Last Morning at Wolhuter Camp
The last morning at Wolhuter camp we are allowed to sleep in until 6AM, but with the bird chatter starting before day break it’s impossible to make it past 5:30. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, cornbread and meats we pack our bags into the trailer and head back to the “real” world – Berg-en-Dal rest camp. Along the drive we see just about every animal we had seen in the last three days. Buffalo, rhino, elephant, giraffe and zebra have all come out to say goodbye.
Drive from Berg-en-Dal to Shindzela
Back at Berg-en-Dal we say our final goodbyes and start the long drive to the Timbavati game reserve, located about halfway up Kruger National park and sharing a fenceless border with the park. The directions emailed to me by the folks at Shindzela warn us not to try to drive through Kruger, stating that the driving is much too slow and we will arrive late, missing the first afternoon safari.
Rangani, however, assures us that we would have plenty of time to drive through the park and still make the 2PM arrival time. In the end we compromise and drive part of the way through the park. We are rewarded with a rare sighting of the endangered ground hornbill, a huge ugly turkey-looking bird whose numbers counts less than 200 nesting pairs in all of Kruger.
It takes us two hours to reach the Paul Kruger gate from Berg-en-Dal, not exceeding the 50kph speed limit. Unfortunately, once outside the park the driving is not much faster. Sure the speed limit can be up to 100kph or even 120kph in places, but frequent road construction drops the limit to 60kph or stops it all together while we wait for the oncoming traffic to pass on long stretches that have been reduced to a single lane. We pass through small towns and farm land – corn, cabbage and various leafy greens.
Lots of locals (only Blacks) on the road side, some waiting for taxis – public minivans seen throughout South Africa that pick up multiple passengers – others walking to their destination. Women are often brightly dressed with their bundles perched on their heads. Scrawny cows also wander about – another reason you can’t drive too quickly. Finally, three hours since leaving the Paul Kruger gate we reach the Timbavati gate. Then it’s a long series of directions – following signs, noting mileage and counting river beds. Nearly an hour later we finally reach Shindzela.
Shindzela is a small camp of seven two-person tents on the edge of a dry river bed. Tents are furnished with two twin beds (pushed together for couples). The en-suite bathroom with sink, toilet and shower has an open air feel as the walls are only about 5 ½ feet high, leaving an open space between the top of the wall and the pitched roof. You can stare into the bush and watch for animals as you shower.
While the communal areas of the camp are fenced off the guest tents are not, allowing animals to wander freely. After dark you are not permitted to wander outside your tent alone. One of the armed guides, therefore, must accompany you from your tent to the dining room where meals are served family style at large table on a covered terrace.
A light lunch of yogurt cucumber soup – something like Greek tzatziki – cold cuts and a green salad is served before our first afternoon safari. Our fellow guests include a group of four from Australia, an Italian couple, an American couple, and pair from Brazil/France. Ages range from mid-twenties to mid-sixties.
Shindzela Afternoon Drive
Shindzela’s afternoon drive turns into a night drive after sundowners at the dam. In the afternoon we spot two large owls hanging out in a tree, a small herd of zebras, and three hippos in a small pond. Like other hippos we’ve encountered they stare at us as if urging us to leave. This time the male turns his backside towards us threatens us by spraying his feces to mark his territory. We take the hint and move on.
At the dam Don spies a hyena. The big lenses gather to get a shot of it as wanders past in the fading light. He seems unconcerned with us and continues on his way. Mike, our guide, pays careful attention, making sure the hyena doesn’t change his plans and head for us.
Near dark we load back into the Land Rovers for the night portion of the drive. It’s a soft warm night, perfect for driving, with clear skies and the Milky Way becoming visible shortly after dark. Mike slowly drives down the dirt roads with a large spot light scanning the bush searching for glowing eyes.
We stop to watch a couple of the night antelope – a small dicker and a steenbok. Later we spot a genet cat caught in a tree. A long sleek animal with a beautiful spotted coat and striped tail. We watch him for quite a while, trying to take photos in the narrow beam of the spot light. The genet cat moves quickly from branch to branch trying to escape the light and our presence, finally reaching his goal in the top branches of the tree.
Shortly after, we discover another small cat. At first glance it looks like a house kitty. Is this poor cat lost? Based on its black feet and tip of the tail Mike determines that this is an endangered breed of wild African cat. Over the years as the land around the park has become more populated this wild species has interbred with neighboring house kitties creating a breed of feral cats that wander the edges of the park.
Near camp we spy a jackal, similar in appearance to a small fox. He quickly scampers back in the bush. Not bad for a first night.
But wait! Dave the owner calls in a leopard sighting and we all pile back in the Land Rovers, excited with anticipation. The two vehicles crisscross nearly every dirt road of Shindzela land searching for the elusive cat. As the night wears on our hope diminishes. We are not to see the leopard tonight.
Back at Camp
Back at camp, it’s nearly 9PM and we are all starving. Dinner is a choice of beef or lamb chops, mashed potatoes, garlic bread and peas. We open bottles of wine and swap animal sighting stories – earlier that morning one group witnessed a leopard chasing down two impala. Most people have some good pics but are somewhat disappointed with the quantity of animals this time of year explaining that the land is too dry and many species have moved to better feeding grounds.
After dinner we continue the conversation at the fire pit, talking with Dave, the owner, about the park and the other camps where he has worked in various countries in Africa – Mozambique is a mess, Botswana is great but terribly expensive, and Namibia is his favorite.
September 21, 2011
For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.