisingly tropical landscape given that it is so far south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Many old Kruger hands insist that it is the Sweni that marks the start of the north rather than the Olifants River. Southern Lala-palms and combretums dominate the grassy floodplains between the river and the road, giving the bush a distinctly Zimbabwean feel”

An extract from the Kruger Park map book shows the route :

Muzandzeni-14

The Drive

We made our way slowly along the S 126 to Muzandzeni, stopping for a number of raptors, including a pair of preening Bateleurs close to the road, which we sat and observed for some time, and a pale form of Wahlberg’s Eagle perched in a tall tree.

Bateleurs preening
Bateleurs preening
Bateleur
Bateleur
Wahlberg's Eagle (Pale form)
Wahlberg’s Eagle (Pale form)

Vultures and particularly nesting Vultures were a feature of this drive as we encountered at least 4 different nests with Vultures in attendance. Vultures that we identified included the common White-backed Vultures, of which there were many, as well as the scarcer Lappet-faced, Hooded and White-headed Vultures.

The average visitor to Kruger probably won’t spend much time looking at vultures, other than to see if they are near a kill, but the chances of seeing four Vulture species on one drive are slim, so I for one was very appreciative of these sightings.

White-backed Vulture
White-backed Vulture
White-backed Vulture
White-backed Vulture
Hooded Vulture
Hooded Vulture

Rounding off the raptor feast was a large Tawny Eagle, always impressive to look at and ruggedly good-looking.

Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagle

Game was a bit sparse compared to some of the other drives we had done around Satara but we nevertheless enjoyed some good sightings of small groups of the more common species, including Kudus backlit by the early morning light, a lone Steenbok resting in the grass and a few Dwarf Mongeese (oh-oh should have seen that coming, now I’ve got to figure out the plural of Mongoose – it’s actually Mongooses!)

Kudu beautifully backlit by early morning son
Kudu beautifully backlit by early morning son
Dwarf Mongoose
Dwarf Mongoose

Mosque Swallows were a nice surprise – in my experience they are usually only seen a lot further north in Baobab country.

Mosque Swallow
Mosque Swallow

Muzandzeni Picnic spot

The picnic spot has a remote feeling to it – like being in the “middle of nowhere” – don’t be surprised if an Ellie or two passes by on the way to the nearby waterhole, also favoured by Zebra amongst others.

Muzandzeni
Muzandzeni
Zebra, Muzandzeni
Zebra, Muzandzeni
Zebra juvenile, fluffy stripes and all
Zebra juvenile, fluffy stripes and all

Our brunch was leftover steak from the previous night’s braai, cut into strips and fried on the skottel with onions and tomato, then plied onto a hamburger bun – delicious!

Muzandzeni brunch
Muzandzeni brunch – leftovers never tasted so good!

Back to Satara

Heading back we were on the lookout for the lions at a buffalo kill that we had heard about from Andre’s brother Eddie, visiting from Holland, and sure enough they were at the spot he had described, near an almost bare buffalo carcass.

With the temperature nudging 38 degrees C, we were happy to head back to Satara for a relaxing rest of the day, having extracted the maximum enjoyment from yet another Kruger drive.

Steenbok
Steenbok taking to the shade

A surprise awaited us at the rondavel, in the form of a Fruit Bat , hanging under the thatched overhang – quite a cute looking bat don’t you think? Like a teddy bear with wings.

Fruit Bat, Satara
Fruit Bat, Satara

Sources :

Krugerpark.co.za

Sanparks Guide to Kruger National Park

A Week in Kruger – Satara to Timbavati

Timbavati  x 3

With part of our family group otherwise engaged (Andre and Megan had returned to Joburg for a schools competition) and the remainder taking the opportunity to spend some quality time in Satara, I used the opportunity on two mornings to do some birdmapping (that’s the new terminology for “atlasing”) at my own pace ie driving at an ultra-slow pace and stopping frequently, which is the best way to birdmap / atlas effectively but can be frustrating for those not involved in the process.

