TR: Self-Driving in Kruger (plus a bit of eSwatini)

Apr 26th, 2019, 11:31 AM
  #1  
Ian
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TR: Self-Driving in Kruger (plus a bit of eSwatini)

We just returned home today from 3 nights in eSwatini & 14 nights of public Kruger Park self-driving. My brain is fried from 3 flights so this report will come over the next few days. We drove a big swath of Kruger & we had some amazing sightings. More to follow . . .

Here is a taste. The lioness walked out of the bush in front of our SUV & lay on the road ignoring us. A minute later she was up, walked toward our car & then calmly wandered into the bush.


Lioness in Kruger

Ian
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Apr 27th, 2019, 01:04 AM
  #2  
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This is our 3rd time to Kruger. Our first trip was three years ago as part of a South Africa & Nambia trip. We returned a year later for a couple of weeks of Kruger only, with a side trip to the Panoramic route. That made planning this trip a breeze. It was originally intended for October 2019 but I quickly changed it to April due to a job situation that would make October travel impossible. This was fine except for the notoriously dwindling numbers of camp options so late in the SanPark booking process, which created only one (well, actually 3) problems . . . more later.

Our Itinerary:

Arrive in Frankfurt April 7 & taxi to the city for lunch & a museum during our 9 hour layover.
Arrive Mpumalanga Airport in Nelspruit Monday April 8 around noon.
Drive into eSwatini for one night in Piggs Peak @ the Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge.
Drive to Mkhaya Game Reserve in eSwatini for 2 nights.

Then it is a long drive up into Kruger for 14 days:
  • 3 nights Biyamiti Bushveld Camp
  • 2 nights Olifants Rest Camp
  • 4 nights Shimuwini Bushveld Camp
  • 2 nights Serheni Bushveld Camp
  • 1 night Letaba Rest Camp
  • 2 nights Lower Sabie Rest camp
This tracks from the south, to the middle & north before returning to the top of the south for our flight out of Skukuza Airport on April 25 for the long trek home.

Highlights:

Incredible sighting of a hyena pack playing in a water hole.
Watching countless elephants play, run, brawl, eat, and threaten us . . .
Finding & having a leopard sighting all to ourselves.
The lioness that walked onto a lonely dirt road & lay down in front of our SUV (picture above).


We saw all of the major animals this trip except for cheetah.

The Hurdle:

We are a mid-60s couple. We are both healthy but . . . my wife broke her leg in January (both bones) & she has not recovered her full mobility yet. We came close to pulling the plug on the trip but as she progressed, we decided to soldier on. And I had a back operation last year so, well, let’s just say that my imperfect back ain’t even that good anymore . . .

The Surprise Along the Way:

African Tick Bite Fever (ATBF) with a side of a Sac Spider bite & other insect nasties.

Ian


Last edited by Ian; Apr 27th, 2019 at 01:46 AM.
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Apr 28th, 2019, 12:51 AM
  #3  
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There’s something about Africa - Kruger specifically – that stuck with us after those first two trips. It was a hell of a lot more fun for us than plain sight viewing because it was so random and unpredictable. The thrill of the kill so to speak. I know that that is a bad phrase to use for animal hunting with a car and a camera but the experience is not that different – except unlike game hunting, the beautiful animal still lives at the end. I know many of you will shake your head and wonder want can be so fun driving about around dusty, bumpy roads in the middle of the bush? But honestly, until you have done it yourself, and gone around that next corner and discovered an elephant herd or a hyena or a pod of hippos, it is really hard to explain. You get a taste of it on a traditional safari, but your hands on the steering wheel makes a huge difference. Something psychologically primal is twigged, I guess. Especially when you realise that this is Africa. The cradle of our species. And for hundreds of thousands of years – millions even - our distant ancestors would have been using those same animal trails through the bush in search of food, while cautiously trying to avoid being something else’s.

So now you get a sense of our motivation and we can begin . . .
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May 1st, 2019, 12:28 PM
  #4  
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We exited the airport sometime after 1pm on Monday April 8, with a gray Toyota Fortuner, the 2WD SUV cousin of the venerable HiLux. I was shocked that it wasn’t white like 98% of all Fortuners in SA and I told the attendant that I was disappointed. He laughed and shook his head at the crazy Canadian tourist.

