Cat House

Nancy Vandermey, Author
South Africa Trip October/November 2013

For my 6th trip to South Africa/Botswana (my husband's 3rd), a first visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was at the top of the list. I briefly considered hiring someone to take us there and drive us around, but all the self-drive trip reports on the sanparks.org forums convinced me that was the way to go. Of course some time in Kruger was also planned, I had always wanted to do one of the 3 day wilderness trails there. Once again we would go in November, as we liked seeing things green up after the first rains. Plus, through our volunteer work with EFBC's Feline Conservation Center we knew of the black footed cat (BFC) research going on in the Karoo and wanted to visit them while the researchers were there, in early November. We planned to donate a trail camera; EFBC had donated a radio collar the previous year.

Earlier trips included a month volunteering for Cheetah Conservation Botswana in Jwana Game Park in 2003, and the Imfolozi wilderness trail in 2007 with a few days in Kruger and lots of self-driving. My husband said afterwards he could spend a month in Kruger, and I remembered that comment!

Knowing the wilderness camps booked up early, I started planning over a year in advance, and once again Jeremy Williamson of Far & Wild Safaris in Durban helped out by making the bookings for us. We weren't sure of the exact place to meet the BFC group until a month out, so I left that open and made some late reservations a week in advance.

Final itinerary was:

  • 24 October fly LAX-JNB
  • 25 October overnight at Aviator Hotel, JNB
  • 26 October fly to Upington, overnight Twee Rivieren
  • 27 October Twee Rivieren (couldn't get Urikaruus)
  • 28 October Urikaruus
  • 29 October Kalahari Tented Camp
  • 30 October Kalahari Tented Camp
  • 31 October Nossob chalet
  • 1 November Grootkolk (could only get 1 night)
  • 2 November Mata Mata riverfront chalet
  • 3 November Mata Mata riverfront chalet
  • 4 November Twee Rivieren
  • 5-6 November De Herberg Lodge, De Aar
  • 7 November Seldre Guesthouse, Nigel
  • 8 November Berg En Dal
  • 9 November Skukuza
  • 10-12 November "Metsi-Metsi" walking trail (really Nwatimwambu Fly Camp)
  • 13-14 November Lower Sabie safari tent
  • 15-16 November Satara
  • 17-19 November Sweni Trail
  • 20-22 November Olifants
  • 23-24 November Tamboti
  • 25 November Biyamiti (switch late from Tamboti, because it was available, and concerned about long drive)
  • 26-28 November Notten's Bush Camp (Sabi Sands)
  • 29-30 November JNB-LAX

    I read many many trip reports in the year of waiting, getting great advice like shopping online at the Pick N Pay website and emailing a list to the Upington manager to have ready for us. We bought 2 small coolers and 2 plastic storage bins to hold our food, which worked out well.

    The flights were long as usual, the night at the Aviator helped with the time change. We had our first Savannah ciders while trying to understand cricket. The breakfast buffet was great, and then back to the airport for the 60-seat Airlink flight to Upington. Rose and Sokkies the cat at the Budget counter greeted us. We reserved a Nissan X-trail, to have higher clearance and space for all our stuff. We didn't realize until we were on our way that it didn't have cruise control, which was a pain - we put 8000 km on that vehicle! Driving a stick shift from the wrong side of the car is always fun, as neither of us regularly drive a manual car, but with a few reminders to stay left we had no issues. We actually have only electric cars at home, a Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, so buying petrol again was unusual.

    The JNB-UTN flight landed at 12:30, so I'm glad we had most of our groceries picked out in advance. However we should have checked it more closely as we had two bottles of conditioner and no shampoo! The drive to KTP was on pretty good roads, with raptors and weaver nests to see (besides the goats, donkeys, horses, and an emu). Closer to the park we saw a few springbok and an ostrich.

    KTP is essentially two dry riverbeds that meet at Twee Rivieren (Two Rivers), the Auob and Nossob valleys. The Nossob is also the border between South Africa and Botswana. There are campsites and some new lodges on the Botswana side, but we only stayed in the chalets on the South African side. All the roads are sand or gravel. There are three main camps that have shops and fuel (Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata, and Nossob).

    We didn't arrive at Twee Rivieren until 5 pm, so we signed up for the sunset drive for our first night. We also met Rob, a Dutch man camping with his wife & two sons - we would run into them a lot during our stay. We quickly unpacked into chalet #26.

    Robert was our ranger, and we soon saw some of the common KTP residents - springbok, wildebeest, and oryx (gemsbok).

    We also learned about the camelthorn pod tree, vomit bush, and saw a tawny eagle nest. There is a giant eagle owl nest close to the road:

    Given our volunteer work, we are unashamedly cat-crazy, so we were ecstatic when we saw a family of 4 cheetah by spotlight up on a dune (just south of Leeuwedril). We came to KTP hoping for good cheetah sightings in particular, and this was a good start.

    The next morning we were waiting at 6 for the gates to open, having reduced the tire pressures as recommended. We saw black-backed jackal near Samevloeling:

    Ostrich up on the dunes:

    Lion tracks in the road

    and our first two (of 10 total for KTP) bat-eared foxes

    The roads were in decent condition; we would be very lucky and have the graders active our entire trip, often driving newly graded or dragged roads.

    The springbok were posing in the morning light

    The Nossob looked very dry

    While I like raptors, I am not good at identifying them; tawny eagle or buzzard?

