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Kruger Self Drive. September/October 2019

Dave Williams

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What an excellent first day you had, some really nice sightings there.

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The Crocodile Bridge shop has better selection then all 4 shops in Etosha put together! The Bush Babies are adorable, your tactic worked well. And for the snake, it is best to treat each one as a venomus one ... this one is actually a photogenic example from the wriggling world.

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This is such an enjoyable way to spend time each day!  I peak on ST even during work (as I am doing now) to see if a new post has appeared.  Many thanks for such a detailed report @Dave Williams.

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A wonderful first drive with great sightings. The Bushbaby is incredibly cute 

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Wonderful report. So envious of the bush baby, I have only had a brief sighting. Looking forward to next posting. Many thanks.

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Awesome trip report, really great! Looking forward to more! 


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Dave Williams

Having travelled from west to east after leaving Berg-en-Dal and had a fabulous journey of wonderful sightings we wondered what might lay ahead.

In truth you never know with wildlife and that's the attraction. Each of the rest camps has a daily sightings board that features the "Big Five" Buffalo,Elephant,Leopard,Lion and Rhino, although sightings of the latter aren't posted as an anti poaching measure. In addition Wild Dog and Cheetah sightings are on the board. The original Big Five were chosen as they were the most desired hunting trophies. Time they ditched Elephant and Buffalo in my opinion and included the other two as they are far harder to find and see! Anyway, the board does give some indication of where you might get lucky as does a variety of guide and map books.

I'd purchased the Kruger Self-Drive book by Van Den Berg and spent ages scrutinising the detail. It's an extremely handsome production and gives good descriptions and ratings of all the roads accessible to the public with the exception of the ones that are closed to just the residents of some Bushveld,Satellite and Camping sites. 


I wouldn't discourage anyone from buying it, it's got lots of excellent photos and other information too but it does weigh a fair bit and to be honest, the maps books sold at the gates and camps are almost as good and in some areas offer more information. Cost a lot less too as well as the obvious weight saving. Anyway, we'd taken ours and it was our bible for deciding which routes to travel.

We had two days to explore from our Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp so on the first we headed north and took the gravel roads where possible to avoid the more crowded main tar ones. 

Before you knew it we'd arrived at Lower Sabie Rest Camp, our next stopping place.it's not that far actually, only 34 kms, and we'd deliberately decided to take a look at their shop to give us an idea of what we might be able to buy before moving on from there to the Bushveld Camp, Talamati. Forward thinking!

Anyway, while we were there we sampled their take away menu, A sausage roll and a cup of coffee.

Lower Sabie is a popular stopping place for breakfast and brunch and we queued for some time and the delivered food was less than impressive. Still we knew what shopping we needed to do in Komatipoort later that afternoon.

Heading back south we were once again largely disappointed at the lack of notable sightings, it was a hot sunny day though and everything disappears to find a shady spot. 

Not so these Vultures though.Lappet-faced,White-backed and Hooded Vultures

The monsters are the Lappet-faced ones, they are not afraid to argue with a Jackal either!

Black-backed Jackal and Vulture

Back to camp then off to stock up on provisions in Komatipoort. The local Spar supermarket has an excellent selection products, you could happily shop here everyday whereas if you relied on the camp shops your menu would be extremely limited. Compared to the UK prices are cheaper too. Particularly meat and vegetables, Oranges were an incredible 45R for a sack full!

Anyway, back to camp and Claire decided to stay put whilst I went out for the last hour or so.

I decided to investigate the nearby Hippo Pools and as luck would have it I couldn't have chosen better. I was flagged down by another motorist who told me there were Lions there!


Not only that there were only about 3 other cars and I could park in a prime spot for viewing!


A big telephoto lens can be next to useless when the weather is hot but later in the day as it cools it comes in to its own.With a 1.4 teleconverter giving a focal length of 700mm on a full frame camera, even at 100m the detail in the image is excellent in my opinion.


I had my fill of shots and as more cars were starting to turn up I decided to leave the space for someone else. The road to the site is a cul-de-sac and as word had obviously got out I was glad to escape when I did as the OSV's ( open safari vehicle ) loaded with people were pouring in at a rapid rate. It would soon be chaos down there but I was out of it!

