Just back from a fantastic trip to the Kruger National Park and surroundings in South Africa where we did a couple of weeks safari. We stayed two days at Tshukudu Game Reserve Lodge, Hoedspruit in order to acclimatize, then did a DIY self drive trip into the Blyde River Canyon, and back into the park for a week, and finally another two days back in Tshukudu, staying at the bushcamp. None of it luxurious, but all of it very comfortable and perfect for an active family holiday.
Tshukudu is a relatively small reserve but it has the big 5 (African Lion, African elephant, Rhino, African Leopard and Cape Buffalo) and has three tame cheetah in the camp which you can spend as much time with as you like (or as the cheetah will let you!).
The bushcamp also has a tame bushbaby which sits on your shoulder while you do the barbecue. So cute! as are the dwarf mongoose which run everywhere yet disappear down the nearest hole if you try to follow them
This is a great holiday for teenagers – it gets them off their phones and computer games and they loved zooming about the bush in the jeeps on the game drives. You never know what might happen........
The Kruger itself is awesome, with seemingly a high density of animals, all providing good photographic opportunities. James spotted a big male leopard moving through the Mopani bush so we pulled over ahead of it and waited for it to walk towards us. It stopped, stared at us nonchalantly.........
.....................then its mood changed suddenly and it charged at the car. Fortunately it got snagged in a thick bush on its way towards us and we just had time to pull in the cameras and wind up the windows! That really got the adrenaline pumping I can tell you. One of life's unforgettable moments shared by us all, and captured in a few photos – great!
In the Kruger we stayed at Letaba, Olifants and Satara restcamps. The round thatched bungalows we found to be very comfortable and just the job for a nights rest from the rigours of safari.
At Olifants we were barbecuing in the evening whilst overlooking a herd of elephant coming down to drink at the Olifants river in the valley below – very African indeed.
Talking of elephant, several times we had herds crossing the road in front of us, and you can be sure we kept a respectful distance. Those guys are perfectly capable of flipping a car over.
The rangers at Tshukudu Lodge (Jamie, #Britsdoitbest) and Bushcamp (Patrick, #springboksareverygoodtoo) were excellent. A morning bushwalk and late afternoon game drive are included in the accommodation fee and were excellent and very educational. The reserve tries to find space for injured (through snaring, poisoning, or trapping) rehabilitated animals so there is plenty of discussion by the ranger about this and also the big problem of rhino horn poaching. Tshukudu means Rhino in the local tongue, and there are a number of white rhino on the reserve (but they won’t tell you how many and keep sitings secret). We saw plenty on the drives. The horns are removed by the rangers every 3 years and this puts a complete stop to the poaching. The rhino in the Kruger itself are not dehorned and they are losing them to poaching at an unsustainable rate.
There are three cheetah on the reserve. All wander freely in and out of the camps. Ntombe is a female and is collared so the rangers can track her. The other two are brothers and are inseparable.
We tracked them on foot one day and learned a lot of bush tracking techniques using paw/hoof prints and are now quite expert in identifying the larger animals by their poo. Well, it may come in useful one day! Patrick, the ranger at the bushcamp, was very knowledgeable about the local trees and their various uses. We found a whole range of plants and barks used for medicinal purposes (including asthma) and a tree with a leaf as rough as sandpaper and used for that purpose.
The weather was excellent – it is their winter of course, which is the dry season. The bush is mainly shades of brown and very dry, and the rivers and dams quite low. This is actually quite good for game viewing as less vegetation gets in the way, and animals tend to congregate near water. It’s cold on the early morning and night drives and you need to layer up, but once the sun comes up it can get up to 30 degrees.
The light for photography is glorious just after sunrise and for a few hours before sunset, but is very harsh during the day and you have to watch your exposure as it’s easy to blow the highlights if you aren’t careful. I did take a monopod but that turned out to be impractical so my beanbag was the most versatile support I used, and was good on the bars of the jeeps and the windowsill of the car.
You still have to work hard for good images though, and animals do tend to look up at you then turn their backs or wander off quickly into the bush so you have to be quick off the mark. It was a particular challenge being a driver and photographer, and also what may be a good position for you might not be one for the teenagers in the back seat – they soon let you know! All told, we took 3500 shots between us so rather a lot of culling and processing has gone on to arrive at the ones you see here.
Would we go back ? – most definitely. I’d spend more time in the southern part of the Kruger as I believe that is where the highest concentration of animals are to be found, though as a result it tends to be busier. Having said that at no time on this trip could we describe it as busy by UK standards. Most roads except the side ones are ashphalted, wide, empty, and in great condition. I think by organising everything ourselves, and by choosing accommodation carefully (i.e. not going mad with luxury all inclusives) we enjoyed a family safari for 4 people at a very reasonable cost, and had some very memorable animal encounters. I have no doubt that if you went deep into the Masai Mara for example you’d get a more intense experience, and I’d like to do that sometime, but this was great for a first time safari.
And to finish, my favourite animal of the trip, the magnificent leopard. Hope you have enjoyed the shots. I have tons more but you have to stop somewhere!