It was warm. Finally. After enduring months of really sucky Canadian winter, we had warm weather, with temps climbing to 30C. The sky was broken with sun, cloud and some rains spits but I was ready for the easy two hour drive. That's the maximum drive time that I will entertain after a long flight. And I had calculated that 2 hours would get us into the mountains of Eswatini – formally known as Swaziland. Last year, the King had decreed that he was changing the country’s name to make the final break from Western colonization. While one could argue that the money required to make this monumental change in a small impoverished country could well have been spent elsewhere, it was a point of pride to many I am sure. And for the record, the ‘e’ is soft; eh-swatini not E-Swatini.

​The swaying sugarcane farms and banana plantations hinted at our exotic locale but it was the cattle wandering on the side of the road after we turned south towards the border that told us we were really back in Africa. The Jeppes Reef boarder crossing was a humble affair - certainly not one of those slick official make-work government projects. You do the SA exit process with their bored clerks. Drive through a hand lifted barrier. Park again and get your brand new Eswatini entrance stamp from their bored clerks after paying a pittance of a vehicle road tax. Then it is down the road and into a new country.

You share the road with cows, and goats, and potholes and people walking, always people walking and waiting. Farms and clusters of shacks in various states of disrepair whirred by as we twisted and climbed into this green landscape stained with red-brown dirt. The farms gave way to forest on both sides of the road as we neared our cut-off: a dirt track just past the Piggs Peak Casino which was just past craft center . . . And yes, it was a dirt track.


The road was mildly challenged with craters and ruts and steep hills and vales - not too steep for a car but I was still happy to have the big SUV. After just over 2 hours of driving we pulled into the small parking area at Phophoyane and gladly shut off the engine. We had arrived after over 36 hours of travel.

Phophonyane Lodge - Piggs Peak, Esawtini

We had a pleasant surprise at check-in when they upgraded us to a full cabin - the best in the house! It was very nice, nestled in amongst the heavily treed manicured grounds with stone pathways to guide you around. A quick tour followed and we saw the main building - lounge and eating area. The house had a kitchen but we had decided to skip grocery shopping until we were entering the park in three days. The open lawn in front of the main patio was bordered with a wide variety of plantings, with a swimming pool down the hill. And not to forget the wonderful views of the mountains to the north.

​This was all a whole lot better than expected I might add . . .





Drink, dinner, wine, collapse. And it was a pretty decent dinner too. The owner came by and told us that he bought the place as a derelict coffee plantation in 1987 and he and his wife have been slowly building and planting and making this very special place. We were sorry that we didn't stay for another day just to relax. The falls is right beside the property but my wife's hobbling prevented her from going down to look. There are walking trails etc for the adventurous.

The next morning we had a mission. As much as we wanted to doddle, we had to hit the road for the drive to Swazi Candles. Yes, our destination was one of Swazi's Big Two tourist meccas. The other being the nearby Swazi Cultural Village which was 9kms away.

No, I am not a changed man who likes shopping for touristy crap. That is seriously far from the truth actually. As you may suspect, there is a story. You see, my wife bought two candles somewhere in SA on our last trip. They were octagons with animal caricatures and we suspected that they were from Swazi Candles. They were placed prominently in our master bath until a glass breakage incident and the subsequent cleanup. You might have noticed I am using the past tense. One was gone. As in disappeared. Vanished. And of course, I got the blame. I told her that we would make a special stop at Swazi Candles and we could time it so that all of the tour buses will be at the SCV for the 11:15 am dance performance. We could have lunch with no crowds and she could shop for replacement candles. It was a win-win. And thankfully, it wasn't that far off of our path to Mkhaya where we had a rigid 4 pm meeting time.

So we hit the road early. And a beautiful drive it was. Lush mountains with sweeping valleys, verdant fields, glistening lakes – this was one gorgeous country. Sustainable logging is a major industry here from the look of things. Enterprising people also set up roadside stalls selling tourist kick-knacks or fruits and vegetables or some steaming meat. Not to forget the multitude of car washes. They were everywhere –often two or three in a cluster. Obviously a society that values a clean car. The roads were good, twisting and winding their way up and down out of the mountains. Dodging potholes and cows and passing the odd truck inching up a hill. Fun driving. Well, I guess I was having too much fun because just a few kilometres after turning east on the two lane freeway, I was flagged down by a cop. Yes, I was speeding. 92 kmh in a 80 kmh zone. I was let go with an on-the-spot fine of 60 rand (about $6) and he waived the ticket because I was a tourist. Since this probably saved us hundreds in Avis processing fees, I was not upset. After that, I behaved myself a bit more.