Both birdmapping  drives took me to Timbavati picnic spot for a coffee and rusks break and when Andre and Megan returned it was the destination of choice once again, making it three visits in all during the week.

The Routes

There are a few options when heading to Timbavati, which lies north-west of Satara, and the choice of route will depend on how much time you wish to spend driving and whether you prefer tar or gravel roads, the latter being a lot slower but often more productive.

One option is to take the H7 tarred road west towards Orpen, then turn off northwards onto the S40 gravel road at the Nsemani dam about 7 kms from Satara and follow this road to Timbavati.

Travelling further along the H7 will take you to turn-off to the S39 gravel road, which meanders along the Timbavati River for much of the way – a longer route but well worthwhile.

The other option is to head north from Satara towards Olifants along the H1-4, then take a left at the S127 which winds through arid bushveld for about 9 kms to the picnic spot. This route means less driving on gravel but is not as productive game-wise (and birding-wise) as the first options

Whichever route you choose it makes sense to take one of the other routes back to Satara so that you cover the greatest area and increase your chances of interesting sightings along the way.

Habitat

The S39 and S40 roads take you through mixed woodland with the S39 staying close to the Timbavati river, although during the dry season the river will be dry for most of the way other than a few pools left after the long dry winter

River Scene, Timbavati Road
River Pool, Timbavati Road

The open plains are generally better for game while the mixed woodland provides good birding opportunities as well as the chance for some close encounters with game.

An extract from the Kruger Park map book shows the routes :

Satara to Timbavati routes
Satara to Timbavati routes

The Game

Game is not as abundant along the S39 and S40 as it is on the open plains east of Satara, however small groups of game are often encountered grazing or pursuing some other activity quite close to the road, affording good close-up views

On my first trip I came across two Lions at the Giravana water hole, just chilling as they are wont to do.

Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40
Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40
Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40
Lion, Girivana, Timbavati Road S40

Regular sightings of some of my favourites kept things interesting – Giraffe, Kudu and Blue Wildebeest amongst others

Giraffe
Giraffe
Kudu
Kudu
Kudu
Kudu
Blue Wildebees
Blue wildebeest

No drive would be complete without coming across a monkey or two……

Vervet Monkey
Vervet Monkey, always so alert

Surprise of the one trip was a brief Leopard sighting, seen crossing the river and disappearing into the thick bush before I could get a camera focused on him.

The Birding / Birdmapping

Taking it slow and easy to make the most of the available birds, I built up some healthy lists as I passed through the various pentads (roughly 8 x 8 kms square) on the way to Timbavati, spending a bit more time in some of the pentads which I had identified earlier as lacking some birdmap attention in 2015.

Highlights were many :

  • Gabar Goshawk swooping across the road and “attacking” a spider’s nest and apparently feeding on the contents
Gabar Goshawk
Gabar Goshawk
  • Black- and Brown-crowned Tchagras in quick succession in the roadside bushes
  • Kori Bustard pair in the long grass
Kori Bustard, Timbavati Road
Kori Bustard, Timbavati Road
  • Flock of White-winged Widowbirds still in their winter plumage
  •  Red-billed Oxpeckers on a Zebra
Red-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Sabota Larks perched on top of trees and singing cheerfully
  •  Black Crake patrolling a small pool
Black Crake
Black Crake
  • A handsome Tawny Eagle perched high up in a tall tree
  • Red-crested Korhaan calling in its distinctive fashion right next to the road, boldly showing its black front then turning to show just how well camouflaged it can be in the dry grass
Red-crested Korhaan - front view while calling - can hardly miss him
Red-crested Korhaan – front view while calling – can hardly miss him
Red-crested Korhaan - viewed from the back - now he is well camouflaged
Red-crested Korhaan – viewed from the back – now he is well camouflaged
  • Purple Roller
Purple Roller
Purple Roller

Closer to Timbavati a Grey-Tit Flycatcher was moving through the canopy, emitting its typical high-pitched trilling call which I had only just got to grips with on this trip, having heard it several times in Satara as well.

