October 13, 2006

South AfricaOnce again we woke up at 5:30 am, so we got up and had breakfast. We were leaving Satara today, heading up to Olifants Rest Camp for our last night in the park, so we packed up the car and off we went about 6:45 am. We drove west on the Satara (H7) Road towards Orpen, having decided to do the scenic route to Olifants rather than the direct one. When we arrived at the S40 we turned right on it and headed towards the Girivana waterhole. It had a reputation for being used by lions, but none were there when we were. Already this morning we had seen our usual complement of animals and birds, including numerous impalas, zebras, and giraffes, but nothing really spectacular.

Instead of continuing up the S40 we went down the S12 and back on to the H7, and then we turned north on the Timbavati (S39) Road. This road follows the Timbavati River, which was mostly dry. Along the roadside were mixed grasses and mopane. We went down several of the turn-offs but didn’t see much. As we were leaving one of them, a couple in a small truck flagged us down and told us that in 11.6 kilometres we would come to a place where two male lions had a buffalo carcass, and it would be on the driver’s side of the road as the road went uphill.

Well, after about three kilometres we saw vultures circling. This often indicates the presence of a dead animal, but we decided to ignore them and carry on. And after 11.5 kilometres, on an uphill, we came upon three other cars whose occupants were watching lions on the driver’s side of the road. By now they had finished eating for the time being and were lying down in the bush, so we had to ask one of the other people where they were. We could barely see their heads through the bushes.

A little further along the road we came to the Timbavati picnic spot, where we decided to stop and have a snack. We found a table to sit at and were promptly joined by several Cape Glossy Starlings and an inquisitive bushbuck. There were two of them at the site and they were just picnic stop pests.

Just up the road from the picnic spot was the Ratelpan bird hide. This one didn’t have the fenced-in approach path, just a plain chain-link gate that led directly inside. The view was of the Timbavati River, which had water in it at this place. There were no birds worth mentioning, but there were several hippos and a large elephant came down to the river to drink. Another couple told us about a turn-off about 500 metres up the road which would give us a view directly over the hippo pool, so we went up there. In the few minutes it had taken us to get there, another elephant had arrived at the edge of the river. Before we knew it we were watching a shoving match between the two. It was great fun watching them push and shove each other, first starting out on the land and then ending up in the river. One elephant was much larger than the other but that didn’t seem to affect who could push the hardest.

After about half an hour we decided it was time to move on, since both of us were getting hungry. Continuing up the Timbavati Road there was not much wildlife, because we were getting into the mopane forest which covers most of the northern half of Kruger Park. But the river now had water in it, so we had some good views of that. When we eventually reached the main H1-4 road, we decided to go straight to Olifants Camp and have lunch there. On the bridge over the Olifants River we were allowed to stop and get out of the car, so we took advantage of that opportunity to take some pictures and look for animals and birds. We saw a large herd of elephants down the river and also several crocodiles.

On the way to Olifants we took a side road to the Nwamanzi lookout, which had a fine view up the river, and we arrived at the camp somewhat after 1 pm. Our hut was already paid for, but we did have to pay for the astronomy evening that we had booked. It was lucky that we had pre-booked, as the program was full. And there was a two-for-one special on, so instead of paying R300 per person we only paid R150.

We checked into our hut, which was #1. If anything it was even nicer than the ones we had stayed in earlier. Olifants Camp is located high on a bluff about 40 metres above the Olifants River, and our hut had an unobstructed view of the river valley in both directions. Across the river was several kilometres of dry mopane forest, broken up only by a couple of baobab trees in the distance. Down below, the river was braided channels with hippos grunting and snorting away in the deeper pools and a variety of trees including several fever trees with their bright lemon-yellow trunks.

We made our usual lunch, then went for a walk to check out the viewpoint (which was right next to our hut and had only a tiny bit better view) and the gift shop. While we were in the shop, somebody said “Did you see the lions?” It was the man who had told us about the lions earlier in the morning. We said “yes” and then Rosemary asked if he knew what the tree was that had the mauve flowers. He didn’t, but he said he would try to find out.

So Rosemary decided to buy the little beginner guide to South African trees that was in the shop. And surprisingly, there was the tree. It was called “Apple-leaf”. So we decided to go over to the lion man’s hut to tell him that. He and his wife were there, still trying to find it in their much better tree book, and they were delighted that we had figured it out. We sat and talked to them for quite a while; they were Kruger veterans who had been visiting Kruger for many years.

While we were there, the man looked down at the river and spotted a female lion on a sandbank. She went into some reeds and pretty soon it became apparent that there were three other female lions there. They were watching a herd of impala, but made no attempt to move closer, probably because there was no cover for them to use. So nothing much happened until a Land Rover appeared down on the bank nearby and two women with their two armed guards started walking to the river. This spooked the impala, so the lions gave up on them and crossed the river to settle down under some bushes on the opposite bank. It was interesting watching them do that; lions cross rivers just like we do, they look for narrow places where they can jump across the various channels.

By now it was time to go back to our hut to get ready for our astronomy session. It started at 5:30 pm, so we wouldn’t have dinner until later. But we put warm clothes into a pack, as the night drive last night had been rather chilly.

The session started by six of us being transported from the camp to the Nwamanzi viewpoint, where we had stopped earlier in the day, arriving there just as the sun set. Drinks and snacks were provided while we watched the sun set. When it got dark, a woman named Juanita gave a talk on the various stars, planets, and constellations that we might see. It was a bit cloudy, so we couldn’t see the stars very well, but by the time she finished her talk and started pointing the telescope at things in the sky, most of the clouds were gone. The session was definitely well-done and worth the price.

Back at the camp we watched the progress of a bush fire that was burning somewhere to the south. For a while it flared up so there was a bright orange glow on the horizon, but before long it appeared to burn itself out. By the time we got to bed it was 11 pm.

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