The Swazi Candle store was a hit. Just a few small groups and we easily refueled our bodies and shopped thoroughly as planned. Believe it or not, they had the same candle so we were able to replace the lost one. As well as buy numerous others . . . I picked up a bottle of craft rum a separate shop was selling and some Black Mamba hot sauce from the Black Mamba trailer that disappeared at Heathrow security, due to a packing error. Oh well.
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May 1st, 2019, 12:30 PM
  #5  
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​Then, it was off to our rendezvous at Mkhaya Game Reserve.

Mkhaya Game Reserve eSwatini

This is a large private reserve that is located in the lowlands of central eastern Eswatini. Get specific directions from them because Google Maps is wrong and it will take you miles out of your way to the wrong place. To get there from Mbabane, head east and take the Manzini bypass and then head south, dropping out of the mountains of the west. The bypass of Manzini is currently in the middle of a major construction program so be patient because you will leave it all behind. Heading south, the vistas opened up to reveal a hilly veld. A great drive. We drove this stretch mid-afternoon just as schools all along the route were getting out. Hundreds and hundreds of schoolkids were walking home roadside dressed in their colorful uniforms. I can just image them in the heat of the summer here. No cushy buses with AC here.

The rendezvous point for Mkhaya is rather strange. You meet behind a rather decrepit store on the north side of the highway just after the railroad underpass. The reserve is actually several kms away on a dirt road but there is a stream in between that can be a challenge for small cars or in wet weather. We were the 2nd car to arrive and a small gathering of seriously cute kids – all wearing their school uniforms – had gathered. They were friendly but they were obviously hoping for handouts. Remembering that this is a very poor country, we joked and kibitzed with them but I refused to give money. And still they stood there staring, making us feel very uncomfortable. Rich first world tourists versus poor third world kids. I finally relented somewhat and I went into the store and bought some penny candy for them to snack on. It eased our guilt and gave them a cheap snack.

The Mkhaya staff do two daily pickups/drop-offs from this spot, 10 am and 4 pm. Due to our schedule, we opted for a two night – 4 pm Tuesday until 10 am Thursday stay. This was the only way I could work the times and the drives to and from. While this would mean a long drive to our first camp in Kruger on Thursday, it appeared doable.



So, let's go on safari . . .
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May 1st, 2019, 12:44 PM
  #6  
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If you have read my other Africa travel reports, then you know that we don’t do organized travel. We greatly prefer self-driving and self-exploring. After researching Eswatini (Swaziland) I came to the conclusion that the Mkhaya reserve – even though it was an all-inclusive scheduled drive ‘safari’ – offered the best chance to let us see the country during our drive to and from the reserve, as well as to see some animals - with the possibility of seeing some of the rarer ones that the reserve has. Mkhaya is taking a planned approach to wildlife management. They have removed all of the elephants from the property. While this may seem strange to safari seekers, the real reason is that elephants are very destructive to an environment. They regularly push down trees, and they eat a lot which can really hurt an enclosed environment - to the detriment of other species. So, Mkhaya sold their stock and they are specializing in rhinos. Since these are so vulnerable to poaching, a protected large reserve to breed new stock is nothing but good. They have an active anti-poaching staff and their last loss was in 2014. Not bad. Kruger’s stock has been hit on an all-too-regular basis – often with inside help from corrupt rangers. I hate to say it, but I feel no sorrow for the poacher from Komatipoort who was recently killed by an elephant near Crocodile Bridge. The rangers found a skull and a pair of pants after a lion pride and the scavengers had their way. Karma’s a cruel bitch sometimes.

Mkhaya also has hippos – their only other large mammal. Of course, they have giraffe, hyena, antelope – including the rare sables and roans, and the not-so-rare jackal, warthog etc etc. They are also free of lions and leopards or any other cats, so, bear this in mind before you book if, especially if you are predator obsessed like many.

