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Kruger circuit: A South Africa Safari at the "optimum" time, September 2014


Tdgraves

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Tdgraves

This is a continuation of my trip report, Mashatu madness/Tuli-tastic, as we have now changed countries to South Africa

 

The first 4 nights in the Tuli block, Botswana, can be found here:

 

http://safaritalk.net/topic/13650-mashatu-madnesstuli-tastic-our-first-trip-to-botswana-august-sept-2014/

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So, just for @@bettel and anyone else who likes cubs, spotty or otherwise, some more of the leopard cubs   These were taken by my OH, so you have his perspective, there is a longer effective zoom (7

Day 12 Morning Drive, Leopard Hills   There were just three of us on the drive, so we were able to stay longer at sightings if we wanted, which meant I could get this shot:     We had a lovely

Day 11 Morning Drive   The following morning was our last game drive before transferring to Sabi Sands and this time, we did have a private vehicle. We got some rather envious looks, firstly from a

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Tdgraves

After our morning game drive in Mashatu and breakfast, we were taken back to the border. This took about an hour in an open safri vehicle. Not so enjoyable when going at full speed. We then drove to the Northern Kruger. This route skirted around the edge of Mapungubwe National Park and across the top of South Africa, near the Zimbabwe border. It was about a 3 hour drive with not much traffic. One of the road bridges damaged in the 2013 storms and flooding was still out, so there is a detour around the local township. On arrival to KNP, I was looking forward to a cold drink, as all the other entry gates we have used have had a shop. Not so at the Pafuri gate! I get the impression that not many tourists use this as a point of arrival! The Outpost Lodge is about a 20 minute drive from the gate. We were delayed by a large bull elephant eating flowers off of a tree at the side of the road. He didn't want to move and we didn't want to annoy him, so we waited....

 

http://youtu.be/xXx63b9xW_E

 

As we got to the lodge before 4pm, we assumed that we would be offered an afternoon activity, but no. Apparently there is too much distance to cover and we would only really have gone for a sundowner drink, so we relaxed and made use of the amazing "space" i.e. room - I recommend you look at their website, it was an amazing place, the architecture was stunning.

 

http://www.seasonsinafrica.com/lodges-in-south-africa/kruger-lowveld-lodges/the-outpost-kruger-national-park/

 

After the 2013 floods, this is now the only private lodge in the Northern Kruger, there are rumours that Wilderness are not going to rebuild their Pafuri lodge. The Outpost is in the Makuleke concession and drives were on private roads, so we encountered no other traffic.

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Day 6, 4/9/14 - morning drive

 

We were up and having coffee at the allotted meeting time (our first ever pre-game drive cappuccinos!) but no sign of the family of four who were supposed to be joining us. When they did arrive, two sleepy teenagers and their parents, they were itching to get going...

 

So after going to the loo, we went to the vehicle, where we found two of them in the front seat and two in the back. The mother eventually asked if it was ok, but given that they had settled in, it seemed churlish to make them move. We were stuck in the middle. This reminded me of another recent conversation on ST

 

http://safaritalk.net/topic/13622-kwando-nov-2014-a-mixed-safari-experience/page-3 post #50

 

It wouldn't have mattered so much, but the father who was on the back seat, kept asking questions, which meant the guide had to keep stopping to answer him, so that she could be heard without the engine noise.

 

They were a British family on their first ever safari, so we stopped for everything, even the back end of an elephant far, far away....

 

The Northern Kruger is not renowned for its' game density, so we weren't expecting too much. It was nice to be the only vehicle around though.

 

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We stopped for coffee at a fever tree forest, where at this time of year, the water has usually all gone. There were lots of water birds, but I could've done with a longer lens...

 

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We spent ages trying to catch a kingfisher splash-down, but to no avail

 

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There are Trumpeter Hornbills in this area of the park and having only got a fleeting glimpse of one in the Lower Zambezi, I was hoping to have a better sighting, which we did.

 

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We drove towards Crook's corner and surprised some self-drivers by walking into the Limpopo and across to ZImbabwe (well, there wasn't much of a river left)

 

It was pretty late by the time we got back to camp, definitely brunch, not breakfast!

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Thank you for the report! It helps to survive the period between safaris :)

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Tdgraves

Thank you for the report! It helps to survive the period between safaris :)

For Me too, but now I am behind, so I need to get this one done (8 more days to do yet...) so that I can move onto the next one!!

