Photo Trip Report: SA Zoo Safari 2018

In May we ran our 9th safari for the South Australian Zoo Volunteers, friends and associates, this time with 18 wonderful participants, a big group by our standards! The itinerary was based on maximizing the safari experience, and to this end we included 11 nights in the Kruger National Park (from Mopani all the way down to Berg-en-Dal, thus covering two thirds of the park) and 4 nights at Idube Game Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. This added up to a lot of time out in the field looking for animals!

Kruger National Park:
Conditions in the Kruger were green and reasonably wet (no rain but quite a bit of surface water) for the most part, which added up to tough (but typical for the time of year) game viewing conditions. Although, by the time we left the Kruger, we had on paper seen the Big Five plus Wild Dog and Cheetah, in reality we struggled with the predators a bit – nice Wild Dogs on the first afternoon, and a few Lion sightings in between, but the Leopard component comprised only two brief sightings, and we had only one Cheetah sighting (2/5 visuals). Still, this does not mean that it was not a good experience, for we saw plenty of Elephant and Buffalo, and the White Rhino sightings were particularly good (we got stuck on the wrong side of a crash of 10 Rhino for about half-an-hour on one occasion), and of course we had plenty of plains game and birds etc to keep us occupied. Still, by the time we got to Idube the ‘old hands’ and the guides at least were desperate for some cats…

Idube / Sabi Sand Game Reserve:
Idube didn’t disappoint either: the opening afternoon drive in the pouring rain produced two Leopard sightings, the occupants of one of our three Idube vehicles seeing one Leopard kill a Scrub Hare at very close quarters. By the end of our stay at Idube we had collectively seen around 8 different Leopards, plus some good Lion sightings and, on the final drive, a fine male Cheetah with a fresh Impala kill. 

So all in all it was a great tour, which ran seamlessly from start to finish thanks to solid planning and organisation (and a bit of luck). Thanks to Kevin Folland for organising things on the Australian end, and more importantly getting the 17 participants together – setting up a safari is relatively easy, getting the ‘bums in seats’ is the hard part! Thanks also to all the staff at Idube and to Doug and John of Outdoor Dining for the catering in the Kruger. Here are a few images from this most recent trip, and we look forward to our two SA Zoo Volunteers’ safaris in 2019!

Elephants of northern Kruger.

The Kruger National Park is a massive protected area, measuring some 20 000+ square kilometers in size, roughly. That’s the size of Wales or Israel, just for comparison. The southern third of the park, from about Satara Rest Camp southwards, is generally considered to be the best region in terms of game viewing, especially in terms of the big cats, water availability, road density and habitat diversity all playing a role. In comparison cats can be scarce in the north; going several days without seeing any Lions or Leopards is not unusual by any means. The habitat in the north is also somewhat less diverse, vast swathes of the region north of the Olifants River are dominated by Mopane (Colophospermum mopane), a broad-leaf tree that can become quite large but in many areas the soil quality is such that they remain ‘stunted’, Elephants of course also handicapping them in the vertical realm. But this doesn’t mean ‘the north’ is not appealing. Quite the opposite in fact, the north appeals because there are fewer camps and no major tourist towns outside the park gates, apart from Phalaborwa near Letaba Rest Camp – this means fewer tourists than one finds in the south, giving it a more ‘remote’ feeling. The stunted Mopane veld also makes for unobstructed views in many areas, and horizon to horizon vistas create a sense of ‘epic-ness’ that one doesn’t often get in the south. And another plus for the north is the Elephants. While you do of course get Elephants in the south, and plenty of them, the north is renowned for big tuskers – home ranges of many past and current big tuskers are centered on the Letaba / Mopani region. On a recent visit we had some great views of these behemoths of the north at a couple of water points in the vast Mopane belt of the central / northern region of the park – with very few other tourists around to share it with us. In fact, our sighting of the big tusker N’wendlamuhari  (‘the river that is fierce when in flood’) was entirely private apart from two game scouts on foot patrol in the area.  So, while the south is a must, especially for the first time visitor, the north is not without its appeal by any means. Birding is equally good northwards up to the Punda Maria / Pafuri area, where it gets even better. The bottom line is that any part of Kruger is great, each has its own appeal (and that’s why we include three or more camps, to show off the diversity of this incredible national park), and any day in Kruger is a great day!

‘Would you like a table with a view, sir?’

The view from this dining room is pretty hard to beat… In January we ran a ‘birds and botany’ tour for Naturetrek, one of our UK operators for which we do the ground work. On the request was a visit to Royal Natal in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg – the northern ‘ Berg to be specific. While this resort offers perhaps the finest views in the whole of the Drakensberg, there is no restaurant on site so catering can be a challenge. No problem for us however, as we brought in our good friends Doug and Riana from Out Door Dining (they specialise in providing food in out of the way places – and we were able to enjoy great food as well as the jaw-dropping views of the Amphitheater, as the rock wall in the background is known. Now that’s doing it in style!

A table with a view
A table with a view

Green is the colour…

Some kind of Eden… The Kalahari is famous as a dry season destination, when birds and animals alike are attracted to the artificial waterholes in the ‘fossilised’ Auob and Nossob Rivers that flow north-west to south-east through the park. Thirsty animals and crowding can make for some explosive scenes, which is why the park is almost fully booked during the dry season between about May and early November. But what’s it like during the wet season? Well, to quote our guide Leon after his February 2017 visit, it’s like ‘some kind of Eden…’ This comment was made as they came over a rise near Mata Mata Rest Camp to look down on a herd of Springbok moving down the Auob Riverbed, which was as green as a golf course  fairway, with clouds of butterflies dancing over a puddle in the road where the herd was crossing. Coupled with the vast skies and simple sense of space, the reference to Eden was almost involuntary. So, while the dry season may be when most folks want to be there, the summer is a delight in its own right, something that every Africa enthusiast should experience. Contact us for a price on a custom-made safari to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.