Grey-Tit Flycatcher
Grey-Tit Flycatcher

More proof that many birds are extremely habitat specific was the numbers of European Bee-Eaters in one spot but nowhere else to be seen.

Timbavati Picnic Spot

The two mornings that I spent birdmapping, I arrived at Timbavati when it was quite busy – full of happy groups of visitors enjoying a brunch in this special setting overlooking the river, albeit dry at this time of year.

On the morning that we visited as a family we arrived a little earlier and had the place to ourselves for a while. Andre and Geraldine  soon had the gas going and the skottel frying merrily and it wasn’t too long before we were tucking into another delicious brunch.

Timbavati picnic spot
Timbavati picnic spot, before the visitors descend on it for brunch
Timbavati brunch in preparation
Timbavati brunch in preparation
Timbavati still has the same chairs I remember from our first visits more than 40 years ago!
Timbavati still has the same chairs I remember from our first visits more than 40 years ago!

On the way to Timbavati we had taken the Olifants road then turned left onto the S127 – not much game was encountered but one lone, large elephant had us reversing a short way until he started feeding on the road verge and we grabbed the chance to get past safely. Interesting was the way he pulled out green bushes using his trunk and front leg in a sideways kicking motion to dislodge them from the hard dry ground.

Birding was slow that morning until we reached the picnic spot where several birds were vying for “loudest call” honours. Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike was a clear winner with its piercing but tuneful call from a nearby tree, but others were almost as active especially Crested Francolin and Natal Spurfowl trying to outdo each other with their equally raucous calls as they wandered around amongst the tables.

Back to Satara

On the return trip to Satara along the S127, a flock of Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks made for an unusual sighting, as did a pair of tiny, colourful Quailfinches quenching their thirst at a small pool below a bridge on the tar road.

We had briefly diverted to Piet Grobler dam not far from the picnic spot, where a lone Yellow-billed Stork and Black-winged Stilt were new additions to the trip list, taking it to 126 species.

Yellow-billed Stork, Timbavati Road
Yellow-billed Stork, Timbavati Road
Timbavati Road
Timbavati Road

Back at Satara it was time for a snooze and some relaxation to get us through the hot afternoon, with the temperature heading to the mid 30’s again.

Sources :

Krugerpark.co.za

Sanparks Guide to Kruger National Park

A Week in Kruger – Satara to Nwanetsi

The Route

The next drive during our stay in Satara was also one of my Kruger favourites – the drive eastwards from Satara to Nwanetsi picnic spot which lies close to the border with Mozambique.

We had planned to do a circuit, first taking the S100 gravel road eastwards, which branches off the H1-4 tarred road just south of Satara camp. This becomes the S41 to Nwanetsi and we would return via the H6 tarred road back to Satara.

At Nwanetsi there is a dam which can be viewed from a roofed viewpoint on the ridge overlooking it. The Sweni hide, overlooking a small dam, and the low water bridge can be accessed on the return trip by taking the branch left at the S37 and travelling for a few kms

Habitat

The S100 meanders through open tree savanna with mostly Marula, Knob-thorn acacia, Leadwood, Sickle-bush and Russet bushwillow trees. The H6 tarred road is more direct but passes through similar habitat

An extract from the Kruger Park map book shows the route :

Best to go out on the yellow S 100 road and return on the H5 red road
Best to go out on the yellow S 100 road and return on the red H6 road

The Drive

An early start saw us driving the S100 – always good for plains game and today was no exception as we came across a selection of game in quick succession.

Waterbuck, Satara - Nwanetsi S100
Waterbuck, Satara – Nwanetsi S100
Impala, Satara - Nwanetsi S100
Impala, Satara – Nwanetsi S100
Black-backed Jackal, Satara - Nwanetsi S100
Black-backed Jackal, Satara – Nwanetsi S100
Blue Wildebeest, Satara - Nwanetsi S100
Blue Wildebeest, Satara – Nwanetsi S100

Signs of battles for dominance amongst the game were present – both Impala and Waterbuck were clashing horns. Nothing serious – more like a playful enactment of an ancient ritual as they butted each other lightly and tried to twist the opponent’s horns so that they would “bow” in submission.

