Week One - Drakensburgs and Kruger Park

Trip Start Oct 18, 2006
Trip End Apr 04, 2007

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Sunday, October 29, 2006


What a stunning first week! We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Nicolette & Herman, our hosts in Centurion, without whom we would never have known to visit the places we did.

Before I go on I'll tell you about our first Miriam Hyman Memorial Fund CHALLENGE:

Herman lent us his bird identifying book. By the time we left the Panorama chalet park we had identified 17 species of bird, and we were enjoying that so much that I got the idea for our first challenge for the MHMF. We decided we would try to identify 100 species of birds by the time we finish the trip. With the huge diversity of the wildlife at the Kruger National Park, by the time we left there we had identified 113 species! Our idea now is to continue to identify as many species as we can while we're away and see how many we can manage. It will depend a little on the availability of identification books in the different countries.

We listed the birds we identified and the dates we did so, and I am going to list them here. We thought that some people might be interested in seeing the birds we identified, so if you would like to see what they look like you could do a Google Image search or try this website: www.south-african-lodges.com/birds

We like the idea of this challenge - we think Mim would enjoy it and we are learning a lot in the process. We hope you enjoy it too.

Don't forget you can sponsor us by following the link on www.miriam-hyman.com or directly through the ORBIS website

Panorama Chalet Park 20th to 23rd October:
1. Red-winged Starling
2. African Pied Wagtail
3. Garden Warbler
4. Black-eyed Bulbul
5. Mocking Chat (female)
6. Long Crested Eagle
7. Abdim's Stork
8. Brown-throated Martin
9. White-necked Raven
10. Bleating Warbler
11. Black Coucal
12. African Hawk Eagle
13. Brown-throated Martin
14. House Sparrow
15. Helmeted Guinea Foul
16. Cape Wagtail
17. Heuglin's Robin

Kruger National Park

23rd October
18. Masked Weaver
19. Yellow-billed Hornbill
20. Grey Hornbill
21. Black Flycatcher
22. Pied Wagtail
23. Cape Wagtail
24. African Jacana
25. Egyptian Goose
26. White Stork
27. Saddle-billed stork
28. Green Pigeon
29. Cape Turtle Dove
30. Marabou Stork
31. Lesser Masked Weaver
32. Burchell's Starling
33. Black-bellied Korhaan (male + female)
34. Grey heron
35. Laughing Dove
36. Blacksmith Plover
37. African Palm Swift
38. Marsh Sandpiper
39. Southern Black Tit
40. Spectacled Weaver

24th October
41. Giant Kingfisher
42. Grey Lourie
43. White-breasted Cormorant
44. South African Cliff Swallow
45. Mosque Swallow
46. Arrowmarked babbler
47. Sabota Lark
48. Brown Snake Eagle
49. Lilac-breasted roller (my favourite)
50. Crowned Plover
51. Yellow-billed Egret
52. Spurwing Goose
53. Bateleur
54. Cape Turtle Dove
55. Cape Glossy Starling
56. Long-tailed Shrike
57. Red-billed Hornbill
58. White-browed Scrub Robin
59. White-backed Vulture
60. Ground Hornbill
61. Lesser-spotted Eagle
62. Red-billed Oxpecker
63. Albino Starling (not a species, identified with the help of a passer-by)
64. Emerald-Spotted Wood Dove
65. Grey Heron
66. Three-banded Plover
67. Marsh Sandpiper
68. Goliath Heron (AD's favourite)
69. White-faced Duck
70. Wire-tailed Swallow
71. Green-backed Heron
72. Double-banded Sand Grouse
73. Water Dicup
74. Crested Francolin
75. Wahlberg's Eagle
76. Lappet-faced Vulture
77. Hooded Vulture
78. Red-eyed Dove
79. Ostrich
80. Lesser-spotted Eagle
81. African Golden Oriole

25th October
82. White-fronted Bee Eater
83. African Fish Eagle
84. Monotonous Lark
85. Croaking Cisticola
86. Woolly-necked Stork
87. Swainson's Francolin
88. Crested Francolin
89. European Bee Eater
90. Greater Striped Swallow
91. Hamerkop
92. Bearded Woodpecker
93. Brown-headed Parrot
94. Southern Red Bishop
95. Red-Winged Starling
96. Wood Sandpiper
97. Pied Kingfisher
98. Black Crake
99. Hadeda Ibis
100. Natal Francolin
101. Lesser-striped Swallow
102. Mourning Dove
103. Fork-tailed Drongo
104. Brown Snake Eagle
105. Coqui Francolin
106. Jackal Buzzard
107. Steppe Buzzard
108. White-crowned Shrike
109. Ground-scraper Thrush
110. Brown-headed Kingfisher
111. Harlequin Quayle
112. Skops Owl
113. Blue Waxbill


I'll give an outline of what we've been doing and give some more details afterwards.

