What a wonderful bush adventure this was, two weeks spent travelling from the south of Kruger, to the northern most tip, and then back down south again. My husband travels quite a bit with his work at this time of the year and so, knowing that he was due to spend a couple of weeks away working in Indonesia I decided to make the most out of a potentially lonesome situation and I started putting an idea in motion, planning a trip to the bush. Arming myself with a few “bush essentials” including a pretty mediocre camera (in the hopes of trying to capture some painting references) I set off from home, ridiculously eager to reach the sweet solitude of the wilderness. It should be noted that I did actually take some artwork up with me too, an order due to be delivered to Rhino Post safari lodge – a private concession in the south of Kruger- thus making the trip all the more functional for business purposes, as well as recreational – of course !
Every trip to the bush is an adventure, and this one in particular was no exception. I have so many wonderful stories to relate , a HUGE amount can happen in two weeks after all! That being said, I’ve decided to share a few extracts from an email sent to friends and family, describing my bush travels. I’ve selected only a few highlights from my journey but do be warned that this is probably still going to be a very long post- Take a read if you like, or simply take a look at the photos… or you could do neither of the above and simply go straight ahead to start planning a bush adventure of your own… Although I suppose, in theory, you could do all three…
“One of the things that I absolutely loved about this trip was being able to do just about everything in my own time, without demand or expectation. If I wanted to spend two hours sitting, staring at an empty waterhole then I could… and I did. On my first day, doing just that, I was treated to a lovely sighting of a leopard, slinking across the road and off into the bush. No one else around, just me. What a treat. The weather was also wonderfully cool on those first two days. Travelling up from KZN, it actually rained the entire way, and even continued as I drove through the park. Seeing how terribly dry the surrounding bush was I knew that I was extremely lucky to be experiencing even the lightest of rainfall, and I definitely didn’t take it for granted ”
” After spending two days travelling slowly up north, I spent 5 days up at Shingwedzi. How I love northern Kruger, and the Shingwedzi area in particular. The quiet, meandering dusty tracks, the beautiful Mopani woodlands, the stillness, the serenity, the wildness and expectation that exudes as you drive along those narrow little rivenine loops. The north is particularly charming, but on this occasion, it was also relentlessly hot and dry. Pretty much every day went up to 43 degrees. Luckily for me my fan was very enthusiastic about its purpose in life, and the combination of sleeping beneath wet towels at night (a trick I learnt in Botswana), and the energetic performance of the dear old fan proved a good recipe for a just bearable night’s sleep.”
“Despite the heat, and the horrifically dry surrounds, my sightings up at Shingwedzi were absolutely outstanding. I have never before seen so many lions. Multiple sightings were pretty much a guarantee on morning drives, the odd solitary cat here, a couple of cats there… and then there was the “super pride”!!! Thirty members had reportedly been seen , the most of which I counted in one sighting was twenty two… But I can believe that there were thirty of them in total because lions kept appearing and disappearing, emerging from bushes and gullies, everywhere you looked. Big lions, little lions, medium sized lions. Whether or not there were actually thirty members, the number I counted was still a very impressive tally, and a most phenomenal sighting.”
“With large numbers like that, kills were being made pretty much every night. My second day in the area saw the remains of a very fresh kill, a poor old buffalo who had been brought down in the early hours of the morning , lying dead with only part of its stomach eaten, just on the side of the road. When I arrived on the scene the carcass was free from spectators, with a small bunch of cars crowded around a bush a short distance up, where a lioness was partially visible. I decided to hang back from the crowd, positioning my vehicle adjacent the poor old buff. I soon became aware of presence, a nervous jackal closing in on the carcass. As quickly and silently as was possible, the jackal nipped off small chunks of meat, keeping an extremely nervous eye fixed in the direction of the gigantic feline. As the little scavenger adjusted its feeding position, from tough old rump to easier to tear stomach area, the lioness suddenly became aware of the intrusion. She was upon the carcass in seconds, with furious offence, sending the jackal dashing for cover in a cloud of dust. Not satisfied with the jackal’s evacuation efforts the lioness sprang into action, in a display that delivered a CLEAR “get far away from here” message. The furiously panting giant returned to the carcass, heaving from exertion she fixed me with a very stern glare that quite clearly communicated her message to me too. Eventually, she came to rest beside a small Mopani shrub, not far from the carcass. By this stage, the other vehicles in the vicinity had of course madly readjusted their positions, trying to get a better view of the scene. It was by chance that I had ended up in the “prime location”.”
“I really did have incredible sightings up north. On my afternoon drive that same day, on one of the quiet little river loops, I came across a mother Cheetah with her cub, lying peacefully beside a Mopani thicket. There was just one other car on the scene initially- I think we were actually the only two vehicles driving that stretch of road on that particular afternoon. We had bumped into each other periodically on the journey, but had allowed each other space to enjoy the bush. Knowing I was travelling a reasonable distance behind them they actually stopped and waited for me to catch up, pointing out the cheetah (in case I missed them), and then leaving me to enjoy the feline company by myself. I was able to get very close to them before they decided to get up and stroll slowly off into the bush in perfect afternoon light- what a treat.”
