Travel journal South Africa

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser

 

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We had been talking about going back to Africa for years. So ten years after we had been there, we spontaneous decided to book a camper for a month and to hop on a plane to Johannesburg.

November 2009, South Africa

November 4 - 9
The white Rhinoceros was eying us with his piercing eyes. His two mates weren't bothered by us and continued grazing, but this big one kept an eye on us.
Three days ago we flew from New York to Johannesburg and rented a camper for a month. The Rhino isn't the only wildlife we have seen so far ... long-necked curious giraffes, fast running warthogs,
zealous dung beetles and funny zebras are some of the long list we have seen. We are in Ithala Game Reserve, a park without lions, so the animals were more relaxed. We did not understand, because they also can be killed by the wild dogs, hyenas, leopard or cheetah. We have not seen these predators, but the trip has just started.

   
          Vervet Monkey                         First part of the trip through South Africa                       Bee-eater

     
         Sunrise on the campground                     Refressing bush douche                          Being the ignorant tourist

   
            White Rhino                                                     Zebra's                                                 Baboon

   
              Dung Beetle                                    Roads in Itahla Game Reserve                                Bird of Prey

We did not come to South Africa alone. We talked our American friends Dave and Jenny into coming with us. From here we are going to travel northbound to the famous Kruger National Park. There we hope to see the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Black Rhinoceros and the Cape Buffalo).

Kruger National Park, day 1,2 and 3 (November 9 -11)
We are having a picnic dinner. Only 5 yards away a hyena is waiting for a snack. This predator can break bones with his muscular jaws.  But we were not afraid, because there is an electric fence between us and the animal. In Kruger National Park all the campgrounds are fenced. We are locked up, instead of the wildlife. The gate opens at 4.30 am and is tightly closed at 6.30 pm. You better make sure you are in on time!

   
                                                  Hyena                             Elephant                           Butt shot of Elephant with young

Even before we entered the park yesterday we saw a herd of elephants at the gate that was cooling down in the river. We could have used a swim too because it was 107F. In the first half hour of driving through the park we saw many elephants with babies, impalas, buffalo, giraffes and six rhinos. If it keeps up in this rhythm, we will be exhausted pretty soon.

Today because of the heat we had a hard time getting started. Dave and Jenny left 20 minutes earlier and saw their first leopard! We ran into a dead buffalo in the middle of the road, but there were no chew marks. At first we thought it is a road kill, until we saw the young male lion sleeping next to the road only 4 yards away! Occasionally he looked up, a bit bored. The rangers decided that the buffalo is in the way and started to pull him away. What a pity we think, but we were pleasantly surprised when the rangers only moved him off the road. They left him in the grass only 7 yards away from the road! The rangers from Yellowstone could learn something from that. As soon as they find a kill, they move it to the secret 'bone yard'. The lion, alerted by this action, stands up, and tried to figure out what had happened to his meal.

     
     Sleeping lion next to the road              rangers removing a dead buffalo              Lion is checking out where his meal goes

We parked close to the kill and waited patiently for the lion to come and claim his meal. But it looked like he was only interested in where the buffalo had disappeared and the lion vanished into the bushes. From 7.30 till 4.30 we patiently waited for the animal to return, but we were not rewarded. We were glad that we had rented a camper, because while waiting we could use the bathroom, kitchen and even take turns for a nap.

The next day at 4.30 we sped out of the gate to go back to the dead buffalo. PJ had put the coordinates in the navigation system, but a mile away from the site we were blocked. By what? Three rhinos were sleeping on the warm asphalt! By revving the engine we chased them away and continued as quickly as was allowed (30 mph). Arriving at the carcass we were blocked again, only this time by twenty hyenas guarding the road. There must be some lions at the kill! We moved in closer and saw two sleeping lionesses and the young male. The first hour nothing much happened. The two lionesses were trying to sneak closer and closer to the carcass, pretending that they were cuddling together. They didn’t fool the lion. Sometimes he opened one eye, growled at them as if he were saying: “Girls, I know what you are doing, but I am going to eat first”. Also the hyenas were trying to crawl in closer to the kill through the high grass.

   
Sleeping rhinos are blocking the road        Hyenas are guarding the road                  Lions are really close!

All of a sudden the lion got up, walked to the back of the buffalo and started to eat. The hyenas were getting exited and started to run around, making their typical sound “Whoo-hoop, whoo-hoop”. One of the lionesses used the chaos to jump over the carcass and tried to get a bite. The lion reacted furiously with loud growling and showing lots of sharp teeth. But he cooled down and let the girls eat at the head of the buffalo. While they were trying to get through the tough skin, the lion was enjoying the soft intestines. Dave and Jenny were parked down wind and are got the full aroma (they were actually gagging!).

