Without doubt this is South Africa’s most famous – and perhaps wildest – park. It’s the country’s largest conserved area, filled with Africa’s finest array of wildlife. The million or so annual visitors can see the famous Big Five – but it’s the thousands of other animal and plant species which makes Kruger such an important conservation area: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibian, 114 reptile, 507 bird and 147 mammal species. The four-hundred kilometre-long park covers a diverse range of ecosystems, landscapes and river systems. Size: 2 million hectares. Situated in eastern South Africa on the border of Mozambique.
Kruger National Park
So, this is my last blog post from my last week in Kruger, which is also my last week of the official Year in the Wild 2013-14. I'm still processing (in my head and heart) much of what I've seen, and I'll upload a blog in the next few weeks that tries to distill the essence of what I've learnt and felt.
Pafuri is my favourite part of Kruger. Located in the very north of the park, the scenery is completely different to the rest of the 2 million hectare protected area. Fever tree forests, lush riverine bush, beautiful rivers and hundreds and hundreds of baobabs.
The birdlife in this area is considered the best in the park too, but for me, another great reason to come here is Thula Mela, the reconstructed ruins of a civilisation dating back to about 1450 AD. Experts reckon about 2 000 Read more »
During week 8 and 9 of my Kruger trip, the good folks from 50/50 TV program came to join me in Kruger. They convinced me that I should be on TV - apparently I have a reasonable enough face (just) for TV - although I've been reassured that most of the series will feature other people and wildlife. The series runs from this November until end of next year - a five-minute insert every three weeks. We'll be shooting in the next few months around the country's other parks, cherry-picking some of the best protected areas I have been to in my past three years of extensive travel.
Phillip Lennon from 50/50 is a one-man extroardinaire cameraman, producer, director and editor, and it was great to work with him. I am sure he will craft something good from my bumbling, mumbling exploits. As good a Read more »
Shimuwini Camp is one of my favourite places to stay in Kruger. It's one of the so-called bush camps (like Biyamiti, Talamati, Sirheni and Bateleur), and is only accessible to people who are booked to stay there. Also, the roads into camp are off-limits to general visitors, so you have a good chance of being alone at wildlife sightings.
I was very lucky here. Once again, most of my luck came early in the morning or late afternoon. After seven weeks of getting up every morning at 5, to make sure I catch the early light, I was tired! But if you don't get up early, you're going to miss the action! And on several mornings at Shimuwini, I was rewarded. First, a big male leopard, and then a pack of seven wild dogs on the hunt.
Enjoy the Read more »
You have to work a bit harder at spotting wildlife in the Olifants area of central Kruger, and my sixth week in the park was probably my quietest. After a few days of seeing very little, it can start to get a bit tiresome (to be honest), especially during the heat of the day. So you learn to see the little things, and I suppose that's why the more time you spend in Africa's wilderness areas, the more you learn, because it's inevitable that sometimes you'll see NO leopards, or lions or elephants. But there is SO much else to see...and smell, and hear, and touch and taste. I think that's when you become a true bush lover...when it doesn't matter that you don't see the traditional crowd-pleasers.
But hey, there's always a leopard lurking somewhere, like this one near Letaba Camp...who Read more »
Things were a bit quiet this week on the wildlife front. Olifants Camp is probably the beginning of the northern part of Kruger, and so although it's a big camp, there are far fewer tourists here than at Lower Sabie and Skukuza. It's a function of wildlife numbers too - this is where the vast mopane shrubland begins, and consequently there are fewer NUMBERS of herbivores, although all the same species do occur here. But you never quite know what you're going to see...so although it can be very quiet for a week, suddenly you can see EVERYTHING in ten minutes. That's the allure, the promise, the flirt of the bushveld and Africa's wild places. And it's why these places are so intoxicating...because there's ALWAYS the hope and chance of seeing something spectacular.
Anyway, it was quiet up Read more »
From today, I'm catching up on my Kruger blog posts, because the past week I have been catching up on sleep! After three years of almost continuous travel, I'm allowing myself a few days to chill out!
So I'm delving back into my last four weeks in Kruger in September. I'm going to write a wrap-up of my time in Kruger soon. Right now, I am feeling lots of bitter-sweet things...and I need to get my head and heart around all the wondrous and not-so-wonderful things I have seen during my two and a half months exploring Kruger.
