Monday 12th - Sunday 18th
Ok so Monday did not start off in the best of moods. Ben, Candace, Dan and I were at the farmhouse all day just waiting for Ben's car to get back to us, but figured they would be done by lunch because they knew we had to be at Kruger for 6pm to get in the gates. However, at 11am we got a call saying that the car had only just started to get fixed and that it probably would not be done by 3pm, so we had to make a plan of what to do if we could not get into the gate on time seeing as it was a two and a half hour drive to Paul Kruger gate (we were a little worried). I phoned Skukuza to see if we were able to arrive late, and they said it was no problem as long as we arrived by 9pm we could get an escort from the gate to Skukuza and check in there. Problem sorted, jsut as long as the car got back!
So the four of us hung around until about 3.30pm, Candace and I spent ages making mixed CD's for in the car which included a lovely collection of Bird Calls (yup it's official we are geeks). Eventually the car came back with Sebastiaan and we packed the car quickly and set off at around 4.30pm and headed through Hoedspruit to get petrol and food then down to the gate. We got stuck behind so many roadworks and stopped at a police roadblock that we didn't get to the gate until about 8pm, I thought they would be a little miffed that we were so late, but actually they were pretty cool about it when they realised we had been broken down and waiting for the car all day.
Finally it felt like the holiday was underway! We had a private 12km night drive through the Kruger. It was awesome! We saw a Honey Badger!! Then to top it off, once we got to Skukuza and got to our lovely Safari tent and a Hyena walked right past the fence not 5m from us. It was so cool, I think it was probably waiting for a bit of this enormous steak that we had picked up from the butchers in Hoedspruit. It was enormous, so no wonder the Hyena was watching. So while the boys cooked that Candace and I had loads of fun having a couple of drinks and chatting away in the tent. I felt like a proper South African! leaving the boys to braai while we chatted. Anyway so after the meal of steak…and absolutely nothing else (except perhaps a couple of drinks) we eventually all got into bed and chatted for a wee while until eventually falling asleep (or into a protein coma…).
The next morning we got up really early so that we could set off around the park for a bit without all the gear in the car. We saw buffalo almost as soon as we left Skukuza! It's almost like they let the animals out the same time as us! After that we came across the hyena from the night before. There were two of them pretty close to Skukuza so I presume they were the same, but anyway, they came right across the road, one having just waded through a big puddle of mud. They were lovely, I never realised until last night and then this morning how incredibly big they are! The only time I had ever seen a hyena before, we were parked pretty far from it because she was taking pups to a den and so we kept our distance, but this time they were so close to the tent and the car that it was probably almost the height of my waist, and just think that they have the most powerful jaws of any other mammal in the world and can eat bone with no problem. Definitely something I don't want to get on the wrong side of. We then went back to the camp and had a wee bit of a snooze before packing up and heading down to Malalane at around 10am. It was pretty cool when we checked out because the four of us were dreading having to pay a huge fee for the late escort in to the park, but as it turned out it was only R200 between us, so that night drive for the 12km to skukuza was totally worth it!
The drive down to Malalane was rather uneventful, we saw some elephants, but the sighting wasn't one of the best, so we just kept heading to Malalane with the idea that we could set up camp, hang around for lunch and then go out for an evening drive in the search for our Leopards. However, when we got to the gate and booked in at the main gate for the campsite just down the road the car would not start again and so break down number two was under way! We waited at the gate trying to figure out what was wrong with the car. Some guys came to have a look while we waited for a lift to the camp, and a mechanic thought that maybe it was the head gasket so the guy who fixed the car the other day said he would come by in the morning and try to fix it. Ben and Dan bless them had tried to fix the car most the afternoon and then got taken to Berg-en Dal to get some beer while Candace and I made dinner. We sat around the tent for a bit watching the stars in our lovely new chairs and eventually headed off to bed (though not that early, because we couldn't exactly go anywhere in the morning!…lay in! woop!).
Wednesday morning started off pretty slowly, we got up around 7am because Marius was coming to fix the car and we waited around trying to help the guys out until finally it got fixed. Turns out that it wasn't the head gasket at all, it was the timing belt which had gotten so worn out that there were no teeth on it to grip and start the engine. So after the guys went into Malalane and bought a new one it wasn't too long before we were off heading to crocodile bridge for the afternoon. We came across the most amazing elephant sighting I had ever seen in my life. We parked on the side of the road and watched as a herd of about 50 elephants slowly crossed over to get to Crocodile river. It was a beautiful sighting, and we had to stay there and watch anyway because there was no way cars were going to get past them, so after about an hour the traffic was getting rather hectic and after the last elephant crossed they all rushed off. We were eager just to stop a little ways up the road and watch the baby elephants trying to grab mums tail but then to our surprise three of them started playing and throwing themselves all over each other! It was so adorable! One of the girls flopped on the floor while the other two (male and female) fell all over her and gave her a good face full of elephant! Then mum came along and broke up the little play fight, but as soon as her back was turned the little female that was on the floor promptly runs into the boy and gives him a big old head butt, before continuing their little brawl. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life! But after a few more minutes suddenly all the elephants that were behind us started trumpeting and running away from the river, I figured there was a predator that had scared them so we went back a bit to look but found nothing so headed off to Crocodile Bridge.
