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From desert to penguins - South Africa 2016


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Hi to everyone.
I'm back from a great trip in South Africa (first time there). I and my girlfriend had an amazing time and we were lucky to spot a lot of interesting animals in the parks we visited.
After the trip of last year in Madagascar (http://safaritalk.net/topic/16227-awesome-red-island/) we needed to come back to a "classic" safari destination in order to improve the good experience in Namibia 2 years ago (http://safaritalk.net/topic/15973-sand-and-stars-namibia-2014/) and to upgrade to a "next level". In fact in Namibia we had something like 2 whole days of safari in Etosha, because we decided to focus more on the landscape area of the nation. Now in South Africa the safari was the focal point of the trip and we spent almost 6 days. More, I bought a new camera and I got interested in birding.
But why South Africa? Well, it was an easy choice. Probably one of the easiest African country to travel in self drive, easy to reach from Europe and a good balance between safari and landscapes. We had only some hesitation on the tour: most of my friend did the "classic tour" (at least it is classic in Italy), so basically Cape Town - Garden Route - Kruger (the South East). But all the time (usually the holiday period is August) they said: "It was supercool BUT the Garden Route and the Winelands are not so special...". And since this part was always the half of the trip I got skeptical (also because I wouldn't "downgrade" my travel experience after Namibia).
THEN... I discovered the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Also thanks to this forum in my mind rised a new tour: the NORTH-WEST! This park is in Kalahari (a place we love) and it is very "unpopular" in Italy for several reasons. First of all the accomodation: few places and always full. So the big tour operators don't include it (and the area around) because people usually book the tour few months before, and for sure there are no places for "large groups".
So, in January we started to check availability for August: NONE! Then I contacted an Italian/South African Tour Operator, South African Dream, which organizes customized tours to have an idea of a possible tour and the total cost. This was very useful, because they kept an eye daily on possible cancellations in KTP. Then, at the beginning of February they sent me an email: there are free places for 3 days! BOOK THEM! We organize the rest of the trip later!
So at the end we used this TO for the flights, car rental and accomodations. And everything went good.
The tour is this:
- 30 July 2016: Flight from Milano MXP by Emirates. Night onboard.
- 31 July 2016: Lending in Johannesburg, take the car and toward Kruger.
- 1 August 2016: Kruger
- 2 August 2016: Kruger
- 3 August 2016: Kruger + Blyde River Canyon
- 4 August 2016: Kruger- Johannesburg and internal flight toward Upington
- 5 August 2016: Upington - Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- 6 August 2016: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- 7 August 2016: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- 8 August 2016: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - Augrabies Falls
- 9 August 2016: Augrabies Falls - Springbok via Namaqua National Park
- 10 August 2016: Springbok - Cape Town (!!!!!)
- 11 August 2016: Cape Town (Shark Caging + Boulder's Beach + Helicopter tour)
- 12 August 2016: Cape Town (Stony Point + Hermanus + Stellenbosh)
- 13 August 2016: Cape Town (Cape Point)
- 14 August 2016: Flight from Cape Town by Emirates. Night onboard.
- 15 August 2016: Lending in Milan MXP.
The tour was wonderful but a bit strong for driving. Considering it I would change some things but mostly 2:
- I would take an internal flight Johannesburg-Nelspruit
- I would cut the Sprinbok-Cape Town drive with 1 day more in Calvinia or Lambert's Bay
For the accomodation we stayed in:
- Berg en Dal Rest Camp (2 nights) (Kruger)
- Skukuza Rest Camp (Kruger)
- Graskop Hotel
- Protea Hotel Oasis (Upington)
- !Xaus Lodge (Kgalagadi)
- Mata-Mata Rest Camp (Kgalagadi)
- Kalahari Tented Camp (Kgalagadi)
- Augrabies Rest Camp
- Annies Cottage (Sprinbok)
- Southern Sun Waterfront (4 nights) (Cape Town)
We hired 3 cars:
- For the Kruger area: Hyundai Ix35 2x4
- For the Kgalagadi area: Toyota Hilux 4x4
- For Cape Town an easy Hyundai I20 Hatch 2x4
As camera I have an Olympus E-620 with Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6, Zuiko 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3, Zuiko 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6. Plus I have a Compact SONY Cybershot 18.2 Mp mainly used for recording.
Weather was different for each area:
- In Kruger sunny (except 1 afternoon raining!) and dry. Some clouds in the early morning. Temperature were quite ok during the day (but never hot) and ok also during the night (cold but with a sweater ok)
- In Kgalagadi always really sunny and really dry/clear. Cold in the morning (even close to 0) and warm in the day (never really hot btw). In 2 hours in the morning you can really feel the temperature rising every minute...
- The west coast sunny (and we were lucky!). Less dry and less difference of temperature day-night. In the evening in Sprinbok I didn't use the sweater.
- Cape Town wet! I mean, the first day we found sun with not even a cloud and we were fine with a t-shirt during the day, but in the night we always found wind and you need a jacket. The second day was cloudy and rained (around 13 C ) and the third day was cloudy with some sun in the morning. From the second day we never sow the top of Table Mountain again.
In the next posts the details!
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Sounds like a wonderful trip, looking forward to the details!