These photos were taken near Lower Sabie, Talamati and Satara. Enjoy.
For more, go to Read more »
I've finished! My second Year in the Wild is over, and I haven't uploaded a blog for a while, because I've been in the north of Kruger, where there is little cell phone reception or internet. In the next few days, I'll be uploading several blogs about my time in the north, which is my favourite part of this 2 million hectare protected area.
What a way to end: white lions! I couldn't have planned a better way to end my epic year of exploring South Africa's wildest places. I've spent the past week at Walker's River Camp in Timbavati, a 500 square kilometre private reserve that lies to the west of central Kruger National Park, and because the fences between the two were dropped in 1993, there's a real sense of wildness here. Timbavati is just one of several huge private reserves that now Read more »
The veld in Kruger is all brown and amber, because it's the end of winter. But I love the dust and the smell of the dry earth. During my third week, I had another great leopard sighting, this time near Pretoriuskop. A young female leopard, full of sass and attitude. I found her sitting at sunset on a boulder in this south-western part of the national park. What made it extra special was that I was alone with her. Well it's always special being alone with a pretty lady, but this was extra special.
It was the highlight of my week in terms of sightings, so although I didn't see anything else to match the leopard, I am just happy to be out here in the bush, taking photos of the regular suspects like zebras, lilac-breasted rollers and hyenas, which can be so easily overlooked. I did see a Read more »
I spent the past week at Malelane and Berg-en-Dal camps in the south-west of Kruger, and at Skukuza, the biggest and most famous camp, further north. It's been a pretty quiet week in terms of spotting plenty of wildlife, but I did have two amazing experiences.
The first was spectacular just because a leopard was involved (anything is guaranteed to be spectacular when a leopard is involved). On a sunset drive with field guide Peter Zitha, we spotted a big male leopard on the side of the road, gnawing on an old impala carcass. We watched him for a few minutes, then he got a big fright, and bolted up the nearest tree...and out of the bushes came five marauding hyenas. We watched the imperious leopard perched in a thin, dainty tree, looking irked as he stared contemptuously at the hyenas Read more »
There’s a small sign above Major-General Johan Jooste’s desk at his office in Skukuza, the headquarters of Kruger National Park. It says: “Think Big, Start Small, Act Now”.
It’s an apt credo for the man in charge of anti-poaching at South African National Parks. The 61-year-old ex-army general joined the organization in 2013, and has been tasked with one of the country’s biggest, most immediate challenges: combatting the scourge of rhino poaching.
Last year, 606 rhino were killed in Kruger, out of a total number in South Africa of 1004. This year 433 rhino have been killed in Kruger so far.
“We are fighting a war,” says Jooste, who retired from the army in 2006 after 35 years of service, but also has an MBA and has worked in business development in the arms industry.
I spent Read more »
I'm in the Kruger National Park for two months in August and September. I'll be compiling a travel guide from my trip, interviewing many of the rangers and guides, and of course, taking lots of photos.
Kruger is huge - 2 million hectares, or 20 000 square kilometres, so it's larger than some small countries. Is it Africa's finest protected area? More than any other national park on the continent, it has probably contributed most to the conservation of Africa's wild animals.
That's a big statement, and I'm sure that many in East Africa would have plenty to say to me! I obviously haven't been to all the national parks in Africa, but from what I've read, I'm not sure that any other individual park has done a better job to restore wildlife populations, and protect natural habitat on Read more »
Artist Peter Stewart - based in Durban, South Africa - got hold of me a few months back, asking if he could paint some of my photos. He was interested in these two photos that I took in 2012 of charging elephants in the northern Kruger National Park, near the Levuvhu River. (You can read about this area in my blog here.)
Anyway, I sent the photos to Peter, and he created a superb painting, using Read more »
Saying goodbye to loved ones is never easy. I feel the same way about leaving Kruger. Pafuri and its beautiful camp was the perfect climax to an unforgettable month. I will always remember exploring South Africa’s largest and most famous nature reserve. This past month has only deepened my appreciation and gratitude for Africa’s natural heritage.