We got to Crocodile Bridge a little later than planned after sitting at the elephant sighting for so long, so we had a quick drink and something to eat before heading back to Malalane. We got delayed again however by the biggest herd of buffalo I had ever seen! There were hundreds of them, from every direction and all the way to the horizon. It was magnificent, although just a little annoying because we had to get back before 6pm! So after waiting for them to get out of the road we managed to drive around a few of them and make our way back to camp. We also saw a White Rhino on the way back, but he was far away across the drainage line. It was lovely though! When we got back Candace and I again went and made dinner, which was rather tasty! And then we left Ben and Dan to the washing up while we had a drink! It was pretty early to bed though because we had to pack the camp up the next day before heading out, and we wanted to leave early so we could go and find some predators!
Thursday morning we headed to Skukuza via Berg-en dal, and what a lovely sighting we had on the way! We were driving around the koppies behing Berg-en dal when all of a sudden we went down the slope in to a drainage line and I looked to my left to see three beautiful rhino laying there enjoying the morning sun. It was amazing. They were only about 4m from our car, and they had no issues with us being so close, in fact they promptly went back to sleep. They were so close that we all had to change our lenses just so that we could fit both of them in the picture! It was such a gorgeous sighting, I could have sat there for ages, but some silly tourists without any awareness of the animals came steaming down the road and made the rhino's edgy so we left before something happened. We didn't see much else on the way to Skukuza beside a crap load of rhino, they were everywhere that morning, I think we counted up 16 rhino's that we saw in the space of a few hours! Then 2km out of skukuza the car suddenly started making a horrendous noise and then a moment later the fan belt flew off the car. The immediate reaction was 'not again', but we do seem to keep breaking down in the best possible places seeing as we were at the mechanics five minutes later. It was pretty cool, the four of us got taken to the employee village where the old ivory warehouses and processing plants are, we didn't see them though, but it was pretty cool knowing we were so close to them. The car took only 40 minutes to fix and was R17 to repair, which was a relief! So after a much needed car wash we were off to the restaurant by the river to have lunch while watching two Southern tree agama's doing their little bobbing head courtship dance. It was rather cute!
After our stop in Skukuza we went to Lake Panic at the request of Dan so that we could go and watch some birds from the hide for a while. It was a lovely afternoon with lots happening at the lake. I was more interested in the animals as usual, so some Nyala's caught my eye at first. There were a few males that were having a stand off with each other for a while, before they eventually calmed down and had a drink down by the lake's edge. Then after a while there was a crocodile that was gliding through the water so silently that it looked so deadly. I followed it round to the other side and eventually it climbed out of the water onto the bank. I could not believe how big it was! It was enormous, the biggest Nile crocodile I had ever seen, and to think it barely even made a ripple in the water as it swam round.
After lake panic we made our way to Pretouriskoup. As we crossed the Mtshawu crossing, Ben and dan stopped the car so that they could look at a Wattled lapwing. I got a little bored after a while so got my binoculars and started having a look around. I could not believe what I was seeing! There was a Leopard laying in a tree!!! I immediately started calling the others going 'there is a leopard in the tree!', the others however did not believe me at first, but because I kept saying it they finally looked and we were all completely overwhelmed. we watched her eating for a while and then eventually she climbed up the bank and wandered around before jumping into the river bed. It was a lovely sighting, and just what we had all been looking for for the last three days. So eventually we drove off and headed down the dirt road to Pretouriskoup thinking that the day could not get any better when we came across two lioness' that were happily lazing in a mitre drain near the road. They were so chilled out and one eventually got up and walked off to just to plop down 10m or so up the road while the other one watching us over the mound of dirt kept trying not to fall asleep while she watched. It was like watching a kitten that is so tired but doesn't want to miss out on any of the fun. She also kept pretending to stalk us and then started playing with her tail. It was so funny to watch. It makes you realise that all cats are just the same no matter if it's a little domestic cat or a big lioness.
When we got to the camp we checked in and bought some food then went and set up camp near some other campers who obviously did not know what camping was. They had come fully stocked with a campervan, carpet a TV and chairs, most likely the kitchen sink too. It made our camping equipment (tent, chairs and a camping stove) look positively primitive! Anyway so we set up our little camp and while Candace and I showered and returned with a couple of drinks, the boys made us a lovely dinner of Borewors and mash, though no gravy because there had been a slight mishap with how to make it. Ben thought that the packet said to use cold water so sat there trying to mix it in the kettle, then realizing it was not working Dan suggested adding a packet of soup to make it thicker…I'm sure only boys would come up with an idea like that. Candace and I could not stop laughing at the mess they had made with trying to make some gravy, but the dinner was lovely in any case! We then sat around in the chairs having a couple of drinks before Candace and I realised we were getting a little tipsy so we called it a night and went to bed.