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Tdgraves

Day 6 Evening Drive

 

This was really a sundowner drive as they are unable to cover much distance. However, it may well be the most scenic sundowner spot ever. On the Lebombo hills, looking out over Mozambique

 

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Over the siesta period, a huge flock (what is the collective noun for a groups of vultures?) passed by our room. The spaces are on the edge of a ridge and they were thermalling. It is amazing seeing them at eye level, rather than circling overhead or sitting in a tree

 

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I got told off, as the constant shutter noise woke up the OH from his nap!!

 

On the night drive back, I got to practice a bit of high ISO photography - with and without motion blur!

 

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And back for dinner

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You're right, that's quite the sundowner spot. I am enjoying this thread very much, keep it coming!

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Tdgraves

Day 7 Morning drive, 5/9/14

 

It was pretty quiet and we did not cover as much ground as our guide knew that we had to get to Satara before the gates closed at 18.00. By the way, she had an interesting story, not only was she female (our first female guide) but she was Belgian! She had been going to Africa with her family since a young age and decided to move out and get the training.

 

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Our vehicle mates continues to take shots of the back end of elephant in the distance...from the front an rear rows :(

 

Back to camp to have breakfast and check out for our long drive through the park to get to Satara. So, not the most game-dense safari spot in the world, but probably the most amazing room we have had in any hotel, let alone in a safari lodge and pretty good to break the journey in combination with other places. I don't think it would not work as a stand alone safari destination (perhaps maybe for birding), but as a weekend away from it all - perfect!

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I've checked the website of The Outpost Lodge @@Tdgraves and it surely looks awesome!!

 

Looking forward to the Satara part of your trip as I will be there myself this coming June... :)

 

Cheers,

 

Michel

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Tdgraves

I've checked the website of The Outpost Lodge @@Tdgraves and it surely looks awesome!!

 

Looking forward to the Satara part of your trip as I will be there myself this coming June... :)

 

Cheers,

 

Michel

 

@@MR1980 We were only in Satara 1 night to break the journey. You can get a better idea about it from my other TRs

 

2013 http://safaritalk.net/topic/12892-my-first-kruger-self-drive-january-2013/

2014 http://safaritalk.net/topic/12471-kruger-jan-2014-a-safari-of-wild-dogs-ground-hornbills-and-steenbok/

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Tdgraves

Transfer Outpost Lodge to Satara

 

So we had at least 250km to travel and we had to make the gate at 18.00. With no rest breaks or sightings, this was a five hour drive. Given that we would have to have comfort breaks (but we could do without lunch) and were bound so see some things which we wanted to stop for, it was best foot forward. The Northern park of the park really is not visited. We hardly saw any other cars. The human and game densities both increased as we travelled further south, but it was noticable that there was not that much game about. I realise this was in the middle of the day, but when we do transfers in January, we are constantly stopping at sightings.

 

Our first stop was a tawny eagle with the remains of a genet. Someone coming the other way told us that there was a lion up ahead on the opposite side of the road, but we couldn't find it....

 

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http://youtu.be/6FXYnRjxMm8

 

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We did the tourist thing and got a photo at the tropic of Capricorn

 

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We stopped at each restcamp for drinks, bathroom breaks and to change drivers. We were also on the lookout for compact flash cards, but to no avail. The most bizarre was at Mopani, where some schoolkids wanted to have their picture taken with us - who knows why!! It was a Friday and we saw several coaches full of school kids.

 

Elephants prefer fresh water, so the taller ones can get it at source, whereas the younger ones have to make do with the waterhole that everyone else uses and share. The benefits of age!

 

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For some reason, this one took exception to sharing with a secretary bird

 

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Time was ticking on when we had our only "Kruger moment". There were several parked cars ahead, which could only mean none thing - lions. There was a mating pair, right next to the road, but mostly hidden in some bushes. We were acutely aware of the time and we still had a fair distance to cover. The vehicle in front of us moved, to leave we thought, but oh no, he decided to park at an angle, behind the next car, completely blocking the road for us to leave, but also for vehicles coning in the other direction. One arrived from the other direction and the male driver of the illegally parked car studiously ignored them, meaning that they also had to break the rules, by driving off road in order to get past him. All for a poor view of some sleepy lions! We also had to break the rules as we needed to get to Satara. He just waved me past. Grrr.

 

We got to Satara with about 10 minutes to spare. We were able to try the refurbished restaurant for dinner, as the old one had closed on the day that we arrived last time we were here. It is a Mugg & Bean and it was pretty good for what it was. They had a take-away coffee bar as well and the fact that local South Africans were using it must mean that it is a success. They also had a take-away pizza place :(

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Tdgraves

Just realised that I didn't put the itinerary at the start. I thought I had done it in the Mashatu post.....

