After visiting South Africa over a decade ago with out a decent camera, it was a great to head back to the land of the Springbok........or Impala as we found out, and be able to capture some of the iconic wildlife of the African continent.
We were lodged at the Kwa Madwala private game reserve about 30 minutes south of Kruger National Park. This is an amazing place with the entire camp looking like the distinctive rounded granite rocks. A full blog will be dedicated to the Kwa Madwala reserve showing the camp and some of the wildlife seen on various drives we went on.
5am, when you're on holiday, is not a normal time to arise but this is what was needed to have a full day at Kruger national park. This ensures that you are out at first light and are not held up in queues of traffic wanting to head into the park too. After a chilly drive to the Malelane gate in our open sided Toyota the sun finally rose and we headed into the park to try and find the Big 5 in the 2 million ha of the park!
The first animal that was spotted was a Giraffe about 150m away. The spark of excitement was triggered when you see African wildlife, outside of a zoo, in its natural habitat......I wanted more and with the rest of the people on the drive we scoured the landscape for any animal, bird or reptile.
Our guide Boyboy didn't have too much trouble in spotting our next animal, with this Warthog wandering across the track.
Driving along, your eyes are drawn to the distance looking for the larger wildlife but Boyboy stopped suddenly and pointed out a group of Dwarf Mongoose scurrying about the undergrowth in search of various prey.
We followed the Mhlambane dry river bed along S118, as this is a good place to spot animals from a high position. Boyboy stopped the vehicle as there were three Giraffes in the river bed that had stopped and were all looking down the river bed towards our vehicle. Boyboy said that they were probably looking at a predator and were weary of what was lurking in the long grass. We slowly drove forward, with Boy boy scanning the area for the tail, ears or outline of what the giraffes were looking at. He stopped and said 'Lion'. We all swung our binoculars to the right to try to see the Lion.
He talked us onto where it lying and there it was, a young Lion staring back at the Giraffes. It was then that someone on board said they could see another in the grass. Sure enough there were two more, their dark ear tips showing up against the background.
After the Lions and up until we stopped for breakfast the wildlife came thick and fast with many of Krugers staple animals being close to the tracks ensuring we had great views. A highlight were two male Giraffes fighting in a river bed about 50m from out vehicle.
Afsaal is a picnic site in the south west part of the park and has no fences to separate you from the wildlife. The only wildlife we had with us to share our breakfast were Glossy Starlings and Lesser-striped Swallows, which seemed to pose for photos.
After breakfast we were back on the road in search of the last two on the Big 5 list and anything else that crossed our path. As the temperature had started to rise we noticed more birds of prey. Luckily enough they were close to the road to be able to take some great shots. Yellow billed Kites, African Fish Eagles, Bataleurs, Tawny and Crowned Eagles and Hawks were all seen in a short space of time before lunch.
Boyboy headed for Skukuza for our lunch stop and we saw many of the same animals again but none seemed to be close enough for decent photos or were sheltering in the midday sun. Skukuza is on the Sabie river and has fantastic views up and down it and across the river bank opposite. As this is fenced camp it was only birds and reptiles that could be seen around the restaurant area. Having not read up on many of the reptiles before heading to SA i was surprised at the colours on the Skinks. These were Rainbow Skinks with vibrant blue tails.
Luckily enough i'd had enough to eat at lunch as Elephant seemed to be on the menu when we started the afternoon portion of our drive. We firstly had a large herd crossing the road and another part of the herd started walking up the road towards us before heading off into the scrub. Not too long along the road we cam across more Elephants at the side of the road. This time we had a great view of a baby which was playing with grass amongst its mothers legs.
During this time we had a very distant and difficult view of a Leopard. Fingers crossed we would see another one closer on the drives over the coming days. That just left the African Buffalo to see to complete the Big 5 list. Boyboy was determined that we see Buffalo and was speaking to all the other guides as we drove passed them on the road. He drove us to a small dam in the river where there had been some seen earlier. No joy with seeing any here but we did manage to see some larger reptiles in the setting sun.
With the light fading we were heading out of the park and crossed a bridge over the Mhlambane river. Boyboy chatted with one more guide and he said that he hadn't seen any buffalo the direction we were heading. I thought that Buffalo were going to evade me again but Boyboy suddenly turned around and said he had seen a small herd climbing out the dry river and heading for the track we had just come along. We got along the track and pulled over to the side and waited. Out of the scrub and fading light came seven Buffalo. It was great to see these magnicent beasts slowly crossing the track.
A great end to an amazing first day out in Kruger National Park. Thank you to our guide Boyboy and our new American friends for making this a truly memorable experience.
Day two and three coming soon as well as photos from Kwa Madwala game reserve.