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A tantalizing tale of twenty-eight tortoises


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Thank you for the Mapungubwe information@@Jochen.

I have half a day in the west and a full day in the east of the park planned but will review this when on the ground.

Loved the woodhoopoe pic.


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Another great report of yours @@Jochen, as always I am enjoying the good quality photos. Looking forward to the next installment.

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I'll try to write up about Kruger next WE. But no promises! :P

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Great information Jochen.

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Nice pics, mate. God knows what you did that poor restaurant manager....


That baobab pic would make a great "spot the gnu (?)" competition :D

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Too easy, that one. Hold on I'll post another in a sec (in the other thread).

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Panthera Pardus

@@Jochen pity the Maloutswa hide and the tree top walk were not availbale. Easily the best attractions of Mapungubwe. Great report, thanks for sharing.

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Excllent photos all the way through- really high quality

I love the black egret fishing + the hyena babies are beautiful!

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Part four; Kruger National Park, North


We left Mapungubwe-west in the morning, stopped at the gate of Mapungubwe-east to return the dinner plates we took home last night, and drove on towards Musina.

From SANparks "northern parks" subforum, I found out that somewhere along that road, a bridge was gone (since the floods in 2013), and that you had to follow a detour on a farmer's plot. But the guard at Mapungubwe gate assured me that was no necessary. He told us we could cross the dry riverbed right next to the bridge. He was right, but I assume that in the rainy season (read: the season we were there) you can get unlucky with flash floods.

Anyway, we were lucky. So we arrived in Musina on schedule, and did some shopping at the Pick n Pay, center of town, to stock up on food & booze before driving into Kruger NP.

Don't really know what to think of Musina. We were warned - again via the SANparks forum board - that it can be dangerous. Well, outside town there's areas with signs saying "no stopping - high risk crime zone" or something to that effect. But you see those on the highway near Jo'burg too. We found the staff at Pick n Pay to be very friendly, and didn't feel unsafe at any moment. Idem with leaving the car in the parking lot. Maybe Musina got this image because it's an all-black town (very few white folks there, we were the only ones at that moment, but that might also have been coincidence). If that is why people speak negatively about Musina on SANparks board, it's a bit racist.

After Pick n Pay and another stop at the gas station, we drove on to Kruger NP. And at about 20-30 minutes from the gate we ran into another bridge that was gone since 2013. For some reason no one mentioned this one on the SANparks board. Or I've been reading in the wrong places, and/or somehow missed that info completely.

Anyway, there seemed no way to cross, but there was a tar road going right, following the riverbed. We started following that one for a bit, hoping to find another place to cross the river. Eventually there was a gravel road going left, so I took that one, and ended at some gate of a community. An old guy opened the gate for us. He didn't speak English, but understood "Pafuri" and waved his hands a bit to show us in some general direction. OK...

We drove through a little country town with little worn-down houses (but not a shanty town. Betterthan that), and then ended up in some hilly area where I had to use my 4x4 a couple of times to be able to continue. My wife said she'd rather go back, but I pushed on, keeping an eye on my GPS. Slowly, the arrow got closer to our original tar road. And eventually we got there. After 10 more minutes of driving we were at Pafuri gate, happy to have made it, but an hour late.


Much later on the trip we re-told this story at another camp, and complained that - even after a year - they did not put any "detour" signs up, helping people to get around. Well it seems there WAS a detour, somewhere 100m before you get to the bridge there's a left turn onto a tar road. But you have to know, because there's no signs!

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Our firts restcamp was Shingwedzi, so we still had quite a bit of driving to do. So we pushed on. For the first half hour, going east, we saw absolutely nothing. Then we saw a dead tree full of vultures. Whether it was for a nearby kill or not, I'll never know, because all of a sudden a big bull elephant stepped onto the road 200m further on, saw us, and came running straight at us!

By now, I've seen quite a bit of elephant charges, and I know a mock charge when I see one. This was nothing like that. Hiis head went down, and his ears in. I reversed immediately, putting some distance in between us. He slowed down ,but then came running at us again (with at least 100m in between us). So I backed off as far as I could That is; as far as I could without losing sight of him. Luckily the road was deserted and had no sharp turns.