The safari started as we drove into the reserve. Of the four vehicles of the group, only one was deemed unworthy for the river crossing and he parked his car remotely and came in one of the reserve Hiluxs with a driver. We drove in easily across the dreaded river and through one gate to get to ‘the farm.’ This is where you park, hit the toilet & take your small bags into one of the Hiluxs for a game drive that ends at the cottages. The Stone Cottages. As a unique twist, the cottages are nestled privately in the bush. They only have ½ walls around most of the structure, so your bedroom is ½ open to the bush - as is your bathroom. This is not a place for the modest – even though you can’t see any other cabins. A mosquito net encloses the bed at night but you are warned to shake your shoes in the morning before you put them on due to the local scorpion population.




This is the bathroom.Picture taken standing outside. From left: basin, shower, door to bedroom, toilet.


A nyala munching outside our bathroom.





A sable antelope with one horn.


A roan antelope.

Last edited by Ian; May 1st, 2019 at 01:01 PM.
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May 1st, 2019, 12:49 PM
  #7  
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Yes, there were animals at Mkhaya. We saw sable and roan just inside the gate near the farm. And a mother and calf rhinos on the way to our cottage. Ditto with the hippos above. Your first game drive is the drive to your cottage as I mentioned. One cool thing: they let you out of the vehicle at rhino sightings. The guide will get out and check the area and then he lets everybody out to get some shots on foot.

After the drive, we settled in and had a drink from our stash. Then it was off to dinner (a just OK buffet) before moving to the bomba. The wait staff appear dressed in traditional clothing and dance with a drummer as accompaniment. Well, OK . . . it was part of the show. When they dragged an audience member up to dance, I was getting ready to throw myself in the fire but thankfully it ended after that song. Then it was off to bed in our strange isolated cottage with the path lit with kerosene lanterns. I was quite happy to hear hyenas calling in the night but it was pretty spooky at 4 am . . .

The next day, I went on a walk and B went on a drive. Then we both went on another drive after breakfast. After an afternoon rest, it was repeat of the night before with some new bodies being picked up on the afternoon drive to/from the farm for a shared drive. And this is one of the problems I have with reserves. Their formula is a set schedule and it is repetitive.






Anti-poaching ranger with an AK-47

After two nights, we had pretty much done everything that Mkhaya could offer. The people were all friendly and we really enjoyed our experience, Speaking of the people, they work for 25 days straight, living on site. Then they get 5 days off. And they get a whole month off in the off season.

We were glad we had dipped into Eswatini to see its wonderful mountain regions and the undulating hills. Truly a stunning country visually.

​The next morning we eagerly got in the grey beast and headed north with my trusty GPS rasta giving me instructions. It was hard not to let your mind wander and think about the Voortrekkers, who did this on foot, struggling with their oxen to get their wagons through the passes, sporadically fighting the native population and lion prides along the way. What a difference a century makes. We had it easy, just burning up the miles north on lightly trafficked highways.

​Kruger, here we come!




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May 1st, 2019, 02:13 PM
  #8  
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As it turned out, we got to our first camp in Kruger - Biyamiti - with lots of time to spare. The border crossing into SA at Mananga was a much more modern affair than Jeppes Reef, obviously reflecting the truck traffic that crosses here. As planned, we shopped at the Spar in a plaza at the south end of Komatipoort. I had pre-ordered some frozen meat - all nicely wrapped and portioned - and this was ready as expected. We are getting pretty good at this routine now. Then it was just a few miles north and we entered the park at Crocodile Bridge Gate. It was good to be home.
Author's Note
At this point in this narrative I will break away from the daily blow-by-blow and concentrate on daily highlights. That's because each day was similar to the next. Breakfast. Drive. Lunch. Rest. Drink. Braai. Sleep. Wake up at some crazy hour of the night and listen to the night bush sounds until dawn with bats fluttering for insects. Hyenas howling nightly with their swooping call. Oooooo-wa. Sometimes close and sometimes far in the distance. The far off grunt of a lion. The splashing and leaf ripping of an elephant in the dark. Africa. Kruger.

Biyamiti Bushveld Camp

Biyamiti ranks as one of our favorite camps. It is small and sits on the southern bank of the Biyamiti River - which always still has some water in April. Most cabins (#1-8 at least) have some river view although the vegetation past the fence can limit this. Elephants, buffalo and various antelope are regular visitors during the day. The cabins are large and in decent shape. Our usual rental is an NCO2.2V, which gives us two twins in the BR and two in the LR. The kitchen is outside with a hotplate and a monkey cage on the fridge. Vervet monkeys roam daily. Due to availability when we booked, we had 3 different cabins with a large five bedroom NGC5V (#2) in the middle of two different NCO2.2Vs (#3 & #8). It five BR was great with an indoor kitchen, a covered seating area outside and two bathrooms but it wasn't cheap. The staff really helped us by speed cleaning our new unit right at 10 am checkout so we could easily move in. Moving every day was a pain but Biyamiti was still worth the effort.