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Looks great and I'm sure the shark diving was a blast!

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Sounds great, can't wait to read the details and see the pics!

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You certainly positioned yourself for a lot of variety here. Looking forward to more!

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@@dlo well, to be honest we were really unlucky with sharks. We sow only 1 good and another one just passing. But indeed we had a good experience. Probably we have to do it again for some more luck :-/ . The boat close to us had one very close which opened the mouth next to the boat... grrrr

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- DAY 1 and 2 -


Here we go!

Hot and sunny in Milan and we reach the airport quite early. Check in with Emirates and waiting for the plane.

Flight toward Dubai quite ok. First time travelling with Emirates and the food/entertainment is TOP. Regarding seats and space I didn't find anything really better than all the other companies... Whatever...

Dinner in Dubai airport looking at the skyline of the city and second flight toward Johannesburg. As always NO SLEEP. With a lot of envy for the couple in front of me who got asleep even before the departure and woke up even after the landing!!!! Grrrrr....


So we arrived in Johannesburg at 5 o'clock in the morning quite tired. After the immigration control we reached the car hire (EuropCar). We had to discuss with the employee for 1 hour about the reservation which included the GPS (she said not) and at the end we won! The car was perfect and I started to "play" with the gearshift in the "wrong" side and try not to activate the windscreen wiper instead of the turn signal... :-D


We knew the bad reputation of Johannesburg, so our plan was to take the highway and leave the city as fast as possible... So, go! ALMOST... In fact few meters out of the car rental (but still into the airport) a police officer stop us. This is the scene:


Police Officer: "Hey! You didn't stop at the Stop signal!"

Me: "Of course I did" (also because I'm starting to drive on the left, so I'm supercareful)

PO: "No, you didn't! So I have to give you a fine! It is 1.500 ZAR and you have to go to pay in center city"

Me: "What????!!!" (but I alredy knew what all this was about)

Still me (after a bit of hesitation): "OK, I got it, if I give you 1.000 ZAR we solve this here?"

PO: "Yes"


I don't want to judge the whole police and the city of Johannesburg but this is what happened to me... So, keep always an eye opened and be prepared to something like this :-/


So, after this adventure we finally took the highway and... nothing of interesting for 4-5 hours. That's why I will consider an internal flight next time (and to be awake was really hard). Then we got closer to Kruger and, when we sow a Lilac Breasted Roller on a tree we felt better: "Here we are!!!".

We reached the Melelane Gate at 12.30 crossing the Crocodile River. And from the bridge started our vacation (and the first picture)!



A crocodile, a grey heron and a hamerkop



Saddle-billed Stork


Since our first 2 nights were booked in Berg-en Dal, we had the whole afternoon to game drive in the surroundings. And I woke up immediatly! ahahahah


The landscape of the far south was burned by the drought, which here seemed to be quite strong. Anyway some animals appeard :-D



Southern Red-billed Hornbill


Magpie Shrike



eehhehe, now I know I'm in safari!!!



Southern Black-Flycatcher


OK, enough birds for now ahahahah. But we sow something bigger. In particular going a bit more north (where the drought was less strong). At the Ampie waterhole we had the best spots of this short afternoon:






And our first "proper" sightseen of rhino (in fact in Etosha 2 years ago we spotted them only during the night at the Halali WH)



When elephants arrived he had to move!!!!



On a tree close to the waterhole this guy was looking around:



White-headed Vulture

I love this picture:



As first impact we were quite satisfied, so we left reaching Berg en-Dal. On the way we spotted "general game" and birds:





Red crested Korhaan


Grey Go-away-bird


Emerald-spotted wood dove

Really close to the camp we spotted 3 buffalos and a Klipspringer




And at the Matjulu waterhole (the closest to the camp) we spotted another rhino!!!!!!



Completely satisfied we reached the camp half an hour befor the closing of the gates. The check in was simple and our chalet huge, close to the fence.

After (finally!) a shower we had the strenght only to go to the restaurant (average level) and, after a glass of wine SLEEPPPP! ZZZzzzZZ

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Hope the rhino, lovely birds, and ele helped make up for that initial exchange with the authorities. Your counter offer was probably a wise use of your time and money. Still the situation is sad. Thanks also for your couple of suggestions on changes.

