• Trip Report: A Kruger Bucket-List in 9 Days

    Before I start I must warn you that although we have always been extremely lucky in Kruger, this trip was something on a whole new level.

    My In-Laws have time-share at Sanbonani in Hazyview, and invited the wife and I along for a Friday to Friday stay (23-30 May 2015). We only managed to get to Hazyview on the Saturday morning though due to work. One day less in Kruger I thought... What a bummer.

    Day 1: Upon arrival to Hazyview, we unpacked the car, threw the in-laws in the back, and headed to Phabeni Gate. Unusually we didn't get buffalo at the bridge as you enter the gate, which is quite common for us, so we headed in the direction of Skukuza filled with hopes of a great week in our favourite part of the world. We did manage to get some buffalo a few kilometres down the road, and some elephant quite close up, along with great birds like Fork-Tailed Drongo, Tawny Eagle, Hammerkop, and Fish Eagle. We stopped at Skukuza for a well deserved late-lunch, and decided to take it easy and exit at Paul Kruger gate. With an hour to spare we left Skukuza for a slow drive, and at the intersection of the S1 and the H11 there were quite a few cars stopped at a Spotted Hyena.

    We spent about 5 minutes with her and left on down the road.
    As we came over a ridge, I spotted a flash of a white tail, and my heart nearly stopped. There, about 150m away in the long grass was a Wild Dog. I was sure of it. I drove up to the spot, and saw a Black Jeep Grand Cherokee following 3 dogs down the road. The gentleman in the Jeep was kind enough to move over and share the sighting, so we had the dogs all to ourselves and the Jeep for about 200m in the road, when the dogs decided to head back to their friend who I spotted earlier in the long grass.

    I have been looking for dogs for many years, and only managed to see my first dogs in the latter stages of last year at Letaba. This pack was my 2nd ever, and being so obsessed with the dogs, the pressure was off.
    Day 1, and the dogs were done. Now we can have a holiday!

    Day 1 sightings: Elephant, Buffalo, White Rhino, Wild Dog, Fork-Tailed Drongo, Hammerkop, Warthog, Impala, Lilac-Breasted Roller, Kudu, Zebra, Giraffe, Blue Wildebeest, Hippo, Hyena, Vervet Monkey, Water Monitor, Tawney Eagle.

    Day 2:
    We are quite avid supporters of entering as the gates open, and leaving as the sun sets, with driving being the order for the majority of the day. So with that in mind we were at Phabeni gate at 6am, and entered as the sun was starting to come up. Just as we were considering stopping for a sunrise shot, two cheetah came out of the grass and spent some time right next to the road. We spent a good 5 minutes viewing them along with some other cars, before the cheetah went off to do their daily cheetah business. My wife's favourite, check!

    After the cheetah we decided to take the S65, which was somewhat quiet in terms of sightings, but we did get a good hippo at the water hole, and some ellies and kudu. We headed to Transport Dam where two breeding herds of elephants came together for a drink and a shake of trunks. We spent a good few minutes with the ellies, before making our way back to Skukuza for a pit-stop. After Skukuza we decided to have a look at Lake Panic, and on the dirt road a Honey Badger crossed the road and ran into the bush. It was too quick for a photo, but we are always privileged to see Badgers! After Lake Panic we made our way along the tar road to Lower Sabie's side, diverting our course only to cross the high level bridge (The H12). The drive was uneventful, until we saw some lions close to the Nkuhlu picnic spot, lying in the river bed. Two females, and apparently a male which was hiding behind the bush. We never managed to see the male, so our official lion count for the day was 2. Sunset Dam is always a great spot not only for birds, but also for the hippos and crocs, so we stopped there for a bit, before checking out the bridge past Lower Sabie. We made our way back and stopped at the Lower Sabie Mugg & Bean for lunch. Their service is excellent now that they are all settled as a Mugg & Bean, and the food is always excellent. We made a quick trip to Duke's to see if we can find "The Darling of Dukes" python, which we didn't see, but that wasn't such a big deal as I'll explain later.

