Thursday, 2 June, 2011
Lionpalooza: Game Driving Near Satara Rest Camp

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. Delayed jet lag? Maybe I've just been running on adrenaline for the past few days. While I lay awake, I heard dogs yelping - hyenas, I presume. They were all over the place in Botswana, but we haven't seen any here. Maybe we'll get lucky. I got the others up just after 5:00 so we could be through the gate at 6:00. We made it out at 6:15. Good enough.

Today we're going lion hunting. Thus far, we've been denied, so last night Tom and Linda checked our book, Cameron Ewart Smith's “Getaway Guide, Kruger National Park, 3rd Edition,” and chose a route in the area of Satara Rest Camp, known for its prolific wildlife and some of the highest lion densities in the park. According to the book, “Satara must be one of the best places in Kruger to spot the big cats.” If we don't find them today, we are big losers.

Our route: S140, S106, H7, S12, S40, H7, S100, S41 north to Gudzani Dam and then south to N'wanetsi Picnic Site, H6, H1-4 to Satara Rest Camp, H1-4, H7, S106, S140 to Talamati. We packed big giant breakfasts (boiled eggs for Linda and me, leftover sausage with bread and cheese for all) and a bagful of snacks (Pringles, crackers, Goldfish, fruit) for our lengthy journey.

Right outside the gate, a cute little black-backed jackal was waiting for us to take its photo. Yes, it did remind me of my dog Spike, who was unceremoniously dumped at camp so I could make this trip. The jackal was distressed by a brown snake-eagle in a tree right beside him. I wonder if the eagle could have snatched up the jackal, if it wanted to. The jackal seemed to worry that it could.

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Black-backed jackal

A big obstinacy of buffalo blocked our path on the H7. After a few minutes, Tom passed some other cars that were waiting and eased our way through the stupid cows. There's no telling how long they'd stand there in the road. We preferred looking at the giraffes further along the way on the S40.

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Breakfast time

Then, near the intersection of S40 and H7, we had our first lion sighting! There were two lionesses laying in the tall grass about 100 yards off the road on a knoll overlooking a waterhole. While we were watching, one of them got up and sauntered off.

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Lions! Finally!

Near the lions, we saw hippos and another jackal. At this point, we've stopped being impressed by the various antelope, they're so plentiful. Then we got to the S100, also called the N'wanetsi River Road, where we had some of the most rewarding wildlife viewing of our trip.



Monkeying around


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Elephants at a watering hole



 
Halfway down the S100, right beside the road, was a MALE LION trying to take a nap. We were within six feet of him. Awesome! At one point, the lion decided we were annoying and gave a sleepy little half roar. It wasn't terribly frightening, but if was enough that we rolled up our windows!

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King of the jungle

Gudzani Dam, on the S41, was both beautiful and replete with wildlife. I should explain, in South Africa, “dam” doesn't refer to the barrier which impounds the water, but to the impounded water itself. The hippos with their babies were very cool, and there were also crocs, giraffes, zebras, waterbucks, impala, and African fish-eagles.

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Mama and baby

Leaving Gudzani, we headed south on S41 and soon came upon a pair of lionesses laying in the road. Woo-hoo! More lions! The cats weren't disturbed by all the staring and photos. They just wanted to nap in the sun.

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So sleepy

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Can't stay awake

Next we drove to the N'wanetsi Picnic Site, alighted from our car, and walked from the picnic area to a covered viewpoint overlooking the N'wanetsi River and the ridge forming the border between South Africa and Mozambique, a few kilometers in the distance.

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Tom and Jana at N'wanetsi viewpoint

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View toward Mozambique

We finished our breakfast/lunch at N'wanetsi and headed to Satara Rest Camp to refuel, since we were in the neighborhood and petrol stations are few and far between. Satara was like a city compared to the isolation of our bush camp the past few days. No wonder Satara is so popular, though. The wildlife viewing in the area is fantastic!

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South Africa, the "Rainbow Nation"

At 2:30 we returned to Talamati, and Linda and I went to reception once again to pay her conservation fees, since it proved too difficult to accomplish yesterday. I'd paid one day of her fees yesterday, so she still needed to pay for seven more days. This time, Linda's credit card wouldn't go through. The receptionist said their system was probably down and to come back later, but it was already late in the day, and we reminded her that we'll be leaving this camp early tomorrow. So she said no problem, just pay at our next camp, Letaba, and if the credit card doesn't work there, we should get money at Letaba's ATM and pay in cash. This was payment attempt number four, in case you've lost track. Ha!

At 4:00 we went back out to try to find a leopard. The tiny glimpse we had yesterday was just not satisfying. This time we stayed close to Talamati. We slowly drove a few kilometers west on S140, then turned around and returned to camp at 5:20. No cats, just a few elephants.

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Talamati fence

Tonight I fried up some bite-sized beef, green peppers, onion, tomato, and corn. Tom and I had chakalaka with ours, of course. Tasty, if I do say so myself, though the beef was a bit chewy and would have benefited from the crock-pot treatment. The one gadget we forgot to pack!

High temperature today was 80 degrees. Very pleasant. Though it's gotten down in the 40s every night, the cottage hasn't gotten below the low to mid 60s. With an extra blanket, it's quite comfortable.

Continue to June 3, 2011

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