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- DAY 3 -

We wake up at the sunrise very rested. Out of our chalet is full of life! Birds everywhere (also trying to enter in the bedroom), squirrels and monkeys (on our car)!!!! Out of the fence there are guineafowls and warthogs grazing...

With a good sleep we could explore properly the campsite. It is a nice small camp always relaxed even in the early morning. Close to the reception area there is the shop (with more souvenirs than food) and the restaurant. First of all we go to the "spotting board" to have an idea of the sightseens of yesterday.

OPINION: Here at Kruger (as well in Kgalagadi) there is this metal map plate with coloured pins to sign the location of the "important animals". It is a standard of SANPARK I think. Well, I didn't like it much. If you spot a far lion or a pride with cubs, you just have to put the same pin: it is not explicative!!!! In Namibia (Etosha) there is a real book, with the description of the sightseen, the correct location, the correct timing. And you can write about every animal (obviously not sprinboks...). At the end in Kruger I see just a pin on a map about a big 5, in Etosha I can read: "a family of pangolins 1km east of the xxxx waterhole at 8.30 am". I think the second information is much interesting.

The breakfast was quite good, even if a bit slow. We started to eat eggs and bacon and for Italian people is not easy ahahahaha.

Then let's go! Target of today is the H3 until Afsaal, then the "Voortrekker Road" H2-2 until Pretoriuskop, then the H1-1 coming back on H3 to close again in Berg en-Dal.

We spotted again rhinos! This time right on the main road! This south-west area is really reach of them!





Then some general game until Afsaal. We really enjoyed this pic nic place. It was full of birds! Some of them looking interested at the tables where people was eating :-D




Arrow-marked Babbler


Pale winged Starling


Cape glossy starling


Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill


Kurrichane Thrush

Then we took the "Voortrekker Road": here the drought was less effective, and so the vegetation was better, giving us also nice landscapes. Anyway also in this area we didn't see any big cat, but a lot of nice ungulates, an herd of buffalos and a Sable Antilope!!!






Arrived in the Pretoriuskop area there were really few cars and the landscape were probably the best of the day. First sightseen were 2 voltures with a prey.




No idea. Please can you help me with ID???

Then a nice drive east of Pretoriuskop


Bearded Woodpecker


Egyptian Goose


A LBR flying!!!

Coming south toward Berg en Dal, we spotted some cars stopped: a leopard!!!! It was not close, but finally a big cat sightseen!


Really happy we come back to the camp spotting some other interesting things on the way:


White-backed Vulture


African Golden-breasted Bunting


At the usual waterhole close to the camp, again the rhino, but this time with a calf!!!!!!! What a great day!!!


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@@Atravelynn defenetly. We had daily sightseens. It was awesome! For us now Kruger is the "Rhino park!"

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Lots of really good shots and so nice to see so many rhinos and that waterbuck is adorable.

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@@Guidoriccio11 your unidentified bird is a juvenile bateleur


Also your pale-winged starling is a red-winged starling (pale do not occur in the Kruger!)

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@@Tdgraves thank you so much!!!! This is exacly the help I need with birds!

Thank you again. I will take advantage of your knowledge in my further posts :-D

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Photo 4 in post 11 is fantastic @guidoriccio

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@@Hads thank you! I love that picture as well. I printed also it to hang in my room ahhaha

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- DAY 4 -

We spent a perfect night where, also helped by the new moon, we sow a really clean milky way upon us. I also tried to take pics but I sadly failed :-(

This morning we woke up early and we decided to go out directly at the open of the gate. We went straight at the near waterhole where we met several cars with people having breakfast inside. NOTHING... We waited 30 minutes, but not even a bird appeard. So we left and we had a small tour in the surroundings... NOTHING...

And this happens all the times! Also during past safaris we always went out as soon as possible (as it is recommanded) but we never spotted something interesting. On the other hand, the best sightseens occurr always around 11.30-15.00 (so in the theoretically worst period!). I don't know why, but that is our "spotting period"!

So we come back to the camp at 8 o'clock in order to have breakfast and pack our stuff... In fact tonight we'll be in Skakuza.

Plan of the visit is to follow the Crocodile River toward east (plus some detour) until Crocodile Bridge, and then going north toward Lower Sabie and then Skakuza.

We took the S25 road and we met the same landscape of the first day: drought! And only few animals, usually basic ungulates. Trying to change area we took a detour stopping at the Gardenia bird hide. Also here the trees were completely dry as well as the waterhole that was supposed to be there. Be able to quit the car was funny and something different. Another good aspect is that we were completely alone.

Even if there was no water, the place was defenetly full of birds. And I had such a lot of fun taking pictures there!


No idea...