 

Outpost lodge, Northern Kruger 2 nights

Satara, KNP 1 night

King's camp, Timbavati 3 nights

Leopard hills, Sabi 3 nights

 

This was to take advantage of the seasons in Africa 8 nights for the price of 6 offer, as all of the private lodges were run by them. I have wanted to visit the outpost for years, after seeing it in a fancy travel magazine. I had planned to combine it with a less opulent (and less expensive) sabi lodge, but this offer was too good to refuse, especially as the 2 free nights were taken off of the more expensive lodges....

 

I added a night in Safari as I preferred to drive through the park than around it. If we had driven directly, the roads are not good and we would have missed the evening game drive anyway!

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Day 8 Morning Drive, Satara

 

It was a really noticeable difference between September and January. Although September is supposed to be the better time, I think on balance we prefer the park in the summer. Given that it is dry, you'd expect the game to be grouped together and near water, however this was not the case. On the transfer we didn't see very much at all, even though we covered 250km. We also didn't appreciate how many birds are migratory and that they are not around in the winter. The other thing is the gate times - not open until 6am - a lie-in!

 

This was our first sighting, but she was on a mission. She crossed the road in front of us and after getting only a couple of shots, she was gone. I don't think the game drive vehicle behind us even saw her

 

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Not long after we saw the lion, something ran out in the road in front of us. It was about 100 metres in front and initially we thought it was a jackal, given its' size. However, it had a very cat-like, slinky movement, rather than the usual trotting that jackals do. It was also a golden, lion-like colour. We can't be sure, but we think it may have been a serval...no photographic evidence though :(

 

We had a nice sighting of a Burchell's coucal

 

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We did see some birds though, including this black crake, which we have never seen before

 

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Impala eating sausage tree flowers

 

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Back to Mugg & Bean for breakfast and to check out.

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Tdgraves

Day 9 transfer to King's Camp, Timbavati

 

It is a relatively easy drive out of the park to Timbavati, without much to see on the way. On arrival it is a short drive along the "main" road to get to camp. The road serves as the boundary between the Timbavati and Klaserie reserves, where the fence line used to be.

 

The lodge staff were very surprised that we did not want lunch, after our full English in the park.

 

The rooms here are ridiculously luxurious. Spacious thatched, semi-detatched buildings with a large bed, a separate seating area with mini bar and Nespresso machine, his and hers sinks, a large bath, indoor and outdoor showers and a plunge pool!!

 

The lodge has a low electric fence to keep out large game, but there were impala, bushbucks and baboons around. The warthogs seemed completely immune to the electricity, simply walking under the fence as if it were not there.

 

We unpacked and had a coffee before going out on a drive. This is the only lodge we have stayed in in South Africa where the afternoon drive was not preceeded by afternoon tea.

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Tdgraves

Day 9 Afternoon Drive, Timbavati

 

As our agent had let all of the camps know we were keen photographers (mainly to ensure that they were not using the middle seats of cehicles for guests) our guide had reserved us the front row of the vehicle, complete with camera rests! The other two couples in the vehicle did not mind as they only took the odd snap.

 

Our first sighting was a leopard which they had spent a long time tracking in the morning. There was a barely touched impala kill under a bush, hardly hidden and we were worried that the leopard had been scared off. "let's just drive over there a bit" over there being off road. No sooner than we had covered 10 metres, was a very sleepy leopard, Rock fig jr. 'm not sure why they name their leopard's, but her mother was made famous by the documentary "Big cats of the Timbavati"

 

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We managed to get a few shots, before she moved to another shady place to continue her nap and we left her to it.

 

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on our way to sundowners, we found this lone lioness, but it was rapidly getting dark..

 

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We also saw buffalo and eles - so the big 5 on our first drive!

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Nice to see a lot of northern Kruger, stunning place. Some call it the true Kruger...I suspect they may just really dislike crowds!
The eagle with the genet is an unsual sighting, very cool. The small, golden cat like animal...could it possibly be a Caracal?

Big 5 in one drive is also very awesome!

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Tdgraves

The lioness was trying to find the rest of the pride and so started to roar. To be so close to this amazing noise was a wonderful experience. the sound was echoing off of the landscape and reverberating through my body - all my hairs were standing on end!

 

http://youtu.be/5CGvMGLMUqQ

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Tdgraves

Nice to see a lot of northern Kruger, stunning place. Some call it the true Kruger...I suspect they may just really dislike crowds!

The eagle with the genet is an unsual sighting, very cool. The small, golden cat like animal...could it possibly be a Caracal?