I found a nice Kori Bustard to end the day and needless to say, no one else who drove past even bothered to stop!

Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori

I have to say, having an interest in birds does give you options when other sightings are thin on the ground and once you get into it it's addictive!

Anyway, I returned to camp feeling a bit guilty that Claire had missed out on such a cracking Lion sighting but that had been her choice and she wasn't too bothered. We still had another 26 days to find more!

Part of the camp experience for me is without doubt the Braii.. B-B-Q as we call it in the UK!

Now you either enjoy self catering or you don't. I love it!


A simple supper of salad, pork steaks and roosterkoek under the stars? A beer, a glass or two of wine...bliss! The perfect end to the day.

Cooking on the Braii is very popular with South Africans, but they can tell a foreign visitor a mile off!

The Braii

No self respecting local would be using charcoal briquettes! Nah, they start off with something akin to a funeral pyre!

As a shock horror gas barbecue user at home coming to grips with charcoal was enough of a challenge without having to cope with wood!

Most camps had Braiis built in a different style but for these brick ones I found a nifty way of making the charcoal go further. Obviously you can't start cooking until it's turned white. To, make the cooking area larger, spread the coals but then the lowest grill shelf setting is too high above the coals.

The answer?

Lay a can of beer( empty of course) on either side of the coals and rest the shelf on them. 

If needed two cans on either side.

It's an excuse to drink more too!


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1 hour ago, Dave Williams said:

even at 100m the detail in the image is excellent in my opinion.


And in mine also! Was it the 1DX or 5D2? Ah, forget, whichever it was it produces top notch quality.


Thanks for the tip about how to lower the grill. Personally, I would need 4 cans :D.

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Dave Williams
17 minutes ago, xelas said:


And in mine also! Was it the 1DX or 5D2? Ah, forget, whichever it was it produces top notch quality.


Thanks for the tip about how to lower the grill. Personally, I would need 4 cans :D.


Yes, 4 beers is the minimum Alex.No wonder i put on weight while we were away.

I used the 5d4 most of the time when using the 500mm and 1.4TC mainly because it weighs less. It was quite a strain at times leaning in to the back seat to grab the lens combinations then manoeuvring in to position from one window or another. I'm getting old.

The much heavier 1DX was on the smaller 100-400mm . Ideal lens for most mammal sightings, and best for lower light too.Then there's the frame rate when needed. I had hoped for some real action but it never really happened , well except once which we'll come to later!

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We have got that book too @Dave Williams-for our Kruger trip next May-when you have a moment , i would be very interested to hear how you used it and how successful it was!

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Dave Williams

@Towlersonsafari It has one major flaw in my opinion, it doesn't give enough detail on seasonal variation.This is particularly applicable to roads in the north in areas of shrublands  I imagine. When the bush is in leaf I can imagine you'd see very little but in October there was an abundance of animals on display. You also wonder how the availability of water effects viewings too, The maps show water holes but many are dry when you get there. Personally I wouldn't take their opinions as black and white. Every road is probably worth a look.I wonder how many times each road has been travelled by the authors? Our judgements are always coloured by our own experience too.

I would probably buy one of the guide maps next time I go and leave the book at home. Two reasons, weight and the fact that keeping the book in nice condition is easier at home! 

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Dave Williams

For the second and last full day before moving on to Lower Sabie we took the road...to Lower Sabie!!

Maybe there is a flaw in the planning starting to show already here, it will be more obvious as we go on too but if you place yourself in a corner there is little choice of which way to go. I was aware before we left and had made the decision to always head north where possible to cover all the spaces, particularly those where we were skipping rest camps.

Once again, we arrived at Lower Sabie for brunch and this time I had a steak pie and a coffee and it was only marginally better than the previous day's sausage roll. Soggy puff pastry doesn't do much for me. We had heard good reports about Mugg and Bean, the caterers at both here and Skukuza, but the snack offerings made us decide we'd Braii whilst stopping there too!

Anyway, my grand plan, the tour of the park , was heading north wards after Lower Sabie and I wanted to go back to Biyamiti Weir one last time, I'd fallen for the place.

We took a new tar route then the gravel S21 before joining up with the route we'd taken on our first full day which had been so rewarding.