    After a quiet Duke's, we went back towards Skukuza, stopping only for the elephants and buffalo, and the plains game making their way across the road. We went across the H12 bridge and back again, and saw a Goliath Heron having a stretch. About 7km before Skukuza we came across a python that had just constricted a young Impala ram. It was incredible! I've read about this many times, and seen many photos, but to actually see it was quite unbelievable. We spent about 20-30 minutes watching the python, before we had to leave in order to make the gate. We never got to see it consuming the impala, but the next morning both snake and impala were gone, with only some very thick python "spoor" left in the dirt.

    We exited Phabeni Gate, and got a beautiful big male Lion lying in the sand about 6km from the Phabeni Gate. We didn't have much time, so we snapped a few pics, and let him sleep before his nightly patrol began.

    Day 2 sightings: Cheetah, Lion, Elephant, White Rhino, Buffalo, Bushbuck, Impala, Zebra, Duiker, Baboons, White-Backed Vulture, Bateleur, Warthogs, Steenbok, Honey Badger, Hippo, Crocodile, Brown Mongoose, Secretary Bird, Blue Wildebeest, Marabou Stork, Yellow-Billed Stork, Malachite Kingfisher, Banded Mongoose, Tawny Eagle, Goliath Heron, Brown Snake Eagle, Dwarf Mongoose, Waterbuck, Python with Impala Kill.

    Day 3 started much like the day before, and we entered Phabeni gate. No sign of the male lion or the cheetahs. We decided that we will go up to Tshokwane picnic spot today. It was a fairly unventful day as far as the predators go, and we still hadn't seen leopard. On the way to Tshokwane we saw some good Elephant, a juvenile Martial Eagle, and a very brief visual of a juvenile Sable. Tshokwane was also fairly quiet, except for the very brazen Vervets and Baboons who steal food right out of the hands of the tourists, giving them a massive scare. We went up to Nkumbe view point, and saw a massive herd of 800+ buffalo strewn across the entire right hand side of the view point. We also saw some elephant, zebra, and giraffe. On the way back we got some Klipspringers right in the road, which is quite unusual. After a drink at Skukuza we exited Paul Kruger gate, this time without seeing those dogs again.

    Day 3 sightings: Elephant, Buffalo, Impala, Fish Eagle, Blue Wildebeest, Lilac-Breasted Roller, Vervet Monkey, Martial Eagle, Nyala, Zebra, Kudu, Sable, Giraffe, Klipspringer

    Day 4 we decided to enter at Paul Kruger gate, and made our way to Lower Sabie via the dirt road, the S21. Thereafter we would continue South, and take the dirt back on the H5 which was extremely corrugated. We had great sightings of very relaxed elephants. Rinosterkoppies was quiet, and there were reports of 12 lion there the day before, but all we found was spoor and a very cute Spotted Hyena cub. We stopped again at Skukuza, and saw a Python in the tree right in front of the Cattle Baron deck at Skukuza. We exited the park, and still hadn't seen any leopard. The pressure was on now! We did however spot a Black Rhino during the course of the day, which was excellent!

    Day 4 sightings: Giraffe, Impala, Kudu, White Rhino, Bushbuck, Duiker, Hyena, Elephant, Python, Black Rhino.