Impala males
Impala males
Waterbuck males
Waterbuck males

As we watched this we noticed a few cars gathered up ahead and immediately knew it was a “cat” sighting as no other event attracts so many cars in a short space of time. It turned out to be two Cheetahs some 150m from the road, lying and then standing, the one clearly pregnant judging by the heavy-looking belly.

Cheetah, Satara - Nwanetsi S100
Cheetah, Satara – Nwanetsi S100

Cheetahs are probably the most sought after sighting so we were really pleased to have been in the right spot for them.

Further along more excitement awaited, this time tinged with some tension as we rounded a bend and came across a fallen tree partly blocking the road, with the remaining opening  ominously guarded by a large tusker. To add to the tension another large bull elephant was eyeing us from the bush to one side.

Elephant road block, Satara - Nwanetsi S100
Elephant road block, Satara – Nwanetsi S100

With no way through we waited …….  and waited, but the two elephant guards showed no inkling to move along as they fed on the fallen tree. Eventually one motorist behind us braved the bush and looked for a way past without disturbing the ellies. They emerged on the other side and waved, so we followed suit and found a well-trodden game path running through the bush which they had used – we were soon speeding along to Nwanetsi for a much-needed toilet break!

All the while I was continuing to atlas the bird species we came across – so easy with the Birdlasser App which uses gps to automatically pinpoint the position of each sighting and allocate it to the correct pentad (5 x 5 minute block of co-ordinates which is about 8 x 8 km in size)

Bateleur
Bateleur
Crested Francolin
Crested Francolin
Goliath Heron
Goliath Heron

Nwanetsi

Time for a brunch and some birding around the picnic spot. I walked up the small hill to the viewpoint over the dam below and the bush stretching into the distance and found a number of species

  • Pied Kingfisher
  • Pied Wagtail amongst the rocks on the river
  • Great Egret flying between the ponds looking for the best fishing spot
  • Spectacled Weavers moving about busily and calling their sharp call
  • Green=backed Cameroptera calling from the bush
Nwanetsi Viewpoint
Nwanetsi Viewpoint
Nwanetsi Viewpoint
Nwanetsi Viewpoint
Lizard, Nwanetsi Viewpoint
Lizard, Nwanetsi Viewpoint

After brunch we left the picnic spot and headed firstly to the low water bridge on the S37 but found it dry and returned to the Sweni bird hide along the same road for a better view  of the dam. There we found some Impala, warily approaching the water where a large crocodile was resident.

Crocodile, Sweni Hide
Crocodile, Sweni Hide
Wary Impala, Sweni Hide
Wary Impala, Sweni Hide

The resident bird population were going about their business while we watched from the comfortable hide

  • White-faced Ducks
White-faced Duck, Sweni Hide
White-faced Duck, Sweni Hide
  • Black Crake
  • Water Thick-Knee
  • Red-capped Robin-Chat (unusual in this habitat)
Red-capped Robin-Chat, Sweni Hide
Red-capped Robin-Chat, Sweni Hide
  • Waders such as Wood Sandpiper and Three-banded Plover
  •  The ubiquitous Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Goose, Sweni Hide
Egyptian Goose, Sweni Hide

The rest of the journey back to Satara was on tar and with less game visible so we did not dawdle too much, nevertheless we enjoyed seeing Zebra close up with a juvenile whose stripes were still fluffy and brown – looking cute enough to want to pat him.

Burchell's Zebra, Satara - Nwanetsi S100

On the birding side we did spot a Brown Snake-Eagle and Red-crested Korhaan not far from the road

The rest of the day was a relaxing mix of our typical Kruger activities – some resting, enjoying the quiet of the camp, a swim late afternoon and closing out the day with a braai with the family.