Arriving at the weir I was delighted to see no cars, I had it all to myself! Well, with just Claire anyway.

Wow, great stuff.Two Saddle-billed Storks were showing in close proximity!

Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis 1

One was even sat down to make it easier to frame the subject!

Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis

No Waterbuck drinking today but there were Impala

Impala 1

Nervous too, the slightest movement and they leapt back.

Impala 5

No wonder either, it's only a relatively small pool at this time of year but it has some large residents that are not always apparent!

Nile Crocodile

Out of the water you can see what a monster this one is too.

Nile Crocodile 1

Well over 3m in length once that has you in it's grip its curtains.

It's not the only monster though, in fact it's small in comparison!

Oxpecker Hippo

The Hippopotamus might look harmless, a big docile beast but looks are deceiving. They are the cause of many human deaths and judging by the scars they carry they are not averse to the odd fight with they fellow species.

Just look at those teeth!

Hippo 3

If there was just one spot in the whole of the park I could go back to, this would be the one. It has everything going for it but maybe only when the time of year is the right one. When water is flowing over the weir you couldn't park where I was, you wouldn't be getting those wonderful eye level views.

Striated heron

Yes, the heron you might find easier as its a few inches off the ground but these are not!

Black Crake 6

You could be in the water with the bird

Black Crake 5

I could have stayed all day

Black Crake 4

You never know what might happen next

African Jacana  Actophilornis africanus 3

There was always something to catch the eye it seemed.

African Jacana  Actophilornis africanus 2

However, as I'm not the best photographer in the world by any means and I need several visits to get it right, well as right as I am capable of anyway.

This would have been brilliant if I had put the focus point in the right place but I just missed!

African Jacana  Actophilornis africanus 5

and maybe with hindsight a smaller aperture for more depth of field...particularly as the bird got closer and closer.

African Jacana  Actophilornis africanus 13

I wouldn't have said no to some brighter light either but there again, you do soon learn that a dull day in Kruger is your ally. The sun brings both heat haze distortion and the animals retreat out of sight so , sooner it dull than brilliant sunshine.

I'd subjected Claire to long enough in one place so we moved on.

Amazing how blasé we become. Today's "lifer" can soon become tomorrow's also ran.


So many Rhino opportunities that if they weren't right in front of me I didn't bother.

That soon would apply to many other species too.

Steinbok 1

However, Steinbok and especially this Dwarf Mongoose were still on the wanted list!

Dwarf Mongoose 1

I knew if we waited long enough we'd get the full shot and sure enough after 15 minutes of deliberating it came out!

Dwarf Mongoose 2

It had been another great day of wonderful sightings and our trip still had so much more to come.

Tomorrow would bring a new camp , a new experience.


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I reckon I could spend a whole week at Biyamati Weir.


Some really lovely shots. The Bushbabies were a great sighting, not often one sees tham that well. Strangely, the Dwarf Mongoose is still on my list to get.


For next time's sake @Morkel Erasmus, one of our better local togs, says the correct strategy for Kruger is to always drive away from the sun. Of course, it's not always possible, but perhaps it's better than driving to tomorrow's camp?

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Dave Williams
1 hour ago, Peter Connan said:

I reckon I could spend a whole week at Biyamati Weir.


Some really lovely shots. The Bushbabies were a great sighting, not often one sees tham that well. Strangely, the Dwarf Mongoose is still on my list to get.


For next time's sake @Morkel Erasmus, one of our better local togs, says the correct strategy for Kruger is to always drive away from the sun. Of course, it's not always possible, but perhaps it's better than driving to tomorrow's camp?


You are right about the the sun of course Peter and our overall journey was about heading north for reasons that I thought I'd be leaving bedlam behind and going to the quieter, less travelled places. In actual fact though we tended to exit camp nearer to the 10.00am deadline for leaving your room so as to have the advantage of me getting the best of the early morning light and it didn't seem long before the sun was overhead anyway


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Dave Williams

@Peter Connan Oh, and I so agree about Biyamiti Weir! However, in the wet season I guess you can't even drive across can you? It would be a critical piece of information to know if I plan to return to KNP one day.