    Day 5 we went back to our trusty old Phabeni Gate, and only made a very brief stop at Skukuza for coffee. The plan was to head south to Afsaal, but as we exited Skukuza something told me to go left towards Lower Sabie. I always listen to my gut in the bush, and I'm glad we did. About 6km down the road we got to quite a traffic jam. Mating leopards in the river bed! We got a brief visual of them both, and tried to find them again, but once leopard are gone, they are truly gone. With the pressure now clearly off, and the "Crazy 8" under the belt, we decided to head to Lower Sabie for a well-deserved meal. On the way we got a Southern Ground Hornbill on his own walking down the road. No rings on him though. Along the road we saw a dead White Rhino on the opposite river bank. He still had his horn. I spoke to some friends of mine affiliated with the park, and they said the horn was going to be removed by Sanparks, and that the Rhino had died of natural causes. A little while later we came across some mating lions in the road. We got really lucky, because we saw the massive traffic jam, and we had heard about the lions, so we knew we were in for a long wait. However when we approached the traffic, the lions came right around the cars, and found a spot right between us and the cars in front of us, and mated in the road. They proceeded to walk past our car further down the road, with all of the cars frantically turning around and following them, opening up the traffic jam completely. After lunch, and with the promise of "action" we returned to the rhino spot, and were treated to many crocs closing in, and some vultures. It was then that a male lion came crashing out of the bush and chased away the vultures. He had clearly claimed the carcass, although the crocs seemed quite intent.

    Day 5 sightings: Elephant, White Rhino, Mating Leopard, Mating Lion, Buffalo, Southern Ground Hornbill, Secretary Bird, Giraffe, Crocs, Hippo, Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Saddle Billed Stork, Warthog, Waterbuck, Kudu, Duiker, Steenbok, Nyala.

    Day 6 did not disappoint either. We entered again at Phabeni, and made our way once more to the Lower Sabie side after a quick stop at Lake Panic. On the way we had a buffalo road block, where two menacing Dagga Boys marched down the S79 Causeway towards us. Apart from that the sightings were quite far off. Before lunch we went across the bridge at Lower Sabie as always, once I had turned around to cross the bridge once more, a massive Black Mamba reared up higher than my mirror, flopped over, and sailed away. I got a massive fright, but I guess so too did the Mamba, because by the time I could get my camera and take a good look at him only his tail was left. He was longer than my Pajero however, and by far the largest Black Mamba I had ever seen. We had lunch at Lower Sabie, and the plan was to head to Mlondozi picnic spot a few kilometres to the north. When we got to the bridge however, there were about 4 cars parked, and we noticed a leopard lying in the shade next to the road. He lay there for a further two minutes, then got up and moved off. When we got to Mlondozi we were treated to hippos nice and close to the picnic spot, and elephants in the far distance. We spent a good 30 minutes there, and made our way back past Lower Sabie towards Skukuza. About 10km past Lower Sabie a leopard jumped into the road, and walked along it for a short distance, before coming to a stop, and letting us view him for at least 5 minutes. Enough time to get creative with the photos. He was very well behaved, and wasn't too worried about the four cars looking at him (some with their engines running, but luckily nobody was heard shouting, as often happens with leopard). A little while further we again found the Southern Ground Hornbill. We got no lion today, so we couldn't get another Big 5 Day, but the two leopards made up for it!

    Day 6 sightings: Elephant, White Rhino, Leopard, Buffalo, Blue Wildebeest, Vervet Monkey, Giraffe, Duiker, Steenbok, Secretary Bird, Bateleur, Kudu, Baboons, Warthog, Black Mamba, Ostrich, Zebra, Hippo, Crocodile.

    Day 7 and time to say farewell to the In-Laws. They are making their way back to Johannesburg, and we are moving into the park to stay at Berg en Dal for the next two nights. We entered the park quite late, at about 10am, and I had heard of a leopard making a kill on the Paul Kruger Gate road. So we decide to enter at Phabeni regardless, hoping that the leopard would still be there in two hours' time. The S1 was uneventful, so we took a left on the H11, and made our way to the very sick impala laying in the tree. A few minutes later my wife spotted the leopard lying in the grass a few metres from the base of the tree. We heard then that there were actually two leopard; a mother and a cub. I positioned the car a bit further down the road and we managed to get a good view of both leopard. With that done I decided to take the S114 down all the way to Berg n Dal, which was foolish as we later heard lions were scattered all over the tar, and all we got on the S114 was one elephant blocking the road for 25 minutes. But that's the nature of the bush, and with all the leopard we had seen, I wasn't going to start complaining!

