Trip Report- South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, Kirkman’s Kamp, September 2009
This safari was again to South Africa, my sixth safari there since 2005. I’ve also been to one camp in Kenya, one in Botswana and two in Zambia. Plan was to go back to Kruger, our third time there, Kings Camp (Timbavati Reserve) my fourth time, and myself only to Kirkman’s Kamp (Sabi Sand Reserve). The Trip began with flights from LAX on Aug 28th and I got back home on Sep 21. We took advantage of deals at Kings Camp and Kirkmans where if you stay for several nights you get a discounted rate, typically around 20% off.
Photography. One of my joys of safari is the challenge of photography. Primarily still photos but short videos also add another dimension. My present kit is a Nikon D200 on which is the 70-300mm VR lens, a Nikon D40X on which is the 18-200mm VR lens and a Canon S5. The two Nikon bodies give me a back up body and not having to change lenses. The Canon is my video camera even though it is intended for photos. Carolyn carries only a Canon S3 for her stills and videos. I downloaded full camera cards into two portable hard drives. I do not take a notebook PC. We took about 3,000 photos and 220 short (typically one minute) video clips totaling about 3 hours. There are about 45 photos of this safari are up on my smugmug web site at- www.tomgraham.smugmug.com. The top left thumbnail, SAFARI 2009, gets you into it. (Also photos from other safaris there). All photos have been “post processed” in Photoshop. Typically cropped, levels changed, sharpened, and more.
So, our master plan was flying into JNB, renting a car, driving in Kruger for 6 days, then Kings Camp for 8 nights, Carolyn goes home I go to Kirkmans Kamp for 5 nights then home. We got into JNB on the morning of August 30th and had reservations at the Peermont Metcourt in the Emperors Palace complex for the night of the 30th. The Peermont is a new hotel there with small but ok rooms. The bath/toilet area is however separated from the room itself by only a curtain. I prefer the Metcourt Laurel there. The Peermont room includes a very good breakfast buffet.
The next morning we went back to JNB to pickup our Avis rental car. We would not be returning the car to JNB but needed to leave it after Kruger at/near Kings Camp. We had also looked into rentals from Hertz, Budget and Europcar but none of those offered the convenience of Avis. Avis has an office at the Hoedspruit airport, the others at Phalaborwa. You can get a shuttle from Phalaborwa into the Timbavati but with additional cost (about $60 for two). Picking up the car at JNB and leaving it at HDS (not returning to JNB) added an additional $90 collection charge, thus total car rental for 8 days was $450. The car was a Honda Jazz, compact with automatic transmission. It was ok but not a great car for Kruger, I much prefer a car that sits higher and does not have the extreme sloping front windscreen with then the necessary huge sloping front pillar. This seems to be the design trend now for such cars.
So at 9am we left JNB Avis going to Kruger camp Letaba. Letaba is closest to the Phalaborwa gate and the town just outside that gate is Phalaborwa. Our driving route took us straight north to Polokwane then turning east to Phalaborwa. We were concerned about getting headed the right way out of the airport but that was fine and with considerable road construction slowness until Pretoria we made it to Polokwane at 12 noon. A very quick lunch (McDonalds) and we turned east towards Phalaborwa. Arrived Phalaborwa at 2:45 pm. Gassed up the car got a few items at a store in town and registered at Phalaborwa gate 3:15pm.
We had a nice drive in from Phalaborwa gate stopping and watching baboons play, a journey of 8 giraffe and maybe 200 buffalo grazing along the road arriving at camp Letaba at 5pm. I had already paid for the camps ($90 per night, hut for 2) but we still needed to get the park conservation fee. On Aug 31st it was $20 per day person (non SA resident). Or, we could get the annual “Wildcard” pass for $100 person, we got the annual pass. This was our third time in Kruger, previously there in 2006 and 2007. Kruger is a nice way to start a SA safari, gives us a jet lag (9 hour difference) cushion and a cushion should we have flight delays coming over.
Camp Letaba is pretty much in the center of Kruger and we were there for 4 nights then moved to camp Olifants for 3 more nights. Everyday for the next six days we were out doing our own game drives. After breakfast in camp out the gate at 8am, lunch in another camp, maybe Satara, then game driving and back in our camp about 5:30pm. Over eight hours a day setting and driving/riding in the car. After doing this for six days we both agreed that it was way too much of the same thing, too many hours, just setting and driving around. We needed a more varied daily routine. The weather for all six days was sunny and warm, sometimes hot afternoons.
We saw four of the big five. Missing was rhino. The first and only leopard we have ever seen in Kruger was an outstanding view. It was very late afternoon along the main road from camp Satara north. One car was stopped on our left so pulled up behind it. Next to a bush about 5-7 meters from the road was a large male leopard laying with head up looking around. A sighting like you expect to see in private camp off-road!! He posed very nicely for a few minutes, the car in front left, then he got up and slowly walked across the road in front of us. Very, very nice.
Lions. We saw lions only once but it was very good also. Driving along a back road, three cars were stopped, we asked them, there were lions about 150m away under a large tree. We stopped, there were about 7-8 lions being flat-cats. After about an hour we were wondering whether to move on when one lioness got up and started walking parallel to the road. All of the other lions including a nice male got up and followed. They walked for maybe 200m before deciding to cross the road which of course caused a traffic jam with us having no view until after they were well on the other side. Such is lion popularity in Kruger, show and traffic stoppers.
Elephants. In all previous visits we had seen many elephants every day in the Oliphant River and just about anywhere along back roads. Not this year. We say no large herds like before and saw a small heard only once in Olifant River. The elephants were just not in that area of Kruger. We did see scattered few here and there. A nice surprise on our way out of the park when a huge tusker appeared and slowly went back in.
Buffalo, yes, one huge herd that took probably 20 minutes to meander across the road. A large herd grazing along the road as we drove into camp Letaba. One evening blocking one lane of a major road was a skull and backbone nearly picked clean. The next morning it was off to the side.
We may have seen more giraffe than elephants! And another surprise on the morning driving out was a giraffe sitting/lying by the road. I was told they may sleep for a short while in that position. It got up and moved off after a few minutes. With our total time we saw of course many impala, kudu, water buck, steenbok, hippos, bateleur eagles, three ground hornbills together, saddle-billed stork, baboons, vervet monkeys, three ostrich together.
Couple of other items about Kruger. Comments from guides and guests in the next two camps said that the southern part of Kruger, Skukuza area south has the most lions and also thus the most park visitors. Also, that the very north part of Kruger, Parfuri area, has stunningly beautiful terrain/scenery. And it makes up for the somewhat scarce wildlife in that area of Kruger.
So after seven nights in Kruger we left Olifant camp at 6:45am, back out through Phalaborwa gate and south to Hoedspruit. We arrived at Hoedspruit, went to the Avis office at the airport, picked up the Avis agent and drove into the Timbavati Reserve. About 40 minutes later were arrived at Kings Camp and let Avis take the car.
(Kings Camp and Kirkman's Kamp continued as reply)
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Trip Report- South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, Kirkman's Kamp, Sep 2009
Trip Report- South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, Kirkman’s Kamp, September 2009