This is one pic I took when he was standing still for a second or two;



The reason for not wanting to lose sight of him; I wanted to know, if he left the road, at what side of the road he was. Because I was keeping in mind that I still had to pass him to get to our camp. But after the above scenario repeated itself a few more times (read; he had been running towards us for at least a kilometer or even more), I gave up. I backed up so far that I could only see a little piece of his ear.

Then that ear disappeared to the right, so I waited 5 minutes and then moved closer. The problem; I saw him move to the right, but at a turn in the road. So did he stay on that side, or cross the road and go left anyway? Well, we drove slowly, but couldn't find him anymore.

We still don't know what got into him. Had he been harassed by another car? Poachers perhaps (we're not too far from the border there)? Had he caught scent of a kill nearby (remember the vultures) and did he go mad because of that? Weird! But no fun way to start our Kruger NP episode.


There was only one vulture left when we passed the dead tree again;


By now we were more than an hour and a half behind schedule as well. I had hoped to do the whole gravel road along the Luvuvhu river, up to the gate to Mozambique, but now we decided to do just the first "block". Still, we saw lots of Nyala, and our first European Rollers. It also started raining (a light drizzle).


Luvuvhu river, as you can see plenty of water;



Some pics;










And one of the first European Rollers I photographed;


We saw one other vehicle and the driver asked us what we saw. We got super-enthusiastic about the European Rollers, but the guy gave us the most baffled, not-understanding look ever. Only a bit later that day we realized that there were European Rollers everywhere, and felt pretty stupid about being so overly exstatic for seeing them. We also had a chuckle about the whole thing, and for the next day it became our "inside joke".

At shingwedzi we had rented one of the one-bedroom houses. Those with a view had been fully booked so we ended up with one in the "inner circle". It was very nice, and really had all we needed, but the view was nothing to write home about; a big almost grassless plain with similar houses all around. We saw everybody at their braai and dinner table (the kitchen is outside) and they could see us.

We ducked under the covers early. It had been a long day, and we wanted to be fresh for the next day (again a long drive).

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The next day, our destination was Olifants Camp.


We left early, and decided to stay away from the tar road passing Mopani. In other words, we took the road east. The one that takes you close to the Mozambican border. At first that decision looked as it was the wrong one. Because we saw very little at the lake/dam near Shingwedzi camp, along the river itself, and at the waterholes along the road. Well, we did have some good sightings, of course. But nothing exceptional;
















When we got closer to the border; the road turned away from the river, and it gets drier, so there's even less to spot. There's a lot of hills on your left, demarcating the border between SA and Moz. At one point, there's a road going up one of those hills, with a lookout ("Shibavantsengele"). We went to have a look, could not spot one single animal from there, but it was deserted so we used it for a toilet stop, as by now it was "high tide". Our map indicated that the Nyawutsi hide - where we stopped an hour prior - had toilets, but there were none.


To be honest, this was our own peeve with Kruger NP; how can they suspect anyone to take the long gravel roads (helping the park not to look overcrowded) when there's no facilities there? Or also; how can they demand that you stay in your car at all times, for hours and hours on end, without the chance of going to the toilet. Surely, they must know we're not robots?

OK, so in a way I admit that I broke a park rule. And probably there might be some white knights out there who take offense now. Maybe they're the same people who seem more keen on photographing rule breakers than photographing wild life, haha. The thing is; over the next day I discussed this with other visitors (like neighbors at the places we stayed, or people that stopped us to exchange sightings), and it seems that my little question "seen any toilets?" was 100% answered with "boet, just go in the bush, it's what we all do".

So me message to the park board would be; if you insist on people not leaving the vehicle where it's not allowed; please provide more toilet facilities.


End rant. lol.


