The plan is to camp in Kruger (South Africa’s famous animal park) for 3 or 4 nights, then continue back to Botswana, but as often happens plans change and we end up staying for 7 nights, continually altering our bookings as we head north.
Our first night is at Malelane Camp, not far from the South Entrance Gate where they manage to somehow squeeze us in. (Despite no availability on the website!) We follow the river loop on our afternoon drive and our bonus tonight is not only giraffes, elephants and zebras, but a group of 6 big prehistoric looking rhinos munching on the grass and shortly after a rhino Mum and baby.
We leave bright and early for our morning drive, after changing our bookings for better camps that somehow have magically appeared on the booking website! We stop at a waterhole for breakfast, sneaking into the back of the truck when no one is around! After driving over a few hills we do the same river loop as last night, this time with not a sight of yesterday’s rhinos and giraffes. Where are they are hiding? Later when we meet our camping neighbours, they tell us they spied a lion and tell us where. We head there but only get a quick and very distant glimpse before he lies down for another sleep. They also suggest visiting Transport Dam, which is a lovely spot with hippos, elephants and one lonely hyena. Finally, we head to our next camp at Pretoriuskop, and decide not to go on our evening drive. Instead relax beside our fire.
Another early start. Really don’t know why we bother because we don’t see any lions walking on the road! Finally, we spy giraffes and huge herds of elephants. I swear there is an elephant population explosion now about 30,000 happening here as there are so many babies. We head north to the Skukura campsite before crossing the lovely Sabie River. From here we can see the old railway bridge with the old passenger train that is kept there. We continue along the main drag through Kruger and there’s heaps of traffic, making it easy to find wildlife as we only need to look for a traffic jam. All traffic comes to a halt to look at vultures attaching a few bones – later we discover there was a cheetah kill here a few hours earlier. Then we stop beside the river to watch 2 lions relaxing in the shade. It is rather funny watching an elephant chasing them away. Finally, we move on and head to the Lower Sabie Camp where we were lucky to get a site as it is a very popular camp. The camping area is small with lots of overhanging trees and scratchy bushes. Fortunately, there is a site left that we can access. We relax a few hours and head out again. And the huge bonus this afternoon is a group of 3 cheetahs who are lazing beneath the scratchy bushes, tails flicking lazily in the air. We wait for ages hoping for some action, but it is a warm day and the most they do is roll over or stand and stretch before flopping down again. Time for a bit more exploring before we head back to camp for the night.
Decide not to rush this morning so its nearly 8.30am by the time we leave. We cross the causeway over the Sabie River and stop to watch over 50 elephants crossing the river. Today it is grey and cold with nasty winds meaning all the animals seem to have gone into hiding. When we see a group of stopped vehicles, we hear there is a lion. We can’t see it so assume it has left and carry on, but decide that no we should go back and look harder. The cars have gone, but we find not one lion, but two hiding under the bushes out of the wind. After our lunch break beneath a huge baobab tree, we head to our next camp at Satara. (Yet another popular camp. This one located in the lion area! Fingers crossed) For our evening drive we head along the Lion Road. We are told there are 4 lions at the dam, but we are delayed by a herd of feisty elephants on the road. We carry on a few kms, but when we see lots of oncoming vehicles returning to camp we reluctantly decide to give up on our quest as we have to be back inside camp by 6pm or get locked out! But BONUS, nearly back at camp we see the usual row of vehicles and guess what! Not one lion, but 10 lions sitting right beside the road. Simply awesome. We watch until nearly 6pm before heading back to camp.
We had such a great day we book another night at Satara, again altering all our bookings. The highlight today is watching a group of elephants dig in the sandy riverbed for water and seeing the tiny baby rolling in the sand. And then on our afternoon drive we stop at an animal hide and watch crocs munching on an impala they have just caught.
Today is a longer transition day as we head north to Shinwezdi Camp. But we do stop to watch a lion with a lovely mane relaxing under a bush. When he moves, we watch him flop down beside a beige rock, then realize that the rock is another lion. We reposition our truck and sit to watch the two of them interact. Later that day as we are driving through scruffy dry trees, we stop again to watch 5 lionesses sprawled out between the trees, relaxing with full bellies. Although we wait for ages none bother getting up, the only movement is the occasional rollover or tail flick.
Today we are heading to our last camp at the northern end of Kruger. The landscape is hillier with a lot more growth, making it harder to spot game. A lot of the other campers in this area seem to be searching for birds. But when we head out along the riverfront, we finally spy herds of elephants and lots of giraffe. Then we continue along the main road to Punda Maria Camp. At one of the waterholes, we stop and watch a huge mix of animals coming to drink, including elephants who reach right over the edge of the holding tank for the freshest water. Punda Maria is a lovely huge camp with a great animal hide and water hole, so instead of going out this afternoon we sit and watch huge herds of elephants coming to drink and roll in the mud only a few metres away from us.
Our animal addiction satisfied, it is time to leave the park and head towards Botswana. We leave early and stop for breakfast beside a dam where we spend ages watching tortoises climbing onto the back of a hippo. I count up to 10! Then a huge elephant comes for a drink – we can see why the elephants here are called “tuskers”. His tusks are huge! As we head further north the landscape gets dryer and we start seeing those crazy baobab trees again, with their maze of bare branches stretching up into the sky.
Finally, we exit the park. It seems strange to see people and lots of little villages again. And sadly, lots of rubbish strewn everywhere. Then miles of crops and citrus trees as we near the Limpopo River. By the end of the day, we pull into the Mopani Bush Camp, which has a lovely camp area inside their own private game reserve.
As we are due to enter Botswana shortly, we have been finishing off our meat (no meat is allowed) and John has not refilled with fuel as its cheaper over the border, but when he checks online there isn’t a petrol station for miles and miles! Not good. We will either have to go back 60kms (not something John likes to do) or his preferred option: buy some diesel from the resort. They sell us 50 litres of expensive fuel and we head off to visit the Mapungubwe National Park that is practically over the road. Free entry with our Wild card so we head in to this rocky, arid, lunar landscape covered in baobab trees. In the distance we can see the huge winding Limpopo River with Zimbabwe and Botswana just over the water. There is even wildlife here. Elephants sheltering from the hot sun under neath the baobab trees, giraffes & zebras grazing. We spend a few hours driving the scenic loop stopping to walk to the viewpoints looking over the river. Elephants and cows amble back and forth between countries. No border controls for them. A visit to the museum (a huge yawn from us!) and back to our campsite. Tomorrow we will head to the border.
But as they say a picture is better than a thousand words, so I’ve uploaded more pictures than I really should have because it is so hard to choose just a few!