   

Between our campers there was room for two more vehicles and the tour busses were using that area for a viewing stop. They would watch for maybe ten minutes.
"Why don’t you get the hell out of here!”. An open sided tour bus with Dutch tourists stopped probably for the second time. I couldn’t believe my ears, were they really shouting at us? I tried to explain to them that we had waited at this carcass for 9 hours yesterday and nothing happened, and that we had gotten up at 3.30am this morning to get a spot on the front row and that we think we deserved this spot. The Dutchies were not impressed and still said that we should make room for someone else. Although we thought there was enough space for others to have a look, we did move the camper - one yard forward.

At eleven we left the spot and after a round through the park we returned early to the campground to download our pictures, have a barbecue and just relax. We were so amazed at how closely we could watch these lions.

Kruger National Park, day 4 and 5 (November 12 and 13, 2009)
After three days on the Berg-en-Dal (mountain and valley) restcamp (so funny, all these Dutch names).  it was now time to see another part of the park. The variety of hoofed animals was amazing. We even see a herd of the rare Sable Antelope.
 

     
         Blue Wildebeest                            Kudu                                Water Buck                              Impala

   
            Sable Antelope                                             Cape Buffelo                                            Nyala

In various places throughout the park (i.e. the campgrounds) mapped sections of Kruger were placed on boards. With little magnets you could mark where you had spotted which animal. We were especially interested in the red magnets (lion), the black (leopard) and the white (cheetah). Around Pretoriuskop campground a leopard was often spotted, so we gave it a try too. We drove around and around and even saw fresh cat prints on top of the tire marks, but this beautiful animal still remained in hiding from us.

   
Magnets are marking the wildlifesightings                        Print of a big cat                         Hot! 45.7 C =  114 F

During one of our rounds, when we were driving in the lead, Dave shouted over the radio: "STOP, come back, lions!". PJ drove slowly back while we were scanning the field, but we could not find these lions. "Right here", Dave pointed to the side of road. A lion couple was snoring away, oblivious of the world around them. After fifteen minutes we discovered why they are so tired... the beautiful maned lion stood up, mounted his girl and mated. This quickie only lasted 5 seconds and then they fell back asleep, very tired. We were only missing 'the cigarette'...
How long had this been going on? Patiently we were watching the sleeping couple and saw them mating three times before we had to return to the campground before the gates closed. I was amazed by the size of the lioness. Her huge head and paws were very impressing. She was much larger than the two ladies we saw yesterday.

   

The next day we tried to find the mating couple again, but it was in vain. Dave cracked us up when he remarks that it probably was only a one-night-stand.
We made a bigger drive around and saw lots of wildlife, but the temperature kept rising to a steaming 114F. After a tip of a fellow tourist we bumped into a lion pride of seven lionesses and one lion. They were panting in the shade of a tree next to the road. As soon as we stopped they took off. It is obvious that not every lion is accustomed to tourists vehicles.


 

Back on the campground we braai (barbecue) again. We were happy that the camper was equipped with an air conditioner, a luxury we haven't had for 12 years traveling and sleeping is a cool affair. At night it started to rain heavily with lightning and thunder, so immediately the power was gone and with that the airco stopped. You should not get attached to luxury in Africa....

Kruger National Park, day 6 and 7 (November 14 and 15)
When the alarm woke us up this morning, it was still raining. The rain brought out all kinds of creepy crawlers: six inch long thousand legs, enormous high legged beetles, miniature frogs and giant snails marching through the wet asphalt. PJ tried hard, but could not avoid crushing some of them.
During the day the weather cleared and it even got hot again. At noon we arrived at a drinking hole, where hippos were grunting and blowing bubbles in the water. The yellow weaver birds were working on their complicated nests. A giraffe came to have a drink. We saw a crocodile and a yellow-billed stork,  but the highlight was two elephants that were cooling down their bodies by throwing wet mud over their backs. And at the same moment two hippos decided to do some sparring. We did not know where to look anymore.


   

 

  

 

When we drove south the temperature rose to 113F. Animals like the elephant, the Cape buffalo and the rhino have to protect their skin against the sun and parasites by covering themselves in mud. We had already seen that the elephant has a perfect tool for that, but the other animals just roll in the mud. The mud does not have the same color everywhere, so we were not surprised when we saw a ‘red’ rhino.

“Have you seen that lion at the carcass?”, a tourist going northbound asked us. No, have not seen it, but it interesting.
“Do you know where that lion with cubs is?”, another tourist asked. Hmm, now it started to get annoying.
When we traveled north again, we saw a jam and soon we knew why - again close to the road, covered behind a bush was a dead animal. A lioness was nursing her cubs behind another bush. Without the jam, we totally missed it when driving by the first time. Slowly we moved up car by car, until we were right at the spot and can make nice pictures of the lion family.