    Sociable weaver nests, which often break the trees

    And more beautiful oryx

    My first ever wild meerkats, with ground squirrels

    The red sand dune where the cheetahs had been last night

    And just north of Leeuwedril, a young male cheetah!

    We took an unmarked road that we later learned was for Rooiputs residents only - it was not signed or blocked at the place we entered it. It paralleled the main road. Here we saw a jackal, red hartebeest

    More ground squirrels

    More oryx

    We came out at Kij Kij/the lower dune road. A lazy male lion lay in the shade, ignoring the jackals

    His companion was nearby, on a wildebeest carcass Speaking of wildebeest, the herd was still in the area We continued to Melkvei, seeing kori bustard Springbok fawns Oryx on the dune Heading back south, the lions hadn't moved, so we then drove the lower dune road, with secretary bird at a waterhole The dune road was quiet compared to the valley roads - no springbok. A few more oryx, and pale chanting goshawk everywhere Also some purple flowers We came out on the Auob side and headed to Auchterlonie, with a nice oryx herd at the base of the road We then headed up the steep rocky road to the museum/picnic area. When a blue truck kept stopping my husband was annoyed as he doesn't drive a stick shift often and kept slipping back, we thought they were just watching the oryx. Finally they went to the top, we pulled up next to them and they explained they could see a leopard! They went back down, we followed head first, and the leopard crossed the road behind them: A third car came down the hill behind us. The leopard continued across the hillside towards the museum (this is the Auchterlonie female, confirmed by the leopard guide) Once she disappeared, the other two cars went up the hill while we went down first to turn around rather than try to back up the hill. So by the time we got to the top, and we saw the people from the blue truck out of their car near the museum, we thought the leopard had left the area. So we walked over, the people in the white truck mentioned a kill in the area, it was an adult male springbok that the cat had stashed in the blacksmith tool pit Now the smart thing to do would have been to wait in our cars for the cat to return to the kill, but instead I followed my husband down the path next to the tool pit. We then saw the cat moving further down the hill; we stopped right away, took a few pictures, then returned to our car. The blue car people mentioned some cheetahs further south in the Auob valley, so we headed that way. Just down from Auchterlonie a white car was stopped, they pointed out that our leopard had gone into a cave at the top of the hill One kilometer south were two cheetah under a tree across the valley. Since they were flat and it was midday we moved on. A few km further south was a single female cheetah on a springbok fawn kill. We watched her for a while eating. The rest of the drive back to Twee Rivieren had more ostrich. I'm sure there was something else, but my notetaking isn't that great. We were in the chalet around 1 pm, we showered, shopped, and repacked. We headed back out at 15:15, with just general game before we reached the lions at Kij Kij. One male was 3m from the road, so we parked in the shade and hung out for an hour watching him get annoyed by flies, reposition, and ignore several springbok walking by The camelthorn trees were in bloom, and a black breasted snake eagle was flying overhead Dead eland carcasses from last year were still evident everywhere We left at 17:40 to have plenty of time to get back before the gates closed. Just south of the intersection we found a Cape fox den with 3 kits KTP Video has 15 short clips, including these foxes - but you'll get ahead of the story if you watch it now!

    In the morning we were out at 6 am. Heading up the Nossob, we found one gorgeous male lion at Leeuwedril The adult cape fox was out, but no kits. The male lions were gone, but a dozen black backed jackal were around, with several at the time on the wildebeest carcass A swallow tailed bee eater's bright colors stood out And another kori bustard strutted by Heading back south, the lion was still at Leeuwedril, and other cars told us the 4 cheetah family was just to the south, so off we went. They were to the east of the road, Mom looked ready to hunt, the kids were just following her and playing as they went. KTP Video has 15 short clips, including these cheetah

    Mom: They eventually came to rest far off the road. An immature pale chanting goshawk watched nearby A good number of oryx were at Samevloeling, and then an ostrich photobombed them With that, we ran back to Twee Rivieren to make the 9 am checkout. We revisited on the cheetah on our way out, but they were nearly invisible. Then we headed back to the Auob road, which was quite dry towards the south Except for two cheetah far off the road in the shade, it was quiet all the way to Auchterlonie, where we stopped for lunch. The springbok kill was gone, except for some fur & entrails (and smell). You can see the plastic storage container and a cooler here, the containers were great for ease of packing and not worrying about mice getting in the food Aucherlonie stone kraal At the base of the road was a male lion sleeping in the shade, with a springbok carcass at the base of the tree. We heard later that someone saw 3 lions that morning steal the kill from the tree, so probably the same carcass that was in the tool pit the day before. It was too early to check in at Urikaruus so we sat at Kamqua picnic site for a while. We did find one weaver nest with a snake hanging out of it. We wondered if the snake was alive, so every time we drove by we checked for it, and the loops did move around.

    Part 1 - Planning and Kgalgadi: Twee Rivieren
    Part 2 - Kgalgadi: Urikaruus and Kalahari Tented Camp
    Part 3 - Kgalgadi: Nossob, Grootkolk, Mata Mata
    Part 4 - Kgalgadi: Twee Rivieren and Black Footed Cat group
    Part 5 - Kruger: Berg En Dal and Skukuza
    Part 6 - Kruger: Nwatimwambu Walking Trail and Lower Sabie
    Part 7 - Kruger: Satara
    Part 8 - Kruger: Sweni Wilderness Trail
    Part 9 - Kruger: Olifants
    Part 10 - Kruger: Tamboti and Biyamiti
    Part 11 - Notten's Bush Camp