The alarm woke us at 5 a.m. to get up for our early morning game drive. It was barely light as we made our way to the lodge for a quick cup of coffee/tea/juice and biscuits before boarding our Land Rovers for day 2 of this great adventure – and our first full day in the bush! And our guide and tracker were ready and waiting for us – rifle included! It always hung on the dash of the Land Rover.
Our first sighting was right on the side of the road, and while it was not large or what we expected, it was rather cute – a turtle! Our guide told us what kind it was but I can’t remember and will have to look it up when I get home.
We saw a herd of female impala, who stopped and then took flight as we drove by. Our guide said they are nicknamed the McDonald impala because of the “M” look on their backside. This was a male – they are the ones with antlers.
We saw more elephants (this one was really close behind us!) and the trees that they ate. Our guide showed us how they tear off the outer bark and then eat the inside softer part. This tree shows the large area that has been de-barked. If the tree is eaten all the way around, it will die. The elephants leave the outside bark down on the ground around the tree after they are finished eating what they want.
We then came upon a group of male and female lions – our first female sighting. This male and female pair were just yards from our truck. [This is the same male lion we had seen yesterday – recognized the red gash under his left eye.] The guides radioed each other and our other trucks appeared for this sighting. We were all around these lions – none of whom seemed the least bit concerned we were there, especially this tired guy! Yes, that is a yawn only, not a warning roar! They were all just relaxing and not doing much of anything. We enjoyed just taking in the beauty of these magnificent creatures.
We had now seen three of the Big Five (the elephant, rhinoceros, and lion.) We were about to see our 4th – the African Buffalo. These are large and powerful and extremely dangerous when threatened. They are social and form herds, sometimes as many as several hundred. Older bulls are more often seen alone. They tend to live near water in grassy areas. We were told we were safe as long as we were in our trucks. Getting out would put us at great risk. No one budged!
As we traveled, we went on many different kinds of roads. Most were dirt, some paved, and some just tracks in the grass. Because of the rain, we went through a lot of wet areas and over bridges that were partially covered in water. Here are some examples.
It was harder to spot the game this morning, partly because the weather had turned. It had rained during the night and it was much cooler, so the animals were seeking more protection and moving more quickly, so it made it harder to find them. So, we headed back to the lodge for our huge breakfast.
They laid out a buffet with an assortment of breads and fruits and cheeses and cold cereal. I thought that was it until we were then given a menu for our hot meal. It is similar to the ship – eat, eat, and then eat again! They change the arrangement of the long tables for different meals. But we usually eat at the long table like this.
While we were eating, one group was late in returning. We soon learned the reason – they had spotted a female leopard with her cub. She was lying on a branch just about 400 yards from the entrance to our lodge. With that bit of news, the guides told us we would re-board our Land Rovers in twenty minutes in hopes of seeing this pair. [I never understood why we all didn’t just get up from breakfast and go immediately.] We made a quick dash back to the cabin and had only been there a few minutes when I spotted a large elephant out the bathroom window down by the river. We were trying to take pictures of him when Martha came running up saying everyone was leaving early. So, off we ran, but unfortunately, the leopards had moved on by the time we got there, so we missed seeing them. But our guides and trackers really tried hard, looking for tracks in the road. Leopards are one of the “big five” and are not easily seen as they are more elusive and extremely well camouflaged. There are only about 1,000 of them in all of Kruger (amazing that these were on the lodge’s grounds.) Cubs are even more difficult to spot since their mothers keep them well hidden from predators. So, our small group was lucky to have seen them.
The lodge offered a morning game walk down to the river to see the hippos. We were told that you had to be able to follow the guides’ directions, be able to climb a tree, and move quickly behind a bush or rock for protection. The ground was uneven so you had to be agile enough to climb over rocks, etc. That ruled out half our group – the ones who were too overweight to move quickly and the ones with canes. So, there were about 8 in our group. We took one of the Land Rovers down near the river and then walked the rest of the way to the water’s edge. We had to walk in single file behind our two guides (both armed with rifles), not talk or stop to take pictures while walking, and be ready to move at a moment’s notice. It was a beautiful setting with lots of big boulders in the river (although some turned out to be the backs of hippos!) Here are some of the pictures we took there – and sometimes all you could see were the eyes!
