MALELANE CROCODILE RIVER Nov 25th
I am staying in something as near to perfection as it gets. Dave Carr is Gareth’s father. Gareth is i/c hockey at Wellington and a member of the SA national side. I wrote to Dave, at Gareth’s suggestion, very much on the off chance that he might be up at his house on the Crocodile River when I was around. Not only has he put himself out to be here now, but he is also going to have the family to stay for 3 nights in January before we go home. Gareth said the house overlooked a river and said it had enough room for us. What I hadn’t expected was the reality. The house is very large, with several en suite bedrooms. The river flows, literally, below the garden. The river valley is like the M1 for birdlife. Hippo muck about in it. Buffalo feed in the valley. A small elephant family came down to drink and cool off a few hundred yards away on Tuesday. As we enjoyed a glass of wine in the evening on Monday, two rhino were spotted on the far bank, picked out by the light which illuminates it after dark.
It thundered and rained heavily on Tuesday night and it was still pouring when we left for the Kruger at 4.30 a.m. The gates open at 5.30 and the very best time to see animals is first thing in the morning. Dave had arranged for us to drive into the middle of the park on Wednesday, stay overnight in one of the camps and to drive back via a different route on Thursday. Speed limits, strictly enforced, are 50kph on tarmac and 40 kph on dirt. It means that the distances covered are not huge but the time to drive 300 km, with stops for animal spotting is about 12 hours. We actually saw everything that we would have wanted to see with the exception of cheetah. We came across three wet lions very early in the piece and saw a pride in the far distance at the end of the day but did not see them other than on those occasions. We had to wait until late on Thursday for a leopard sighting, too far away for a camera shot but very good in the binoculars. I was especially pleased to see a few wild dogs for the first time. Elephant and rhino were relatively frequent and, of course so were impala, zebra and wildebeest, about which everyone becomes quite blasé. The rain did stop at mid-morning on Wednesday but it has been wet for a few weeks, which means the water is widespread enough to render the waterholes an optional extra to the animals. The game is not quite so concentrated as a consequence. The best time to come would be at the end of the dry season in September. I have a feeling that the family will see a bit less, given the rains which occur for the next 10 weeks in this area. Bush-time is get up at 4.15, on the road by 4.45 and bed at 8.00. It will present quite a challenge to the kids when they come, as will the longer spells that are necessary between bits of excitement when an animal is in view.
There is a good system in place for lunch. The main camps have tables with places to cook next to them. These are empty rings, into which a gas canister is inserted and above which a tray for cooking can be placed. We enjoyed a good solid brunch at 10.30 on each of the two days and had a braai ( SA for bbq ) in the evening.
What The Kruger isn’t is the experience I remember from Tanzania/Kenya. The game is spread over a wider area and the numbers are not so great. Sightings are less frequent, partly because the bush is thicker than the Serengeti grassland. There is also an element of luck in seeing things. Ten minutes either side of our arrival at the point we saw the leopard and we would have missed it.
Dave basically drove for 2 days and was also instrumental in spotting game, which was a performance of great stamina. He is hospitable to a fault, generous and anxious to make me feel at home. It is becoming a recurrent theme.