Sources :

Sanparks Guide to Kruger National Park

A Week in Kruger – Satara to Olifants

The Route

Kicking off our stay in Satara we decided our first drive would follow the H1-4 main tarred road which heads north, branching off onto the Olifants camp road after crossing the river

After the previous day’s long drive from Pretoria, we enjoyed a good night’s rest, only surfacing after 7.30 am for coffee and rusks on the stoep before packing the brunch goodies and setting off for Olifants camp after 9.30 am.

Habitat

The drive initially takes you through open savanna grassland, changing to more rocky landscape closer to Olifants, where the habitat is known as Olifants rugged veld and is the transition between the woodlands of the south and the mopaneveld of the north.

Most common trees are Knob-thorn Acacia, Umbrella Acacia, Marula, Ebony Jackalberry and Red Bushwillow. The open savanna is favoured by the grazers such as antelope, zebra and their predators, with plenty of Vultures gathered at carcasses

An extract from the Kruger Park map book shows the route :

Map of route from Satara to Olifants (the grid is my hand-drawn guideline for atlasing)
Map of route from Satara to Olifants (the grid is my hand-drawn guideline for atlasing)

The Drive

The savanna grassland was particularly dry and barren after the winter, but the few waterholes and dams which still had some water kept things interesting , with plenty of Elephant, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Kudu and Impala plus a few Steenbok here and there, looking so small and defenceless in this environment.

Waterbuck
Waterbuck
Waterbuck
Waterbuck
Kudu
Kudu
Impala early morning
Impala early morning
Steenbok
Steenbok

On the birding side we started with a juvenile Black-chested Snake-Eagle and added regularly to the list, particularly when we stopped at Ngotso Water Hole some 20 kms north of Satara where we found Sabota Lark, Blue Waxbills, Ostrich, Lesser Striped Swallow, amongst others. This is the main water hole in the area, man-made and fed by the vlei area surrounding it.

Black-chested Snake-Eagle (juvenile)
Black-chested Snake-Eagle (juvenile)
Blue Waxbill
Blue Waxbill

At the Olifants Bridge you can get out of the vehicle in the designated zone to enjoy the scenes on both sides and the bird life(Little Swifts by the 100’s, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Kite, Green-backed Heron).

Scene from Olifants river bridge
Scene from Olifants river bridge
Scene from Olifants river bridge
Scene from Olifants river bridge
Little Swift
Little Swift
Green-backed Heron
Green-backed Heron

Further along, the road stays close to the river for a few km’s before turning off to Olifants camp. A lone elephant was making his way slowly across the mostly dry river bed to where a few Impalas were drinking at a pool – such a classic scene I just had to stop and let it soak into my memory. It’s these simple scenes that are what Kruger is all about and why we keep coming back after 40 + years of visiting our national treasure.

Olifants Camp

At Olifants camp we went straight to the picnic area where Andre and Geraldine were already parked and Megan and Maia were in the swimming pool. By now it was 35 deg C and the heat felt tangible, but as Geraldine reminded us, this is exactly what you expect in Kruger in summer – best embrace it and don’t try to be too active.

Andre conjured up a “brunch sandwich” on the skottelbraai (like an old ploughshare used for frying on a gas cylinder) with scrambled egg, fried lean bacon, fried onions and avo – delicious! Not that we were ravenous by then or anything. All part of the Kruger traditions/must-do’s!

While he was busy I couldn’t help noticing that the fallen Mopane tree leaves looked uncannily like a butterfly, so I positioned one on the tree trunk ……

Mopane leaf "Butterfly", Olifants camp
Mopane leaf “Butterfly”, Olifants camp

After brunch it was  time for the next must-do – as we walked slowly down to the restaurant area and viewpoint (Gerda and I cheated and drove – the extreme heat you know) below the restaurant to enjoy the timeless landscape below and stretching to the horizon in a 180 degree sweep. In all the years we have been visiting Kruger the view has not altered one bit – other than the effects of the different seasons – a testament to the foresight of the founders of the Park and those charged with looking after it.

