My last night at Lower Sabie this time around and i sat up late…well, late for the bush …10.30!! It was a lovely still African evening with various animals making themselves heard above the regular heartbeat of insects and night birds, hyaenas, jackals, baboons and once or twice i heard the lion roar. The stars were out, the moon was rising and around the camp there was a slight murmur of other campers, most of which had arrived earlier in the day, and were cooking on their fires adding meaty aromas to the freshness of the regular bush smells after an earlier shower of rain.
I had intended to get up early and spend a couple of hours down on the Sabie for breakfast but eventually rolled over and dozed on until 5.45…a late morning for me!!
It was nice though, and once the coffee was brewed i slowly but surely packed up my camp in between regular rests with coffee, boiled eggs, rye bread and cherry tomatos. The baboons were making quite a racket for the first hour or so with their warning barks,and lions were roaring fairly close somewhere down on the river bed. As much as i was enjoying the whole scenario i was wondering whether i had screwed up by getting up and going out for a while..??…
A nice cool shower when i had finished and loaded up then i was on my way south by 9.30.
I stopped by the hippo carcass which had by now lost a considerable amount of weight!!..but there was still meat on it and a great many vultures were there as well as a couple of very fat hyaenas who were having tugs of war with the backbone and bits of meat. The teeth of the hippo which were now clearly exposed, were simply huge. I was not about to get out and measure them, but i reckon they must of been a good 12 inches long at least and as fat as my wrist.
Heading south west once the road left the Sabie i turned west after about 15 klicks onto the Randspruit track and then onto the dirt track running alongside the Bume river which i cruised quite slowly checking out a few old favourite spots along the way.
There was plenty going on. At one point as i headed down the Gomondwane road before turning west i had about 100 or so Impala heading full steam towards me at a stampede on the road, quite unusual as one would normally expect to see such a thing going across you as opposed to head on and i was wondering what was chasing them or had unnerved them. Having seen them before on many occasions when a cat is after them i somehow did not think it was that…although they were stampeding there did not seem to be the usual panic on their faces and in their movements…they were just running.
As i approached them…or should i say as they approached me they kind of melted into the bush on my left side and slowed down to a stop. For the next 200 metres or so i crawled along scanning both sides of me in case one of them had been brought down but i neither saw or heard anything.
However, a further couple of hundred metres down the road i did come across a bull ellie that was clearly very pissed off about something and i wondered whether it was he who had put the frighteners on the buck. He was going a bit berserk stamping the ground, kneeling, stabbing the ground with his tusk and generally making a commotion and i got some great shots of him twirling his trunk around and flapping his ears.
I was thinking that perhaps he was busy killing something as the ground where he was kneeling and stabbing was in a bit of a dip and i could not see properly. If i was not on the move myself i would of waited until he left and gone over to investigate. I checked through the binoculars and could not see any bloody mess at all and will examine the pictures thoroughly when i get home.
Mind you, i might just as well have gone over to look because he did actually move off after a few minutes and went off down the road in the same direction as i was travelling. He was just being a pain, i am quite sure he was blocking the road by walking down the centre and there was no way i was going to try and rush past him. So, after about 100 metres or more of trailing him i stopped and poured a coffee and just carried on tailing him for the best part of another kilometre before he got bored with the game and headed off into the bush.
When i started heading west the bush became a lot thicker as the bushwillow woodlands and thorn thickets take over. There are lots of small streams in these areas as there is a lot of granite and i started seeing several large to very large snake tracks crossing over the dirt track and sand in front of me. There was one in particular where i reckon at least 4 inches of snake was touching the ground as it moved…all guess work, but i figure that must make it in the region of 10 inches in circumference!! Even if it was a python that is NOT particularly small, and if it was a cobra or mamba it is massive.
Passing Muhlambamadvube water hole i reached the main road through the park and turned south to head down to Malelane and intending to stop at traders rest for some food of some sort.
Almost immediately i came across a couple of parked cars who pointed out a pride of lions all sleeping under the same bush just 3 metres off the road. I counted eight but there may of been more. They all looked so ‘cute’ sleeping there with some using each other as pillows. I took a couple of pics of a young male lion who had his eyes open and appeared to be watching me before continuing on. I was getting on for 1pm by now and quite hot so i could not see them moving for at least another three hours or so.
I did pull into Traders but breakfast was finished and i am not into burgers so grabbed a red bull and a couple of cabonassi sticks and decided i would get a decent lunch at Berg n dal.
I arrived at Malelane camp just before 2 pm but was really not impressed. There is nothing wrong with the camp itself but it is right on the southern fence of the park and i could see cultivated sugar cane fields on the other side and it just felt too close to civilisation. It was certainly not the ‘bush camp’ i had expected. I must of driven by it 100 times over the past 28 years but have never gone to look before. Oh well…now i know.
I knew there would be plenty of space at Berg n Dal so i headed straight up into them thar hills!!
Suddenly i started to feel that my safari was over, or rather coming to an end. Perhaps it was seeing those sugar cane fields and a few buildings in the land that lies between the park and Swaziland.
First thing on arriving was to check in and then immediately order myself a nice lunch in the restaurant overlooking the dam, i was famished and also starting to feel very tired.
During the course of lunch i checked my phone and as if on cue the messages started. 2010 was here and it was time for me to start thinking about it. I had originally hoped to stay on until the end of the month but it was clear now that it was nearly time to go. Joburg was calling.