Anyway, on the roads we chose a quick pee was never a problem as they were more often than not completely deserted. Certainly in these northern sections of the park. That last hour near the Moz border, we saw no one. Only when we came closer to the Nshawu Marsh did wesee vehivles again (one or two). And animals, including our first buffalo herd of this trip! (But photographs were nearly impossible in the high grass)


We came onto the tar again, south of Mopani (on the H1), and then took a right to do the "Tsendze Loop". After that, again a streth of H1 tar, and at Letaba we did the little roads north of camp (to Longwe lookout), and then went shopping (so that we did not have to do that anymore at Olifants.


From Letaba to Olifants, we took the gravel road next to the Letaba river. The more south we got, the more animals we saw. The afternoon was a fantastic drive. No cats, but that would soon change. Some images;














On the mirror of the toilets at Letaba;
















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At Olifants, our accomodation was practically identical to Shingwedzi. A rondavel with a nice bedroom and a smallish bathroom, and again an outside kitchen. However, here we had a fantastic view. There's rondavels with an even better view, closer to the river, but those were already booked. We liked this house nonetheless. The rondavels were positioned in such a way that you had a bit of privacy in your kitchen.


This was the view;




Close up of what's going on down there;




In the garden, our side of the fence, were some bush buck:





And here's a picture of my wife holding my sausage (viewers discretion);


Sorry if this is inappropriate. Always wanted to do this.

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Will continue with the south of Kruger NP next week.

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Wow, what an adventure with an elephant! I think this is one of the reasons why I won't be able to do self drive myself, but I respect tremendously those who can :)

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That little hyena is a super catch for you. Mashatu may not have buffalo and rhino, but everything else is out in force. Huge eland herds!

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Part 5; Kruger NP, middle.


The next morning we left Olifants, and did the S92/S91 bits near the river. We didn't see much, except for a fish eagle, a hippo out of the water, some Temmick's Coursers and this fellow;








Then we turned south onto the H1. Not for long though, as we planned to do the S39 drive, which follows the Timbavati river.

But first things first; the tar road crossed the Olifants river, and right after having passed the river I noticed a young hyeana sleeping on the edge of the road. Well it seems they had made a den under the road, and there ware a couple of youngsters in it. One was absolutely not shy. It got under the cars to drink the water coming from the airco's.








That was fun! So, next, we drove onto the S39. At that point we'd been driving for almost two hours (took my time at the river crossing, made a panorama shot), and my wife announced it was getting high tide. Time for a toilet break. Now, we were going to pass the Timbavati pick nick spot, so I told her to hold it for a bit longer. And at that exact moment...




My wife said "That was quite a rock" (hitting the bottom of the car), but I knew that was no rock. I looked into my rear view mirror and saw that our spare tire had come off from underneath the car. Now, why it came off at that moment; I still cannot understand it. Compared to Blouberg & Mapungubwe, the roads in Kruger were as soft as a living room carpet.


Well, there was nothing else to do but to get out of my car and pick up my tire. I decided on throwing it into the trunk; I did not feel like trying to attach it to the bottom of the car again, certainly not at that spot. So I drove back 20m, had a good look around, got out, opened to door at the back, got our suitcases out, threw in the tire, got our suitcases back in, and closed the door. Luckily the vehicle was unequipped (ic no tents, chairs & table on board) as otherwise it would not have been so simple.


I got back in the car, only to notice my wife was gone. She decided to have a quick wee between the two (opened) doors on her side of the car. The reason why I mention this...


We drove on, and after a mere 50m, literally just after the first bend and the first bush near the road, was this guy;




He was quite handsome. So we took our time filming and photographing him. He was just 5m from the road, and we had him only to ourselves.






We were so happy to see a lion (our first cat after Mashatu, which was already 5 days or so behind us) that only after 15 minutes I realized "he might not be on his own". Only then (!) I looked at my side of the road, and spotted his two mates under some other bushes.




Some guides we are eh? (blush) We laughed with ourselves for quite a bit and the first five minutes I could not even hold my camera still enough for a shot. Then it dawned on us; I unloaded the car and loaded it again, and my wife had a wee ...50m from three male lions. Even though I'm quite sure that I could absolutely not see them when I stopped to pick up the tire; it makes you think twice about getting out of the car in the middle of nowhere.