In the river far below, some 30 to 40 Elephants of various ages were enjoying the pools of water as they moved slowly across the wide Olifants River, which flowed in several streams interspersed with rocky islands and stretches of sand and reeds.

Olifants camp viewpoint
Olifants camp viewpoint

Olifants camp viewpoint Olifants camp viewpoint Olifants camp viewpoint Olifants camp viewpoint Olifants camp viewpoint

Numbers of birds were visible – lots of Egyptian Geese but also plenty of white egrets (Great, Yellow-billed and Cattle were all represented), Marabou Storks, Hamerkop, Grey Heron, African Openbill and Saddle-billed Stork.

Great Egret
Great Egret

Tearing myself away from what has become one of my favourite spots in all of Kruger, I went off to find the rest of the family, who were busy with that other traditional pursuit – shopping. And who can blame the girls (old and young), with some pocket-money and nowhere else to spend it but in the tempting Kruger Park shops.

The road back to Satara was quiet, with birds rather than animals being the only reason for stopping – Red-billed Oxpeckers using Kudu as a feeding station, Kori Bustard some way from the road and a Yellow-throated Longclaw perched near the road.

Yellow-throated Longclaw
Yellow-throated Longclaw

The rest of the day was dedicated to camp activities – swimming in the large pool, and a late afternoon braai

Sources :

Krugerpark.co.za

Sanparks Guide to Kruger National Park

A Week in Satara – The Journey

Anticipation

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.

Route

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.

Why Kruger?

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.

The Journey

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.

Phabeni gate
Phabeni gate
Phabeni gate
Phabeni gate reception

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

Tshokwane - quiet in the afternoon
Tshokwane – quiet in the afternoon
Baboons have Tshokwane almost to themselves
Baboons had Tshokwane almost to themselves

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.

Satara main complex
Satara main complex
The restaurant from the garden
The restaurant from the garden
Fever Tree roots in the garden
Fever Tree roots in the garden
Statue in the garden
Statue in the garden

Some of the game along the way :

Kudu
Kudu
Impala
Impala
Zebra
Zebra
Waterbuck
Waterbuck

Any Birds?

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
Saddle-billed Stork
Saddle-billed Stork

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

, Satara

African Mourning Dove
African Mourning Dove
  • 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
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike
  • 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
Grey-headed Bush-Shrike
Grey-headed Bush-Shrike
  • 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.

Satara - circle of chalets
Satara – circle of chalets
Our chalet
Our chalet
Enjoying the boma
Enjoying the boma

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.

African Wild Cat doing the rounds of the chalets
African Wild Cat doing the rounds of the chalets

Other smaller residents use the chalets as sleeping quarters or hunting grounds

Fruit Bat - just "hanging around" until dusk
Fruit Bat – just “hanging around” until dusk
Tree Squirrel scouting around
Tree Squirrel scouting around
Striped Skink on the hunt for small insects
Typical Skink on the hunt for small insects

The Drives

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

Victoria Falls – the Smoke that Thunders

David Livingstone wrote after seeing the falls for the first time –

“No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”

Sounds a bit melodramatic you may say, but having seen the falls myself again after 17 years, I can’t help thinking he was spot on.

It was back in 1998 that we first visited Victoria Falls during a driving tour of Zimbabwe and the intervening years had made my memories somewhat fuzzy, so it was like seeing the Falls for the first time and the experience was truly breath-taking.

This time around, I was part of a  group of professionals that had come to visit the new Vic Falls airport under construction, accompanied by our client, and with the business side taken care of in the morning, we ventured into Victoria Falls National Park in the afternoon before returning to Kasane in Botswana.

The entrance to the National Park at Victoria Falls is quite unimposing and does not prepare you for the experience that lies ahead.