“The cats were exciting but, far superior to that (for me anyway) was a bucket list sighting of a python. I have wanted to see one for as long as I can remember (and I know that people do see them , often- just not me up until that point).Driving along a quiet little river loop and stopping to chat to some Nyala, I picked up the unmistakable sound of unhappy squirrel. I turned off the engine to get a better audio and could then clearly hear an unhappy barbet in the mix too. I knew that there was DEFINITELY a snake or a predator around, and, from the volume of protest I was certain that it must be very nearby- hopefully close enough to see. I soon spied the mob, a squirrel and a crested barbet hopping back and forth with evident distress in a little shrub growing alongside a pull off track. From their behaviour I knew the offender had to be a snake and I was very excited by the prospect. As I drove closer to the scene I saw what appeared to be the head of a colourful little snake, swaying back and forth in agitation. As I got closer I was ECSTATIC to discover that little colourful snake head was in fact tip of big python tail. What a rush- sheer elation. The snake was not huge (as far as pythons go), but not small (as far as snakes go), maybe 2 m or so. It was curled up in the middle of the sparse little shrub, so it was hard for me to estimate its exact size.
The barbet soon lost interest in the mobbing activities and moved off in search of less “snakey” pastures , but the squirrel… oh my word, the squirrel… relentlessly tutting… “TUT TUT TUT”, “TUT TUT TUT” , on and on and on, jumping back and forth from branch to branch, sneaking closer and closer to tut in the poor pythons face, and then leaping backwards for no apparent reason, because there was absolutely no retaliation from the python, apart from an agitated swish of the tip of his tail.
I was able to pull up right alongside the scene and I was absolutely fascinated. I eventually decided to pour a cup of coffee and I spent the next hour and a half watching a reptilian tail swish back and forth and listening to a squirrel complain. Eventually, the squirrel (probably having tutted himself hoarse), swiftly abandoned his mission, flitting off through the bush with purpose, leaving the python (and me) in peace. I decided to stick around for a bit, to see if the python might make a move now that the pesky squirrel had moved off. I stayed with him for another 20 minutes or so, but he did not budge, and , reasoning that he might in fact be waiting for me to flit off into the bush, with squirrel-like purpose, I decided to leave him be.”
“I had quite an adventure on my third day (I think it was) up at Shingwedzi. Having been woken up at 1:30 am by an incredibly intense dust storm (and a few drops of rain that did very little to offer any kind of respite to the devastatingly parched environment), I had done a little bit of thinking and decided to take the opportunity , making the most of the suggestion of a slightly cooler day, heading up to see if I could find some owls at Pafuri. About 10 kms out of camp, as was seemingly becoming the custom, I came across 5 lions, resting in the early morning cool. They were scattered around a little pan and there were already a few other vehicles on the scene. I parked my car a short distance away from the sighting so as not to overcrowd the animals. In no time at all, the cats (who obviously were feeling overcrowded) got up, one by one and took a turn to stroll right past my car door. By that stage the other vehicles were madly trying to readjust their positions. I just sat back and enjoyed the encounter. The first cat to vacate the crowd was a big female. She came strolling down the road, towards my vehicle, pausing for a few seconds to “admire” my car… “admiration” soon turned to “investigation” as she disappeared behind my vehicle. I could see her furry rear end in my side mirror and I knew that she must be investigating my spare tyre. No problem, she could investigate all she liked, just as long as investigation didn’t blossom into a taste test. My attention was taken off her when I noticed one of the young males approaching to my left. He too, followed much the same pattern as the female, walking past my passenger window and then disappearing behind my car. By this stage I could see two lions, one reflected in each side mirror. Then I felt a little thud and I’m pretty sure I heard a faint cry for help from the spare tyre, pleading that enough was enough and that I had better intervene. I know from experience how to handle situations such as this, and the solution is nothing dramatic or fancy. With a little manoeuvre of the wrist I switched on the ignition and the fascinated felines leaped backwards, puzzled by the sudden mechanical scolding they were receiving and then, far too puzzled to continue their toothy assault, they strolled off into the veldt… to look for something more obliging to munch upon I’m sure.”
Those were just a few of the ENDLESS highlights I experienced on this wonderful trip to Kruger… the inserts above mention a lot about big cats and the occasional big snake and although each and every one of those encounters was a definite highlight, there was so much more to my trip than that. Any one who loves the bush (and Kruger in particular), with TRUE burning passion , knows well the old cliche’ of how “it’s not only the big things” that make a the time spent there so special; . Personally , I believe that everything that exists in nature was placed there to fascinate- from the shapes of trees, and the textures of their branches- to the sound made by hooves or softly padded paws as they make their way through the tangle of beautiful leaves and grasses that lie beneath their canopies. On this particular trip , it was for me too, all the the truly interesting and lovely people I met along the way. On two separate occasions I had neighbours who, seeing a young lady (if I do say so myself) traveling alone, invited me to join them for the evening, sharing their food and drink, offering their friendship and hospitality without thinking twice.
Yes, it was moments like that which made this trip truly special and completely unforgettable- but that’s just Kruger for you… and the power that unites one and all, when we share in the commonality of our soul’s delight.