And the roads of the south produced! Lots of swaying green grass and no tree leaf change yet, the south was healthy and awash with elephants. We saw herd after herd of the beasts on every drive with daily visits to the camp's waterhole as icing.





We found the herds aggressive, with small ones in tow and young males tousling in the larger groups. The matriarchs were on edge and we were told to back off several times. And we all know that you should never disagree with an elephant who is displeased with you. The elephant above signaled his annoyance with us while we were standing by the fence watching the herds in the Biyamiti River from camp. The same thing happened again on the Biyamiti private road forcing me to back up for a ways to give him space.





After three nights, it was time to pack up and move on. We have a longish drive ahead of us to the upper middle part of the park to Olifants Rest Camp. At park speed - 50 km/h on tar & 40 km/h on dirt - it would take a while. At the Croc Rd bridge, there was a 3 car backup. We saw why.



Then 20 minutes later on H5, we cam across another one of the desirable sightings: wild dogs. Not a great photo opp but it makes us 3 for 3 for dogs sightings.







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May 1st, 2019, 04:58 PM
  #9  
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Olifants Rest Camp

Olifants Rest Camp is a conventional large camp with over 100 bungalows, rondavels etc. We chose a premium river view rondavel - a BBD2V #12. The kitchen was outside except for the fridge which ate up valuable space inside. Yes, it was pretty squishy and the place was showing it's age. The reason for the inside fridge became apparent quickly as I was sitting admiring the view and caught something peeking over the brick wall of our kitchen in my peripheral vision. A young baboon was checking us out to look for food to steal.

​But did I mention the view?



Yes, Olifants certainly has the best view of any camp, sitting high above the Olifants River, with the hippos munching and grunting and calling to others in the pod all day and night.

And then came the nasties . . .

It was just getting around dusk - around 6 pm. I was lighting the braai and I felt something landing on me - like raindrops. It was clear so it couldn't be rain. It was bugs. Round black bugs that smelled like cumin or coriander on your fingers when you touched them and they had green round bug friends that weren't as plentiful. They were attracted by light - any light. And they came by the thousands. This plague continued all through the dinner process. I swept our patio several times because you couldn't walk without squishing them underfoot. I cleared out the sink, the counter top and them found their way inside every time we opened the door. Disgusting. The plague lessened as it got darker but there were still a few crawling in the morning.

​The next night we went to the restaurant and kept our lights off at dusk until we got back in the dark. The restaurant was very dark because they had many lights off - inside and on the patio - because of the same bugs. Under every light, was a pile of them. The waiter said that they area problem. And the food wasn't great - nor was the selection offered. The service wasn't bad at all but the two servers had to hustle to keep up. Another body would have really helped them.

From the forums . . . the ​stink bug (Nezara viridula) could be the culprit - appearing in various stages of moult.

Now about that tick. ​And what are those red welts on your foot . . . ?

I don't know where and I don't know when but I found a tick chewing on my lower back on Tuesday morning. I ripped it off and B inspected it to make sure it was gone. A tick. Yuck. Then we started noticing all of the red welts on my right foot and leg. And they got worse over the next few days. Nasty, big tricolor zits. To be continued . . .

We went out driving and we heard about some lions from a driver that flagged us down. We drove to the spot and could not find them. I guess we suck as lion spotters. Then it was off on another drive. But we came back after several hours and a car was there and he pointed them out. Perseverance pays off. A male under a tree on one side of the road about 10m back in the brush. And a female - supposedly with two cubs - in a thicket on the other.





In the picture below, I will admit that Kruger cockiness was in play here - windows open - but when the lioness tensed and gave us this look, I knew we may be a little too close. I usually shut the engine off as well to keep animal disturbance to a minimum but it was running for this photo. and the window went back up . . .





And a pair of hyena sightings. A pack at rest and a pregnant mom laying beside the tar road. There were a lot of hyenas evident on our trip. I heard them nightly wherever we were and we saw a number of them.