There was the dominant male hippo who came to the forefront upon our arrival and opened his mouth widely and made loud snorting sounds to try to scare us off. His job was to protect the female and baby hippos in the water as well as warn all other hippos nearby. When we continued to stand completely still, he moved on, but was always wary and on patrol. These hippos spend most of their day here in the river in social groups. At night they go their separate ways as they hunt for food – plants and grasses. As we were leaving and began causing more noise and movement, he was back with his snorting. You can also see his powerful jaw and huge teeth in this picture.
On our way back to the lodge, there were a lot of these Helmeted Guinea Fowl on the road. They seem to travel in groups and have no problem taking over the road until you are almost right on top of them – then they scatter. They are really quite beautiful and colorful with their little red helmet tops on top of their blue heads. We actually saw lots of birds, but I’m only including the ones I can identify (or remember their names.) I’ll have to Google the others when I get home.
Upon returning to the lodge, we were a bit off schedule because of the extra leopard hunt, so we didn’t have much time before lunch. It was Rob and Ted’s birthday and I had hoped to call them. However, I found out that the lodge did not have the promised Wi-Fi, so I used the one clunker computer in the lodge’s library to send off a quick e-mail before lunch.
Another big and delicious lunch – this is Doug with Bob and Martha. I had time to take a few pictures of the lodge before we headed off for an earlier game drive (3:30 p.m.) They decided to leave earlier because the weather was bad (cold and misty rain), and it would get darker sooner. So, here are a few pictures of our lodge.
We were grateful for the large and heavy-duty ponchos in the Land Rovers as we set off, and everyone got all wrapped up before heading off. Our goal was to find zebras. On the way we spotted this beautiful lone giraffe. As we went across a waterway, we also saw this Saddle-billed Stork. High up in the tree, and with the aid of a great telephoto lens, Doug was able to zoom in on this Dark Chanting Goshawk.
A huge thrill was seeing this family of elephants – the Dad, Mom, and baby. The male was extremely protective and kept trumpeting and going in front to try to get us to leave. And around a turn in the road, we unexpectedly came upon a group of Vervet monkeys. We were barely able to get a picture because they scurried back into the brush, except for a few who were still eating! And I happened to look out the back of the truck as we were going forward and caught this shot of the monkey in the tree with the impala back on the wet road.
After leaving the zebra, we spotted our first group of giraffes – eating the leaves from the higher trees. We also saw our first Kudu. There were more elephants and the back ends of some rhino. And there were lots and lots of impala. It’s amazing that you barely look after seeing so many . . “oh, just another impala!” I think the elephant is my favorite African animal, and so I never tired of taking pictures of them. Here is one with a “take out” meal! I also took a video of what I thought was one somewhat upset elephant, and then as I continued to video him, the female and baby appeared out from behind a bush (had no idea there was more than one!) which accounted for his behavior – and I have the whole action video of it!! I have to edit it a bit and then figure out how to forward it.
It was getting late, and we had driven a long way this afternoon. We were so wet and cold that we were ready to get back to our lodge for a warm shower before dinner. It seemed to take forever to warm up. We were greeted with a nice big fire when we arrived at the lodge for dinner. And I had my first S. African wine that everyone on the ship has said is so good – a Pinotage red wine. It helped warm me up as well. We had another great dinner (I didn’t even try to keep track of all that we ate – there was so much and such a variety) and met the chef who had prepared all our meals. By the time we got back to our cabin, I felt almost ill I was so tired. It took minutes to get ready for bed – and I didn’t care what insects were on the outside of our netting. I was asleep before Doug was able to turn out the lights!