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Dave I unfortunately haven't been there in the wet season. However I suspect that the weir would only becom impassable for a few days per year, if at all. 


I will try to find out.

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Dave Williams

Two camps gone already it was time to move on again. Checkout time is 10.00am, check-in time 2.00pm. That leaves four hours to drive the 34 kms from Crocodile Bridge but it's not the distance that's the problem, it's keeping your food supplies cool! The temperatures were in the high 30's, the car got hot very quickly. We had taken some fold down cool bags but with hindsight should have taken more. What I would give to be able to hire an electric cool box you can plug in to the cigarette lighter, there's an opportunity there for someone to make money!

Anyway, we drove the long way around, we needed to keep moving on a regular basis to have the aircon cool down the car, stopping only when necessary.


Zebra and Impala all crossing in an ever lasting column it seemed.


Some in less of a hurry than others!


The one area you have to be extremely cautious though is dealing with Elephants.


Elephants, particularly the ones with youngsters can be quite frightening if they thing you are threatening them. Best stay back and let them finish whatever they are doing before you attempt to pass if you have any doubts at all. If you see Elephants approaching to cross the road let them go before you and be careful where you stop too. Look for path ways out in the bush worn by a variety of animals and don't park where you are blocking one, especially if it's an Elephant who is about to use it! Anyway, we survived unscathed, they are not too bad to be honest, as long as common sense is applied.

The south certainly has a lot of game, and the predators that follow them too. We did pass another Leopard jam which took a while to negotiate through, once past I stopped and took a distant shot of a few spots viewable through the tree canopy. If that was the only Leopard we would see then I would settle for that.My idea of wildlife watching isn't jostling for position every time a car in the jam moves a few feet.

Anyway, we arrived at Lower Sabie Camp and settled in for the two nights were had booked. I might have stayed there longer had I been able to book but that was all that was available in terms of the tented accommodation when I booked.

Lower Sabie Rest Camp

I'd read bad reports about bat infestation as well as other issues but the Bush tents were very smart indeed, Bedroom with two single beds, bathroom and a separate kitchen entered off the covered dining area and of course a Braii!

I was beginning to master the skills of charcoal and I liked the novel design of these braiis. Looks like a dustbin lid with a few holes in the bottom to wash it out after use. The grill plate can be adjusted to different nights too or just lowered on to the coals.

Bush View Tent Lower Sabie Rest Camp Kruger

The kitchen is supplied with electric toaster, microwave, kettle and two hotplates as well as all the utensils you might need.

The view , well they didn't have a River View Tent available so I'd gone for the next best, a Bush View.

Bush View Tent Lower Sabie Rest Camp Kruger

Which is exactly what I got! It was attractive to birds though and extremely private. 

Green-winged Pytilia  Pytilia melba

You wouldn't know you had neighbours but you could hear cars on the main tar road beyond those bushes the minute the camp gates opened. However, noise from cars was nothing compared to the resident birds, especially the Natal Spurfowl which are incredibly noisy the minute it gets light.

Natal Spurfowl  Pternistis natalensis

Still, we were impressed with Lower Sabie and would certainly consider going there again. We didn't try the restaurant which has a lovely view over the river but we did have a beer there one evening in the hope of getting a wifi signal but alas, there wasn't one on either evening we were there so I had to do without the football results!

The shop at Lower Sabie is quite good too. I particularly like the fact they have a refrigerated room from which the sell wines and beers. I would spend a while choosing my purchases just to escape the heat of the day and cool down a while!

One of the nice attractions is that there are two viewing places minutes from the camp gate so ideal for somewhere to spend until the gates are due to shut , 6.00 pm while we were there.

Sunset Dam is full of Hippos but they were too far away and inactive whilst I was there, in fact so laid back that even the Heron could take a sunset cruise on one!

Grey Heron Hippo

There is a large parking area for viewing too but you don't argue with the car park attendant.

Car park attendant  Nile Crocodile

and that was a small one just a couple of metres long.

Some are huge.

Nile Crocodile

Along the shoreline there was a variety of birds, 

Hadada Ibis

The Hadada Ibis and Yellow-billed Stork look particularly good in the last rays of the day.

