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My first trip report: if you want to know something I didn’t mention, feel free to ask. If my report is too long, just let me know. I just like using words ;)

 

 

In September en October my wife and I travelled to South Africa. This trip was going to be different compared to other safari trips. Usually we just book a flight and one or two nights on arrival. This time we went for a selfdrive and booked almost everything in advance to prevent fully booked accommodations.

 

Our itinerary:

Jo’burg – 1 night

Kruger NP – 4 nights

Ohrigstad – 1 night

Piet Retief – 1 night

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi – 3 nights

Durban – 1 night

Swellendam – 1 night

Cape Town – 4 nights

Jo’burg – 4 nights

 

 

For this trip report I'll just write about the wildlife, not all places I've visited in SA.

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Kruger National Park

 

After arriving at night in Jo’burg, we’ve spent one night near the airport, so it would be a quick and easy to pick up our car the next morning. We rented a brand new Kia Sportage and drove it straight to Kruger NP, an easy 5-6 hours drive. We entered Kruger at the Crocodile Bridge gate. Even before arriving at the gate, we already encountered an elephant on the bridge, only 2m away from our car. A promising start of our visit to Kruger!

 

 

Lower Sabie Rest Camp

Because of the available time, we almost drove directly to our camp: Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Although we booked one of the last available tents, we ended up in a real nice one overlooking the river. The tent also had a nice veranda with outdoor kitchen and braai (we didn’t used). Inside was another fridge and some basic furniture and our own bathroom with shower and toilet. It was a comfortable stay for two nights. The Mug&Bean restaurant was overlooking the river: great to have meals and hearing the hippos in the background. We had a great sleap, with lions and hyenas calling in the distance.

 

 

Night Gamedrive 1 – Lower Sabie

The first night we signed up for a gamedrive with the guides from the camp. I wasn’t really pleased to see the size of the truck: I think there were seats for about 20 people. Fortunately, we appeared to be with only 4 guests. Lucky us! We didn’t see a lot, but what we did see was really worth it. We had some good sightings of civet and genet, which we hadn’t really seen on other trips.

 

 

Day Gamedrive 1 – Lower Sabie

The next morning we left after breakfast for a whole day gamedrive. Equipped with an actioncam on the front of the car, a videocamera, photocamera and a pair of binoculars, you would have thought we were well prepared. Well, guess again.

 

It only took us a few hundred of meters to get caught by surprise. We found some impala’s alongside the road and they were absolutely not paying any attention to our car. Before we even could realize what that might mean, a cheetah started to chase the impalas. An incredible sight to see it set off so low to the ground and gaining speed. Seconds later two other cheetahs turned up, crossing the road only 2 meters in front of our car and joined the hunt! They quickly disappeared in the thick bush and we were left open-mouthened of what we just saw.

 

This was a good lesson of always be ready. Our video and photocamera were still in their cases in the dashboard… But at least we did had some video of the cheetahs crossing in front of our car, didn’t we? Oops, no. In all excitement I pressed the record button twice! So the video stops when the first cheetah is right in front of our car. Aargh! But no photo or video would have been better then seeing this happening with your own eyes around your own car.

Later we heard of cheetahs having killed an impala in the same area, so maybe they were the ones we had seen.

 

We continued with our cameras in our hands and were rewarded very soon. We saw some general game like warthog, impala and bushbuck, until something bigger seemed to be hiding after a few rows of bushes. The shadow was definitely an animal and it came closer! We turned of the car and waited patiently. It was a white one walking through to bush and she also crossed the road just in front of the car! What a start of our gamedrive. No other cars were around all the time, so a very nice and quiet experience.

 

Before the cheetahs and after the white one, other cars passed, but it was clear they couldn’t have seen any of these sightings. Really a matter of being there at the right place at the right time and taking enough time to be aware of your environment.