Friday was pretty quiet in Kruger, we took a nice drive around the Koppies behind Pretouriskoup before heading to Paul Kruger gate to head off to Nelspruit for a couple of days. We didn't see much that morning except a very scared elephant that just ran past us in the road and off into the bushes. I had no idea where he came from but then a few moments later a helicopter appeared and flew off in the direction of the elephant. I guess they were probably just doing a census and the poor little guy got scared by the helicpoter. So we drove down to Hazyview and stopped for the most delicious breakfast I have had since coming to South Africa. Candace and I had poached eggs and smoked salmon on a toasted muffin. It was divine! The boys filled up on borewors and then we headed off down to Nelspruit for our relaxed night at the Funky Monkey Backpackers!
We arrived around 1pm and it was so chilled and relaxed…maybe too relaxed… But anyway it was a lovely little backpackers with an outside area of sofas, a tv to watch the rugby, pool table, swimming pool and more importantly a bar! So we sat down and had a coca cola before heading into town to do some shopping for those bits that we can't really get in Hoedspruit. We split up from the guys as they were getting rather bored of us choosing face wash in the body shop, so we had a while to get what we needed while the boys went for a drink. I got myself a lovely new pillow, flip flops and some toiletries, as well as a book about elephants! Then we headed to a bar near the backpackers for dinner, which was amazing food once again. Mmmm chicken and halloumi salad (…I do love not being veggie any more!). Then back to the backpackers for an evening of playing pool and rum & coke! It was fun, we met some cool people and had a good time without having to leave the place. My kind of chilled out evening!
The next morning, the boys were a little worse for wear, so we thought it best to stay another day, chill out and watch the rugby then head into town in the search for a Banjo for Ben and a much needed haircut for Dan and myself. The banjo buying did not go well, neither did the haircut… I asked for 2 to 3 inches cut off, but it had to be long enough to all tie up. From what I gather she did not hear, because I emerged with what I can only describe as a problem. My hair is so short it no longer ties up, what am I going to do on game drives for the next few weeks till it gets longer again? Hmmm. So in an attempt to forget all about the haircut, the four of us went for lunch and then back to Funky Monkeys to chill by the pool and read a book. The evening was once again very fun, we hung out with some of the guys from yesterday and we were behind the bar making drinks and dancing to the reggae that was blasting from the stereo with Lebo and Tim. It was a great night, and I don't think any of us wanted to go to bed, because that meant we would have to go back to Garonga on Sunday to get back to work.
So Sunday eventually rolled around and we reluctantly made our way back home. The week off had been so much fun, even with all the break downs, that I don't think any of us really wanted to come back yet. I think that changed a bit though, because when we did get back and finished unpacking the car we greeted some of the others and all got chatting about our week off. I then went to go and put on some washing, then saw Margaux running from the house to the 4 x 4 with Genine running behind her. I asked what was going on and apparently there was a fire on the property. Because the vegetation is so dry until the rains we are in fire season, and the fires can be devastating. I went and rounded everyone up then we all got to packing the cars with beaters and water to go and help stop the fire. Andy arrived and we loaded up his truck with a big water tank, then Bernie and his guides told us to follow them down to the Lufafa concession.
We drove hastily down to the Southern part of the reserve, with the smoke cloud getting bigger and bigger as we approached the fire. JP and Sebastiaan were there already, they had come across the fire when they went to pick up rosemary from Makalali gate. Apparently a giraffe had walked into a falling power line and cause a spark that started it. JP and Sebastiaan were definitely in the right place at the right time because they saw the giraffe still on the floor recovering from it's electric shock while the fire had only spread about 10m. It was crazy how big it was and how quickly it was spreading in such a short space of time. Thankfully it had not yet jumped any of the roads so the plan was to just let the whole block burn and space all the helpers along the roads surrounding it making sure it did not jump and spread any further. There must have been about 150 people there trying to put this fire out, and we stationed ourselves with the beaters along the road where the fire was heading and started to back burn the Moribund (dry grass) to try and meet the fire in the middle. It was working for a while, but then the wind picked up and the fire was heading to us quicker than we could backburn to the middle, so JP got me on the radio to have some cars come to pick us up out of the path of the fire. I wont say that my radio skills were of a great standard, in fact they were pretty shocking, so I doubt I will be doing that again for a while.
Thankfully the back burning had gone just enough to stop the flames from reaching the other side of the road and jumping over. It was lucky that so many people had come together to help in such a short period of time, otherwise there could have been a lot more of the property that was burnt. Another good thing was that because it spread so quick through the grass, most of the trees were left unharmed (if only a little singed). That is what is known as a cool fire, and as long as it is kept under control can be stopped. So our work there was done and we finally headed back to camp to shower and have dinner. On the way back hough we were fortunate enough to come across a Civet and then a Caracal! It was so cool! We couldn't wait to tell everyone what we had been doing while they were out watching football. I thought it was a great experience, insightful and really amazing to see how everyone works together to help out.