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An Authentic South African Safari - Kgalagadi, Nylsvley, Northern Kruger and Ezemvelo


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afaik lions genrally tend to give birth more often to male than tp females, it significantly increases their chances of spreading their own genes; maybe this "inbalance" is in KTP bigger than in other parks, though


Yes, but the figure tossed around for KTP was 80% male. Now, I don't know if that's at birth or at, say, one year after birth. Hard to believe...

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to be honest: I doubt that this the correct number, it certainly does not reflect the ratio we usually witness during our stays...I might try and get an answer from their Head Field Guide

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Panthera Pardus

Sorry to hijack your Trip Report Safaridude but if I may add a few points to the discussion.


As mentioned Eland are not usually seen on the SA side and the few that are, are usually in the dunes. Eland get most of their moisture from the grasses they consume and they do not sweat thereby conserving moisture. @@ice and @@Safaridude, I have heard both stories: the eland taking a hammering by lions just because they were there and also the one about the them just "reacting to the sudden drinking of water"


First time in seven trips to the KTP we saw Eland, let alone in the Riverbeds.




Many of them had dropped calfs and so were stuck on the SA side for longer than they would have liked according to the Head Ranger at KTP.


 Nossob is "big" when compared to the Wilderness camps but still very nice and nothing like say a Skukuza or Satara in Kruger.


have not heard the lion ratio as high as 80% in favour of males but the Kalahari definitely is skewed towards male. You see many lone male lions, or a male pair. We have also seen a few prides made up of two males and a female or two.


Some of the "stressed lions" have been released from the boma and are collared










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Double Dare

This looks great! Might have to put this on my growing list.

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Fabulous report and some fantastic images. Great work.

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The Dunes


The first stretch of dune country explored on this trip is “the old dune road” connecting the Auob (at Kamqua) and the Nossob (at Dikbaardskolk). This 54 km road is refreshingly free of vehicle traffic. At this time of year, there are very few animals save for a few hardy gemsboks and a few steenboks hidden amongst wheat-like grass (mostly of the many bushman grass variety) of the dune country.



A typical scene from the "old dune road"


For only those staying at Gharagab, there is an exclusive one-way dune road loop that begins at Union’s End. It is yet another world: devil’s thorn flowers carpet the landscape; bare patches reveal the orange sand; and new trees such as purple-pod terminalia and silver cluster-leaf appear. We gasp at the vistas that are beyond endless. The game is patchy but better than on the other dune road: a honey badger here, a meerkat family there, gemsboks and red hartebeests, a common duiker, spoor of a bull eland. The guests of Gharagab have all this to themselves.



Gemsboks of the dunes



Welcoming party



The camera does not do justice to the endless vistas



Devil's thorn flowers




On the lookout


Gharagab’s precise distance from the nearest anything is not the relevant point. Gharagab feels like the remotest place I have ever been. The sense of complete isolation and freedom is exhilarating, yet there is also a sense of loneliness. “Sometimes I have to talk to myself”, chuckles Andre, the one and only manager/attendant overseeing the tiny 4-tent unit camp. The tents overlook a waterhole, which is visited by a jackal at dusk; and he begins to drink. The thin desert air magnifies all sounds – even silence: “slap, slap”; silence; “slap, slap”; silence. A Windhoek in hand. Tuned out from the rest of the world. It’s magic.



The waterhole at dusk



Benson at Gharagab






Gharagab starlit









The magic of Gharagab



Sunrise #1



Sunrise #2


The first night at Gharagab is off to an auspicious start, as after an extraordinary braai (courtesy of Natasha), a brown hyena (a first for me) appears at the waterhole. Then at around 2 am, a distant roar of a lion disturbs everyone’s sleep. The distant roar is answered by a not-so-distant one, but I somehow manage to fall back asleep – only to be completely awakened a few minutes later by a roar that shakes my entire tent unit. The lions are all around my tent, and sleep is no longer in the cards. As the dawn breaks, we take inventory. The big male lion, which Benson saw at night with the help of a torch, has gone off, but two young males and two females with three cubs remain. For an hour after sunrise, we are unable to move out of our tents, but photo opportunities abound. Finally, the lions move off one by one – first taking a drink and then slowly disappearing into the horizon.



