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Trip Report - South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, MalaMala

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Trip Report: South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, MalaMala, Sep 2007

We started planning this safari in November 2006 for Carolyn (my sweetheart), my sister Pat and myself. This would be my fourth African safari, the third for Carolyn but the very first for my sister. She was very excited about going since the beginning and especially so as we got closer. We met at JFK airport on Sep 1st and boarded SAA for flight into Johannesburg. Pat’s one checked in bag arrived JNB fine, mine and Carolyn’s did not. We filed a lost luggage form with SAA and the clerk said don’t worry it will come into JNB the next day and he was correct. Lost luggage was a common theme at camps. Every camp we were at there was always someone who was waiting for their lost luggage. We finally got out of the airport around 8pm and took the short little shuttle ride over to the Southern Sun International hotel for the night.

A few words if you will about the cameras we used and posted photos. Carolyn used a Canon S3 for still and videos, Pat used a Canon S2 for stills and videos. I had my Nikon D200 with 70-300mm VR, Nikon D40X with 18-200 VR, and Canon S2 that I used only for videos. Plus another bag of electronic support kit. We did not take a laptop computer. Would have been ok with me if someone else wanted to carry it. I backed up camera memory cards two ways, on an Archos hard drive and a PD70X hard drive. On line are about 40 of our photos at http://tomgraham.smugmug.com/. The top left thumbnail, SAFARI SEP 2007, will get you into the photo folder. There are also photos from our other safaris here.

HOEDSPRUIT area, before KRUGER. Next morning it was back to JNB airport and Avis to pickup up our rental car. Since there was three of us and we would be driving a lot in Kruger I wanted a medium sized car with large windows and setting a bit high on the road. We got a Subaru smallish SUV model. It was fine except that the back side passenger windows went only about half way down. A bit of hassle for the photographer sitting back there. On the drive to Hoedspruit lunch was at Dullstrom. At Hoedspruit we had reservations for two nights at the Zuleika Country House. A very nice place with a few bungalows out in the country about 10 miles from Hoedspruit. We called SAA about our lost luggage and they said it was found and would be at the Hoedspruit airport the next day. Carolyn’s was, but mine wasn’t, mine came in the following day. On the morning of Sep 4th we went on a bush walk accompanied by a lion. This was an early morning bush walk (followed by breakfast) at the Tshukudo Lodge near Hoedspruit. Our lion companion was named Chobe a female about 16 months old. And Chobe had a companion dog and another handler. The ranger leading the walk said that Chobe had been rescued as a cub and, raised along with her dog friend. Soon Chobe would leave the bush walk thing and go to a zoo environment. He said that lions when they reach about two years of age become very uncontrollable and can no longer be trusted out on walks. So that’s what the walk was, about two hours of watching Chobe walk with a few photo opportunities. We saw no other animals of interest. That is until at the end of the walk when the ranger took us into a large fenced area that had two nice male cheetahs and female king cheetah. Yes a king cheetah, it has a different and denser pattern of black spots, very pretty.

That afternoon we drove over to the nearby Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. Also known as the Cheetah Project. For $15 (each) we were toured around in a open safari type vehicle and saw about 12 cheetahs in large fenced in pens. It was feeding time (time varies from day to day) so we got to watch our guide toss in chunks of meat. That was it. We saw no cubs, petted no cheetahs, nor had our photos taken with a cheetah. Next day mid morning we took a boat ride tour in the Blyde River Canyon. Nice two hour excursion on the lake in back of the dam and an unusual view of the famous Three Rondavels. A quick lunch in town, stop at the airport to get my finally arrived bag and we were on our way to Kruger.

KRUGER. Not a long drive (hour or so) from Hoedspruit to the Kruger Orpen gate. Got to Opren gate after 3pm and we had to still drive to camp Letaba (120Km) before it closed its gates at 6pm. Which still allowed a little time for game stops. Working out of Letaba for four nights we were out of the camp gate close to when it opened at 6AM, breakfast at another camp, e.g. Olifants, Mopani, Satara, back about 1PM for a small lunch. Back out at around 3PM and back in at 6PM gate closing. And dinner at the camp’s small restaurant. You are your own guide and are required to stay on established roads. For our self guiding drive we stayed within the area from Mopani camp north to Satara camp south a total distance of 150Km or 100miles. Mostly though it was around Letaba and- Olifant area. Just south of camp Olifant the main road crosses the Olifant River. It is a fairly long bridge, perhaps 300 meters and you are allowed to stop on it and get out of your car. We did every time and always saw elephants and crocodiles below us. An unusual viewing perspective, fascinating. In general, the park was not busy, few cars on the road.

Every drive we saw elephants, giraffes, buffalo, zebra and of course impala. Twice we found ourselves in the midst of an elephant breeding herd of about 60 elephants. We found them on both sides of a back dirt road and they slowly came around us, gathered on the road in front and walked on. And once in the midst of a large herd of buffalo and zebra surrounding us. Kruger is a very good place to see these grazers and browsers, just as good and maybe even better than the private Sabi Sand private reserves. These animals seem to favor the more open grasses like Kruger. We saw no leopard nor rhino. We saw lions twice, flat cats. Both times we “found” them because another car was stopped and looking. Both times the lions, three of them, were close to the road but still half hidden by bush. On the primary Kruger road there was an under road culvert/drain pipe and apparently it was a den for hyenas. There were about ten hyenas there of all ages, adults and pups, sunning one morning.

This was our second time beginning our safari at Kruger and we like it. It gives you a few days to relax after a long flight. (Although driving may not be too relaxing for some people). And if there should be a problem with flights coming over then you have only missed time at Kruger. My sister of course loved it. Who hasn’t heard of the famous Kruger and this was her first time seeing all of this wildlife in the wild. She was ready and willing to game drive any time, all the time. Well, except for taking time out for souvenir shopping for at least 30 people back home.

Part two – Kings Camp and MalaMala

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