Saturday, November 3, 2012

A wild night out!

In some ways game viewing can be compared to fishing. It's a known fact that your success at the fishing waters is primarily directly linked to the time your bait is ready to be taken in the water. Wildlife photographers will also assure you that mere talent and good equipment is a very small percentage of what is needed for those once in a lifetime shots. Some people might call it luck to be at the right spot at the right time. It would be luck if it so happen on your first effort, but if you only get that opportunity after years of spending many hours at a time at potential game viewing sites and water holes, it's serious determination and lots of patience. That is what is needed and there are ways to spend more time looking for such opportunities and combining it with other more normal life activities to soften the need for this extreme determination and stubborn persistence.

Eating out in Kruger at one of the restaurants, for instance is one such opportunity. Instead of just fulfilling one's need to be fed, do some multitasking and eat inside Kruger while you enjoy the wildlife simultaneously.
Elephants at the Malelane bridge

To exchange this "eating out" experience at a restaurant in Kruger for a real "bush braai" in the wilderness with armed guards making sure that you do not end up on the menu is the real treat. We have often eaten out this way while everybody enjoys the sometimes humorous attempts of the hyenas to get closer to where that great smell of meat being done on the open fire comes from. The armed rangers have to be ever watchful and the excitement for everybody is so intense that one loose complete track of time. This event is always coupled with a game drive in an open vehicle en route to the spot where a nice fire will be waiting on the guests.
 When we enjoyed such an outing recently we had the opportunity to spend some time on the bridge of the Crocodile river just outside the Malelane gate. While Anzelle, who picked us up at our lodge in Marloth Park organised everything at the gate to be ready for us to board the open vehicle we were strolling from one side to the other enjoying the interaction of the large herd of elephants below. It makes sense to arrive at least 15 minutes early to spend some time on the bridge. Our guide, Rasta, gave us a short briefing on how to handle the spotlights and what to be on the lookout for.
When you leave for the drive the last rays of the sun leaves you with the impression that this is rather a "late afternoon" drive. It does not take long however until you start switching on the spotlights.

 You can look forward to coming across all the animals that you see during the day, but the possibility to spot a few carnivores are much higher at night.
 Hyenas seem to travel alone and their specific energy saving gait enables them to travel up to 50 kilometers at a constant pace and quickly assemble to feast on the remains of a kill or back at the den. A strange site indeed is the huge hippos strolling kilometers away from the river this time of night. The fact that they walk up to 15 kilometers every day should surely put an and to the idea that one can loose weight by exercising!

 It is always regarded as a highlight when you find a leopard and the one we saw spent so much time around our vehicle that it fully satisfied everybody's urge for this.

You will probably notice by the quality of these photos that there was no special techniques, zoom or expensive equipment to enhance anything. The leopard spent about 10 minutes around the vehicle before he disappeared into the bush. Even our guide, Rasta was as exited as a young child at a fun fair! 
 Arriving at the braai, the fire is a welcome sight and one can barely wait to see what is in the pots, placed against the coals. Everybody enjoys their favorite drinks which your lodge or whoever organised your trip informed them to stock the "cash bar" with.

When Louise organise this activity she will always make sure  that each person's specific preference are catered for. There are always a variety of vegetable dishes to choose from and even a vegan will have no problem to load his or her plate with a variety of dishes, hot and cold.

While you stand around chatting to the chef and his assistants you are ever so aware that somewhere beyond the dim light of the candles there is something keeping an eye on you. These guys are so used to cooking on an open fire. They are very handy with constant flicking with the thongs and sometimes simultaneously scratching the coals to distribute even heat. Any two meat dishes like grilled chicken, beef steak, game meat stew, boerewors and a variety of other "potjies" can be chosen when the booking is made. The smell of the grilled meat sure carries far into the bush.