Friday 20th October:
-drove to Graskop via Millie's -arrived at the Panorama chalet park -into Graskop and ate at Portuguese restaurant -back to Panorama & met new friends

Saturday 21st October:
-trout pie for breakfast -visited Bourke's Luck potholes -visited God's Window -due to rain went to The Boathouse in Graskop for a drink & snack -back to Panorama -bird-watching until dark -hung out with new friends

Sunday 22nd October
-early walk to pool with new friends -supermarket -back home for cooked breakfast -Mac Mac falls -Lone Creek falls -picnic at Lone Creek -Bridal Veil falls -drink in Sabie -The Boathouse for a meal (butterfish)

Monday 23rd October
-cooked breakfast -Graskop for bank & shopping -stop at Hazyview -enter Kruger National Park at Kruger Gate -stop at Skukuza enclosure -to Lower Sabie enclosure -set up tent (yes, I said tent) -quick visit to Sunset Dam -walk around enclosure -drink on terrace overlooking Sabie River -braai at camping spot -early to bed

Tuesday 24th October
-woke at 5.30am -cooked eggs -stopped at viewpoint -picnic at Skukuza overlooking Sabie River -visited museum -Lake Panic bird hyde -back to enclosure with eight minutes to spare before gates closed -drinks & food on terrace (hunter's pie & boerwors) -early to bed

Wednesday 25th October
-watched sun rise from terrace -dawn raid baboon troop encounter -packed up tent -Nhlamdanyathi bird hyde -breakfast at Crocodile Bridge enclosure -Gardenia bird hyde -Berg-En-Dal enclosure -set up tent -walk by dam -dinner in café (hake & boerwors) -made new friends -early to bed

Thursday 26th October
-woken by cacophony of birds -check sightings board at reception -breakfast at Afsaal -drink at Pretoriuskop enclosure -Mathekanyathe granokop -marula juice & nuts at Afsaal -back to Berg-En-Dal -shopping -vegetable rice & hotdogs on the braai -early to bed

Friday 27th October
-slept later than usual due to light rain -packed up -left Kruger Park via Malelane Gate -back to Centurion via Millie's -chill in the pool -dinner (roast chicken, concertina potatoes, beetroot & salad) -fell into bed around 11pm


As you can see we did lots in the week that we spent in the Drakensburgs and the Kruger Park.

As we drove into the Drakensburg mountains the scenery became more and more impressive as we gained altitude. It was enhanced by the dramatic weather with electrical storms which we eventually drove into and out of again because the rain was so localized. But nothing prepared us for the view which awaited us at the Panorama chalet park which is situated right on the edge of the Eastern Transvaal Escarpment. Each chalet is situated so that the view is visible from the bedroom. We sat on our porch and I felt like we were sitting on top of the world, with the "lowveld" visible for miles and miles over 700 meters directly below us.

The next day dawned bright and sunny so we made our way to Bourke's Luck, so called because Tom Bourke made his fortune panning the alluvial gold in the potholes there. The Sabie River is shallow and wide above the potholes and after viewing them from the bridge we enjoyed making our way over the natural stepping stones and exploring the wildlife there.

As the weather was good we made our way next to God's Window which is on the escarpment a few miles north of where we were staying. By the time we got there storm clouds had gathered and unfortunately the visibility had worsened, although we did get a sense of the enormity of it all. It was breath-taking, even in the less-than-ideal weather conditions. We promised ourselves that we would return there under better weather conditions but sadly they didn't improve before we left the region.

As the rain showed no signs of stopping we went back to Graskop and found a bar/restaurant where we sat at the bar and made friends with Henny the owner who gave us lots of interesting info about the region along with his five friends who were also sat at the bar. We ended up having a snack of calamari and fries and then went back to our chalet.

As we arrived we said good evening to our neighbours in the chalet above ours. It turned out that they were six actors who were in the area to shoot an advert. We ended up having a great laugh with them before hitting the sack.

The next day was waterfall day. There are lots in the area but Herman had recommended three in particular so we visited first the Mac Mac falls, so named because of the large number of Scottish settlers around there. Then a picnic at Lone Creek falls and finally to the Bridal Veil which is so high that the water disperses into a mist by the time it reaches the pool below. Quite a hike to get to the falls but we saw lots of interesting things on the way, including our first (huge) millipede.

