Since 1999, I had been making almost annual trips to Africa for safaris, but I didn’t get to Africa in 2004, and while I made two visits to Africa in 2005, neither were for safaris (Madagascar in May 2005 and Tunisia in December 2005). So, in Summer 2005, I began thinking about a safari in 2006 – I wanted to visit a park I hadn’t been to, preferably one with different types of animals, landscape and flora. My prior safaris to Africa were:
August 1999: Kenya (Masai Mara and Amboseli) and Tanzania (Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater)
June 2000: South Africa (Kruger, Sabi Sands and Cape Town)
August 2001: Bostwana (Okavango Delta area (Chitabe and Savuti) and Chobe), Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls and Harare), Zambia (South Luangwa) and Malawi (Lake Malawi)
August 2002: Swaziland (Mkhaya), Mozambique (Maputo), Namibia (Ongava, Etosha and Sossosvlei) and Cape Town (shark diving at Dyer Island)
August 2003: Uganda (Queen Elizabeth NP and Bwindi), Rwanda (Parc Nacional Volcans) and Kenya (Samburu and Buffalo Springs)
Since I hadn’t been to any of the major desert parks, I began considering Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is a self-drive destination, and I really enjoyed my two prior self-drive trips to Kruger and Etosha. I did most of the research regarding Kgalagadi on the South Africa National Parks website (http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/), and I booked directly (I am impatient, so I called the office in Pretoria, but they can also be reached via e-mail). After deciding on Kgalagadi, in May 2005 (approximately 11 months prior to my planned departure) I used Delta SkyMiles to book a flight on South African Airways for late June 2006. I also began investigating parks to combine with a visit to Kgalagadi, and I decided to visit Hluhluwe, and then added a short visit to Lesotho to my itinerary.
Wednesday, June 28 and Thursday, June 29 – I flew SAA from JFK to Johannesburg, connected to a flight to Durban, and was then transferred by my hotel (Protea Imperial) to Pietermaritzburg, about an hour west of Durban, and nearer to Underberg, my first destination.
Friday, June 30 – Around 6:30 a.m., I picked up my rental car (Mercedes C-180 from Avis) and drove to Underberg (around two hours from Pietermaritzburg). I had booked a trip with Sani Pass Tours to drive up the pass into Lesotho (the road is not navigable in a 2WD car), and we departed at 9:30 a.m., drove through the southern Drakensbergs (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and arrived in Lesotho around noon. We visited a village and then spent the afternoon at the Sani Pass Chalet (the highest pub in Africa), where I was able to photograph Orange-breasted (or Drakensberg) rock-jumpers, endemic to the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and the southern Drakensberg, and which are easily observed on the grounds of the Sani Pass Chalet. On the trip down the pass, we saw several eland (I think the first large animal I had seen outside a national park), as well as several jackal buzzards. I spent the night in the Himeville Arms Hotel (established in 1904).
Saturday, July 1 – I left Himeville around 7:00 a.m. for the drive to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, and arrived in the Umfolozi section around 10:30 (most of the drive was on the N2 and N3, national tollways, that are excellent – you can average 120 kpm, although many go faster, some much faster). Within 10 minutes of my arrival, I saw my first white rhino, which bode well – Hluhluwe is well-known for rhino (both white and black), and while the black rhinos are better hidden and not as frequently encountered, the white rhinos are fairly common (and I saw many during my two days in the park). After lunch at Hilltop Camp, the principal lodge in the Hluhluwe section, I drove through the Hluhluwe section (some of which is very hilly and covered in thick brush) and saw several elephant, many nyala, impala, wildebeest, buffalo and zebra.
Sunday, July 2 – I left camp around 6:30 a.m., intending to spend the entire day on a game drive, the morning in Hluhluwe and the afternoon in Umfolozi (much of which is open savannah). I encountered two spotted-hyena and some elephants, and then, while driving in one of the loops of the main road, I encountered a male lion, and I spent around 10 minutes watching the lion, until he walked off into the shrubs – during this time, I was the only person with the lion. In the afternoon, I headed into the Umfolozi section, and saw giraffe, several white rhino, zebra, nyala, kudu, warthog and impala. I returned to Hilltop and joined the sunset drive (which is allowed to stay out after the camp gates close) and we saw several groups of elephant and buffalo on the drive, plus lots of giraffe, nyala and zebra.
Monday, July 3 – I left early and drove to St. Lucia, the gateway to the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Reserve (UNESCO World Heritage Site). I joined the 10:00 a.m. boat launch, and saw several crocodiles and many hippos in the estuary, plus numerous birds, including goliath heron and three different kingfishers (pied, giant and half-collared). After the launch, I drove to Cape Vidal, primarily to see samango (or blue) monkeys, of which there were several. After lunch in St. Lucia, I drove to Durban’s airport for my trip to JNB, where I stayed at the Southern Sun.
Tuesday, July 4 – Morning flight to Upington, the airport nearest Kgalagadi. I picked up my rental car (Audi A4 from Avis), and drove to Kgalagadi (around three hours, the first two on excellent road and the final hour on a dirt/gravel road). I had arranged to spend the first night at Twee Rivieren, the largest and least attractive camp, but it allowed me to purchase supplies at its store (the largest in the park). After a drive, I returned and joined the park’s sunset drive, during which I saw several steenbok, cape foxes and bat-eared foxes, plus three different owls (spotted eagle-owl, Verreaux’s, or giant, eagle-owl and white-faced Scops owl).
Wednesday, July 5 – I left early and headed up the dry Nossob river bed to Nossob camp. Kgalagadi has four principal roads, one each up the two dry river beds, and two roads across the dunes connecting these two river bed roads. On the drive to Nossob, I saw more steenbok, several African wild cats, many black-backed jackals, Brants’ whistling rats, and lots of wildebeest, springbok and gemsbok (these three are, by far, the most common large mammals in the park), kudu and red hartebeest, and many birds, including large groups of ostriches, several kori bustards and secretarybirds and a lot of raptors (including white-backed vultures, lapped-faced vultures, bateleur eagles, martial eagles, southern pale chanting goshawks and lanner falcons).
Thursday, July 6 – I left Nossob early to drive to Kalahari Tent Camp, the nicest in the park (and I would rank the quality of the accommodations as equal to a Wilderness Safaris five-paw tent). I saw the usual suspects, but around 1:00 p.m. I came across a pair of cheetah. I spent an hour or so with the cheetah, went to the camp to check-in and returned and spent the rest of the day watching the cheetahs, who at the end of the day, each chased and caught a springbok.
Friday, July 7 – I drove along the Auob River road, where I came across a few giraffe (there are very few in the park), and also saw lilac-breasted rollers, swallow-tailed bee-eaters, cape crows, fork-tailed drongos, southern yellow-billed hornbills, crimson-breasted shrikes and cape glossy starlings. I arrived at 4:00 p.m. in Upington, where I stayed at Le Must River Residence and had dinner at their restaurant, regularly ranked as among the finest in South Africa.
Saturday, July 8 – I flew to JNB, went to Sandton for lunch (at the Butcher Shop) and flew back to JFK.
A few photos: http://tinyurl.com/hffwa
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