 As soon as the meat is done they set a buffet table and everybody helps themselves to a nice plate of food to enjoy at a beautiful set table. It is indeed a very romantic atmosphere created by dim candlelight and white table settings in such a rugged and almost hostile environment. This is indeed a million star restaurant. Each meal is finished with a nice sweet treat.
When we were there two days ago we had traditional "malva pudding" with custard cooked right there in a black cast iron pot on the fire.

After the scrumptious meal everybody boarded the vehicle again for another game viewing experience on the way back to the gate where Anzelle waited for us with her 14 seater bus.

To get help organising such an activity while you visit Marloth Park, you should contact Louise at

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kruger on foot

It is most probably the bottom of the list activity in this category. Even so, the "early morning walking safari" is the most logical thing to do first if you want to venture down that road. I honestly think that anybody in good health that enjoy the great outdoors and the wildlife scenery on offer in Kruger National Park should have all of these activities on their ticking list an should have a constructive plan to reach the ultimate goal of ticking them all off. The "plan" should be called: "Kruger on foot" or maybe something more glamorous like "Walking The Big Five Trails".  Maybe "Hiker's Safaris" would suit you better. Fact is that you can name it whatever you want. The main thing is that it is fun, healthy, educational, environmentally friendly, and extremely enjoyable! There are quite a lot of different walks on offer at each camp and the general "morning walks" will never be along the same routes and even if you do happen to hike an area that you've done before, you will have a completely different experience every time.
Take some warmer clothing that can be taken off.
The guides from Kruger that accompany you are really well informed and professional and they each have their own sense of humor and I am yet to go on a walk where the guests do not very quickly cotton on to the guides and turn out to shower them with compliments and "thank you's" afterwards. We went on such a walk for the umpteenth time this morning and I would like to share the experience with you.

Jacob, teaching "bush sign language".
It is an early morning activity and one should be up and about well before four o' clock to be able to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea before you leave for Crocodile Bridge Gate. If you organise this activity with your accommodation establishment or tour operator they will probably see to it that indemnity forms are filled in beforehand and there will be no need to make  provision to spend time on this on the morning of the walk. There are always two armed guides with each group of highly eight. They will give you a briefing full of quirky jokes full of useful info before you make tracks into the bush.                                                                                      
The colour of these pants are "borderline".
People doing this for the first time are always struck by a silly feeling of guilt because getting out of your vehicle inside Kruger is such a strict taboo that it always feel as though you are busy with something illegal. Of course meeting up with any one of the big five is always a big dream, but the little things about dung beetles, ants, caterpillars, grass, trees and birds are so interesting that if it so happen that you actually meet up with none of the bigger animals it does not matter to most hikers. You always walk in single file and gather around the guide when he share his wealth of knowledge with the group. Some of them seem to be a walking encyclopedia.

Avoid any bright colours and white is an absolute taboo. Flat comfortable shoes is a must and if it can handle some water during the wet season it would be a bonus. Refrain from spraying any deodorant. Animals will detect the smell from far and you might be left with the impression that there are none around.
Fresh tracks of a large male lion.
After the walk, if you manage to concentrate on the guides informative talks, you should be able to distinguish between the tracks of a lot of animals.
 It is however not only the big five and other large animals that will keep you spellbound, but also to read other signs such as damage done to trees and plants and to know what to make of obvious warning calls by birds. There is a whole world to be introduced to. You will certainly get the impression that most regular visitors to Kruger miss out on the best part by simply sitting in a car and ticking off sightings to compare the success of their drive to the previous one.

Almost every single walk that I've been on ended with the sight of a white rhino at close range. The guides often have to make huge efforts to read the wind to make sure you're not detected too soon. To get as close as 15 meters from these huge animals is a great experience. If you wish to organise these and other activities in Kruger and  elsewhere in the Wild Frontier or Mpumalanga you are welcome to contact Louise at . She will also be able to help you with organising accommodation to suite your need and budget.
When you get within a range of 15 meters from this impressive beast and are able to take this photo without using your zoom function, you realise how vulnerable they are and how easy it is for poachers to get to them.