    Day 7 sightings: Mother and cub Leopard, Buffalo, Elephant, White Rhino, Impala, Blue Wildebeest, Hippo, Fish Eagle, Crocs, Giraffe, Kudu, Bushbuck, Bateleur, Vervet Monkey, Warthog, Bushbaby outside the bungalow.

    Day 8, and we had friends who arrived the day before at the Crocodile Bridge area. We decide to exit at Malelane, drive on the N4 to Komatipoort, and enter at Croc Bridge to see if we can meet up with them. Lions had made a buffalo kill on the southern side of the Crocodile Bridge (before you even sign into the park). Traffic was a mess, but we got to see a male lion eating bits of the now very sick buffalo. Crocodile Bridge Rangers had to scare the lions off the kill though, because people refused to move and blocked the single-lane bridge. We went up the trusty S28, but it was by that time already quiet. We did however manage to see our first and only Black Backed Jackal of the trip. We spent as much time at Lower Sabie as we could, and missed our friends by about 20 minutes, but we had to leave if we were to make it back to Berg n Dal in time. We made our way towards Skukuza, and where we would normally always take the S79 causeway, we decided to take the tar and see what the dam is looking like. When we got there a leopard was casually walking along the edge of the water, out in the open with impala frantically barking at it. He lay down out in the open for a bit, then found some shade at the edge of the dam and that's where we left him. Our 7th leopard of the trip. We were flabbergasted! We went down to Berg n Dal, and missed another leopard by seconds, which the guests on the Sunset Drive were viewing as we arrived. Once leopard are gone, they are gone, so we decided to go to camp.

    Day 8 sightings: Lion, Buffalo, Leopard, Elephant, White Rhino, Impala, Blue Wildebeest, Hippo, Warthog, Black Backed Jackal, Giant Eagle Owl, Tawny Eagle, Bateleur, Marabou Stork, Vervet Monkey, Steenbok, Hyena.

    Day 9, our last day. Usually on our last day we book a morning drive with Sanparks, and exit the park afterwards for the long drive back. We did just that, and we had the same guide (Musi) who we saw when they were viewing the leopard the afternoon before. He asked what we would like to see, and cheekily I told him that perhaps we could see the "Crazy 8" and maybe a pangolin. He laughed, and told us that he had seen two leopard on the sunset drive, so perhaps he was still lucky. For the first two hours of the drive this didn't seem to be the case. We only saw 3 hyena and 3 elephant. We went a whole hour before we even saw an impala. The bush was eerily quiet. That was until Musi hit the brakes, and quietly shouted "Pangolin!". He parked right next to the pangolin, keeping it in the shade, and we spent a little over 6 minutes with it. We couldn't believe our luck. This was getting out of hand. Many consider the Pangolin to be the holy grail of wildlife sightings, one that I had come to terms with the fact that I'd never in my life see one, and here we were sitting with one right next to us. You know you are looking at something special when the guide takes out his cell phone and snaps a few photos! Musi was an exceptional guide, and really did teach us a lot. There wasn't anything he didn't have a wealth of information about. When we got back to camp we chatted to Musi a bit about the Pangolin, and how we were still in a bit of shock having seen it, and he agreed that it was indeed very special to see it in the daylight.

    Day 9 sightings: Pangolin, Elephant, Buffalo, Hyena, Impala, Warthog, Steenbok, Bateleur.

    So ended our most incredible trip to Kruger. The most luck we will ever have, has been spent on this trip, and we know it. We will have to spend a lot of very quiet days in Kruger to make up the law of averages just to get over this trip.

    I hope you enjoyed.
    Here are some more miscellaneous photos of the trip:

    All photos were taken with a Canon SX60HS Muk-En-Druk.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Trip Report: A Kruger Bucket-List in 9 Days started by Oubie View original post