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Five Days in Kruger National Park

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 4 October 2013 | Views [446]

Leopard in a tree, Kruger National Park

Leopard in a tree, Kruger National Park

It rained on our first day back in Kruger, sometimes seriously but mostly just an annoying drizzle.  The dreary overcast subdued the birds but the animals hardly seemed to notice, especially the giraffes.  We saw at least 30 of the long-necked critters plus several lions lazing near last night’s kill.  Some of the usually nocturnal critters were out too – a honey badger and a family of spotted hyenas.  We also saw one of the “little five,” a leopard tortoise lumbering across the road.  (The other “little four,” in case you are wondering, are the ant lion, the elephant shrew, the rhinoceros beetle and the buffalo weaver.)


     One of the Little Five

The nasty weather continued into day two.  It was so damp and chilly that we had the heater on in our rondaval at the Satara Rest Camp.  Staying in Kruger lets you get an early start and by 6:30 we were parked beside four lion gnawing on a dead giraffe.  We weren’t alone – you seldom are – and the photos were terrible, even by my standards, let alone those of National Geographic

We worked our way north on the rough gravel roads, searching for birds and beasts.  But mainly birds.  We should have had a sign reading “BIRDERS!” so other vehicles wouldn’t line up behind us looking for whatever we were looking at.  As the weather improved the birds became more active.  Our top find was the kori bustard, the largest flying bird in the world. 


       Kori bustard

“All I want to see is a leopard in a tree!” is the mantra of most safari goers.  Well, we got ours!  Leopards are numerous though rarely seen as they do most of their hunting at night.  This was our fourth sighting after more than 12 months in sub-Saharan Africa, two of those being fleeting glimpses.

With a maximum speed limit of 50 kph and frequent stops, it will take a while to cover a park the size of New Jersey.  We left the Letaba gate just as it opened at exactly six AM and staked out a stream crossing right after sunrise.  Suddenly a pack of six spotted hyenas stopped for a drink and a pee then marched right by the car.  We found another pack of nine arguing with their maniacal laugh over scraps from an old kill.

The laugh 

   Nothing to laugh at

The birding was pretty good along the Letaba River but the game was scarce.  We spent nearly an hour in one spot adding four new species and marveling at a pair of wood hoopoes feeding chicks in a hollow tree.  Soon the day changed from a ‘hyena day’ to an ‘elephant extravaganza.’  We counted at least 50, from big tuskers to tiny babies in only a few kilometers. 

Fifty kilometers north of the Tropic of Capricorn, Shingwedzi Rest Camp is the newest and nicest yet and the first built on a rectangular plan.  We are a long way into the park.   The rivers are dry and the vegetation Is mostly “mopane,” a low bush, dry and brown until the rains begin.

There are rest camps farther north near the Zimbabwe border but Punda Maria is as far as we will go.  The northern part of Kruger was hit by heavy flooding last year and the roads are still under repair.  The riparian areas are known for their good birding but they will also take some time to revive. 

We saw dozens of bird species on the drive north, including three new ones, and improved our photos on several others.  A herd of elephants entertained us while we at lunch near a water hole and we saw more nyala today than we had seen previously.

So instead of two nights we will head back to Letaba tomorrow.  Besides, Punda Maria is the most “rustic” of the places we have stayed.  We have no kitchen facilities in our cabin so I had to fend off the monkeys while I prepared our dinner in the communal kitchen area.











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