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.

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