Yellow-billed Stork

As an alternative end of day venue, the bridge across the Sabie River is a few minutes further to drive. The river has water in it all the year round so it's full of game coming to drink, however, I was there to see the Giant Kingfisher that's a well know sight there.

Giant Kingfisher

and to drive myself slowly mad trying to capture the fast moving Little Swifts.

Little Swift

You can only take so much frustration before heading back for a sundowner!


Edited by Dave Williams
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Seems like somebody got up early this morning to watch the match;)

Great report by-the-way, as always. I'm thoroughly enjoying it!

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Dave Williams

@wagtail The time difference between here and South Africa was only an hour Ian so jet lag not a problem, however when you get used to the early start times...the gate opening went from 6.00am to 5.30am and you get in to the swing of early starts, it's hard to revert back again.

It took some self discipline to get up for the 5.30 start, I'm just glad I wasn't there in November when it moves to 4.30am!!

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If it makes you feel any better @Dave Williams we never leave the gates at 4.30 in January 


in terms of practicalities, we always take a double adapter (too many electronics) even on plusher safaris. WRT food storage, for future trips you need a solid cooler box - they keep things cool all day, even in the KTP. Plug in ones not required....

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Dave Williams

If the gates open at 4.30 I presume it's light? At what time does everything retreat in to the shade?


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Dave Williams

We had one full day at Lower Sabie Camp before moving on to Talamati and I realised that it was probably the only chance to explore some more of the southern part of the park. The main tar roads that link Lower Sabie and Skukuza are allegedly hot spots for predators so we had to give it a try. Claire agreed we should get off early to try and take in as much as possible but instead of taking a tar road we chose gravel, the S29. The majority of the road is open grassland and the guide books give it a high rating.

First thing in the morning we drove the whole length and hardly saw a living creature. We were prepared to get up early, our subject matter presumably wasn't! However, I was delighted to spot a pair of Black-winged Kites

Black-winged Kite   Elanus caeruleus

 I once had a horrendous experience locked in a tiny hide for 16 hours in the vain hope of photographing this species ( or anything else for that matter), the most uncomfortable day I have ever spent with nil reward to show for it, consequently I have a score to settle with this species. Once again though I didn't get what I was after and the birds stayed distant, every time I moved the car nearer they moved further away again. At least I got to see and photograph one this time though so that was pleasing.

Just off the S28 there is a gravel road that leads up to the Mlondozi Picnic site and it's a route well worth taking.

When we got there we were the only people bar the man who looks after the place and appears to live in a nearby cottage. The birds were only just waking up!

Brown-crowned Tchagra

A Dark-capped Bulbul

Dark-capped Bulbul

and a Laughing Dove were having a scrap over a piece of bread.

Laughing Dove

but the special bird sighting here was a pair of Mocking Cliff Chat.


Mocking Cliff Chat

and female.

Mocking Cliff-chat   Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris

The views from this picnic site which is raised on a hilltop were far reaching and impressive. Although distant we had four of the "Big Five" seen in the area including this male Lion.

Lion  Mlondozi Picnic Site

Not the best of views, it must have been a mile away, but if nothing else we'd seen one!

Closer to us a pair of Hyena were just below the hillside.

Hyena Mlondozi Picnic Site

and there was a steady procession of different species visiting the waterhole below.

This part of the park is close to the border with neighbouring Mozambique and is vulnerable to raids by poaching gangs so it's heavily patrolled by armed rangers and from up here I'm sure they can keep an eye on things for miles around.

We stayed a lot longer than anticipated there was so much to see and by the time we left there were 4 or 5 cars plus an OSV full of foreign tourists like ourselves. A man stepped out of one car with two trays of eggs and I'm not sure if that was for personal consumption or if you could buy food there. As in all the picnic sites you could hire a gas skottle to have a fry up meal and quite a few do.

Anyway, we pushed on with the intention of taking the S30 gravel road then the H4-1 tar road taking us to Skukuza Rest Camp for breakfast there.

Skukuza is the biggest camp in the whole of KNP. Described as a small town , it even has an airport, it seemed it would be my idea of Rest Camp hell. Sure enough the car park was jammed packed, the queue for take away snacks huge but it did have a wi-fi signal. I could find out how my beloved football team was getting on and I was pleasantly surprised to see we had opened up an 8 point lead in the league table too!!