 

Later on we spotted more white ones in the distance. Up close we saw lots of elephants, giraffess and more general game. To make it complete, we also found two male and one female lion alongside the road. Returning back we ended in a traffic jam with 10-15 minutes delay: a herd of buffalos was crossing the road and they took their time doing so.

 

What a gamedrive!

 

 

Night gamedrive 2 – Lower Sabie

The night gamedrive was again with the guide, but this time there were 15 people in the truck and talking a lot. We almost straight drove to two male lions laying on the road. It could have been nice, weren’t it for the other 20+ cars surrounding the lions and blocking each other.

 

We spent a lot of time at the lions, also because we couldn’t leave because of the other cars. We continued driving a lot, seeing little. But we had a great sighting at the end of our drive. A leopard up in a tree with an impala kill. That made everyone very quiet and you could hear the chewing of the leopard, ripping the impala apart. A sad end of the day for the impala, but a special one for us.

 

 

Day Gamedrive 2 – Lower Sabie to Olifants

The next day was about checking out Lower Sabie and heading up north to Olifants, where we would stay for another two nights.

 

The first part of the drive was very rewarding. Again we saw some white ones on the road. What a wonderful animals they are. Lots of giraffes, zebras, elephants, vultures, warthogs, waterbucks and buffaloes. Even some klipspringers. But the closer we got to Olifants, the lesser animals…

 

 

 

Olifants Rest Camp

Olifants is situated on top of a hill, overlooking the river. Great views from the terrace. But Olifants didn’t feel like a safari camp. The bungalows were good enough, with airco. But I thought it was more a bungalow complex/holiday cottages instead of a rest camp in the wild. Wildlife felt far away, unless when you were on the terrace.

 

Gamedrives – Olifants Rest Camp

The wildlife around Olifants was less spectacular then in the southern part of Kruger. We did see a good variety of animals, but more the usual suspects and less in numbers. No cats at all and also no white ones. Still, we did enjoy the area as there were hardly any other cars driving around and it felt more wild. It’s always great to spend time with elephants, especially when there are very young ones around. The last day we exited the park at Orpen. Between Satara and Orpen there was significantly more to see compared to the Olifants area. So even we were leaving the park, it was a great drive with some large female elephants so close to our car, we had to shut the window.

Edited by LarsS
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pomkiwi

@@LarsS

Excellent start to this report - enjoyed your photos on Flickr - particularly the cat-jam :D

 

I found the photo posting process less than straightforward initially. What I do is to export appropriately sized versions of the photos I want included to a folder on my desktop. Then open the box "More Reply Options' at the bottom of the text entry box. This then shows an option (bottom left) to attach files. Follow the instructions and all should be fine (note it will only upload up to 10 images at one go - you will need to repeat the process to upload more for a single posting).

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The welcome committee

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Genet on the first night drive. Unfortunately no pic of the civets, they were on the road but we didn't get the chance to get a good picture of them:

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Elephant drinking, there was actually a fish in that tiny bit of water, that;s why the elephants is so cautious

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Even in the wild you get stuck in traffic

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Lion showing of his girl on the side of the road

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This lion spotted a good meal in one of the tourist

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We found a lot of zebras resting in pairs like these, almost all the time

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Lions blocking the road. Eventually 25+ cars got stuck there. Nice to see lions, but far too many cars blocking each other

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Leopard with kill up in the tree. I think we spent over an hour just watching

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Accommodation at Lower Sabie camp. Basic tent inside, but perfectly situated on the side of the river

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Basic, but good beds

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View of Lower Sabie from the bridge. You can see you have lots of views on the river from the camp

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Little elephant just had a bath

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Giraffes everywhere around the car

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This kudu had better times, but we counted it as it was one of the few animals we saw in the second part of our drive to Olifants

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Accommodation at Olifants

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Enjoying the view from the restaurant, lots of elephants and the occasional hippo

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Elephant love

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Thanks for helping me with the photos. I completely missed the attachment option. Hope you enjoy the pics. I'll add some video as well.