That evening we went back to the Boathouse as we had liked the look of the menu. I ate butterfish for the first time. It was so good that even until the last mouthful I was saying "mmmm" out loud :)

On Monday morning it was time to go and we were sad to leave our chalet which had come to feel like home. But we knew that the delights of the Kruger Park awaited us and we were looking forward to that.

We passed through the town of Hazyview and entered the park by the Kruger Gate. Even before we entered we were greeted with the sight of a tree laden with Weaver Bird nests. Within minutes we came across some impala which did not seem the least bit phased by our presence. They are the most common of the antelope species in the park and we almost stopped noticing them by the time we left! A few miles further on we saw a big herd of buffalo wallowing the water on the far side of the Sabie River. We stopped briefly at Skukuza which is the biggest enclosure in the park. There we saw our first Burchell's Starling which made us stop in our tracks, the iridescent blues and greens of its plumage were so brilliant in the sun. They too became part of the scenery later on as they are amongst the most common of the bird species in the Park. But their brilliance never ceased to impress us. We also discovered that they are rather partial to cheese!

We made our way to the first place we were staying for two nights, Lower Sabie enclosure. There we checked in, bought our "wild card" which entitles us to entry into all of the country's National Parks, and went to choose our camping spot. Now, anyone who knows me will be wide-eyed with amazement and probably with laughter to think of me camping. But I can say with pride that the first time in my life that I went camping was in the Kruger National Park :) We set up our new tent, which cost us only a few rand, and took only fifteen minutes to erect. Then we couldn't resist going to Sunset Dam, less than a kilometer from the camp. A comparatively large water hole, we saw hippos, crocodiles and many bird species.

We went back to the camp and had a drink on the terrace, taking in the scene as the sun set. We went back to our tent and made our first braai which is a typical South African barbeque made with wood instead of coals. We crashed out early as you have to get into the same rhythm as the animals if you want to see the best of them, and they are best viewed between sunrise and 10am when it gets hot, and again between about 4pm and sunset.

The next morning we rose at dawn, around 5.30am. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs cooked on the electric hobs provided in the kitchen block we started our explorations. We first made our way along one of the dirt tracks to a viewing point where you are allowed to get out of the car ("Alight at your own risk"!). On the way we saw our first elephant. A lone bull wandering through the brush, he was absolutely ****ing enormous. We were impressed. When we got to the viewing point we had a stunning view of the Sabie River and in the distance we saw a big herd of zebra filing down to drink, followed shortly afterwards by an elephant who we suspected was the same one we had seen from the road.

Back on the road we noticed a number of parked vehicles and we discovered that they had spotted lions, a little distance away, basking and feeding. Because of all the other vehicles we didn't get a very good view which was disappointing. But the following day we saw two young males relaxing under a tree just a few feet from the road.

Next we made our way to Skukuza where we wanted to have our picnic lunch. On the way we were fascinated by more delights including our first spotting of kudu and a lone tsessebe, a kind of antelope. We weren't sure what it was until a guide happened to come along. He said that he had never seen that species in that area before so it was a treat. At Skukuza we had our lunch on the terrace overlooking the river and then took a look at the (air conditioned thank goodness) museum there which gives the history of the Park.

Someone had mentioned to us that the Lake Panic bird hide was worth a visit so we made our way there. It was my favourite part of the day. We saw many bird species, two crocodiles who came almost out of the water, a baby crocodile and hippos. That is where we saw the pair of Goliath Herons which AD loved. We spent an hour and a half there and hardly noticed the time pass. When we left we realized we had left it a little late to get back to Lower Sabie enclosure before the gates closed at 6pm. If you get there late and they have to let you in they charge a fine. We made it with eight minutes to spare!

That evening we ate hunter's pie and boerwors (a tasty sausage in a roll) on the terrace before crashing before 9.30. It had been a stunning day.

The next morning I woke up even earlier than usual and so I decided to go and watch the sunrise from the terrace above the river. As I sat there taking it all in I noticed a troop of dawn raiders infiltrating the enclosure - lots of baboons, around fifty or so, including several mothers with babies clinging to them. I felt a little nervous but it wasn't until a fairly large male came and stared me out just a few feet away that I really had a bit of a moment. Luckily he didn't seem interested in anything I had so after about a minute or so he just upped and climbed onto the roof. That was the only scary moment I had while we were in the park *whew*!

We spent two nights in Lower Sabie and two in Berg-En-Dal further to the south. So we packed up our belongings and made our way to Crocodile Bridge enclosure where we bought a cooked breakfast. We saw that there were two bird hides en route so we stopped at both although they were disappointing compared to Lake Panic.