The catering at Skukuza is run by Mugg and Bean, as it is in Lower Sabie. We chose a breakfast wrap which was OK but far from memorable. Returning to the car park it's amusing to see all the day visitors who have arrived in OSV's looking for their own vehicle. There were dozens to choose from but they are all identical in design and colour so there were a lot of confused people searching for theirs! Yes, all the vehicles have signage but I also noticed a large proportion of these visitors appeared to be from the Far East. I would have the same problem if the writing was in Chinese too!

Anyway, we were glad to escape the mayhem but we did note that the shop in Skukuza is by far the best in the park. 

We decided to head east via the tar H1-2 , a highly rated road, but once again saw very little of note before eventually arriving at Tshkwane Picnic site. There we had lunch, a Jaffle which is a toasted sandwich. Very nice indeed but it didn't look as good as the food a neighbouring table were eating. I enquired as to what it was and made a note to order the same on my next visit.

I would be back!

The picnic site was quiet compared to Skukuza and Afsaal, the one we visited on our first day, and when I asked a member of staff they said they had been busy until news came through of a kill sighting 8 kms up the road and all the vehicles had suddenly taken off to search for it.

It goes against my instinct to join in with the crowd but our day had been fairly unrewarding so far, and I can assure you it can quite often be too, so I decided to join the crowd if that's what it would take to see something of note.

Our drive took us 10kms further north than I'd anticipated driving and we still hadn't come across anything until we arrived at a large waterhole, Mazithi Dam .

Here at least there was some activity and only a couple of cars watching so it seemed too.

Elephants enjoying a mud bath.

Elephant mud bath

and when they had cleared the area, a Giraffe came down to drink.


A pair of Saddle-billed Storks seemed to be catching Frogs at a steady rate.

Saddle-billed Stork Frog

Each one washed a little before it met its final fate.

Saddle-billed Stork Frog

There were a few other birds on the water too but after a while we decided it was time to go when something caught my eye.

Striding towards the waterhole one of my top target species for the trip.

Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius

The sighting of the day for me, I was delighted as there had been some doubt as to whether I might see one.

It was a fair distance away but the views weren't too bad!

The "kill sighting" might not have materialised but this was better as far as I was concerned.

We headed back south, the extra 20 kms worth the effort.

Arriving at the Open Dam loop we decided to take a look, once again seeing nothing but once back on the tar road we came across a group of three Klipspringers about to cross the road.


I love these little antelope that walk so elegantly on tip toes!


Mind you, easy to miss when you are driving along as they are well camouflaged too.

Klipspringer H10

As we were passing we decided to have a quick peep to see what was about at the Mlondozi picnic site passing our first Ostrich sighting of the trip as we went.

Ostrich  Struthio camelus

That alone was worth the diversion but there was nothing there and nothing to be seen from the top when we got to the site itself.

Still, all in all a productive day with some decent sightings. I greeted our neighbours in camp on their return to ask how their day had gone.Incredible they said, they'd taken the Orpen dam loop and a pair of Lion had suddenly appeared out of the bush and walked alongside their car for the next couple of kilometres.Just goes to show, luck plays a huge part, a few hours later we had seen absolutely nothing!

Tomorrow though it was time to move on to Talamati Bushveld Camp, one I was really looking forward to. Just 15 units, no shop or facilities such as fuel and laundry but there were two hides, a waterhole and not many people to share with.

Bring it on!


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20 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

If the gates open at 4.30 I presume it's light? At what time does everything retreat in to the shade?



Not really. The first time we went, I think we managed to leave at about 4.45 one day and it was quite dark.  Saw a wild African wildcat (as opposed to the ones which live in Satara), but then nothing much for an hour or so. I think the only advantage of leaving in the dark is the chance of nocturnal creatures (not the best photographically though) or to get to somewhere far from camp that you’d like to be at sunrise....

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The Mocking Cliff Chat are beautiful birds, and superb photos.

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Several lovely sightings and great photos again Dave


To get back to Biyamati Weir, apparently it has to rain pretty heavily for the road to become impassable, and it is closed seldom and only for a few days even then.

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