 

In Kruger you have to make reservations for the campground a day in advance. We would prefer to go a campground depending on where we see the last wildlife of the day. Now, for example, we are ten minutes away from the Crocodile Bridge campground, but we have booked for a campground 45 minutes away from here. Fortunately we have rented a GPS navigation system with the camper, so we knew exactly how long we could stay at the lion family. We usually take 15 minutes spare time in case we will run into something special. We now have an hour to drive before gate closing time at the campground. We started driving  northbound. Pretty soon we ran into the weird Ground Hornbill bird. Quickly we took some pictures and moved on. Then we had a hippo standing next to the road, a sight you do not see too often. Click-click, and going again. Oops, a vehicle jam. There was a rhino standing on the road, but that did not seem to be the problem because the people were looking at the river. Seven minutes to spare. These people also had to be at the campground in time, so what were they waiting for? We squeezed through and purposely did not look at the river, because we did not want to know what we were missing. Nice sunset. Click-click. An elephant. Get out of here, only three minutes to spare. Just in time we arrived at the campground and Jenny and Dave were right behind us followed a row of cars. Gee, what a stress!

   
            Groundhornbill                                                Hippo

The next morning we sped, as fast as the speed limit allowed, to the lion family. We were not aware yet that this would become the Big Cat Day. Fortunately it was still too dark to see what we were missing on our way down. Arriving at the carcass we saw two lionesses lying on the road. We were the first ones on our side, at the other side there were 4 or 5 cars and tour busses. The lioness mum joined the other two, still with blood on her chin. Her cubs continued eating for a while. When they were finished one cub gave his aunt a hug and cuddled with his mum. The lioness seemed to enjoy it with her eyes closed. Next thing on the cub’s list was teasing his sis and before we knew it there were 5 lions on the road. What a mighty feeling to watch these animals so closely just doing their thing. The other two lionesses are feeding now; the girls have arranged their pecking order perfectly.

   

We left the lions behind and traveled northbound. Within 15 miles we saw lions on a carcass four different times! But none of them was as impressive as the lion family. We drove to another part of the park and the surroundings were getting wider, dryer and sparser of bushes. This is the hunting area of the cheetah, but we did not see any animals, even the always faithful herds of impalas were missing. The road started to get boring and our eyes started to blink with sleep. But that sleepy feeling immediately changed when we saw a cheetah far away. We started patrolling the road for a while. There she was, right next to the road with a yearling! She totally ignored us and crossed the road a couple of times looking for a prey. Her cub followed her with a serious look on her face. They are such graceful animals! For the longest time she sat on an anthill watching her surroundings before she disappeared.

   
          Cheetah and her yearling                                                                                  Yearling cheetah

We were ready for lunch now and a place where we could get out of the ‘box’ and stretch our legs. At certain picnic areas you are allowed to leave your vehicle. We stopped and I saw a magnet board and I walked up to it for a quick look. A guy on a mission also walked to the board, definitely wanting to mark his sightings on it. But somebody else beat him to it and already had put the magnets there. The only thing he could now do was brag loudly, pointing at the magnets and saying: “I saw this one (red=lion) and that one (another red one) and this one (a black magnet!).
“How long ago did you see the leopard?”, I immediately asked him.
Oh, thirty minutes ago, she killed an impala”.

"A leopard on a carcass, 8 miles north from here!”, I shouted while I am running back to the camper. PJ immediately killed his cigarette and jumped into the driver’s seat.
“Let’s go!”, he shouted at Dave and Jenny.
Dave’s face was clouding. You could almost hear him thinking: “There goes another meal down the drain”.
We could not let this just pass, the chance that the leopard is still there is too big.

We drove up to the site and yes, 40 yards from the road, hidden behind some bushes we could see the leopard. She was not alone - she had two yearlings! Fantastic! We parked on the other side of the road so nobody could blame us that we were blocking the view and for four hours we enjoyed these magnificent animals.

 

   

We had never dared to dream that we would not only see lions every day, but also so many Big Cats with cubs and everything so close to the road.

Kruger National park, day 8 till 12 (November 16th – 20th, 2009)
When we spontaneously decided to set off for Africa for a month, we did not have any idea if this was the correct season to go. The idea arose and three weeks later we were off in the plane!
South Africa is on the south side of the equator and therefore in November it is Spring there. Is their Spring the same as ours? Do the trees start to bloom and does everything start to turn green? Are the young animals being born? We also knew that the rainy season would start at some point. How terrible would that be! Would it be down pours, sunshine, or would it be raining all day? We just went for it and have no regrets, because we saw a lot of young animals.