When we got to Berg-En-Dal we chose our camping spot and set up the tent and decided to explore the enclosure rather than going out again. It is set on the edge of a dam and the water attracts the wildlife. We wandered down the Rhino Trail which is scattered with information plaques about the different vegetation. Only a few meters down the path we found a young bull elephant grazing just a few feet away from us on the other side of the fence. We also saw a large terrapin on the other side of the water and along with the variegated skinks we saw two rock agamas - lizards who look like they had an accident in a paint shop! There were also vervet monkeys abundant in the camp.

We ate at the cafeteria there - boerwors and hake and chips - and made a couple of new friends, Aussies who told us we should get in touch when we get over there.

On our final full day we went north of the enclosure to a picnic & cafeteria spot called Afsaal where we had a very good cooked breakfast and re-met a couple who we had first met the day before in one of the bird hides. Back on the road we saw our first rhino which meant that we had seen four of the "big five" which people are so keen to say they've seen. They are elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. At each enclosure there is a "spotting board" where people mark with coloured pins the sightings they have made that day, which is a brilliant idea. We checked out the leopard sightings and made our way to an area where there had been three sightings. I can tell you now that we never did see a leopard although we saw plenty of other animals in the process of trying.

We stopped for a sandwich at a place where you can alight from the car, a granite "kop" or outcrop, from where we had a stunning view. Still hoping to see the elusive leopard we made our way back to the enclosure and on the way we saw around ten sable antelopes which we are told are quite rare so that was special.

Tired, we went back to Berg-En-Dal with plenty of time to spare and after a long shower in the ablutions block we went to the shop to get some supplies and then went back to our tent where we made vegetable rice and hotdogs on the braai.

That night there were thunder storms which took the temperature down and made the dawn chorus a little more subdued than usual so we had a bit of a lie-in, waking up around 6am(!) We packed up with heavy hearts at the thought of leaving and had a toasted sandwich in the cafeteria for breakfast. Even in the few miles between the enclosure and the Malelane Gate by which we left the park we saw a herd of fourteen elephants crossing the road right in front of us, and quite a large herd of buffalo.

We were truly sad to leave this wonderful place. Everyone should go there at least once in their lifetime. But I have to admit that I was looking forward to a night in a proper bed after four nights of camping!

Here is a list of all the species we saw (many identified with the help of our park guide book):
1. Impala
2. Buffalo
3. Crocodile
4. Hippo
5. Nyala (antelope)
6. Oribi (antelope)
7. Wart hog
8. Baboon
9. Elephant
10. Tsessebe
11. Wildebeast
12. Kudu (antelope)
13. Sharpe's grysbok (antelope)
14. Common duiker (antelope)
15. Suni (antelope)
16. Zebra
17. Giraffe
18. Lion
19. Bushbuck (antelope)
20. Waterbuck (antelope)
21. Baby croc
22. Spotted hyena
23. Slender mongoose
24. Meerkat
25. Variegated skink
26. Terrapin
27. Rock agama
28. Miniature gheko
29. Vervet monkey
30. Sable (antelope)
31. Too many insects to list!

After the drive back to Centurion we chilled in the pool and jacuzi in the garden and then had a delicious meal of chickens roasted in a special pot with salad, beetroot and concertina potatoes. If you're lucky enough to be around I'll cook the potatoes for you when I get home! We finally fell into (the delightfully comfortable) bed and had a good night's sleep :)

Yesterday we spent chilling and doing a little shopping. Herman smoked us a snook (very good fish) for lunch which we ate with the typical accompaniments - bread, boiled sweet potatoes and apricot jam. After a long dip in the pool we had a dinner of steak and pap (staple dish of the black communities) and we were in bed just after 11.

I am posting some pictures here. I'll put up some more of the Kruger Park in a couple of days.

Today we are going out with our hosts, on Monday we'll sort ourselves out in preparation for the journey down to Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route on the south coast and I'm going to cook chicken beetroot in the evening. We leave here on Tuesday.

As I said at the start, we will be forever grateful to Herman and Nicolette for telling us all the best places to go and how to get to them. I never imagined that this first leg of the trip would be so perfect. It has been relaxing, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and we will never forget it. They are wonderful hosts.

Signing off for now.

Esther and AD
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estherbunny on

Re: Counting Sleeps
Great to hear from you :D

Don't you fret - it's alllll good! Kanga bangas sound great ;)

Me too can't wait to see you!

All my love


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