(This was highlighted for me when I drove out of the park at Pafuri Gate and into the poor rural communities, where goats, donkeys and cattle wandered the litter-strewn road, the degraded mopane woodland devoid of life. I felt very privileged indeed to have spent a month in one of Africa’s finest protected areas. It confirmed for me how important it is that local communities benefit from Read more »
Over the next two days at Pafuri Camp, Brian took us back to where the leopard had killed the bushbuck, and one evening we were rewarded with a fantastic sighting of her. She was in the same acacia albida tree where we had first spotted her, but this time she was fat and replete from eating the bushbuck. Nothing was going to disturb her, as she lay lazily on the branch.
Brian drove us almost underneath her, and we watched her from below. She yawned and stretched a few times, as Brian shone the spotlight on her. But she had no time for us, and simply snoozed while we watched her. It’s tempting to think she’s a cute pussycat, but I wouldn’t like to cross her path at night when she’s Read more »
My time in Kruger National Park is coming to an end. I have now spent a month here, exploring the 2 million hectare reserve, and I’ve really only seen a small part of what it offers. It’s such a huge, diverse wilderness that it deserves to be explored slowly, again and again. It’s impossible to absorb and appreciate its plethora of wonders in one short trip. A month is way too short…perhaps a year is enough time?
I decided to end my trip with three days in Pafuri in the far north of Kruger. The most-northerly South African National Parks camp is Punda Maria, but if you look on a map, you’ll notice that the park continues to stretch northwards for another 65 kilometres, to meet Zimbabwe and Mozambique at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers.
The Pafuri region and Read more »
My guide at Pafuri Camp was Brian Kelly, an American who came to South Africa originally to work as an archaeologist at the Cradle of Humankind near Sterkfontein, but ended up falling in love with the bush (who can blame him!). He now works as the lead trails guide at Pafuri. “I prefer studying live things to dead things!” Brian said. America’s loss is certainly Africa’s gain..
You really do get the feeling that Brian is a student of the bush, studying it in detail, watching carefully, and listening to the sounds. He is a master birder, and I’ve rarely met a guide who knows so much about so many birds. As we drove along in the open-topped Land Cruiser, Brian would identify birds as Read more »
Most people think “wild animals” when they travel to the Kruger National Park. But there are several fascinating archaeological sites which indicate that the park was at times inhabited by both Stone Age and Iron Age people.
Like elsewhere in the country, there are bushman paintings, although none rival those of uKhahlamba-Drakensberg or the Cederberg in the Cape. Nevertheless, the Stone Age bushmen were the original inhabitants of Kruger, as they were of our country, having lived here for thousands of years. They are the true, rightful inheritors of the region!
Then, from about 200 AD, pastoralists from Central Africa had slowly entered southern Africa. They were Iron Age people, and knew how to fashion metal tools from minerals. They grew crops and kept cattle, and were more Read more »
The north of Kruger continues to cast its spell on me. I spent a day with trails rangers Christopher Mutathi and David Nemukula, who lead the Nyalaland Wilderness Trail in the northwestern wilderness area of Kruger. They wanted to show me this region, as they had a day off from their trails, and wanted to check up on the small camp where trailists spend their nights.
I definitely want to come back here sometime to do the Nyalaland Wilderness Trail. It’s in a very remote part of the park, where massive baobabs dominate the skyline, and the hilly terrain is carved through by the beautiful, flowing Luvuvhu River, where bird life is unrivalled in the park, with more species than elsewhere.
When we arrived at trails camp, we had obviously just missed an intruder – a bull elephant – Read more »
I've recently witnessed my first leopard kill. I am now at Punda Maria camp, the most northerly camp in Kruger.
Two nights ago, Thomas Mathebula and Themba Mnisi took me out on a sunset drive. We didn't see too much initially, but on our way back to camp, we came across a female leopard stalking in the grass on the side of the road. At first, we thought it was aiming for a spring hare, which bounced away as soon as the leopard approached. But the cat was clearly seeing something we couldn't. Then we spotted a male impala, lying low in the tall, dry grass. All we could see were its horns.
Patiently, the leopard crept closer and closer, and after about twenty minutes, it made it's move. It all happened in a blink of an eye, literally. The leopard must have covered about ten metres in Read more »
It’s been an incredible few days here in the north of Kruger. From Letaba, I headed north to Mopani Camp and then Shingwedzi, and now I’m at Punda Maria.
A lot of people think there are fewer animals up here in the north. The vast mopane veld does tend to reduce grazing opportunities for antelope, so you don’t tend to see large herds of zebra or impala. But wow, there’s certainly plenty of everything else, including lots of predators!