 

Big 5 in one drive is also very awesome!

 

I have never seen a caracal in the wild, although I have seen both serval and caracal in a rescue centre. They are larger and redder, so I would be more inclined towards serval, but as I said - no proof!

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Day 9, Morning Drive, Kings Camp, Timbavati (above post is a typo - should read day 8!)

 

We started off with another close rhino sighting. They seemed keen to point out that there "are lots of rhino here". I'm not sure whether this was PR, putting a brave face on it or trying to take away from the poaching crisis affecting the main KNP.

 

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We then bumped into a juvenile male leopard. We followed him off road for a bit, but the terrain was too bumpy, so we had to admit defeat.

 

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While we were having morning coffee, we did a spot of birding and managed to see a little sparrowhawk, something that we have not seen before. The hammerkop wasn't best pleased about it....

 

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We then found 3 zebra. I have never seen a guide so excited by what, in most other South African safaris is a ubiquitous animal. Apparently they hardly ever get them as the grass is the wrong type!

 

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We then had an amazing experience in a river bed, being surrounded by a huge herd of buffalo. It was getting very hot though in the full sun. I should have been suspicious when the guide was making comments like "I'll be in trouble with the chef again". Of course, on the other side of the river - bush breakfast! Lovely, as we haven't had one for a while. There are some very tame, fat, warthogs who live nearby and they spent the entire time giving us the eye and hoping that some food would fall on the floor.....

 

As we were leaving we got a fleeting glimpse of spotted hyeana, attracted by the smell of bacon.

 

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When we got back to camp, we had a lovely sighting of a pied crow and I managed to get one in flight. Again, they do not usually see these in this area, although we saw loads of them from the road when we were driving up to Mashatu.

 

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Tdgraves

Day 9 Evening Drive

 

The evening drive starts off quite slowly.

 

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And we don't see much more, until we come across two female lions, just as the sun is going down. This experience along what we would soon have in Sabi and what we did have in Mashatu, made us realise the value of a guide who understands photography. There was a great chance of a shot of them both walking directly towards us, but he did not stop, wanting to get ahead of them, which we did, but of course all they did then was lie down :(

 

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We had disturbed a fish eagle next to a dam earlier and on our way to a sundowner spot, we found it in a nearby tree. This gave me chance to offer our guide a little photographic instruction, as I got myself ready and then he slowly approached it to get a sunset/in flight shot

 

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So a quiet evening, but we had seen the big 5 that day as well....

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Great pictures. Enjoying your trip report. It is definitely getting me in the mood to go again.

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Marks

Those fish eagle shots are marvelous. The first one in particular is really nice in that you managed to keep the two tones of the eagle from being washed out by the sunlight.

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Tdgraves

Siesta time, 8/9/14, Kings camp

 

(Just realised that I have done this out of order, due to my mislabelling the dates on previous posts, sorry. I will do the morning game drive just now.....)

 

When we were shown around the room, we were told to keep the patio doors onto the pool area closed, as the baboons like to come and steal the fruit from the fruit bowl. Looking back on this, I realise that this was a bit of a language problem. She had translated "closed" but what she meant was "locked".

 

We were trying to have a snooze and the next thing I know is my OH was shouting "No!". I sat up to see the biggest male baboon sat in our lounge area, rifling through the fruit bowl. The lid was flung to the floor. He was clearly not scared of humans, as he made no attempt to stop what he was doing and leave. I rushed towards him to shoo him out. This made him leave, but not before putting an apple in his mouth and taking one in each hand.....

 

Our motion-sensitive camera just caught him as he ran past (on the left of the image). He then sat directly opposite our porch and proceeded to eat the spoils of his incursion.....hmm

 

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http://youtu.be/q-l9v97tK2s

 

They then went to trash our next door neighbours porch, presumably as they couldn't get what they wanted!

 

As I was trying to find these, I found a a nice sunrise shot from earlier in the morning.

 

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Edited by Tdgraves
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Tdgraves

Day 10, Morning drive

 

The Australian couple who we were sharing a vehicle with left for Leopard Hills the previous morning, so it was just us and a honeymoon couple left in the vehicle. This would be their last drive before leaving after breakfast. There was a lion kill just over the "border" in the Klaserie reserve. This mean that we would not be able to go and see it, but it did not stop the hyaena queuing up for left-overs. This pleased the honeymoon couple as they had not seen any hyaena so far on their trip and they were very close and in the nice morning light.

 

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We were then able to approach quiet close to a Bateleur in a tree

 

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The rest of the drive was uneventful.

 

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Back for breakfast and for the others to pack up and leave

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