Baby and juvenile animal parade:
     
                 baboon                                      elephant                                     jackal                           vervetmonkey

   
                     zebra                                                 Blue wildebeest                                         tsessebe

   
             warthog                                                     lion                                                   giraffe

   
                 Rhino                                                     impala                                               leopard

About the rainy season: I will get into that later, but nature became splendidly green.
   

One day we slept in till six a.m. and we are doing our laundry. Jenny and Dave have been watching us for over a week how we do our laundry in a bucket: water and detergent in the bucket, putting laundry in it, close the lid, let it shake while driving and then in the evening rinse it and hang it on the clothes line outside. In the morning (if it is not yet dry) we hang the clean laundry inside in the camper. It works very well for us. Jenny decides to try it also. This time we leave the laundry hanging at the camp-site, because we will return there in the evening. While we are parked close to two lions which have killed a buffalo, it starts to drizzle. Oh no! The laundry will never dry this way.

We saw the rare Saddle-billed Stork and even more rare the Martial Eagle and the colorful Bateleur (some kind of eagle).
   

We found another carcass with two nice looking lions on it. Unfortunately they are doing nothing more than guarding their booty from the jackals and hyenas. It continued to drizzle the whole day! As a result our linen and the curtains were damp. Then we also had to hang the moist laundry inside. Now it was time to get the electrical portable heater out of the box and we had to listen to it buzz all night. This is a country of extremes
- one night the air conditioner running, the other night the heater!

The following morning we were at a water hole at 5 o’clock and there was a lion drinking! When he leaves, we try follow him with the binoculars. Seeing that he was not alone, because there was another lion… and another one! No, wait! There were four… no, there were five lions! From the road we tried to find out what their path would be and if there was a way to intercept them. Within five minutes we were surrounded by five adult lions. Wow! They all started to walk in front of our camper. A normal tourist would have been satisfied with the photograph of five lion butts, but we are not normal and passed the lions to be able photograph them from the front side. We repeated this a couple of times. What a great experience!

   

     

A troop of lions is called a lion pride and generally exists of a number of females and a male. The lionesses hunt but the male will feed first. But what do you do if you are a young male and haven’t gathered a harem yet? It happens more often that young male lions form a gang, which is called a bachelor pride. We start calling these boys the Gay Pride, because of the way they show off their bums.

We spent the night at the Letaba Restcamp in an area which is known for the large herds of elephants. From inside the camper it is hard to guess how large an elephant is, but we got an excellent impression in the elephant museum on the campground. Many skulls with huge tusks were displayed on the wall. Also in the park we saw huge live ones with large tusks, which blocked the traffic sometimes.

    

Kruger has special feeding places for elephants: high, large, round concrete troughs, in which only the elephant can put his trunk. It was funny to see how the elephants would rest their tusks on the rim while drinking. Two elephants greeted each other affectionately and explored each other with their trunks.

   

While waiting at a drinking hole for an elephant which we had spotted, we began to wonder, 'what is taking him so long?". Suddenly Dave gave an excited call over the radio: “We are surrounded by elephants!”. A large herd with many babies had emerged from out of nowhere and stormed around their camper. We returned exactly on time to watch everything from a safe distance. They drank rapidly and took off. Why were they in such a hurry? Did they know something that we did not know? The next day we find out what they probably instinctively had sensed - the next night it started to down pour!

   

We drove further North to Punta Maria, the most northern campground. Kruger is 275 miles long, which is longer than the Netherlands! We saw a lot of animals, a gorgeous large Owl with tufts and pink eye lids and we posed at the Tropic of Capricorn, another fictitious line on the earth.

   
     Tropic of Capricorn                                Verreaux´s Eagle Owl                      PJ fooling around with an elephant bone

At 5 p.m. the sky suddenly darkened, the temperature dropped to 59 F and it started to pour. We drove rapidly to the campground. While we were making our camper nicely warm with the heater, we were not aware of the drama which was taking place in another part of the park but more about this later.

Kruger National Park, day 13 till 16 (November 21st - 24th, 2009)


          the orange line is our route
It was still raining when we got up, an hour later than normal, because it was so dark anyway. When we left the campground, we went south. We soon noticed that as far as sighting wildlife it did not matter if it was 110F or pouring down rain. However, shooting wildlife with a sheet of rain in between the camera and the animal did not give nice results.

 

An oncoming car waved us down by putting up four fingers and pointed with his thumb in the direction which he was came from and continued driving.
Interesting… were we going to see something within four kilometers? But after four kilometers there was nothing. After fifteen kilometers driving south, we saw what he meant: ten yards from the road there was a dead Cape Buffalo and a lion guarding it. Later we saw there were three lions and a very skinny lioness. We immediately had a good spot because the area was open and we could see everything well. Despite the rain we had a beautiful photo shoot with the lions, who were very intently looking at us. The one with the ginger mane gave me the creeps - it seemed that he looked right through me! We watched them drag the buffalo and it was incredible to see how a lion could move the buffalo from place to place.