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Alexander33

From what I've seen so far, it looks like you had a great trip. Elephants, a lion traffic jam, leopard in a tree with a kill.

 

I've always enjoyed the night drives, even if it is tough to take decent photos on them, but you managed that genet very well. Nice shot!

 

Looking forward to more.

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The leopard eating the impala kill up in a tree

 

Watch on YouTube

 

(feel free to embed it here, I did it once, but somehow I can't get it done with this video)

Edited by LarsS
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Tom Kellie

~ @@LarsS

 

Thank you for this trip report.

It's a fine end-of-the-year gift to Safaritalk.

I like your little elephant crossing the road post-bath.

The giraffe image made me smile, with a giraffe in the mirror and others in front.

It's very thoughtful of @@michael-ibk to help clarify how to post images.

Tom K.

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Thanks Lars for your report so far, looking forward to the rest.

Where did you stay in Piet Retief, My In-laws are from the area of South Africa.

 

Cheers

 

Hads

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That's an especially good genet photo.

The elephant exercising caution around such a tiny fish is amusing!

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And I've discovered how to embed a video. Just using YT's url. Can't believe I didn't try that the first time. What was I doing?

So, here's the leopard video again:



Thanks all for the kind words!

@@Alexander33 & @@Marks We were very pleased with the genet pic as well. Especially as we only used a pocket camera.

@@Tom Kellie my only regret was missing the head of the third giraffe. I only noticed there was a third in it at home. Still thought it was funny.

@@Hads we stayed at LA Guest House, a lovely guesthouse. Friendly people, parking space within the gate. There's also a nice garden in the back (with braai area). We used the laundry service and in the end it we hardly had to pay for it as she only rounded the room rate with 10 rand. Very nice of her!
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xelas

@@LarsS

 

Nice start, great sightings. Looking forward for more!

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As I mentioned, on our first morning drive we spotted three cheetahs chasing some impalas. The impalas and first cheetah were on the right of our car. After the first cheetah started to chase the impalas, he was joined by two other cheetahs coming out of the bush on our left and crossing the road in front of our car. I managed to turn on the actioncam in front of our car on time, but in all my excitement, I pressed the button on my phone a second time stopping the record. How unfortunate. The result? One cheetah in front of our car crossing the road till halfway:

 

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Edited by LarsS
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I managed to turn on the actioncam in front of our car on time, but in all my excitement, I pressed the button on my phone a second time stopping the record. How unfortunate. The result? One cheetah in front of our car crossing the road till halfway:

Well, either that or you've captured the first cheetah to run fast enough to break the speed of light and disappear completely.

 

Great sighting!

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Well, either that or you've captured the first cheetah to run fast enough to break the speed of light and disappear completely.

 

Great sighting!

 

 

Yeah, that makes it a much more amazing sighting: world's fastest cheetah ever :)

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Some last pictures of Kruger sightings:

 

Kudu, beautiful as always with their twisted antlers

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Hippo's, seen from the restaurant's terrace at Lower Sabie

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The rhino we waited a little while for, rewards our patience by crossing the road in front of us

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Every time I see Turtles/turtoises (I always get confused) I'm a bit surprised, they just don't seem to be in the right place

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Warthogs, regularly seen, weren't as shy as in some other places I've been These didn't bother where others often run straight into the bush before you can take your picture

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Baobab

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Buffalos always give you that look...

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And finally, a couple of steenbokkies. The male eating the poop of the female, if I'm correct they do that, to leave no traces predators can use to locate them

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Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

 

Having spent four nights in Kruger, we left the park and wildlife a few days. But not for long, as two nights later we were heading for Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Here we would stay three nights at the Hilltop camp.

 

 

Hilltop camp

Hilltop Camp is situated in the Hluhluwe area. The camp is fenced, but it doesn't keep all the animals out. We were even told sometimes a leopard is in the camp, although very shy and usually hides from people. We weren't worried about it when walking to the main building in the dark of the morning. With our torches we sure would see the animals in the dark if they were in front of us. Well, it felt strange when all of a sudden we were only a meter away from a bushbuck we really hadn't seen. So, our vision isn't that good in the dark I guess.

 

The rooms were very spacious, a nice view from the window. There was a balcony on the side as well, but some branches were blocking the view. The room smelt a bit musty, but was clean and had good beds.

 

Our cottage, two under a roof

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The room itself, nice view from the window

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The balcony on the side of the cottage

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View from the terrace at the main building. Wildlife would just pass by, buffalos, zebra and even the white guys the park is famous for

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We did some drives with the guide from the camp as well besides self driving. I was very pleased to see there was no truck used, but a regular 9 seater safari car. The guides were very friendly, although at some points more a driver than a guide. At one drive I was pointing out all the animals we passed and the guide suggested I could do the drive and he'd take a nap in the back of the car :) I must admit I had the luck of a higher position with better view and not having to pay any attention of the potholes in the road.

 

The park

Selfdriving in the park can be done, but you should be aware of the many potholes. Where many roads in Africa have potholes, here it seemed more like there was tar in the potholes. There was a lot of road work going on, so things are improving.

 

After Kruger, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi (HI from now on) felt much more wild. Less visitors, smaller distances with some very nice loops. Beautiful landscape. I liked it much better than Kruger. From Hilltop the Imfolozi area can only be visited during a whole day gamedrive. Otherwise the distance is just too big and the potholes prevent you from driving at maximum speed.

 

We visited the park in september and it was very dry at the time. There was no water in the river and it really worried the guides. Hopefully the park will get enough water in the futureto make sure animals wouldn't leave the area. There is some talk going on to create artificial waterholes, according to a guide.

 

 

More about the gamedrives and sightings soon.

 

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So, about the wildlife viewing in HI. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to share. But I guess everybody can know what the park is famous for and I don't think I would disclose a best kept secret. They are promoting themselves for it and post pictures about them as well. That's why I won't keep silent about it. Actually, not to be negative, but there wouldn't be a lot to tell about HI if I would leave the white ones out of it. I was just an amazing experience to be in a place where they are doing such a great work to prevent them from going extinct. We did see them a lot, they starred every drive and I didn't stop enjoying it. The moment we entered the park all the fun began. It didn't took us too long to find the first white female, with a youngster as well. Despite being a little bit in a hurry to reach camp in time for our night drive, we were thrilled and looking forward to our stay in the park.

 

Night drive

On our night drive we came across this precious young zebra.

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As well as a steenbok before the darkness would make it's entrance.

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The white ones were seen as well, but I'll share some pics of them later as the dusk didn't provide us the best light compared to other sightings.

 

Our guide was very keen on getting us a leopard. We drove through the northern section, shining our lights on the environment. Some other cars were in the area as well, but unfortunately there was no leopard to be seen. Also we apparently just missed out on the wild dogs in the area of the northern gate.

 

In my previous post I mentioned the guides weren't all that good a spotting wildlife. But I was stunned we were just driving and all of a sudden the guide stopped. I really had no idea where to look, not even when he pointed out what there was to see. He spotted a chameleon in the bush, only about 3cm tall/small. I was really impressed he spotted that!

 

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Day drive (early morning with guide, later selfdrive)

The next morning we woke up a roadblock in the park.

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When we slowly got closer, they figured out they left some space to pass and made sure we wouldn't sneak passed them.

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Then they checked us out and decided to let us through. Which eventually we did after we spent some time with them.

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We stopped for some coffee on top of a hill overlooking other hills. Although at first glance it looked quiet, when using my binoculars the hills were full of life.

 

We decided to head in the direction of the giraffes and were lucky we found them close to the road.

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The baby was only a few months old and a bit shy, all the time it stayed hidden a bit in the bush. First time for me to see such a young giraffe

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Some impalas making out

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We managed to see quite a few nyalas, mostly female, but male as well

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Prove of how dry the river was. Every time we were at the river, the guide would stop and say 'the river, very dry... hmm...' Although not good for wildlife, it became a bit of a running joke as well.

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Elephants were around, but mostly in the distance.

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Baboons don't need a lot of tree to climb in

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Rhino territory markings. They were fresh so we took a moment to stop and see if we could find it. We didn't, but instead we learnt something. Rhino poo smells. It smells really bad. So bad, I'll never forget it. Try it sometime ;) We drove away with our windows open and it took a while before the smell was gone.

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Another nyala

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And then, in another part of the park, a rhino. It walked a long the road and didn't mind us following him. He was marking it's territory by kicking in the ground and spraying some urine in it (video will follow). A unique experience. It felt really intimate.

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A giraffe killed by lions, as a guide would tell us later. Even when dead, the skin still looks pretty.

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A final nyala

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And a giraffe wishing us a good night

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Edited by LarsS
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The second day in HI started not so good. We drove to another area where there seemed no animals around at all. Unfortunately, it got even worse, the worst. The first animal we found was a rhino. Dead. Poached. Terrible.

 

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We could hardly believe it. Our guide couldn't believe it. Writing this down gives me goosebumps again. I remember someone in the car spotting the rhino. But hey, there's no horn. Then is must be a hippo sleeping. But, a hippo? In an area with no water at all? Slowly we realised we were looking at. Our guide was shocked and in denial. He clapped his hands, hoping it was asleep, but he knew better.

 

Everybody in the car was feeling down. After getting in contact with armed rangers and making sure they would go to the right area, we continued our drive. But we wouldn't care a lot seeing other animals. We'd already seen too much.

 

Later that day we passed the loop. Good to see they immediately closed the road for research.

 

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The night before everybody was so excited about the blood moon. Incredible pictures indeed. But the meaning of blood moon changed the next morning. A blood moon not only looks great, it makes the night less dark. For poachers good circumstances to locate animals at night. Eventually, we heard at least 5 rhinos were killed that night. Not sure anymore if it was in HI of whole KwazuluNatal area. So sad.

Edited by LarsS
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After the sadness of the morning, we headed out again in the afternoon despite the heat.

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Luckily, this time only nice things to see. For example this young zebra drinking at her mother

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A male nyala as well

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We came very close to some buffaloes.

 

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We actually wanted to get a bit more distance, but a tour operator was blocking us... He didn't seemed to care about us at all, only for it's clients. He blocked the road a lot of times, didn't let us pass when we didn't want to stop where they did. It was a bit frustrating, I didn't let it spoil my day, but I expected better behaviour from a tour guide.

 

 

If I'm correct, this is a monitor right?

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Nyalas in the dry river bed.

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At one point there's a hide overlooking a pan. Unfortunately, it was dry. But I think it can be a wonderful place to sit and watch the animals come for a drink.

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And finally, just before returning to camp, our last sunset in HI

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Some final thoughts: I think HI is a very beautiful park. We didn't see any cats, but they are around. Talk to the dead giraffe if you're not convinced. A few days before our arrival there was a buffalo killed by lions near the airstrip. During our stay, only one car saw two lions in the far, far distance. In an area not accesible by road. But despite the lack of cats, I really did enjoy my visit to HI. I would prefer it over Kruger. Not only because the less tourists, but because of the scenery and landscape as well. HI is just a very beautiful park. And if you can enjoy just every animal you encounter, even when there are many of the same species, you will have a wonderful time here. Probably when there's water in the park, you'll find more wildlife then we did on this trip.

 

The park is famous for it's white rhinos. You won't be disappointed. I showed some of my pics here. The dead rhino was very sad, but there was enough reason to believe rhinos are doing good in that park and that the park itself is very important for the numbers if rhino in the wild. Hopefully they will get better and better in protecting the park from poachers.

 

For me, HI is a must visit on a trip to SA.

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