On Safari

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
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Trip End Aug 09, 2013


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Thursday, August 1, 2013

1-4th Aug - Kruger National Park Safari with Livingstone Trails

Our safari started maybe a tad earlier than preferable and little did we know this would be the case for the remaining 3 mornings. Louis so kindly dropped us off at our pick up point for 5:40am and they were dead on the dot on time; obviously was the majority of the journey the bus slept with a few toilet stop-overs and a driver change about half way.  After this people were a bit more awake and we got to know our bus who would be our safari group; a random mix people.  There was Beth from America, Laura's age taking a holiday in SA from primary teaching; Farah and Fanar, brother and sister from Holland but originally Iraq, both students; and then Steve, a rather eccentric person who had the potential to be rather annoying on the trip :S

We arrived at our campsite at around 2pm with the car loaded to the brim with all our meal for the next 3 days and quickly got set up in our tents and ready to leave again.  The campsite was a lot better than I was expecting considering we were on the budget safari; a massive fire area with 2 separate dining tables, a massive cooking and pantry area and then tents with either stretcher beds or mattresses in: we opted for the mattress option.

Ready to move again, we were headed for Moholoholo Rehabilitation centre half an hour down the road, with an appointment time of 3pm.  Here's me thinking it would just be our small group of 6 being shown around - how wrong I was!  There was a full bus load of about 30 plus a load of other making about 50 people to be shown around by 2 guides; a little OTT if you ask me.  We initially sat in the entrance listening to the guide for a good half an hour to 40 minutes; he was rather entertaining but towards the end he just needed to shut up and take us to see the animals.

We started with the cheetahs and then stunt to get everyone happy; stroking one, something Laura and I have already done, so I became the photographer for Beth.  We were then told to walk straight past everything to the bird sections, but obviously that was not going to happen as there was serval kittens along the way!  So cute.

The rest of the tour consisted of eagles, vultures, lions, leopards, wild dogs, more cheetah and hyena, the leopards being my favourite, one of which was a teenager male obviously just looking for some attention.  He started stalking my camera strap at one point and jumped up against the cage to reveal his beautifully white, spotted belly which I just wanted to give a good tickle and hug!

Back at camp it was shower time before Lloyd, our guide and cook extraordinaire, whipped up a chicken Braai with Greek salad and a new interpretation 'pup'.  We had pup on our Zulu trip 5 weeks ago and I wasn't overly impressed by its bland taste, weird taste or the fact that it looked like smaller rice grains.  However, mixed with bacon, onions, peppers and made into a tart (i.e. disguising the taste and texture) it was rather good: the whole meal was a good indication of food to come :)

After a too early morning, it was time to get into the open safari vehicle and wrap ourselves up in multiple layers and blankets for an hour drive to the park entrance (for most of which we obviously slept).  After sorting out our entrance forms, that was it; we were on safari! 

We had 2 full days of safari across which we covered about 500km and had 2 sunset drives and a night drive.  Obviously we were here for the 'Big 5' - Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo and Leopard and this is the place listed as the best chance of seeing them.  But as Lloyd described, its random and luck on the day, and even with 11000 rhino we still didn't manage to see one so thank God we did at Monate.  The chance of seeing leopard was pretty low to begin with and the odds weren't in our favour for that either.  However, we did see a multitude of other animals which we were very happy with; especially the chance to see day old elephants and giraffe, 3 month old lion cubs and 3 of the illusive spotted hyena (which we were told is very rare to see)

We also saw a multitude of antelope including Kudu (which we have also eaten!), impala, neala, steenbok, waterbuck and bushbuck; Laura and I became particularly good at spotting and recognising these which ultimately lead us to win the 'name the "game" game' on the last day, with double the points of the other pairs.  Obviously my competitive side made a big appearance for that!

We also saw baboons, vervet monkeys, bush babies, jackels, eagles, vultures, wildebeast, crocodile, hippo and warthogs.

Our night drive, though disappointing in terms of seeing big cats (which is generally the aim) was made memorable by the elephants and buffalo.  More or less as soon as we got to a water hole, we spotted the buffalo who were on the opposite side to the water.  Our guide backed up so they could cross, and one poked its head out, scouting the area.  Unhappy it retreated and another one took its place.  This one didn't wimp out and took the first few steps onto the road keeping an eye on us.  Slowly, very slowly, buffalo after buffalo after buffalo crossed the road until about 100 were by or in the water.  This was good in itself, a sighting of this many buffalo being quiet abnormal.

Then the elephants came!  About 40 of them with about 10 of these being babies, again on the opposite side to the water, but closer to the car than I think the guide was happy with.  We got this impression after the numerous 'shhhh!' when we whispered a question and then him whispering 'this is not good' - panic!  The matriarch (oldest female) quickly made us aware of her problem with our presence by facing us and swinging her trunk.  Bit then after a few giggles from hyena in the distance they all retreated back into the bushes.  The guide, now talking revved his engine so the elephants knew we were passing.  No further from the elephants about 15 of them in single file moved onto the road then made a gathering, all dragging their feet and trunks along the concrete surface.  Normally they do this to feel vibrations; however the guide said it was very abnormal for them to do it as much as they were and even he didn't know what was going on, so we moved on.

On the remainder of the drive the hope was there for big cats but we were only lucky enough to see the very small cat called a Genet (a pet I would very much love to have and have been told they make good pets!  Legality in England may be an issue...) and a very rare white tailed mongoose.

I needn't say that food was a big part of the trip with a fried brunch every morning around 11, snacks throughout the day and then 2 braais and a curry always served with a Greek salad and many salad dressings.  The last evening was obviously the pinnacle of the meals with a 12oz steak, corn on the cob, garlic bread and of course Greek salad :)  The steak was goooood!

On the way back from the safari site, we went via Blyde River Canyon for some stunning views and Echo caves where people used to live 150 years ago.

We don't know how much we actually paid for the trip as it was part of our BazBus ticket, but considering this is the 'budget option' for safari in Kruger, this was brilliant.  Lloyd our guide was fantastic with great knowledge, eyes for spotting animals and culinary skills as well as being a bit pf a joker (especially when I would have a nap both days after lunch!)  Our accommodation, though camping, was clean and well organised and thought out, whilst Kruger itself offered a variety of habitats, animals and annoyingly weather with a bit of rain on our first day.

It is only now though that I realise how lucky I was when I was 15 to go to the Masai Mara and see lions ~10m from the car more or less as soon as we drove into the park.  Annoyingly my favourite animals are the most illusive and inconspicuous, so one of my dreams is to still see a leopard in the wild.  But a brilliant 4 days and a great way to end our time in Africa which was made even better by spending our last evening meal out with Louis and Sias and being escorted to the airport in the morning by them!.
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