 

Later we learned why we frequently saw killed animals so close to the road. When being hunted the buffalo would obviously flee, and when he hit the slithery asphalt, would frequently slip. So for the lion it was an easy catch.
When I made up the bed that night, I discovered that the mattress was soaking wet - rain water flowed along the leaking window like a water fall! Oh well, we got a waterbed without any extra cost…

At the reception we had not been able to get any information about the weather forecast, so after another lion shoot the next day PJ and I drove out of the park into Phalaborwa to check the Internet. While outside the park I could upload my website too. Good news: the weather was forecast to remain dry for a week.
Back to the lions: they were still eating and there were no other scavengers waiting around; although the carcass had been moved about ten yards farther away from the road.

   
            Moving the carcass                               Intently looking lioness                             Sharing the booty

Later that afternoon when we drove back to the Letaba Restcamp, we saw a buildup of traffic.
PJ said, "I have a gut feeling that they have spotted a leopard."
Several baboons of all sizes were on the move - but no leopard. Fifty yards farther down the road two elephants were trashing a tree. There were cars everywhere! Though PJ keenly sensed that there was more to see there than just baboons and elephants, we drove on to the campground, which was just around the corner. 

Each afternoon we had to first check in at the campground and then reserve our stay for the next night.  This was a daily struggle and it seemed to take forever. Each day we had to have a discussion to pay the same price as yesterday! When we verified the wildlife sighting board PJ saw that he had been right, there had been a leopard sighting "just around the corner".

PJ and I returned to those baboons and elephants; however they were not there anymore, but there were still some cars parked with people inside looking through their binoculars. An elderly couple (he was wearing thick yellow colored glasses) was so nice to point out a dead impala hanging in a tree! The leopard who had done this, had already left. We watched the tree for twenty minutes, but then we really had to return to the campground to be
 in time for the gate closure.
 
                                                                          Stripped impala in a tree    

The next morning at 4.20am we were parked in line at the closed gate, and I was biting my nails in frustration when the gate was not open until 4.40. We drove to the leopard tree and in the twilight I could see, high in the tree a swinging tail with dots! The leopard came down and lay down for a while just licking his paws. He was nagged by a hyena and before there was enough light to make pictures, he crossed the road and disappeared out of sight.

 
It was now time to go farther south because we had reservations for the Satara Restcamp. We received a tip about two carcasses with lions. We quickly located the first carcass, but we could not find the lions. The dead buffalo was along an unpaved road, but the heavy rain had made the road slick and the camper even started to slide. We then decided to stay away from the unpaved roads for a while and kept to the paved ones. Half of the roads in Kruger are paved and half unpaved; however, we noticed no difference in wildlife sightings between the two different roads and PJ was more relaxed in looking for animals while driving on the paved roads.

Farther south, not far from the road was a dead Wildebeest. We checked the surroundings for the predator who had killed her, but we could not find any. This was weird. In the meantime we had lost sight of Dave and Jenny, so we did not wait at the carcass for the predator to return.  
When we connected again with Dave and Jenny, we were surprised to find one dead animal after the other! What was going on? Later we found out what drama had taken place here. In Kruger there had been a severe drought and the animals suffered from mal nutrition.  We were told that last Thursday a cold spell caused the temperature to drop from 114F to 60F and for many of the pregnant hoofed animals this was too much and they just dropped dead! How terrible! At least the rain was something they had wished for. We immediately noticed the difference the rain made; everything was suddenly lush and green.
   
                Elephant tracks in the mud  
 

 

   
               Baobab Tree
Touring around the park we counted at least ten dead animals along the road. That meant that there were probably many more dead animals out of our sight and the predators were not having to work very hard.

We checked the wildlife sighting board at the campground again. Since this morning there had been three cheetahs sightings, two lions and two leopard sightings! We took the direction of the cheetahs. At noon we bumped into a small traffic jam at a crossing. Two cheetahs were sleeping in the shade of a tree 100 yards from the road so we just parked and waited. Cheetahs mainly hunt during the day because this reduces the chance that their prey would be stolen by a lion because lions generally hunt at night. But of course these two cheetahs were exceptions, and they continued to sleep in the shade for the whole afternoon. More than five hours later we gave up. Meanwhile, we had learned that these cheetahs were regularly seen in this  area and one of them was crippled which was causing them to stay around the same location.

