From Kruger Back to Johannesburg, South Africa

Morning Safari

The wind continues to howl through the night, but by day break it is calm and clear. We are ready for our last chance for lions. A quick cup of coffee and we are back in the Land Rover with Sam. 

He searches the area where we saw the buffalo the evening before but no sign of predators. We do run across three white rhinos that quickly turn and run. In contrast the giraffe are all too happy to pose for more pictures.

High above raptors circle and we go to investigate. Still no sign of cats. A lone impala snorts, calling out to other animals that danger lurks in the area. Sam searches and searches along the dirt roads before driving overland through the thick savannah brush, running over small trees in the process.  Nothing. We find the impala still alert but he has stopped calling.

The wind picks up again bringing in more clouds and chilling the air. We bundle up and stop for hot tea and coffee.

At a small open area Sam jumps out of the Land Rover and announces that it is time to talk about rhinos and dung. He shows us the patch where the dominant male has marked his territory by kicking as he defecates to spread his dung. The females and weaker males show submission by defecating on the side, leaving the marked patch intact. He tells us that the dung is relatively fresh. Someone asks, “How do you know.” Reluctantly picking up a hunk of fresh dung, he shows us that it is still moist but not warm. The rhinos were here last night.

A small herd of kudu graze on the trees near the river bank. The little birds we love jump and peck at their fur.

Soon after, a radio call comes in saying that the buffalo have returned. We head back for one last look at the large herd before returning to camp. As they amble past they kick up a cloud of dust that floats around them like some mysterious fog. They do the ubiquitous stop and stare before continuing on. Our little birds hang with the herd picking off insects. Truly a magnificent sight.

Back at camp we quickly eat our last breakfast – scrambled eggs, beans with mixed vegies, baby corn with sautéed onions and banana muffins.

Kruger back to Johannesburg

We reverse the directions to Shindzela in to get back out to the main Timbavati gate. Making our way one last time through the bush we are still watching and hoping for a lion, but none are too be found.

We spy a dozen or so warthogs on both sides of the road that are not so camera shy. This is the best view that we have had of these animals as they generally scatter as soon as they are spotted.

Back on paved road again, the speed limit is still restricted to 50kph. Giraffe graze on the trees inside a high fence. Last hope for lions. None. It has been an amazing trip but the big cats will have to wait until our next visit.

Mike has given us a better route through the northern end of the Drakensberg Mountains to get back to the Jo’burg airport. At Hoedspuit take R527 east which eventually turns into R36 winding through the pass and turning south. Just south of Lydenburg take R540 reconnecting with the N4 in Belfast. With very little traffic the drive back was just under 6 hours. About one hour to get from camp to Hoedspruit, 3 hours from Hoedspruit to Belfast and 2 hours on the N4/N12 back to the airport.

The morning is mostly clear and cool with just a little moisture in the air creating a light fog. The majestic outline of the Drakensburg cliffs tower over spring fields of grains, cabbage and citrus.

This Sunday morning is quiet with few locals on the road, some selling oranges, tomatoes, mangos and papaya from make-shift wooden stalls. The bags of colorful fruit pop against the dull dusty brown of the stalls. Individuals are dressed as vividly as the bags of fruit they sell. The same stunning contrast of bright color against their dark skin. As we climb through the pass, the details of the cliffs become clear – the angled gradation of the cliff face with large stones covered in lime-green lichen mirroring again brilliant color against brown. 

Once through the pass a large flat valley of spring grain appears. The slopes are still brown, having yet to emerge from winter. The vegetation is scrubbier here reminiscent of the Arizona dessert. As the mountains diminish, the shrubbier vegetation disappears leaving rolling greens hills of short grass, looking more like springtime in Northern California. The light fog has turned into drizzle as we approach Dullsdrum, the most inviting town we’ve seen along this route, with tourist type shops, restaurants and signs for fly fishing.

Back on the N4 our speed picks up and it’s an easy drive back to Jo’burg. Unfortunately there are no signs to the airport from this direction and we take another unplanned tour of the city’s freeway system. Luckily we happen on the M24 – albeit in the wrong direction – make an easy u-turn and head directly to the airport.

Saying goodbye to Dan and Nancy comes too soon. The week with them in Kruger has passed much too quickly. We console ourselves with the thoughts of great memories and future adventures together.

We turn in the bigger compact SUV for a smaller sedan better suited for just the two of us and spend the night at the airport Garden Court Hotel. Nothing special, but a safe business type hotel with secure parking, in-room WiFi and an Irish pub attached. The room feels spacious, great for sorting through our belongings in preparation for the next phase of our trip, Drakensburg National Park.

September 24, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.

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