Two nights of the large Olifants and we were ready to move on. The stink bugs, the fridge in the bedroom, and the people. If you have ever stayed at a Bushveld camp then you already know. People are far, far friendlier in a Bushveld. Everybody talks to everybody. You meet your neighbours or at least say hello. You share sightings. The larger suburb of a rest camp is just not conducive to striking up a conversation. And that is too bad.
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May 2nd, 2019, 06:26 AM
  #10  
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Shimuwini Bushveld Camp

Shimuwini is our holiday camp within Kruger. Its remoteness, its large lawn, the river with its hippos and assorted other creatures to entertain. Who cares if the private road is a mediocre producer. This is the camp you come to when you need a real holiday. If you stay for multiple days, I bet you there will be one day when you don't even get in your car. Yes, it has that lazy plunk your butt in a chair feel.

We had a GC5 again, this time #6. 2 beds in the living area. 2 beds in the bedroom. Kitchen and fridge all outside but Shimuwini is monkey and baboon free! And it felt so, so comfortable. B was happy because we were finally grounded somewhere for four whole nights so she could unpack. I was happy because I didn't have to haul all the crap in and out of the SUV for four days.



So, for the next few days, we relaxed. We went on some no-stress drives. We drove up to Mopani to get cell reception and to have lunch. We enjoyed Shimuwini and Kruger. We went on a SanPark morning drive. In fact, we were the only two on the drive and despite the usual four person minimum, they brought a driver down from Mopani just for us - I guess because I booked it months out. The last full day of our stay - Friday - we didn't even get in the vehicle.

​But despite our lazy schedule, we still saw some animals . . .




Warning: Objects not in the mirror actually are closer than you think.

This next sighting is all ours. We were on the river road and we went into a wash (a dry river) and I liked the look of the rocks about 20m away. I stopped and looked with the binoculars. Boom! A leopard lounging on a rock. we watched him for 1/2 an hour and then went back to camp and told a bunch of others, who rushed out to see. They all had a good sighting.




A happy hippo



Now about that tick . . .

Remember those reds welts? Well, they got really ugly. And a rash started. And I developed a fever which topped out at around 38.7C on our third night in Shimuwini when I basically face planted in my steak from the braai. Something was definitely wrong with me. And we were more than an hour from the closest doctor in Phalaborwa. A conversation with our Dutch neighbours (both African born btw) seemed to point to the tick bite but with no Internet available, we were just guessing. The next day - Friday - day 4 after I found the tick - and after I broke our thermometer - we decided to go to the manager and ask him to call the doctor, who was in Skukuza. We were heading further north the next day and we needed to know what options we had. Paul Mgiba (the camp manager) kicked in and dragged out his medical suitcase and he was ready for anything. Malaria quick test kit - available. Thermometer - well, he couldn't find the strips but they were in there somewhere. "Was Medvac available?" "Sure, do you want a helicopter?" No, he didn't really say that but he did assure us that every medical emergency resource we needed was available.

I talked with the doctor and he talked us down from the ledge. He diagnosed a possible flu, possible tick bites but with my symptoms, it was not a big deal and I should just keep taking the Tylenol and antibiotics from our stash. B always comes prepared.

​And he said that unless it got worse we should just continue on with our trip . . . so we did.
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May 2nd, 2019, 06:34 AM
  #11  
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Sirheni Bushveld Camp

So, we headed north again. This time it was into new territory since we had never driven past Mopani before. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and took the obligatory photo of the cairn that marks it. Despite this being a holiday weekend, the traffic died out for the large part as we drove slowly watching for game. Since it was midday, all was quiet. We pulled into Shingwedzi Rest Camp for a pit stop and we discovered where all of the people were. There was a holiday braai in the visitor's area beside the river. The store, the washrooms were abuzz with people.

​And speaking of the river, it was alive with action. Nestled down in a deep cut there was still lots of water and some big pools. Several groups of elephants, hippos, waterbuck . . . we were impressed. Their sighting board had cheetah in the area, lion, leopard . . . impressed again! But with all of the action in the camp, we were glad to turn the car north again for Sirheni.

The landscape was flat with low autumnal mopane trees. Some large grass expanses were evident as well but it was brown/gold here as fall was rapidly approaching and the rains were scarce now. Every riverbed was lined with mixed trees and bush so the turn outs on the dirt roads became important.