For this reason we returned to the cheetah spot the next day. They were not under the tree anymore so we drove around for half an hour. All of a sudden we saw a parked car along the road which we had driven not more than twenty minutes ago. The man with the "thick yellow glasses" was pointing to the two cheetahs, who were sleeping ten yards from the road! It was embarrassing that we needed those veterans to find our wildlife… the boys must have been there also half an hour ago.   
The two males were embracing in their sleep and were licking each other’s faces. What a sight! Later one male went hunting and the other one stumbled behind him. It was heart breakingly sweet to see how one cheetah took care of the other. Perhaps they were brothers. We hope everything will be fine with the crippled male.

At 1 pm we took a break at the campground to download the pictures and do our laundry. We met a Dutch couple who were just married. Jennifer used to be in the ARMY but is now a fire fighter. Kevin joined the special forces and had just returned from Afghanistan, and they were on their honey-moon. This morning they were also at the cheetahs (only one of the six cars that were there!) and they could hardly believe that we had stayed there yesterday for more than five hours. They have nicknamed our kind of people `freaks’. We thought that was very funny. We made a date to have a drink together in the evening. We had a very sociable evening and went to bed much too late.

The following morning the alarm clock went again off at 3.30am. Slowly we drove farther south. A Cape Buffalo had a bad hair day and his head was steaming as he stood blocking the road. Buffalos are thought to be hot-tempered and often charge unexpectedly; therefore, they are considered one of Africa’s most dangerous species. We took a wide berth around him!
 

The impala must have enmass decided that today was the right day to drop their calves and we saw little ones everywhere. At a picnic place we saw a night adder, a small, but mildly venomous snake who was terrorizing the nest of two bright blue starlings.  
   
              Night Adder                                                                                                               Starling                

At 2.30pm we already went back to the Skukuza Restcamp to cool down at the swimming pool. Jennifer and Kevin pitched their tent beside our camper and we were looking forward to a sociable evening. As darkness fell on us, PJ was startled when he felt a hairy animal brushing his leg! It turned out to be a bush-baby or night monkey, but for me it was more something in between a Koala and a sloth. This little monkey with large yellow eyes moved very slowly and had strange toes. It lives mainly off fruit and fruit juice, but here on the campground he unfortunately went through the garbage bins.

   
                        New friends                                    Bush Baby                                             
Hornbill
The wildlife on the campground was very abundant. Several animals  found a way to avoid the electric fence. Of course the birds could come in from everywhere.

Wildlife on the campground:
       
         Baboon                 Vervet Monkey Family            Salamander                  Helmet Guineafowl          African Hoopoe

               
                  Mating Turtles                            Bush Buck                                                        Scop's Owl

With a big smile on her face, Jennifer told us that we were not the only `freaks’ in Kruger. Today they had met an eighty-year-old lady who was parked for hours at a rocky outcrop. When they asked her what she was doing there, she told them with a smoky voice: "There is a leopard cub between the rocks and I am waiting for the mother to return from hunting." Jennifer told us this tale to explain that they could not find the cub, nor did they have the patience.
We watched Jennifer with our mouths open because she did not realize how important this bit of information was for us! If a leopard leaves her young behind, it means that it must be a spring cub and that the mother has her den in these rocks! Which also means that she will probably be there tomorrow too!
Immediately we changed our plans for tomorrow - we went north instead of south!
We did not regret it for a minute because it gave us some precious memories.

Kruger National Park, day 23 t/m 31 (25 November 25th - December 4th 2009)

We are anxious to find the leopard where Jennifer tipped us about last night. We had to drive back for more than hour, but we did not mind. Jennifer gave us pretty good directions where the den was, but that was not necessary, because we could see the parked cars as soon we rounded the corner. The leopard was indeed walking around, but there was no way for us to park our camper too. PJ double parked the camper and we tried to take pictures over the parked cars. Very frustrating. When the leopard disappeared behind some rocks, the parked cars moved on. PJ parked the camper at a very strategic location and the waiting begun. Dave and Jenny were parked about ten yards behind us and Jenny could see the tip of the tail of the leopard from her bedroom window. The leopard was enjoying the shade with her cub. As long as we knew that the leopard was still there, it was worth to wait. We took the cushions from the sofa, so we could use the tripod on a hard wooden surface. We wished we had done this earlier in the trip instead of balancing the camera through the open window. Five hours later (!) the leopard reappeared and posed on a red rock with her cub. We are taking the pictures of our lives. It was so picture perfect that it looked as if the pictures were taken in a zoo!   

 

   

 

We thought we had seen it all, but then the leopard dropped down in the shade only ten yards away and started nursing her cub! What a gorgeous animals.