Brown hyena



Right outside my tent at 5am



Young male



Young male






Roadblock on our morning game drive


Upon coming back from our delayed morning game run, we learn from Andre that the lions are still close to camp. That afternoon, we take the shortest game drive of my life – a few hundred meters perhaps. The big male and one of the females are found sleeping under a camelthorn tree. What we humans will do for a photo of a big black-maned Kgalagadi lion… Natasha, Benson and I sit in our 4x4 all afternoon discussing everything from world politics to religion, killing time and hoping for the male to please wake up and pose for a few seconds. After a couple of hours, he does, and he walks up a dune with his female. The whole thing is over in a few seconds, and it is time to go back to camp. Patience is rewarded, and fuel is saved. The shortest game drive of my life is also a green one.



A black-maned Kgalagadi lion



Stirring from a nap



Atop a dune


The road trip back to Twee Rivieren is the other “end of the line”. One must register again at Twee Rivieren in order to leave Kgalagadi (this slightly cumbersome process exists because Twee Rivieren also serves as a customs clearing point for travels in and out of the Botswana side of the park). I cannot think of any other park in Africa where exiting is so official, so conclusive, so poignant… so “end of the line”. It sure makes it hard leaving Kgalagadi.

Edited by Safaridude
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Panthera Pardus

You have captured Gharagab beautifully in pictures and words

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I'm catching up. Great report.


Caracal, Brown Hyena, Black-maned lion... wow!

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What a great report, thank you very much. I love the lion roar that shook you awake!

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First there was @@Panthera Pardus PP with all his experience of KTP through the years. Add to that your images and your imagery. What a potent mix. I'm thinking I need to put this on my map now.

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Great stuff.as usual. What a lot you saw in such a relatively short time and your pictures do it all justice.Did I say something similar last time?


I have to admit I am a little bit green to see you posting another trip report so soon, but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment. Joining you second-hand is always a quality experience..

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Thank you all.


@@pault - yes, I am extremely blessed/lucky with my frequent trips.


@@johnkok - no doubt you should.

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Nylsvley Nature Reserve


There is a reserve not many have ever heard of called Nylsvley (pronounced “nails fley”) two and a half hours northeast of Johannesburg. Nobody in his/her right mind would publicly proclaim that Nylsvley is a mini-Okavango Delta. Trouble is, technically – purely technically – it is. The Waterburg Plateau to the west of Nylsvley acts as a rain catchment area, and the resulting Nyl River slowly trickles water onto the 16,000 hectare Nyl floodplain (Nylsvley Nature Reserve protects about 25% of the entire Nyl floodplain). Nylsvley is so named, because the early explorers thought it to be the source of the Nile. The flooding during the rains (Nylsvley floods about every two out of three years) in some years bring some 80,000 water birds to the floodplain, including 12,000 herons, 19,000 ducks and 43,000 crakes. To a serious twitcher, Nylsvley is a well-known commodity. It was declared a Ramsar site in 1998.



Woodland margin of the Nylsvley floodplain


Andre Ballot, Natasha’s partner at Afrifriends, is the driver/guide on this leg. Though affable and a serious nature lover, Andre lacks Natasha’s cooking talents. Luckily, Nylsvley has within the reserve a very nice restaurant named Spoonbill. The cottages are nicely appointed. The staff is very pleasant and nice. In fact, everything about Nylsvley’s atmosphere is… nice (“Nicevley”?), which is not always the case with provincial government-run reserves.






Benson studying up for the next game drive at a Nylsvley cottage





As we all know, in Africa, elements rule – with no regard to money-paying tourists. The floods left a couple of weeks ago, and so did the migrant birds, so we are resigned to “mammal twitching”. Roan antelopes were never numerous in South Africa, and they have declined precipitously in the last 20 years. Nylsvley is one of the very few areas in South Africa where one can be assured of seeing them. Because of the size limitation of Nylsvley Nature Reserve itself, there is only one herd of 40 or so roan. According to Lucas, the local guide, roan here exhibit peculiar behavior in that the dominant bull allows satellite bulls to hang around the herd (this would be unthinkable in other areas of Africa). Equally peculiar, I find, is their propensity to spend the heat of the day out on the treeless floodplain here (in most other parts of Africa, roan retreat into woodland during the day, only to come out to more open areas for grazing in the morning and late afternoon.). In any case, we observe the herd several times both in the woodland and the floodplain. The dominant bull with impressive horns give us fits by being semi-shy and very cagey, but we do catch a close-up glimpse. He is also seen mating.