  If you want to follow information about this and many other aspects concerning tourism and wildlife you should go and "like" or Facebook page at:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Meat is meat and cats must eat!

Regular visitors to national parks and wilderness areas in Africa often come across lions and I think that few of them ever give it a thought that there was a time, not too long ago that people and lions shared common ground and prey. To me the most disturbing thought about that time is that the rifles that the old folks used were a far cry from today's automatic and semi automatic "ready for combat" weapons. The time that it take a lion to charge over a distance of a hundred meters would have been too short to reload. "They say that the only rule is: "Whatever you do... don't run!" Such bravery seems almost impossible. To show you that it is indeed possible, watch this video:

Here is more. Some might call it stupidity!

The best known man-eater lions were a pride known as the "Tsavo lions" that were responsible for the death of about 28 Indian workers that worked on the railway line between Kenia and Uganda. There is estimated that these lions were responsible for the death of up to a hundred people. The movie "Ghost Of The Darkness" were based on these events. It is not recommended to watch this prior to a visit to such areas. Scary! What about the Kruger national park? Are there any man-eating lions? According to Dr Douw Grobler, the park's veterinarian, cases where lions attacked people are by far due to irresponsible behavior of people. When lions tasted the meat of a human they do tend to go for it again. Whether it is the taste or just the fact that man is an easy target is something that can be debated.

There was a pride of five man-eating lions that basically lived off humans for some time in the Klopperfontein region. Their prey was mainly Mozambicans. Over a period of five weeks this pride consisting of a male and four females were responsible for the deaths of at least seventeen people. They became so good at stalking people that they even attacked and killed one of members of the team sent to hunt them down. When they were killed Dr Grobler found the remains of their last victim in their stomachs. The victims ID document and most of the head were found in the male and pieces of his limbs and shoes in the females. It is well known that in cases that humans were attacked they eat everything right down to the clothes.

One of the worst cases known about is the unhappy event where four Mozambicans were attacked while they followed the power line service road from Cahora Bassa to South Africa through the Kruger National Park. They decided to sleep over and made a fire. It was told that a pride of 10 lions simply approached them fearlessly. The men fled up the trees, but one unfortunate guy were to late and his friends had to sit and watch in utter fear and disgust how the lions finished him off to the very last morsel. The story unfortunately did not end there. One of the females managed to scale the tree and bring another man down. This sparked one of the other females to do the same. The last guy were found in hysterics by a party of game rangers on a routine patrol.

Fact is that these and many others are dangerous creatures and we are imposing on their territory. Caution should be taken at all times.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How To Enjoy Your Game Viewing Experience

Although some visitors to the Wild Frontier and Kruger National Park come here to relax and just hang around to enjoy a pleasant time with friends and family, most people come here to experience game drives and take lots of photos to add to their "wild life" albums. There are a few things that anyone that has experience in these activities would tell you to take note of. I will try and list a few of the things I've experienced to be important and I would welcome any addition to this list.

A lion pride viewing tourists in cars
The first decision to take is if you want to do the self drive or guided open vehicle safari. There are obvious pros and cons to both. While the self drive gives you much greater freedom to go where you want and stay at a sighting for as long as you want, you might be forced to fall in with the preferences of the group when you do the guided trip.
I do however realize that for some, like my friend John, it might mean more freedom to go with the group, since his wife or mother in law (or both) will be kept off his neck by the guide. Since Ann's father have years ago mastered the art of ignorance everything comes down on John. The guided trip do serve a different problem to John and his family. Since nobody wants to stay at home with Johnny (5) and Anny (3) they have to be entertained on all game viewing trips. Believe me, whatever John's wife and mother in law is unhappy about in John's doings is nothing compared to Anny's unhappiness about the fact that Johnny lives "in her space". Animal sightings create a very short very welcome breather, but the more frequent they see animals the sooner they get used to it and the shorter the breaks seem to get between the fights.