With that in mind i went back to reception and cut my booking short but upgraded to a luxury chalet for the next three nights. What a pleasure, bloody expensive if you are on your own but hey!!…it was worth it just for the bed alone.
So, only two more full days. I did go out that afternoon for a short drive through the hills and valleys of the surrounding area and parked off on the Matjulu river at the point where a man made watering hole lies and just enjoyed my surroundings with a couple of beers as the sun started sinking.
That evening i made a nice chicken wing potjie that would last me over the three nights and relaxed in the luxury of my chalet. I think that in future when i end my trips like this i must arrange for a girlfriend to fly up and join me for a couple of nights.
The following morning i was out early and headed up to the mbiyamati weir and the track running alongside the river. By sunrise i was parked in the Mlambane river bed where i got some nice shots of the sun coming over the horizon. The sun was pale pink and i just knew it was going to be a scorcher, by 6am i had the shirt off already.
I moved on and stopped by the weir for a while for breakfast and coffee before pushing on alongside the Mbiyamati river. There were plenty of things to see apart from the natural beauty of the area but it turned out to be a real Rhino day, i just kept seeing them all day and i reckon i must of seen 27 in total, singly, twos, threes and fours. By the afternoon it was so hot that on one occasion i came across one bull rhino that was basking in a big puddle right next to the track. Normally they would move off if i approached or parked nearby but this guy was so hot and tired that he just lay there less than 3 metres from me.
Having gone back to camp at about 10.00am i took a good long walk around the perimeter fence and around the dam. They actually call it the rhino trail, and apparently before the camp was built it was in fact a path carved out by rhino. They say it is 3 klicks, it felt shorter but with the heat i was sweating heavily by the time i had finished and went for a nap to recover before showering and heading out into the hills again where i continued to see plenty of birdlife and more rhino. I swear, i don’t think i have ever seen even half as many rhino before in one day.
My last full day and i wanted to make the most of it so i was first at the gate and zoomed down to the crocodile river to get some more sunrise shots, but in fact it had clouded over and was actually a very quiet morning, the only decent sighting i had was an eagle owl standing in the road in my headlights before it flew off.
I could see bad weather rolling in over the mountains of Swaziland to the south and Mozambique to the east and wondered if that was the reason the river tracks seemed so quiet.
I Parked up down on the riverbed of the croc river under a giant fig tree where i had coffee and my usual ‘on the move’ breakfast. There was nothing moving at all and i started thinking there was going to be more floods this year over the next few weeks or so.
Turning north onto the Mlambane track i came around a corner to see four wild dogs walking through the grass. Excellent!!…i had not seem yet on this trip and was delighted. These days i see more leopard than i do wild dog, although i think the situation with them being on the endangered species list is not as bad as it was a few years ago.
They were four males and as i parked they also seemed to decide to park off for a while and rest up just in front of me. It was clear they had had some sort of grief earlier that morning or the night before as two of them had bloody wounds around their necks and all four of them seemed very weary. I also found it strange that they were not with the entire pack, perhaps they had gotten separated during a chase or perhaps there were many young which the rest of the pack were looking after…
One of these days i am going to go on a safari where i pick a pride of lions or a pack of dogs, maybe even a troop of baboons and just follow them around the bush to learn more about their ways and daily habits.
I ended up spending well over an hour with the dogs before they were roused and started moving off down the hill. As usual i followed on with my video camera until we came to a small dry river crossing where they disappeared off into the thicker vegetation of the riverine.
Back to camp at 10.30 i napped for an hour before having a cold shower and then breakfast/lunch down by the dam.
Red bull again to keep going and i was out again at 2pm. I followed exactly the same route as the morning and was pleased to see more animals around than earlier.
Sitting by a large group of impala and zebra another car pulled up and told me about a male leopard in a Marula tree just 10 klicks down the road. Sometimes other traffic can be quite useful!!.
I followed the guys directions and arrived at the spot which was easy to find once i was there as another few cars were already parked up. Fortunately for me there was perfect spot to pull into and i spent the last couple of hours with the leopard.
He was a beauty and after a half hour or so he started to move around quite a lot, grooming himself and generally getting ready for the night.
At one point a couple of louries flew into the top of the leopards tree and immediately the leopard started stalking the two birds who seemed completely unaware of the cat.
Watching his facial expressions through the lens was fantastic as he started slithering up the tree trunk. Never, ever taking his eyes off the two birds. This went on for a good few minutes as the cat came closer and closer, but eventually the louries who were in the very tree top became alert to the danger and flew off. All the same, it was easy to see why the leopard is such a reknowned hunter.
I took a stack of pictures and by 5.45 there were several other cars around including a few game viewing vehicles . I was probably in the best spot so i decided to do the nice thing and move on for a slow drive through the hills back up to camp, so someone else could get a better view.
It felt fitting to end my trip with the leopard and a final drive into the setting sun and i decided then that the following morning i would not go on a game drive but would rather call it a day now and head straight home in the morning.
As i had left the leopard there was a gorgeous woman in the game viewing vehicle from the ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ private camp. She gave me a huge smile as i left and my only regret is that i did not stop to say hi and make contact.
On the other hand it also reminded me of another very good reason to get on home to Jozi….chuckling to myself as i look forward to another type of ‘bird spotting”….