Roan cows walking toward the floodplain



Roan bull



Roan bull



Roan mating


Other than roan, the sightings list reads, “ impala, tsessebe, zebra, greater kudu, wildebeest, reedbuck, giraffe, warthog, waterbuck, black-backed jackal.” Not too shabby for a reserve so close to Johannesburg, and I plot a better-timed return to add 80,000 water birds on the list. A nice place, this Nylsvley…










Edited by Safaridude
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Nice! :D

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Love the Roan cows walking toward the floodplain in what appears to be a misty morning? and the last Giraffe picture. Gives one a real feel for what you saw.

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And a nice report of this nice place :-)

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Love the Roan cows walking toward the floodplain in what appears to be a misty morning? and the last Giraffe picture. Gives one a real feel for what you saw.


Thanks A. Yes, it gets foggy there this time of year in the morning... a lot like Busanga Plains in Kafue, Zambia... there also with roan.

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Just caught up with this and what a thoroughly superb report it is!

Countless beautiful images and such poetic prose -how can any of us fail to want to visit this part of RSA now!


.....and of course Nylesvley -80,000 birds can't be wrong!

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Guest kuduuu

Living for this report right now! You're photos have always been gorgeous but I have to say, wow, these are by far my fave of all, uh-mazing! Super jealous over here in NYC! Cant wait to see the rest of em'!

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Caracal at the waterhole--not too shy for your camera. Add in the wildcats. Great luck with the small felines. Love your sunrise/set shots with animals and the fighting antelope. Nice ground squirrel action, kicking the dirt.

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Brown hyena, must have been a most exciting first! Were you cheering in the dark?


"The lions are all around my tent" and they are roaring ones. I bet your chest is still vibrating. I can understand the shaky photos of the lions right outside your tent at 5 am.


Really like your tent and stars shots.


You've put some new spots on the safaritalk map.

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Great Trip report!!! You hit the jackpot with the Caracal. Still waiting for my first sighting. And as for the rest: great reading and great pictures!!!


I love the Kgalagadi....I have been to Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania (and SA of course) and of all the parks I visited KTP is one of my favorites and to that I must add that (apart from 1 fabulous leopard sighting) we never had very good game viewing on our 3 trips to that park. It is the atmosphere, the red sands and blue skies, the people you meet, that makes this park a real winner for us. And especially at the Nossob side, north of the Polentswa waterhole you often have the impression that you have the park all to yourself.


Curious now to find out about your experiences of northern kruger, another undervalued region. All the critics on Kruger made by the "experienced" safari-goërs are more or less justified in the south and center of the park (allthough Biyamiti is also far from bad). However, once you head north of Letaba...those critics don't stand for long actually. Many many loops where you are more likely to see that special sighting than another tourist car.

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Thank you everyone.


@@Rainbirder - Nylsvley is the place for you when it's properly flooded. Many hides have been built there. I was actually thinking how much you would enjoy the place.


@@Atravelynn - Yes, cheering in the dark!


@@Bart - Of the "dry parks" (Etosha, CKGR and KTP), KTP is clearly my favorite. I guess I have been lucky with the sightings at KTP. Now, I don't consider big predator sightings as a priority, but I know many people do. Back in April 2008, in 5 nights at KTP, I had 6 lion sightings and 2 cheetah sightings. This time, in 7 nights, I had 4 lion sightings at 2 cheetah sightings. No leopard either time. I am nearly done with the Kruger part of my TR.

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Kruger National Park


Speaking of “elements rule – with no regard to money-paying tourists”, a torrential January storm nearly wiped out my Kruger itinerary. The rains (probably the most torrential in recent Kruger history) washed away many roads and bridges in Kruger and totally destroyed one camp in particular, Shingwedzi, a key base for my original itinerary. The scrambling re-booking effort resulted in getting 3 nights at Punda Maria and 2 nights at Mopani. The itinerary is restricted to the less popular, less crowded northern part of the park – just the way I like it. Now, did the rains wash away all the animals too? I am about to find out.


We do Kruger in style – in an open vehicle (a select few guides/companies are allowed to operate open vehicles in Kruger.). Gavin Sims-Handcock, based out of Nelspruit, is one such guide, and he welcomes us at the Punda Maria Gate. Punda Maria is named after a ranger’s wife named Maria who fancied striped dresses (“punda milia” means zebra in Swahili). Located at the base of Dimbo Hill, Punda Maria is an ancient but charming camp, and it has a loyal following base of zealous campers who love the away-from-the-crowd element of the north. Apparently, some don’t go on game drives every day. They are content to just be camping at Punda Maria.