To have the best of the day one should start early! These
 white rhino's were still napping when
we arrived just after six.
When you organise the guided safari, it is always better to do it privately. It might cost you a bit more if you are a small group or family. The vehicles of the private operators can handle 10 people. With ten people on the vehicle you should know that three of them will be sitting in the middle. It's a bad spot, even for two lovebirds. The one in the middle will often be used as a shelf for cameras and binoculars. It is far better to have the seat in the middle open. That leaves space for accessories. The guide/driver will often prefer to have the front passenger seat open for stuff and like books, binoculars and snack boxes. Everybody should be happy with no more than six guests on the vehicle. There are ways to do this without paying the full fair for the "absent person".
Kruger Africa Safaris on a private game drive
Repeat guests almost always prefer to have the same guide when they come back on a repeat visit. If the guy or girl made you happy it's fine, but I have often found that guides do have their favorite routes and to experience something different, it is often necessary to have a different approach. It will therefore be better to make use of an operator with more than one vehicle and more than one guide. That way you can make sure you get the benefit of a good fare by booking it all with the same operator without denying your group the opportunity of diversity.
The larger "Kruger" vehicle.

The cheapest guided drive you can go on is the time limited  ones done with the Kruger vehicles and guides. I know many of them and they all have their own style and many guests enjoy their humor and knowledge. Very pleasant guys. They are unfortunately in a much less of a position to make their own decisions on a drive. While the private operators can decide to extend the activity with hours if the group do not want to leave the scene of a lion kill, the guys from Kruger, true to any government organization have to be back for their morning tea, roll call or whatever. The vehicles that Kruger use is quite large and can often take as many as between 20 and 30 people. Now you could end up with Johnny between you and the old Chinese lady and Anny on your other side. A waste of good money and time. It is not cheap to get here and you sacrifice precious leave to be here. Do not waste it by being penny wise.

When you do the "self drive" your vehicle of choice should be one that has more height than a Chevy Spark. A micro bus being it anything from a German, Japanese or a Korean still is the best vehicle for this. City folk often believe that a dirt road demands a four by four vehicle. All public roads, tarred or not, inside Kruger is in perfect condition for the Uno you drove as a student. No need for anything built for off road conditions if you plan to do the legal thing and stick to the public roads. The same rule about extra seating space applies here. John enjoys the extra space for the kids to sleep on and grandpa can sit and enjoy an undetected snooze in the very back seat.
To see this one needs to have patience and luck!
Probably the most important stuff to remember is... what to take with. If you go on a guided trip it could be expected that there will be blankets. It might be chilly in the early morning and its better to make sure your guide do cater for this. This is one of the events where "the early bird"-rule applies. The earlier the better. If your visit coincides with a popular time such as Easter Weekend or some time during the December holidays you can expect to be waiting in a long que to enter the gate. This is another thing why the guided trip is better. If your operator is well established he will enjoy special privileges. No need for him to wait in line. Other people in the que might get annoyed by this, but they should realise that this guy enters the park every single day and his guests are booked in advance and payment has been made often weeks in advance. They only allow a certain amount of cars per day and it might well be that if you arrive late, you will be denied access. Still, if the gates are not open yet... he might drive to right in front and wait for gates to open. This is the time to enjoy that coffee that your guide packed. If you understood beforehand that he only bring for himself, make sure you do not have the bad experience like John had on his first trip. Ann's mom have until today still not forgiven him for allowing the guide to sit and drink his coffee and she was left with the smell of the melting chocolate from his Romany Creams.
Nkulu picnic spot on the Sabie river between Lower Sabie and Skukuza
 Do you plan to make your own meals "el fresco" at one of the designated picnic spots? Better to pack everything. There are shops and they also do rent gas equipment for making breakfasts, but you cannot book this in advance and it is "first come first serve". This would of course be none of your concern if you organised a trip with such breakfast included. In such a case your guide will supply and cook everything. You could of course also opt for a packed breakfast, either by yourselves or by your accommodation staff. John never opt for this as Ann's mom always demand the eggs to be blue-hard and it leaves the old guy with terrible hiccups for the rest of the day. To enjoy at least one of the days meals at one of the restaurants in the park might be a good idea as it gives everybody the change to stretch legs and have a change of scenery. Such occasions has its own game viewing opportunities as it is often on a riverbank or between high trees where birds like to gather.