OK, the rest of the day was fun as well, but not nearly as exiting. Still; took some very decent shots that afternoon.






















We came to Satara, our stop for that night, and had some time left to do the S100, all the way to the S41 and back. This road yields the most cat sightings, apparently, but apart from some general game, we didn't see much that day.




We decided to do it again the next morning.


Not much to say about Satara; Rondavel-type huts again. e were close to the fence, but there's just plains outside. No river. So there wasn't much to see. We did see a quite tame honey badger, but could not take pictures.

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That lion certainly has very healthy teeth! Wouldn't want to be as close as 50 m to them while picking up a tyre. :)


Just beautiful pictures, especially love the kingfishers and the kudu. Really enjoying this report, thank you for sharing.

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A little word about that tortoise; that was one we saw, and the more south we got, the more we started seeing. Some small, some big. Some were very noticeable. others were not. More than once we thought "hopefully they can get across the road safely"...


But at one point we found to that were in a pool, in the middle of the road, only their heads above the water. Well, those were terrapins, but none the less: how can you help them? It's no use taking them out of their pool. After you've gone they'd come straight back to the water.


Anyway, we were used to seeing maybe one or two per safari, but now in the wet season it seems they all came out. So we started counting them.

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@@Jochen at least you had a legitimate reason to leave your vehicle - we saw someone get out to take a picture of a giant land snail :(

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The next day we did the S100 again, and it was again "just" regular game, but at the end of the road we spotted a leopard in a dead tree. Of course we did not have that sighting to ourselves. The singita vehicles were there as well. But they all soon left (breakfast time I suppose), and only us plus one other vehicle remained at the sighting.


In the Singita vehicle was a guide and his girlfriend. He was into photography as well. It was an overcast day, and we waited for a bit of sunlight to hit the leopard now and then and/or to get a bit of blue sky in the background. Some other self-drivers stopped but none stayed longer than five minutes. One did not even see the leopard. The driver was looking at the wrong end of the road (probably because I had parked at the opposite side of the road), and his wife was doing her make-up. Yup... she got her priorities straight!
















Past the Sweni bird hide (read; past the entrance to the Singita lodges), the landscape got drier again, and we saw less and less animals. Even though there's a river somewhere next to the S37 road. But luckily, things got more interesting again, once we were near Orpen Dam. Good sightings included our 2nd big buffalo herd and - finally! - our first rhino.


Coincidence or not, but as long as we had been on those roads near the Moz border, we had not seen one, nor seen any sign of them (like rhino middens). Makes you realize the poaching problems are quite serious. Reading the news is bad enough. Seeing the result is far worse.












We also had a "summer shower" at one point;











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OK, now I need to process more pics (of Lower Sabie, Biyamiti, and the sightings in the south part of Kruger). So stay tuned for more!

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Beautiful leopard sighting. Self-driving is a real eye-opener sometimes. Lots of people (mainly south african it seemed) were fixated on lions, to the detrement of whatever else was around

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A little word about that tortoise; that was one we saw, and the more south we got, the more we started seeing. Some small, some big. Some were very noticeable. others were not. More than once we thought "hopefully they can get across the road safely"...


But at one point we found to that were in a pool, in the middle of the road, only their heads above the water. Well, those were terrapins, but none the less: how can you help them? It's no use taking them out of their pool. After you've gone they'd come straight back to the water.


Anyway, we were used to seeing maybe one or two per safari, but now in the wet season it seems they all came out. So we started counting them.

Just out of interest, how many squashed ones did you see? We hardly saw any roadkill (a couple of rollers - occupational hazard of eating insects off of the road) but also a couple of tortoises so we were also willing them across quickly

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Up to part 5.


Sausage Spoiler: G-Rated


Some real trials and tribulations. Rude staff, cheeky elephant, closed roads. That roller with the morsel midair is great. What is the morsel? I spotted some Wood Hoopoes, I believe. Mashatu came through with the leopards! Looking forward to the next installment.

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