   

We had made reservations for a campground, 4 ˝ hours from here, but of course we would like to stay at the Lower Sabie Restcamp, only 3 miles from here. At 1pm we drove to the campground and changing our reservations is a piece of cake. We were a bit surprised about that. Back to the leopard, but we cannot get a good spot. Jennifer and Kevin were also present and we talked them into changing their reservation too. We went back to Sabie Restcamp early, so we could barbecue and drink some beers. We had a great time together. Secretly we were also pleased to be able to talk Dutch again.

   

To be sure of a good spot at the leopard den, we parked at 4am at the closed gate. And we were not the first one!
"Even a bigger freak", Kevin said and pointed at the car in front of us.
"Look who is talking", PJ said and pointed at their rental car, parked right behind us. We definitely infected the Dutchies with the 'freak virus'.
At 4.30am the gate opened and the long row of waiting cars started to move. Fortunately most of them went to a water hole where yesterday five lions were spotted. Soon we arrived at the leopard den and she was busy. There was not enough light yet to take pictures, but we enjoy it nevertheless. She had caught an impala fawn and was lugging it around. She also played with her cub and was doing silly with a tiny tree. Fortunately she did it again when we had more light. How fantastic!

 

We said our goodbyes to Jennifer and Kevin, they had still a long way to go to Cape Town. We moved towards Berg-en-Dal restcamp for our final night in Kruger National Park. At a water hole we saw two elephants in 'musth'.

Musht is a periodic state of dominance in bull elephants that can lead to unpredictable behavior and increased aggression. A musht bull is recognizable by profuse streaming from the temporal gland located between the eye and the ear, constantly dripping of urine and a strong, musky odor.

The two bulls were waving their ears and rooted into each others faces. We maintain proper distance and PJ kept his foot on the accelerator. It was exiting to see how these bulls were challenging each other.   

   

This was the last animal sighting in Kruger. We spent a total of 17˝ days here and we had only two 'cat-less' days. We had never expected that and our visit to the amazing park has been a great success. The restcamps are like little villages and have all the amenities that you need. You need that when you are locked every day at 6.30pm. There is a restaurant, a gift shop and grocery, gas station, ATM machine, some times a Internet cafe, rental cabins, a very complete campground. The are always hot showers and even baths. I would never take a bath at a campground; I had to clean the tub first with Chlorox and a scouring pad... Besides, a bath takes way more water than a shower. What a waste. Furthermore there are kitchens with a gas stove and a tap with boiling water. The tap water is drinkable in South Africa, although we did not drink it. Every camp spot has a barbecue which is cleaned out every morning by the camp staff. There is a Laundromat with washing machines and dryers working on coins, but we did not use them often. If you drive into the rest camp at 6.30pm, registered at the office, park the camper, download pictures, cook dinner, take a shower and into bed in time, there is not much time left to do the laundry.

We agreed with Dave and Jenny to sleep in, but we woke up at 6am and were putting around. Dave and Jenny had the same problem, so we left at 7am. In Nelspruit in the Crossing Shopping Mall we did our groceries and checked the Internet. We had hoped to be able to upload our website, but could not get our laptop wireless.
We took the toll road from Nelspruit to Pretoria, so we made a good pace. Not for long, because we were stopped by the police.
"Can I look into your camper?". When the police officer was inside he asked for PJ's driver license.
"I keep my license in the vault", PJ replied and hoped that he did not had to get it.
"No problem, go and get it", the officer replied.
While PJ opened the vault, the officer looked over his shoulder. This is almost the end of our trip, so fortunately we did not have much cash left. You do not want to show everything to a stranger.
After he had studied PJ's drivers license, we could continue our trip. Dave and Jenny were off the hook and were waiting for us a little bit further.

Some of the signs we saw along the road were funny, others were a bit grim.

 

Along the way we ran into a terrible downpour and it started to thunder too. We had never seen such a light show. The lightning were following each other in a murderous pace and were hitting the ground just in front of us. We wanted to go to a souvenir market in Hartebeespoortdam, but our navigation system sent us to a resort. Oh well, with this rain it would not be fun anyway. We fill in 'camping' into the navigation system and one was close by. Dave and Jenny were impressed, on the outside it did not say that there was a campground.

The next morning the sun was shining again and the Welwitchia Country Market was around the corner. We were the first tourists and the boys were immediately attacked by pushy salesman. They asked them in a sleazy way to write down their name on a list and their country from origin as a kind of research. But the next thing Dave and PJ had to donate money and the man got really annoying. PJ got so angry that he started to call me back and told me he wanted to leave immediately. I knew this would be the only change to purchase souvenirs, so I talked him out of it. We did stay. Many salesman overheard the argument with the irritating guys and apologized to us over and over again.
"Your husband really angry?"
I took advantage of the situation as one of the sellers (who looked way to smooth) tried to sell me two wood carvings of cheetahs. I convinced him that my husband would be even more pissed when I would return with souvenirs that were too expensive. I got the carvings for one fourth of the price he started with.