Cabin-like family unit at Punda Maria





The extreme north of Kruger has essentially two major areas of interest: the Mahonie Loop near Punda Maria and the Pafuri area near the Mozamabican border. They are connected by a stretch of monotonous mopane. They both have permanent water (seepages from the hills in the case of the Mahonie Loop and the Luvuvhu River in the case of Pafuri), and therefore, permanent game. The Mahonie Loop is a delightful short drive at the base of Dimbo Hill through a botanical garden of sorts. Various plants, some not commonly found in other parts of Kruger, thrive here. The dark green-leafed pod mahogany might be the stateliest of all trees. The Mahonie loop is in fact named after “peulmahonie”, the Afrikaans name for pod mahogany. The Pafuri area is thickly canopied in places but clear of underbrush in others. Baobabs, nyala berrys and fever trees are characteristic.



The Mahonie Loop



Baobabs at Pafuri



Crowned Hornbill


Similar game species are found in both areas. This is big-game country with huge herds of buffalos and big-tusked bull elephants. We apparently just miss a leopard at the Klopperfontein waterhole. Though considered to be mundane by most, impalas are particularly interesting at the moment as the rutting season has begun. Fighting and mating replace feeding and drinking as the foremost concerns for the rams. They appear possessed, belching out the most improbable, almost leopard-like calls while chasing each other. They will lose condition quickly over the next couple of weeks, and many will be taken by predators due to oblivion.



Dagga Boy 1



Dagga Boy 2



Pafuri Bridge damaged by the January flood



A bull elephant, Mahonie Loop



Trying to dislodge branches






Corn cricket



Male Impala



"Possessed" by the rut



Ground Hornbill


Greater kudus and nyalas share this habitat as the primary mid-level browsers. Now, the nyala is one strange animal! The shaggy male would appear to be much more at home in the Himalayas. When males encounter each other, they often engage in spectacular lateral presentation displays in which “the male nyala’s hair fringe and dorsal crest increase its apparent surface area by up to 40%”, according to Richard Estes’ The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. One particular male is seen courting a female with his head held high and body frozen and maintaining the posture for about a minute. A different male approaches another with all the hair on his back erect.



Greater kudu






Laughing at us?



Displaying to a female



Stark sexual dimorphism



Approaching another male with dorsal hair erect


While transferring from Punda Maria to Mopani, the state of the rhino poaching crisis in Kruger hits home. At the Babalala picnic spot roughly half way in between the two camps, we hear what appears to be a faint gunshot. Two days later at Mopani, a continual buzzing of helicopters is all around us. We later learn that a rhino poacher was shot dead during this episode.


A few of the visitors in the park are seen texting next to sightings. No, they are not busy conducting personal business. They are official sightings reporters for a new and controversial smartphone app, which broadcasts instantly sightings in Kruger: “spotted hyenas on a carcass at Mooiplas”, for instance. Detractors of the app point to even more crowding of vehicles, or worse yet, increased instances of speeding to get quickly to a desired sighting. I, for one, don’t care for it. At least rhino sightings are purposely not reported. Poachers don’t need additional help.


Mopani Rest Camp is a relatively modern facility built right next to a dam. The central area departs from “old SANParks” and leans more toward the Chobe Game Lodge mold. As its name indicates, Mopani is surrounded by thick mopane scrub, with low visibility and low density of game. However, there is one unusual circuit called the Tropic of Capricorn Loop, which consists of fantastic open grassland, surrounding a waterhole named Tihongonyeni, teeming with zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and ostrich. It reminds me of East Africa; it reminds Benson of eastern Hwange. A lone lioness is found nearby, and she is uncharacteristically nervous and aggressive for a Kruger cat, her tail wagging from side to side (not a good sign from a cat, especially if one is in an open vehicle). Perhaps she is trying to protect her cubs? Luckily, she calms down and crosses the road in front of us. The progressively rare tsessebe and eland also make an appearance on the Tropic of Capricorn Loop.



Brown snake eagle



An agitated lioness



Not happy with us



Mock charge 1



Mock charge 2



An old bull






Tropic of Capricorn Loop






Dagga boy bidding us goodbye


South of the Olifants River, the veld is supposedly “sweeter”, and herbivores and the attendant predators are more numerous (and so are tourists). But there is just not enough time. Time! Can you believe what time it is already? It’s time to leave – for the foreign tourist. What a treat it must be for the South Africans to have these natural treasures right in their backyard. They never really have to leave: there is always the next weekend and the weekend after that. At its core, an authentic South African safari is about celebrating what’s in the backyard in an uncomplicated manner, and I am privileged to have lived it.

Edited by Safaridude
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