Crested Barbet


Dark-capped Bulbul


Orange-breasted Bushshrike


Green Woodhoopoe


Natal Francolin (he come into the hide with us ahahah)


Blacksmith Lapwing


Yellow-fronted Canary

Gardenia was really a mine of birds, but then we left, reaching again the S25. Nothing really interesting, with all the area burned and with few vegetation until... "stop!" A LION crossed the road just in front of us! Then entered into the bush and almost desappeard. We could just follow his shadow for some minutes... Obviously no pics of it! But I give you this one taken few meters further... This little steenbok risked a lot!


We arrived at Crocodile Bridge where we stopped to eat something and take a look at the Hippo Pool. Finally here the vegetation was a bit greener and we sow also some water!!! But not many hippos, only a small group really far away. We spotted only this nice kingfisher:


Pied Kingfisher

So we took the road toward north! Landscapes become really savannish but still not many animals. Again birds and some giraffes...


Brown Snake-Eagle????? (not sure...)


Another volture with a snake... Still don't know the ID...


Finally we arrived at Lower Sabie. We took a look to the camp but defenetly we didn't like it much... A lot of chaos...

So we started again and we entered into the famous H4-1!!!! The most traficated road of the whole Kruger (and... hopefully a good spotting area...). First we stopped at the Sunset Dam, and we sow a friendly group of crocodiles and several other mammals around. Actually the groups of game were getting a bit bigger...


Wood Sandpiper


Also the landscapes on the river on the right side were really interesting...

Well, we were travelling happly (throug a group of elephants) when we spotted something on the road: A CAT... JAM!! Finally we sow this mitological event: dozens of cars, lodge vehicles and even a camper grouped together cutting the road!!!! And us... in as well. From the window we asked to other vehicles what was there... 2 of them answered "I don't know", 1 "lions" and 2 "leopard". In the last 2 cases they said "we heard that a leopard should be there....". Ahhahahahah....

So, we sow nothing and actually I'm thinking that even if a leopard was there, probably it was 15 minutes before.

It was difficult to move and leave the group. But after we had free road with no cars...

AND HERE COMES THE GOOD STORY: After no more than 500 meters, my girlfriend start to scream from the backcar (yes, in safari we stay on in front and one in back). A family of lions! 2 leonesses and 5 CUBS just on the border of the road!!!!

When we stopped (ALONE!) they stared at us but then moved. Everything was a matter of 5 minutes. So, I could take also few pics of them. Then, when they disappeard, a car arrived and asked us: "Why are you stopped? There is something here?" ahahhahahahah!!!!




But emotions didn't finish here... 10 minutes after we moved, we spotted a car stopped again, and getting closer... A LEOPARD!!! Just there!! I couldn't belive myself to see one so close!



I can tell you that we felt like drunk after all this... So we went straight to Skakuza. What a wonderful day!!!!

And I can say... It is true that H4-1 is too turistic and busy, BUT we had this majestic meetings, so, even for 1 hour, but go there!!!!

Skakuza: we liked Skakuza. All the people say that is a huge camp and not nice, but we felt really good there: no chaos at all, a wonderful restaurant (that steak !) and a great position on the river...

After dinner we went on the riverpath with a torch with few other people and we had another great sightseen! A genet, right close to the fence.... The day couldn't end in a better way!

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I hope we are as lucky as you when we visit the Kruger in February @Guidorricio! enjoying your report

Edited by Towlersonsafari
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@@Guidoriccio11, terrific, fun report. Was thinking how lucky with the Rhino but then a Sable, now that's lucky. Had a laugh at your " one in the front and one in the back " system, room to move...camera space?

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"No idea" is a black-backed puffback and the bird with a snake is a black-chested snake-eagle


Good cat jam!

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Well done @Guidoriccio. I will be in Kruger in December for 8 nights.thanks for a nice report.

Edited by Hads
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I have started reading your trip report a bit late, but I am reading it very close to your hometown, in Torino!


As others let me add also my congratulations to your excellent sightings and photos. The first elephants one is a true wall-hanger.


BTW let me join the ranks of people that are about to visit Kruger NP. We will be there from 25th October to 4th November and can only wish we will have similar sightings as yours!

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@@elefromoz defenetly to seat in that way give you freedom to take pictures and to spot animals for both... We were really lucky with rhinos, and Sable was a real surprise. A lot of people going in safari just wait for lions or leopards, but in this way they loose a lot of the real safari spirit!!


@@Hads 8 nights is defenetly a proper period. You'll see a lot. For the variety of species I put Kruger at the top of my park list. We were lucky with only 3 days....


@@xelas really? We are defenetly close then! And you are close to a good "Italian Safari place": the Gran Paradiso Park ahhahah...

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