Cat House

Nancy Vandermey, Author
South Africa Trip September-November 2017

Good thing we got an early start because the drive to Punda Maria was 7 hours long, lots of 60 km zones. With a shopping trip in Polokwane we reached the gate at 2:30 pm, with impala of course the first game seen, followed by elephant. We booked the safari tents which are very nice but it was super hot so air conditioning would have been nice. Tip, getting your bedsheet wet works well with a ceiling fan. An evening drive on the Mahonie Loop found kudu, impala, buffalo, zebra, and water monitor lizard. At sunrise we did the Mahonie loop again, adding nyala and warthogs to the sightings. Klopperfontein drift was pretty with birds, and Nyala Drive had..nyala! And great baobab trees. Pafuri picnic spot also had nyala, more of them with kudu and elephants on the way to Crooks Corner (border of South Africa/Mozambique/Zimbabwe), two elephants had trunk injuries from snares. Poaching is bad near the Mozambique border. We then sat with a leopard in a tree for 3 hours just east of the picnic spot, it hit 46 degrees celcius (115 farenheit), hot! Elephants walked by, but when she jumped down at 3:20 she went out of sight. Our only python made an appearance soon after. We got back in time to do part of the Mahonie Loop and saw the tail of a leopard walking in the bush. Not much sleep that night due to heat, we redid a similar route as yesterday as this was our first time in the far north and the last time this trip. Then it was south to Shingwedzi, we found a dead impala ram in the Dzingiga loop but no sign of the killer. Lots of elephants, including drinking from the tank at Boyela. The Mpholongo loop was pretty, with nyala again plus kudu, elephant, impala, zebra. After checking into Shingwedzi we went out to Red Rocks, heading back with a few minutes to spare so we went up S52 and found 4 wild dog! It rained that night, we tried to go to Kanniedood but there was a tree down over the back road. We walked on the bridge, the 4th one in Kruger we've been on. We did Red Rocks again and the viewpoint, then the Mpholongo Loop again on the way back north, with no sign of the impala carcass, before checking in for the Nyalaland Wilderness Trail at Punda Maria. 5 Swiss joined us, 3 sisters raised in South Africa and the husbands of 2 of them, plus guides Christopher and Alfred and cook Herbert. We were at a temporary camp only 40 minutes from Punda Maria, at a beautiful location on the Luvuvhu River with safari tents. There were leopard tracks nearby, and we heard one the first night, but no cat sightings. We walked up a valley from camp and back, with impala and buffalo besides colorful butterflies and birds. It got very hot, we had birds to watch during siesta time at least. I can't nap in the heat, at least there's a bit of breeze in the lapa. The evening walk saw buffalo and a nice sundowner spot. We had set up our camera trap hoping to get the leopard but an elephant knocked it over. The morning was cloudy, much nicer for walking. Painted snipe were seen but eluded a picture. Some of us went for a 'swim' in the river while Christopher threw rocks to ward off crocodile (the hippo were much further upstream). He took a water sample, hopefully it came back NOT poisonous! That night we looked for pennant winged nightjar but no luck. We did see genet, springhare, scrubhare, and some antelope by spotlight. Saturday October 21 was still overcast and humid, after breakfast we headed back to Punda Maria and drove south via Red Rocks to Mopani, with our first Kruger tssesebe. On the way to Shimuwini there was a cute hyena family, one cub tried to chew on our car. The Letaba river was pretty and full of game, with impala, hippo, waterbuck, buffalo, elephant, and lots of birds. At unit 13 we watched waterbuck sparring. Sunday was a drive to Letaba via Tsende and Engelhart overlook, lots of game but no cats. The North Klein waterhole had 5 species at once, wildebeest-buffalo-zebra-tssebe-warthog. Later, elephant too. South to the Letaba River bridge that night, and in the morning a big loop south and east on dirt roads to the Letaba River Road, finally coming north there was a single lioness at the waterhole. We liked the grassy valley along the Nshawu. We had dinner at the Mopani bar, before heading to the Shipandani Hide for the night. We were surprised they didn't give us the linens and things, promising they would be delivered by 6. Well it was close to 7 before they arrived, good thing we weren't planning to braii! It was hot and humid, but at least not too buggy. We had elephant and kudu and klipsringer on the rocks near the hide, and more elephant across the river. Plus birds of course, and the fireflies were neat after dark. In the morning we returned to Mooiplaas waterhole (jackal) and the grass valley, with baby tssesbe, and about 10 hyena spread around 2 waterholes, and ground hornbills. We spent the night at Olifants #2, great view, with lots of elephants when we arrived. The causeway by Balule was open, first time in my visits it was! We watched a giant kingfisher catch a large fish there. From