Near Mopani Camp, we were treated to some fantastic sightings, including the famous Mooiplaas buffalo herd, numbering in excess of 1 000 animals. We also saw plenty of ellie, as well as hyenas on one of our night drives with our very friendly field guide Amos Gazide. (Thanks very much to Garth Holt, manager at Mopani, for organizing the drive for Read more »
Letaba Camp is one of my favourite in Kruger. It’s beautifully set on the banks of the river of the same name, and huge sycamore fig trees provide ample shade to the bungalows which circle underneath. There’s a special feeling about the place.
I also have an ancestral link to Letaba. Long ago, my oupa and ouma used to come here with my mom and her two brothers, on their holidays. And my parents always used to bring me and my two sisters here when we were growing up. Somehow this place is part of me.
One of the very best things in all of Kruger is the Letaba Elephant Hall. It must be one of the most intriguing and fascinating “museums” in the country. Here you can see the tusks of some of Read more »
There’s no doubt about it. If you want to experience the true essence of Kruger and its astonishing array of wildlife, vegetation and scenery you have to get out of your car, and go on the various walking activities which are offered.
Most visitors drive around in their cars on the excellent network of both tar and gravel roads. There are more than 2 000 kms of roads that give tourists access to South Africa's largest national park. And up till a few years ago, the only way to experience the park was in your car. (For good reason, with wild animals aplenty walking around).
But many people eventually get tired of sitting in a vehicle for days on end, and besides, being trapped in a car alienates you from most of the bushveld experience. (I personally struggle to sit in a car for Read more »
I've just finished the Olifants Backpack Trail in Kruger. This three-night, four-day hiking trail follows the Olifants River from west to east across the park, covering about 48kms. It's a quintessential wilderness experience. Hikers need to carry all their own food and gear, and every night you sleep on the river bank, under the stars in your tent. I'll write a full blog on it over the weekend!
In the meantime, here are some photos from my few days before the trail began...
At Satara camp, I've been having some fun lately with a camera trap, loaned to me by my friend Jeremy Bolton from Trailcam Adventures. This cool little device can be attached to a tree or a pole, and can be set to take photographs automatically of anything that crosses its path; any movement triggers the camera, and it works in the dark too, taking photos with infra-red light.
At Satara, there's a resident group of honey badgers which live inside the camp. This was pointed out to me by Robbie Williams, a wildlife guide who has conducted more than 3 000 guided drives in the park! Anyway, I bumped into Robbie while at Satara, and he knows the park like the back of his hand. So he told me about the honey badgers, as Read more »
There's something about walking up to a snoozing lion that clears the cobwebs from your brain.
We were on a morning walk at Lower Sabie rest camp, with armed field guides Irving Knight and Promise Silinda. The guided morning walks are a great way to start your day while staying in Kruger.
At 5:30am, we had driven from the camp to an area where Irving thought there may be lots of wildlife. Well, the first two hours we saw very little, besides some wildebeest. So we stopped for a snack on top of a koppie, and simply sat and took in the view. In the distance, we saw three bull elephants feeding.
Then to the left, Irving spotted through his binoculars a massive black-maned lion ambling Read more »
Lower Sabie has a reputation for its abundant numbers of wildlife, and it's well-deserved as far as I'm considered. I've seen lion several times, including a mating pair with field guide Irving Knight. They were lying in the road as we drove from camp to the area where we were going to walk. According to Irving, they will mate several times an hour for several days, leaving both pretty exhausted!
Then later in the day, I saw two young male lions Read more »
Kruger National Park. One of the world’s most famous wildlife and wilderness areas. More than 360kms long, and 65kms at its widest. It covers more than 2 million hectares (or 20 000 square kilometres) of bushveld, savannah, koppies, kloofs, woodland, riparian forest and rivers.
Larger than many small countries, it’s a bastion of conservation and one of our country’s most valuable assets, socially, ecologically, commercially - and spiritually. (It's one of the country's most visited destinations - interestingly, the two top individual destinations in the country are both National Parks - Table Mountain, and Kruger!).
The past few days, I’ve been exploring the southern areas of the great park. And I feel enormously grateful to be here. I’ve been fortunate on my Year in the Wild Read more »