My alarm went off at 5am followed by another 'marimba' iPhone alarm call at 5.15 from the nearby tent of Chris and Caroline. We were all up dressed, breakfasted and ready to leave well ahead of schedule - 7.10 instead of 7.30 which meant we could eek out a few more minutes game viewing enroute to Skukuza - the Kruger headquarters and our campsite for tonight.
We entered via Orpen gate where we stopped for a lovely coffee and loo break - striking while the iron was hot we also bought four wooden doorstops - we bought a couple last time we were here and have not seen them since - lovely quality and importantly work well - each has a subtle carving of one of the big five on it - also a great souvenir.
We set off into the leafless winter bush landscape of Kruger national park - it should make game viewing easier and is definitely different from the greener bush we saw in December 2011.
We saw great wildlife scenes at two water holes which are so vital to animals at this time of year - a large breeding elephant herd drinking, having mud baths, in the background was a giraffe and lying both in and out of the water were hippos attended by large numbers of oxpeckers removing ticks and such like from ears, scars and anywhere they could find a meal - a head shake indicated when they got too close to their eyes. The other waterhole had hippos baboons and an array of bird life. We also saw an old male giraffe, the most battle scarred I have ever seen - he is clearly still fighting as he was also carrying a recent injury ....obviously battle hardened and not battle weary!
We arrived at Skukuza at 3.45pm and the guides manoeuvred us through a full campsite to a small area next to the ablutions block where they put up the tents and sorted supper while we all went on a pre booked game drive ( we used my credit card for the required advance payment - so all 12 were part of Julie's tour). About 70 people massed for the game drive which left in 4 trucks each had a max of 21 - we had the 12 of us and a family off four - so everyone or every couple had a 'window seat'.
Our driver was Lucky -quite quiet and still needed to work on his projection and confidence but he worked hard for us. We started well with a young hyena sitting outside its den while the family were out - we ended returning to the same spot to find the adults had returned and the whole family were lying by the road - absorbing the heat of the day from the ground.
We also saw buffalo and bushbuck at sunset close to the river; soon after and before the light faded totally we had a rare sighting of a black rhino. the spotting lights now went on and after missing earlier sightings of leopard we found our own -it looked like a young female but sadly she moved out when the spotlight rested on her - lovely to see nonetheless - I never tire of leopards however short the glimpse. On our way back we crossed the river and followed two male lions who were also crossing - they looked emaciated and not in good fettle - probably old and ejected from their pride by a younger coalition - but who knows. They made their way left into the bush and we went to catch our last sighting of the hyena family. Back at camp supper was waiting - and the day ended with one hot chocolate, just one and not two, enabled me to avoid the trek to the ablutions block at some interesting hour!
(Today's photo is a yellow billed hornbill in the lovely light just prior to the sun setting.)