Please do not forget the cameras and binoculars. Have the Blackberries and I-pods ready for that almost "live" posts done to Facebook. Tease your friends and make sure they get the information about your preferred service providers if you are happy with them. Make sure you have the books like "Newman's Birds By Colour", maps and other interesting books to keep the kids happy!

If you're in such strange territory and do not know where to start, do not despair. Send a mail to You could also visit the site for some accommodation possibilities.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Surprise Visit!

Thick-Tailed Bush-baby in Marloth Park
 Bush-babies are a real treat for visitors when they frequent the lodges in Marloth Park. The Lessor Bush-baby (Nagapie in Afrikaans) are common to the area and their "cute-factor" are in the extremes. They live from the gum and juice excreted by trees. They do however also love to hunt for and eat insects like moths, grasshoppers, spiders and ants. What we found them to also enjoy is yogurt. They do definitely prefer the banana flavour and it is not a strange sight for regular visitors and permanents to have them jumping onto the dinner table to get to it.
Lessor Bush-baby coming for it's daily treat.

A surprisingly new sighting for us was the Thick-tailed Bush-baby (Bosnagaap in Afrikaans) that came to say "hallo" last night. They appear to be quite common further north from Marloth Park although we've also seen them at Kwa Madwala to the south where they are a real menace at the restaurant. Although they are much bigger, their diet are very similar to that of the Lessor BB. There is a definite lower count on the cute factor meter. This one moved so slow that one could almost mistake it for some strange exotic specimen from Madagascar!  All people that I spoke to first wanted to see the photos before they believed the Thick-tailed Bush-baby to be here. They are very social animals and it is extremely unlikely that this will be a loner. We will keep a close watch to see if the rest of the family will show up.

Making the best of bad weather!

Organising activities during the rainy summer months in Mpumalanga can be quite a tricky exercise. Although the temperature during the months of November to March always makes one beg for some sort of relief in the form of shade provided by clouds or some natural clean cool water pouring from the sky, nobody that I know of will enjoy going on a hike during a downpour. Camping out with the bare essentials could also be robbed of most enjoyment by consistent rain and muddy feet and shoes. Dirt roads in Kruger are generally shut down during bad weather conditions and game viewing are extremely less enjoyable when you have to peep from behind closed windows at flocks of impala standing all shrugged up with their backsides to the falling rain.

All this can be overcome or at least eased out a bit by good planning. Our agreement with Kruger National Park is of such that if we should need to cancel an activity due to bad weather, they give us credit. Even if we cancel the activity with the specific guest group we can still do it weeks later with other guests. We still like to be well prepared as an activity missed could be a great disappointment for people that traveled for days over thousands of miles to get here. We are not good at weather forecasts ourselves. Since growing up in the Western Cape with it's ever changing and extreme weather conditions, where a misjudgement could have you in a life threatening position, we did  some research!

What we discovered is:

These guys can see in the future! We'll keep them to their word and if they do not fail us long enough we'll ask them for the lotto numbers!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Permanent move to Marloth Park

More new arrivals in the bush!
Since moving to Marloth Park on a permanent basis about a month ago, Louise and I will be in a position to place more up to date information that can help potential visitors to have more fun and come better prepared. We have already seen more places to go and discovered more things to do during this month than during all our previous visits altogether. Since our family, friends and a big part of our hearts are still in the Western Cape we will still be in a good position to advise people about visiting that region as well.

The weather in Mpumalanga, and more specifically along the Wild Frontier, is very pleasant at the moment. Days are mild and I suppose that the odd hot and humid day just serves as a warning of things to come. The bush is lush and green since the rains started early during springtime. Animals are in excellent shape and we are looking forward to a December during which the storks doing service in the animal maternity wards will have a very busy schedule!