Victoria Falls National Park main entrance
Victoria Falls National Park main entrance

Once we had paid our $20 entrance fee, we took the pathway which initially winds its way to the David Livingstone statue – this famous Scottish missionary “discovered” the falls (they were always there and known to generations of African inhabitants, of course) on 17 November 1855, so the 160th anniversary is coming up next month.

Livingstone statue
Livingstone statue
Livingstone statue
Livingstone statue
Livingstone statue
Livingstone statue

After the statue you get to the first viewpoint with breath-taking views of the thundering waters, veiled in a thick spray which caused rainbows to form at the time of day we were there. The spray shoots up vertically in massive columns and you realize why the indigenous name is Mosi-oa Tunya or the “Smoke that Thunders”. Apparently the Zimbabwean government intends to rename the falls to Mosi-oa Tunya, hardly surprising I suppose.

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls

A group of Asian nuns (Korean?) were enjoying the experience and I couldn’t resist asking them if I could take a photo, as they looked quite charming in their habits with floppy sun hats and petite stature – they did not object.

Asian Nuns enjoying Victoria Falls
Asian Nuns enjoying Victoria Falls

As you walk the designated pathways there are regular viewpoints where you can admire the different sections of the falls, which is the largest sheet of falling water in the world (although not the highest or widest) and twice the height of Niagara Falls at 108m. The mass of water, which averages over 1000 m3 per second, drops into a transverse chasm or gorge which is 1708m wide, then continues its way down the Batoka gorge (which my son Stephan and I rafted back in 1998 when I still had the desire for such things) through some spectacular rapids before becoming calmer and forming the mighty Zambesi River once more as it makes its way to Lake Kariba and beyond Kariba through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean.

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls

The main streams of the falls have names –

  • Devil’s Cataract
  • Main Falls
  • Rainbow Falls
  • Eastern Cataract

We continued our meander along the path which follows the Zimbabwe side of the gorge for a Km or more, stopping at the regular viewpoints which allow views from strategically placed points.

Where the spray up flow is at its heaviest there is a constant “rainfall”, which wasn’t too heavy during our visit as the falls are at their lowest flow in October/November, but at other times requires a raincoat to prevent a drenching. It is along this stretch that a permanent rainforest has formed and it was a welcome relief from the sun’s heat while it also afforded the best views of the widest section of falling water.

The Rainforest, Victoria Falls
The Rainforest, Victoria Falls
The Rainforest, Victoria Falls
The Rainforest, Victoria Falls
1998 Photo
1998 Photo

Further along where the spray does not reach, the rainforest petered out and suddenly we were in grassy savannah with good views back along the length of the gorge and across at the strands of water cascading down the sheer face of the rocks.

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
1998 Photo
1998 Photo
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls

Some brave tourists (or foolish perhaps?) out for adventure on the Zambian side, were bathing in a pool on the edge of the falls – this can only be attempted in the low-water season for obvious reasons. This activity has claimed a few lives over the years.

Bathing on the edge, Victoria Falls
Bathing on the edge, Victoria Falls

The pathway ends at the point where the gorge does a 90 degree turn and from there we made our way slowly back to the main entrance.

And the Birding?

This was not a birding outing but I had my binos and camera handy as usual and encountered a few worthwhile species

  • Red-billed Firefinch
Red-billed Firefinch (Male), Victoria Falls
Red-billed Firefinch (Male), Victoria Falls
Red-billed Firefinch (Female), Victoria Falls
Red-billed Firefinch (Female), Victoria Falls
  • Trumpeter Hornbill which played hide-and-seek with me in the rainforest
Trumpeter Hornbill, Victoria Falls
Trumpeter Hornbill, Victoria Falls
  • Tropical Boubou busy catching and eating an insect of sorts – my first photo of this species
Tropical Boubou, Victoria Falls
Tropical Boubou, Victoria Falls

All that remained was to leave this wonderful spot and say “Bin there, Done that”

Bin there, done that, Victoria Falls
Bin there, done that, Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls