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Given that we have been back for over two months, I thought it was about time I started on the TR! As has been the tradition over the three trips that we have done to the Kruger, I again managed to squeeze in an extra night (2013 8 nights, 2014 9 nights, 2016 10 nights). This was in part due to discovering from our September trip, upgraded using miles, that flying out on a Thursday night was possible and leads to an extra usable day. Given that we always take the Friday off of work, so take 11 days of leave for a 2 week trip and the flight to Johanesburg is overnight, we did feel at a loose end for most of the day on a Friday, basically waiting to leave to go to the airport. I wasn't quick enough with the miles (or used to doing it enough) to upgrade this booking though, as January is a popular time. We also usually add a few nights stay in our friends country place/game farm, which gives us a nice relaxing break from driving and where we can spend some quality time with them.

 

Having been to the KTP last January and self-catering, we were less worried about having to stay in the main rest camps so that we had access to a restaurant. That, coupled with the fact that the wilderness camps in the KTP are so nice, we though we'd give the Kruger ones a try. The ones which fitted best into our route were Talamati and Shimuwini. To add in 2 meant doing only 2 nights per camp, but we thought that this was a good compromise to see both. This meant we would see a couple of new areas of the park. We only planned to use the restaurants in the main camps on our transfer days, so it was half self-catering and half catered. But given that the shops are so well stoked and you do not have to carry water, the shopping was much less onerous than the KTP the year before.

 

A few times when we have been in Johannesburg, we have been to the Wanderers to see some cricket. A couple of ODIs and a day at a test match where we saw Andrew Strauss score 147, so I was very pleased to see after we had booked the flights that England were touring South Africa when we were there and that the Johannesburg test was very conveniently placed in our schedule. It is very difficult to buy stand alone tickets from abroad, so when I asked our friend if he would go and buy us some, he went one (or ten) better, by providing hospitality seats! He was pleased to have someone to go with (his family all being female and not interested), that the three of us went with two another of his friends. We could not have chosen a better day - 18 wickets, >250 runs and Stuart Broad bowling at 6-17 (including 5-1 at one point) and we won the match and the series, while we were there!! It all went downhill in the series after that though! Being sat in the Cricket South Africa hospitality area, surrounded by South Africans made it a very surreal experience. The OH told me off as I kept leaping to my feet as the wickets fell! I have never been to a sporting event in a hospitality area before and I must say, it is definitely the way to do it!

 

The other bonus of arriving on Friday instead of Saturday, was that we left for the Kruger on a Sunday instead of a Monday morning, so this, along with the fact that they have finally finished the N4 roadworks, meant that the drive across was an absolute dream.

 

Itinerary

 

15/1 Arrive Johannesburg

16/1 Cricket (England vs. South Africa Third Test Match, Day 3)

17/1 Berg-en-Dal 2 nights

19/1 Lower Sabie 2 nights

21/1 Talamati (wilderness camp) 2 nights

23/1 Satara 2 nights

25/1 Shimuwini (wilderness camp) 2 nights

27/1 Drive to Ditholo 3 nights

30/1 Leave

 

Apart from the food shopping when we arrived, we had also decided to buy a new camera (Canon 7D mark II) as the exchange rate was at an all time low. At @@Peter Connan 's request, I had read the manual at home (he was worried I'd miss that crucial shot, not being used to the camera.....). And I found this rather cool, if a little pointless feature - GPS. So here is a map of where we went:

 

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~ @@Tdgraves

 

Seated in the hospitality area, no less?

Hmph!

What a life!

Just kidding — sounds great!

Oddly enough, I heard about the match you attended from someone else who was there.

Tom K.

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Apart from the cricket, the other highlight of the start of the trip, was our first ever upgrade on the flight out. I had printed out the boarding passes at home, so I was a bit surprised that at the desk, she had printed out new ones as she tagged our bags. "have our seats been moved?" I asked casually, "yes, you have been moved forward". Business class, flat beds on an overnight flight - bliss! A group of 4 next to us had been upgraded also. I will get to the airport earlier at all times now! It was nearly a disaster though, as I woke up with a migraine and was really nauseated. Luckily, as I was in business, I was able to run straight into a toilet, but luckily the feeling passed. It returned as we were coming in to land. "They would never upgrade me again if I vomitted all over business class" I though. Luckily, clutching the air sick bag was enough and the feeling passed again. However, when we arrived, I was no more rested than if I hadn't been upgraded, but I dread to think what would've happened if I had been in my original seat :(

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~ @@Tdgraves

 

I'm very sorry that you experienced so much discomfort while in flight.

That's long been what I've dreaded — any sort of in-flight health issues.

As your time in South Africa closely paralleled my own, I'd had you in mind from your departure throughout your stay.

Had I known of what you experienced, I'd have been anxious for you.

The upgrade is such a wonderful surprise! Well-derserved after many flights, I'm sure.

I've never been upgraded. If it was offered, I'd wonder if the date was 1 April.

I felt as if I'd been upgraded flying from Doha, Qatar to Beijing, when returning from Porini Lion.

As it happened, there was no one seated in the two seats next to my own window seat, thus an impromptu bed presented itself.

May you have more upgrades in the future!

Tom K.

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Hurrah looking forward to this as we are in Kruger next Feb and your reports are good fun anyway.I was thinking of you watching the cricket I was at Durham in 2013 when Broad had another great session against oops better not say! Will also be interested in how you got on with the new camera

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Day 1 Evening drive, 17/1/16, Berg-en-Dal

 

Unlike our previous trips, where there was localised flooding, effectively closing off entire areas of the park, for this trip South Africa had been in the grip of a severe drought and in certain areas, drinking water was being shipped in (for humans, not game). As we had a good journey, there was time to unpack and settle in, before having a standard length of evening game drive. It was quite overcast and because it was dry, we decided to take the S110, which is a hilly gravel road from camp, the S120, which we had never been on before and then back to camp via the H3 tar road. The area around Berg-en-Dal has always been renowned for rhino and we were not disappointed.

 

We saw a few birds at close range, so thought we'd test out the new 7D mark II on some close-ups.

 

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No sooner had we got to the first hilly part of the road, we saw two vehicles coming from the other direction, which had stopped. From our position around a bend, we could not really see what they were looking at. So we edged forward and then we saw - three white rhino laying down in the dry river bed. No sooner had we stopped and lifted the camera up, than something spooked them (and before you say it, it wasn't us!).

 

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And then they were gone. We saw a further 3 groups of rhino. We carried on up the hill and had our best ever duiker sighting. I think that we have only ever seen one duiker in the Kruger before and it only hung around long enough for a proof shot.

 

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Given the drought, we thought that the water holes would have more action than on previous visits, but today, we only found birds.

 

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Including this golden-breasted bunting, so you can see why I got confused @@Tom Kellie @@Peter Connan and @@egilio

 

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The OH was driving and unusually, he stopped for a bird(!). He knew it was one that we hadn't seen before and we eventually worked out that it was a Eurasian hobby

 

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We also saw some buffalo and a dwarf mongoose.

 

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A bit further down the S120 and we met a family coming from the other direction. "Have you seen the leopard?" they said. "No" we said (having only had one sighting from each of the visits we have made to the park). "Apparently there is one around here" laughing, we wished them good luck and after driving on for a few more minutes, literally to the top of the hill, we found it! When Chris said "there's a leopard!" I thought he was winding me up. Apparently it was crossing the road and as it was on a bend with bushes either side, it was as surprised as we were!

 

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We had to reverse back to get these shots as it was walking in the direction we had come from and the grass was high. It seemed interested in us and stopped to check us out, giving us the chance for a few shots. It was only visible for a couple of minutes. There was no one else around and we never saw the family again to let them know....

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~ @@Tdgraves

 

Your new EOS 7D Mark II camera produces STUPENDOUS images !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Going through your photos, one by one, I was smiling, shaking my head in admiration.

I've enjoyed your past trip report images, but these are on another level altogether.

Richly saturated color, superb micro-contrast details, excellent sharpness.

Not to mention the photographer's fine sense of composition.

The duiker sighting is wonderful. Like you, I've struggled to photograph duiker in South Africa.

You've shown how it's done. Lovely!

The rhinos in action images are fascinating, with superb details.

The leopard? You and Chris earned a gong for that, being on a self-drive.

How you remained calm enough to take such fine images while enjoying such a sighting is impressive.

The birds? As ever, @@Tdgraves quality. Nothing more needs to to be said.

Thank you.

Tom K.

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Great reading and photos. Beautyful leopard.

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@@Tdgraves

Ahh, finally, the report ... and the Photos! Canon 7DII and 100-400II is truly top of the class wildlife combo, and in the hands of an expert photographer, they have given you (and us) the chance to enjoy amazing photos!

The OOF background (booked) on birds shots is just amazing.

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@@Tdgraves - I do believe that was the test match where Ben Stokes torched the SA bowlers?

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Kind words, as ever @@Tom Kellie. The photos in the first post are a mixture of the 5D and 7D. I usually try and stick to my own if possible (IP rights and all that...I was using the 5D that day), unless Chris' from the other side of the car are better and he was in a better position for the leopard as he was driving, so stopped when his view was optimum. If a bird is far, we will instinctively reach for the 7D. Maybe I should try and mention each day what camera was used? (But if anyone is really interested, you can tell which body it was by clicking on the image, although the data in my gallery seems different to what is there when the image is in a post.....or if there are two images of the same subject, the closer one is the 7D)

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Sorry to hear about your queasiness on the flight; glad it ended well.

Your new camera has done a great job so far. Love the bee-eaters and the incredibly textured skins of the rhinos (all those scratches!).

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@@Tdgraves Great sightings on your first drive: the new camera lens combo seems to be paying dividends. That horn in pic #6 looks to be in a painful place.

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Thank goodness there were live rhinos, and nicely grouped in their posing at that. With the exception of perhaps one ill placed horn. Ouch. Nice catch @@Game Warden. Lovely leopard.

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17/1/16 overnight in camp

 

We haven't had much luck with the camera trap in the Kruger in the past, but as it happens, this first night was the best ever

 

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A civet!

 

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and also a genet

 

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~ @@Tdgraves

 

The camera trap delivered!

Who knows what lurks around in night's darkness?

A civet and a genet, no less!

I'm glad that you once again used the camera trap and shared these here.

Thank you!

Tom K.

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Great start, and some lovely images.

Following along!

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Love the rhinos and the leopard. Looking forward to the next installment.

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Please, do so, @@Tdgraves , as I am already noticing a faint withdrawal symptoms, after 3 days of waiting for the next chapter :o !

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@@xelas some people are so demanding - I posted some photos last night!

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@@Tdgraves

A great start to your trip,cricket hospitality, a new camera and then some wonderful sightings.

The leopard is beautiful, and stunning birds (a lot for your Big Year!)

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@@Tdgraves - more stunning images from you. The eyes in the leopard series are mesmerizing and really like the rhinos. And again I find myself feeling silly for neglecting the birding on my previous trips (note to self - must do better).

 

Looking forward to more.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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