How does an elephant strip bark off of a branch? Surprisingly well . . .





The baby elephant above was so cute as it ran to catch up with the herd. Tail up, dust flying and he was bawling: Hey, wait up!

​And that is what was different for us on this trip. We saw a lot more interaction amongst the animals and herds this time. Elephants communicating, fighting and having fun.




Early morning, a pride of 5 lions were sleeping under a tree across the river (3 shown)


These 4 ground hornbills just didn't want to let us by. We followed them for 200 metres.


A herd comes down to drink before nightfall. Note the other occupant of the riverbank.


In the golden light before dusk, a lioness came out of the bush & lay down on the road for us. Then she started walking towards us . . .


Two young elephants play together in the water.

As you can see from the pictures, we did very well in the cat department in the north. We saw the first lion pride sleeping in the morning and that was just across the river from where we had the closeup with the lioness. That night in the camp, at dinnertime, we heard a loud extended roar very nearby. And I mean loud. Then five minutes later, we heard the loud scream of an animal - probably a lion kill.

We really enjoyed Serheni. The cabins were large and the seclusion was perfect - except for the loud drunk Afrikaans foursome next door who droned on for a couple of hours in the early evening, almost masking the sounds of an elephant eating in the riverbed. They were the only noise in the whole camp . . .

And I should also give a shootout to the pony-tailed baseball cap blonde who was utterly ignorant with the leopard sighting in the stream bed. Karma is coming for you.

Now about that tick . . .

Despite the look of my wounds and the occasional mild pain from the sites and the spreading rash . . . my fever disappeared after the third night. So I guess you could call it an improvement. We checked Google at Shingwedzi and came up with African Tick Bite Fever ATBF. Yes, it even had an acronym and a Wiki page as well as a page on the CDC site. It was annoying but relatively benign and time was the only cure AND it wasn't deadly AND it wasn't malaria.
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May 2nd, 2019, 06:39 AM
  #12  
Ian
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Letaba Rest Camp

We really enjoyed the north. Its sightings were superb and the lack of people and cars a real bonus. We seldom shared any sighting with another vehicle unless we hung around for a while and then maybe one other car would squeeze in behind. And with the exception of the pig-tailed blonde, everyone was friendly and happy to share. We will spend much of our time in the north on our next trip.

​We left camp early and encountered a lion pride - perhaps the noise makers from the night before. They were certainly fat and content sprawled in the brush on the side of the road just after the end of the Sirheni private road. Another camper told us he has counted nine lions, including a male who was hoarding a waterbuck kill.








Jacobin cuckoo


A bushbuck was hanging around camp. She came by to help me braai.


Making some coals on the braai. Steak tonight.

Letaba was just a stop to break up our drive south because we could not easily make it all the way all the way south to Lower Sabie in one day. The camp did not really impress us. The rodavels were small and we were in the middle of a big semi-circle around a park area that fronted on the river - which was only visible down below if you were right at the path. You could hear animals but not see them.

Now about that tick . . .

We made an appointment with our family doctor for our return but that was more than a week away. Since it still looked ugly and the rash was spreading, we made an appointment with the doctor at Skukuza Rest Camp for the morning of the full day we will be at Lower Sabie. We both thought that a local doctor's opinion would be best since a Canadian doctor might not know much about South African bites and afflictions.
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May 2nd, 2019, 06:46 AM
  #13  
Ian
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Lower Sabie Rest Camp



This next sequence of photos captures one of the magic moments of Kruger. We were stopped on the H1 tar road watching some zebras at the Ngotso bore hole. Suddenly hyenas popped out onto the route in front of our SUV. A small group - maybe 4 or 5 crossed the road and confronted an adult zebra. He/she didn't back down and challenged them. They instantly lost interest and started toward the waterhole joined by more that crossed the road. A dozen or so in all. The impala and the zebra quietly backed away. The hyenas ran to the water and dove in. Yes, dove. They were jumping and splashing and play fighting for five minutes while we watched. One even jumped out of the water and did several running laps around the waterhole. Somehow you can't imagine these vicious-looking creatures just having fun and getting refreshed around a pool - just like we do. Then one of the hyenas set off into the bush and they all quickly followed and the moment was gone. Wow.















