Saturday, February 7, 2009

Kruger - Shimuwini Bushveld Camp

It had been a particularly wet spring and summer in the Kruger area. That’s great for the animals but not so good for tourists. Water was easily available so game didn’t really need to travel to the man-made drinking spots. The grass was tall and dense, making it easy to hide. We might spot an animal crossing the road but it was completely hidden by the time we got there.

So this particular morning we got up early and hit the road, planning to surprise some of the night folks returning from their orgies. We found this hyaena, one of a group of four, at 6:30am.

Things were slow for some time. We took pictures of turtles, birds, strange plants, basically anything that caught our eyes.

Kurt decided to turn in to a waterhole. Sometimes you can turn off the car and just wait for the action to begin. In this case, the action was already underway.

There is a rumor that a Hippo cannot lift his feet. All you need to do to be safe is to stand behind a log. Look at the photo of these two battling hippos and tell me that one again.

We had all cameras taking photos and movie clips. It was a bit unsettling to be this close to these very angry monsters. We soon attracted a herd of cars, so we left before the end of the battle.

As we traveled further north the ecosystem changed to less of a jungle and more of a plains system. The grass was shorter and the bushes more widely separated. There are a number of these different environments within Kruger.

We began to see some different animals, grazers as well as browsers.

This is just a giraffe, but the scene is so Africa I simply needed to take it. We arrived at the bush camp in plenty of time to relax before dinner and take a few more photos. We fell asleep to the grunting of the hippos.

The view from our bedroom window was spectacular the next morning – at o-dark-thirty.

We thought, briefly, about going for a swim but the croc was waiting.

Across the river we were able to monitor a continual parade of animals and birds including waterbuck, giraffe and kudu. This waterbuck calf is taking a lunch break.

A group of five male kudu wander through our field of vision. These two made a brief show of sparring for us, then went back to eating.

There were some fun interactions among the different animals. Kind of a “what are you and why are you here” type of exchange.

The next day was time to get up early again because we had a long drive back to Johannesburg and our flight to Cape Town.

One the way out of the park we stopped to wonder at this Baobab tree. It is easily 20 feet in diameter. Who knows how old it could be.

A last herd of animals tried to block our exit from Kruger. These Cape Buffalo – there must have been 40-50 – streamed across in front of the car and disappeared into the bush.

Seeing the most dangerous animal in Africa was a fitting climax to our visit to Kruger. We hope that you have enjoyed our adventures. Perhaps you will be inspired to do it yourselves one day. I hope so.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Kruger - Biyamiti Bushveld Camp

Our trip for the day involved getting from Swaziland to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. It is important to get to your Kruger destination in a timely manner as they lock the gates at 6:30pm, leaving you outside at the tender mercies of the night-hunters. Not a pleasant thought. So we set off, stopping at only one craft shop, and got to the border right on schedule. Getting out was no problem but getting in to South Africa involved this line being handled by two immigration agents. It took us 45 minutes and we felt sorry for the people in the tour bus which pulled into line as we left.

We drove back to Nelspruit to restock for our four nights in Kruger. Thanks to Becky and Kurt for their meal planning. A stop on the way back to the Kruger gate at this fruit stand finished the grocery shopping and we were off into Kruger.

We passed through the Malelane Gate, paying entry fees and verifying reservations. This family of Wart Hogs greeted us at the gate, welcoming us to Kruger.

We made our way, leisurely but with purpose, toward our evening’s camp. This flight of Impalas got our attention and we watched them for awhile, trying to capture their enthusiasm and zest. Becky got the best picture – a ballet of animals with their heels over their heads.

We surprised a troop of vervets. This mom and baby were cute as the mom tried to keep us from seeing the baby.

This looks suspiciously like an American Bald Eagle. It’s not. It is an African Fish Eagle. I suspect they might be related. We also saw and photographed a lot of vultures but they’re not too photogenic.

This is the best we could do for a picture of a Cheetah. There was a mother and four large cubs in this group, but it was hot and they just wanted to be left alone in the shade.

It’s unusual to see Hippos out of the water in the heat of the day. This family group started feeding at 11:40am.

Betsy and I went on a sunset safari drive on day two at Biyamiti. How fortunate! Another driver clued us in about Lions in the road. We parked in an advantageous spot and took these pictures.

It was a good-sized pride. I counted nine individuals including three mature males, one very young cub, and an assortment of females and juveniles. They passed right beside the safari car, so close that we had trouble taking pictures. Nevertheless, we took a lot.

More birds and some Hyaenas rounded out the pictures for the evening. As it got darker the photos became more difficult. We put the camera away and focused on the night sounds. The bush at night is fascinating.

The next morning we packed up and moved north to our next bush camp. That’s another journal so bye for now.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Swaziland, 2009

In 1966 the British officially recognized King Sobuza as King of the Swazi and placed the control and responsibility for National land and mineral rights in his personal trust. In 1967 Swaziland became a self-governing protectorate. Swaziland gained its independence from Britain in September 1968.

Fast forward 40 years to our visit. Yes, it is a different country from South Africa, completely enclosed, with border control posts. We went in the “back door,” coming over the mountains from Barberton via mountain passes with the roads under construction. It was scenic and exciting but slow.

The previous picture shows the best roads we were to experience for many kilometers. Once we found the “tarred” roads we thought we were home safe. That was until we saw the signs posted beside this very beautiful bridge. There were two: they said “Beware of Hippos” and “Beware of Crocodiles.” No skinnydipping here.

We stopped twice on our way to the lodge. One was at a roadside stand to buy some roasted “mealies” (corn, somewhere between sweet corn and field corn, roasted over an open fire, coming out slightly charred and hard, tasting a bit like chewy popcorn). It’s an acquired taste.

The second was at a Swaziland decorative glass craft center. Swazi glass is well known and prized.

We arrived safely, with more stuff, at Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge located in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. On our way to the lodge we were treated to views of Impala, Wildebeest, Wart Hogs, Waterbucks, Nyala, and Bontebok. I was assigned to take the definitive photo of a herd of Roan Antelope. You can only imagine my chagrin when my carefully chosen subject turned out (much later) to own a fine set of prosthetic horns!

Our three-bedroom cabin looked out across a valley and we could watch the animals feed across the plains. Very peaceful and relaxing. Dinner was served up at the main lodge. There was a brief show prior to dinner when the Bush Babies were called out of the trees and fed pieces of banana.

Following breakfast the next morning we arranged for a game drive. The only problem was that the Mkhaya Game Preserve was an hour’s drive away and we only had 50 minutes to get there. We made it and loaded up into the safari car.

Short sleeved shirts and shorts made for a bit of sunburn later, but for the moment the open car was great.

We saw this family of White Rhino trying to get and stay cool. Whites are grazers with broad, flat mouths designed for mowing the grasses of the veldt. Black Rhinos, on the other hand, are browsers and their mouths are pointed instead of flat so they can select the very best parts from trees and bushes.

Both species of Rhino are hunted, illegally, for their horn which is powdered and sole as an aphrodisiac. The head of Kruger’s southern region told us later that they had lost 60-70 rhinos recently. Really sick. We suggested painting the horns with cyanide. Also really sick.

Of course we saw elephants, giraffes and cape buffalo.

And more waterbuck.

Becky & Kurt made a find at a craft market. They found this two-lion stool in use by a craftsman and had to talk him into parting with it. It badly needed cleaning and delousing but they were willing.

We said goodbye to our new animal friends in Swaziland and headed out for Kruger the next morning. It was quite a drive, but more about that later.

Peace and love,