21/10/2007 Kruger

Trip Start Oct 11, 2007
Trip End Oct 28, 2007

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

CC and JD were up around dawn and went for a walk near the lodge, accompanied by a couple of the lodge's charming dogs. The attractive upland nature of the area was apparent in the daylight, with steep hills dotted with aloes and other exotic plants. Every now and then the barking of baboons could be heard. 
We had breakfast outside in the rapidly warming sun and donated our England shirts to the lodge to commemorate the match. In return they kindly gave us a Springboks flag. Voicing our regret that we only had one night, we set off for the Kruger National Park after a short detour to see the Elands River waterfall. These are situated a few miles back down the road to Johannesburg where there is a car parking area next to a road tunnel entrance. To reach the falls, which are spectacular, it is necessary to walk through the old NZASM tunnel. A torch is necessary for this because there is debris underfoot. In all probability there will be a guide at the entrance ready to take you through for a small fee whilst his colleague minds your car.
For birders, the walk is likely to be worth the effort because there is a small colony of Southern Bald Ibises to the left of the falls, as seen from the view point. They're easy to find once you've located the obvious white-streaked rocks below their favourite ledges. There were Alpine Swifts and other swift species overhead.
From here it straightforward drive to Nelspruit where we stopped for some petrol and then headed north-east towards the KNP Numbi Gate. By mid-afternoon we were getting quite peckish but we were almost at Numbi before we saw anywhere that we wanted to stop. Phumulani Lodge looks rather nice from the road so we pulled in and asked whether they served food to non-residents. They did, so we ordered a batch of steaks and sat in the shade near to a water feature, looking across the lawns. The lodge, details of which can be found at http://www.phumulanilodge.co.za/ is listed under "fair trade" and seems to be a local initiative. The steaks were good and there were plenty of birds about, and a few reptiles too, including a rather nice Green-spotted Bush Snake.
A short time after leaving the lodge we were through the Numbi Gate and into the Kruger National Park. JD and CC were firstly struck by how much greener the park appeared that during their previous visit in October 2005, with fresh shoots of grass in many places.
We had booked into the Pretoriuskop Rest Camp for our first night and decided to take a slow, round about route, taking in the Sayi Loop, aiming to get there just before the gates closed. The first animal of note was a solitary rhinoceros. This seemed quite small and we wondered whether it might have been a Black Rhino but we couldn't get much more than a rear view most of the time.
Two much smaller interesting animals followed, with a Sharpe's Grysbok, perhaps one of the prettier small antelopes to be found in the park and a Dwarf Mongoose soon turning up. A Liechtenstein's Hartebeest crossed in front of us, a welcome change from the large numbers of Kudu and Impala that we'd been seeing within seconds of entering the park. A Klaas's Cuckoo showed well at the side of the road and a Secretary Bird stalked through the bush. We drove down to a small pool just of the road where an African Fish Eagle was keeping watch. A few common waders were also present and a flock of Wattled Starlings came down to drink.
The highlight of day by miles came as we stopped the car to view a huge herd of buffalo about a kilometre away in an area of rolling hills and grassland. Pippa was the first to spot "something different" and through the binoculars we could see three lionesses prowling around the edge of the herd. After a while we noticed a fourth lioness bounding through the long grass from the valley between us and the herd. The lions kept making feints into the herd and the buffalo responded by bunching very closely together and occasionally lunging forward if the cats got to close. Incredibly only a few buffalo seemed to be keeping an eye on the lions whilst the rest continued to graze. We watched this drama for about half an hour, but the herd was working its way downhill and eventually the lions dropped out of sight. We thought about waiting around because if they all continued to move in the same direction they would have to cross the road, but it was getting late and we didn't want to miss the camp curfew.
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