We drove to Pilanesberg National Park (a couple of hours northwest of Johannesburg) which to our surprise was not part of the National Park pass (Wildcard). While we were picking a spot to camp, Dave overlooked a pole and drove a hole into the camper!! What a tragedy.
On the first day in South Africa both PJ and Dave had hit the side mirror, but ours did not brake, Dave's did. Now he had this too. We still went into the park.
A long-extinct volcano is the setting of Pilanesberg. The landscape was formed by the eruptions 1200 million years go. The beautiful landscape is hilly with red boulders and very green meadows and has an area of 220 square miles.. As in many places in Africa the game that originally lived here had disappeared, hunted or fled. In the late Seventies the President decided that the wildlife had to return to Pilanesberg and operation Genesis was started. Six thousand wild animals were transported to this area and now there are more than 10.000 (the park even boasts the Big Five (lion, leopard, black rhino, elephant and buffalo). We were still missing the black rhino and hoped to see this animal here.

   

   

We have to get used to the fact that this park is very busy and actually we did not see much wildlife on our first day. But the landscape is stunning. everything is blooming and the mimosa fragrance was meeting us. Most roads in Pilanesberg are unpaved and our tableware rattled. I was annoyed by the tableware from the beginning: everything is made of breakable china, from the teapot to the pepper and salt shaker, the milk can, sugar bowl, coffee cups and saucers, whine glasses and tea glasses. The first week I had broken two whine glasses, so I had bought six new ones; that would keep me going for a while.  

At a large traffic jam we heard about a cheetah, but it must have been far away because we could not find him. One of the tour busses brushed Dave's camper and left a green mark on his bumper. The bus never stopped!
At six we were back at the campground. A man in a green uniform was looking for Dave and he apologized over and over again for brushing his camper! Well, that was nice.
He inquired about our day and asked if we had seen the leopard. We immediately were all ears and asked the guide where that would be. He explained us the location and it looked like another den.

The next day we drove to the spot where the leopard had been seen for five days on a row. The surroundings are huge red boulders and we had no idea where to start looking. We parked the campers and started waiting. After one and half hours the leopard is spotted, not by us and far away. After a while we gave up, it is too far away and in Kruger we were so spoiled by the leopard with spring cub. We toured around the park and saw a almost white giraffe. This park has also wildlife shelters. One of the shelters is overlooking a water hole, but the only wildlife we saw were water bucks. We also noticed that we loosing the patience for it.

   

            

On Monday it got very quiet in the park. It also seemed that we saw more animals. We discovered a jackal den with three pups. Mother jackal came home with the head of an impale, but she did not share it with her pups. Boy, if looks could kill...she was giving her pups the evil eye when they came close.

   
                                                        the picture on the right is a warning to tourists, hanging on the campground

A large herd of elephants on the road is getting too close and we had to keep backing up. We saw a rhino with her young taking a mud bath. She really dropped into the mud and her young looked surprised but followed her example. We spent some time at the leopard den, but could not find her. We took a long lunch break at the campground and cool down at the pool. It is 37 C, so we really needed it.
At 3.30pm we went back into the park and gave the leopard another chance. PJ suddenly found her in a tree and with binoculars we also saw a prey in the tree. We tried to park as close as possible and minutes later she posed on the red boulders, exactly where I hoped to see her!

   
In the meantime Dave searching the surroundings with his binoculars and told us over the two way radio that an enormous herd of elephants are taking a bath in the lake. We were in doubt, should we leave the leopard (who was panting in the shade and was probably not going anywhere) and hurry to the elephant herd? We knew the drive would take us 15 minutes, would we be in time?
We chose the elephants, Dave and Jenny stayed at the leopard. When we finally arrived most of the elephants had left the water, but we did witnessed two sub adults playing in the water. They pushed each other underneigh the water surface, spray water at each other and played with water plants. What an experience.
With a beautiful sunset in our mirrors we drove back to the campground.

   

Last night it rained and we have a waterbed again. The last day in the park we still could not find the black rhino, but we were satisfied with what we had seen in a month. For supper we had bought ostrich steaks. We had eaten this ten years ago and loved it. Dave and Jenny agreed with us, they thought it tender steak they ever had.

 

The end of the trip is nearby. We drove to Johannesburg and at 2 pm we arrived at the campground only 500 yards from Dave and Jenny's camper rental depot. The next day they unwillingly brought the camper back to the depot. The damage to their camper was taken in and they agreed on paying 300 Euro. Dave was very relieved.


We could look back to a beautiful journey with incredible wildlife moments. Unforgettable!
Claudia en PJ Potgieser, December 4
th 2009