Steenbok (above) Klipspringer on the rocks (below)



We were now heading to our last camp of our Kruger stay. Lower Sabie is a favorite camp for many. It is right at the junction of the major east-west road in the south and the north-south tar road that heads to all things north. It is also right ob the Sabie River and its permanent water supply so there is always wildlife around - Nile ibises, hippos, buffalo, crocs etc . . . The prized accommodation is the row of BD3U cottages that line the river with a nice manicured lawn dotted with trees - included some fig trees that attract critters at night. we had #9 this time around.

We arrived just after 2 pm after a stop for lunch at the Mlondozi picnic area. We stopped for coffee at Tshokwane on the way by but their machine was broken. The horror! Thankfully the view at Mlondozi wasn't broken so it was a nice spot to rest.

The LS parking area was just getting over the lunchtime madness as we arrived, so we registered and got to our BD3U to admire the view in short order. The grass was much, much taller and the river had a lot more water than the last time we stayed here three years ago in the last year of the recent drought.

​For simplicity, we ate at the Mugg & Bean restaurant and only mildly regretted it. The food was mediocre but once again, the wine was good and cheap and I didn't have to cook.
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May 2nd, 2019, 06:52 AM
  #14  
Ian
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Our last full day was a drive to the doc at Skukuza and later, some tar and dirt roads around the area. No cats despite the rumblings from other campers.

Now about that tick . . .

We had an 8:30 am appointment with the doctor at Skukuza Rest Camp. We game drove the lower river road and came up almost empty. There was little to no game of any kind. Hmm. The river was flush with vegetation so spotting there was difficult as well. The doctor's office is tucked over in the extreme northwest part of Skukuza - near the swimming pool - that we had never even seen dispite our two previous stays here. Dr Nardus Visser was young and very pleasant. He confirmed that I had tick bites that were recovering and no further course of action was required. My wife had a sac spider bite on her shoulder and some tick mite bites or something similar. He prescribed an antibiotic for the spider bite to use only if it got worse. It didn't. And an antiseptic wash for both of us. We were happy for the local diagnoses and back in Canada, our family doc admitted that he had never heard of African Tick Bite Fever. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain fever but not ATBF.


Tawny eagles



Two male elephants were going after each other on the dirt road S28. (above) Then one turned towards us and he was not a happy camper. (below) We left quickly.




Fish eagle

And that was our trip.

​We had a great time - once again. Kruger Park is a special place for many, many people. Many South Africans love it, of course, because it is their very own natural heritage. But we have met Kruger addicts from Europe, the UK, the US and Canada. It has universal appeal as the best place to see, touch and smell the Africa that once was when the animals roamed freely.

​We will return.
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May 2nd, 2019, 08:05 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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What a marvelous TR. Thank you!

OMG, those night time beetles or whatever they are! We've had them in a couple of different places - around Kruger and also at Chobe in Botswana. Totally disgusting and seemingly inescapable.
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May 2nd, 2019, 11:55 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Wonderful! Your photos are amazing.

Was hoping to go to Kruger this August but it will have to wait til next year because of two family weddings (and I don't even like one of the couples )

I'll be sure to refer to your TR when I start planning again.
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May 3rd, 2019, 01:43 AM
  #17  
Ian
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Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
What a marvelous TR. Thank you!

OMG, those night time beetles or whatever they are! We've had them in a couple of different places - around Kruger and also at Chobe in Botswana. Totally disgusting and seemingly inescapable.
Thank you. I have heard about the same bugs from several places now but I was surprised that nobody on the forums were really talking about them. many on the FP group Camps & Roads have experienced them.
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May 3rd, 2019, 01:47 AM
  #18  
Ian
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
Wonderful! Your photos are amazing.

Was hoping to go to Kruger this August but it will have to wait til next year because of two family weddings (and I don't even like one of the couples )

I'll be sure to refer to your TR when I start planning again.
I must give much credit to my wife. I plan, book, drive, navigate, use the binoculars but only shoot with my little Sony rx100. She uses our Panasonic with a good zoom, so she gets most of the closeup shots. We are a good team in a car.
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May 3rd, 2019, 05:37 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
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Great trip report and photos! We can't get away for more than a week for the foreseeable future - but when the time comes that we can, this type of trip is at the top of my list and I'll be back to take detailed notes!
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May 3rd, 2019, 06:40 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: May 2008
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Thanks for posting a fascinating and entertaining trip report. I too loved the photos!
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