the viewpoint there were 9-10 lions very far away. In the morning we went south, lots of game and then 9 or so lions south of Ngotso waterhole. On the dirt roads to Letaba we found a buffalo carcass with lots of vultures, 4 species: cape, whiteback, white head, lappet faced. Checking in for the Olifants Wilderness Trail we found we were the only 2! With guides Aaron and Absalom, and Herbert was our cook again. It's a long drive to the camp, and the last bit is over horrible roads in very dry areas with little game. The camp at least has a view of the river. And the first scorpion we saw this trip. The A frame huts get no breeze, the trees are overgrown, so I didn't sleep at all in the heat. We drove to the nearest river with water and saw game there, and set up our camera trap. It was a nice walk, first tracking lions (didn't see them), ending with a large group of giraffe and an elephant. Colorful birds during siesta at the waterhole: blue waxbill, green winger pytillia (melba finch), spectacled weaver, marico sunbird. Plus a shy Sharpe's grysbok. For the evening drive we saw the location of an old rest camp (Gorge Camp) and had sundowners with hippos. Overnight there was thunder and rain, yay cooler weather! We had a nice long hike the next morning, along the river and then over the hills. It was getting chilly that evening so after a drive we returned to camp for a bonfire. Leaving the next morning we came across a giraffe carcass with 5 lions, 2 young male 2 female and a tiny 8 week old cub. Plus 3 hyena in the area. Aaron got excited by an Egyptian vulture at the causeway, the first in Kruger since 1979 I think. We headed south via the lions again, then off to Tamboti tent #40, recently remodeled but the bed was horrible. We had hyena and bushbuck just outside the fence, genet under the tent, and we heard lions that night. At 5:40 am we headed east and saw two male lion, they crossed the road right next to us. There were baby hippo in the Nsemani Dam, we heard the lions were still on the giraffe carcass and we saw 8 more at the S90/S91. Heading west there were hyena on an ancient carcass, then we left the park for 2 days at Gomo Gomo in the Klaserie (greater Kruger park). Bathtub, laundry, someone else cooking and driving, ahhh. Too bad the Sabi Sands places have gotten too pricey. Our first drive had elephant, hyena, general game, and finally a leopard at a kill. The morning drive had rhino, pearl spotted owlet. PM was rhino & elephant, then a mobile leopard and then the other female leopard at the carcass. Final drive had two very old lioness, and an ostrich pair with 13 babies. We shopped in Hoedspruit before heading back in the park at Orpen. There was a leopard in a tree we sat with before checking in at Satara. The S100 was its usual plethora of game including a poor sighting of 4-5 lions and the first impala baby of the season, very early on October 31! The next morning gate opening moved to 4:30 am, which is ridiculously early (and still dark out). It was also quiet, until 20+ giraffe and waterbuck/crocodile/yellow stork at Sweni hide and some big elephant and 100+ buffalo at Sweni bridge. We returned to the leopard in the tree, this time seeing his zebra foal kill. We checked in for the Sweni wilderness trail and found we had the same team as 4 years ago, Job, Obert, and James. Job and Obert remembered us. They had a brand new Land Cruiser, which wasn't quite so clean and shiny after our trail. The other 6 people on the trail with us were friends from Joburg, younger men. We saw buffalo, elephant, and rhino on the way to camp, and 3 lions greeted us on the plains in front of camp when we arrived. Job drove us all over to see the lions, and set up our camera trap in front of the mud hole. There's a muddy waterhole on the plains, and a large pool of water just in front of camp in the riverbed. In the morning it was cloudy, good hiking weather. We walked along the river, with general game, elephant, jackal den with pups, and at the end 5 lion (1 male 4 female), which we drove back to to admire some more. Back at camp there were lots of zebra on the plains plus elephant, warthog, baboon, wildebeest, and impala to watch. We drove that evening and saw the same 5 lions, plus 4 more on an impala kill, and after a short walk and sundowners at Marheya dam one more female lion at night. We skipped the morning hike and enjoyed a spectacle of hundreds of animals coming to the waterhole and pool - besides lots of zebra, wildebeest, and impala, there were 2 white rhino, a herd of 150 or so buffalo, and two herds of elephant (over 50 total). Plus mongoose, colorful birds, and a monitor lizard. When the hikers returned we saw two female lion in the bushes as well. Sundowners were up on a koppie that night, with a male lion on return to camp and 4 more lioness at the waterhole during dinner. We left early on 4 November, after retrieving our mud-encrusted camera trap (thanks elephants!), with a shy leopard jumping out of a tree as we approached.

Page 1 - Cape Town, Kgalagadi part 1
Page 2 - Kgalagadi part 2
Page 3 - Kruger part 1
Page 4 - Kruger part 2