Making the most of the South of Kruger (Part 2)

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Following on from ‘Making the most of the South of Kruger (Part 1)

Lower Sabie rest camp (the all-star)

Lower Sabie must be the most popular rest camp in the park (as well as my personal favourite), and for good reason. Consistent sightings of the Big 5, a wide variety of birdlife and spectacular views of the Sabie River from within the camp grounds ensure there is more than enough to keep any nature junkie happy. Well run facilities (pool, petrol station, viewing deck, etc.), friendly staff, a well stocked curio shop and boasting one of the new Mugg & Bean restaurants also mean there is more than enough to keep you and the family comfortable.

In order to make the most out of this ‘allstar’ rest camp, you need to be prepared to really utilize the cooler hours of the day as this area of Kruger can get really hot and humid around midday all year round. Leopard and lion are particularly consecrated around this area, and can normally be found making their way along the river banks and roads in the early morning.

Goliath Heron

Rock monitors, chameleons, genets, bats and snakes (watch your step!) are just some of the characters that you will find scattered around the camp. The large Sycamore Fig trees come alive when the sun sets, with hundreds of bats frantically feeding on the sweet fruits. Be sure to always keep a torch handy when walking at night and have a look under the thatch of the communal bathrooms to find the young bats huddled together waiting for a meal. When in your tent you will hear a lot of activity in the bushes around your site, don’t be alarmed as it is just one of the many monitor lizards digging through the leaves to find a meal (some of them can grow quite large, and are best left to go about their business).

Take a pair of binoculars to the viewing deck whilst you sit down for lunch and watch as a large variety of game comes down to the river’s edge to drink. Keep an ear out for the roaring lions, ‘whooping’ hyenas and howling jackals that can be heard throughout the night.

This section of Kruger is known as a medium risk malaria area and is susceptible to flooding after consistent heavy downpours.

Leopard

Best drives:

  • Head South along the H4-2 first thing in the morning, looping back via the S137 and S28 stopping at Nthahdanyathi Hide along the way. Leopard and lion are often seen patrolling the roads during the cooler hours of the day.
  • A simple early morning drive up and down the H4-1 to Skukuza for breakfast has proved very successful in the past, large herds of elephant and the elusive pack of wild dogs roam around these parts, so take it nice and slow. Make sure to stretch your legs at Nkhulu picnic site along the way, but be wary of those naughty baboons and vervet monkeys!
  • A quick loop around the S29 past Mlondozi Dam picnic spot and back down the H10 is a great birding route with the occasional sightings of lion and elephant to keep things interesting as well. These sand roads can get quite bad after rain so plan accordingly.
  • Just outside the camp is the famous Sunset Dam, stopping here on your way out or back into of the camp will be well worth your while. Elephant are often seen bathing in the water during the warmer times of the day.
  • Travel North along the H10 stopping at Tshokwane picnic site for a bite to eat before heading back to camp. This can be down both in the early morning and afternoon (leave no later than 2-3pm depending on the gate closing times), but plan accordingly as it is quite a long drive.
[space height=”20″] Things to look for

Game

  • Leopard
  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Kudu
  • Hyena
  • Monitor lizards

Birds

  • Stilt (found at Sunset Dam)
  • A variety of Heron species (found at Sunset Dam)
  • Black-bellied Bustard
  • A variety of duck species
  • Yellow-billed, Marabou and Saddle-billed Storks (found at Sunset Dam)
  • Bateleur
  • Southern Ground Hornbill
[space height=”20″]Hot tip – Look out for fresh spoor in the damp sand on dirt roads in the early morning. Knowing what animals use these roads frequently and which way they were traveling could just get you that once in a lifetime sighting!

Leopard Tortoise

Crocodile Bridge (dynamite comes in small packages)

Hot, humid and bursting with life. Although this is one of the ‘gate’ camps situated a short distance from the main road, you’ll feel miles away from civilization. Being one of the smallest camps in Kruger, coupled with its isolation, you won’t need to worry too much about the holiday crowds normally associated with the Southern section of the park. A decent shop will stock all the vitals as well as a small take-away trailer for food and drinks on the run, well run and clean facilities, cosy accommodation and one of the best places for a guided game drive ensure that ‘The Bridge’ won’t disappoint.

The area around Crocodile Bridge is a mixture of open grasslands and dense thickets, the perfect recipe for a large variety of game and amazing birdlife. Lion, cheetah, elephant and even the elusive African wild dog are regularly seen in within kilometers of the camp.

Elephants

One of the major highlights are the massive mahogany, acacia and long-tailed cassia trees that keep most of the camp in shade throughout the day. Keep an eye (and ear) out for the very vocal white-browed robin-chat, purple crested turaco and owl species that call this canopy home. The actual bridge crossing over the Crocodile River to get to the rest camp is a great place to tick off five or more water bird species before you even enter the park (the bridge is very vulnerable to flooding, make sure it is accessible before hand during the wet season). Finally, look out for one of the resident spotted hyena’s that patrol the fences at night.

This section of Kruger is known as a medium risk malaria area and is susceptible to flooding after consistent heavy downpours.

Best drives:

  • Head out to the end of the S27 and stop at the Hippo Pools to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee over a relaxing view.
  • Make your way North on the famous S28 turning right onto the S107 and spend a while at Nlanganzwani Dam. This route has always provided great Big 5 sightings in the past during the cooler hours of the day.
  • A basic trip up the H4-2 and backtracking along the S130 is a pleasant easy going drive with a few waterholes along the way. Elephant are always plentiful along this route so be careful when driving around a blind corner.
  • Make a trip toward Nthahdanyathi Hide (great for birding) by heading up the H4-2, turning onto the S130 and then the S137 making a quick stop at Dukes waterhole on route. Lion and spotted hyena are common around the area, especially in the early morning. Take care along this route during heavy rains as the road become very muddy.
[space height=”20″]

Impala crossing

Things to look for

Game

  • Lion
  • Spotted Hyena
  • Elephant
  • Giraffe
  • Kudu

Birds

  • Purple crested turaco
  • Kingfishers
  • A variety of owl species
  • Golioth Heron
  • Hammerkop
[space height=”20″] Hot tip – One’s sense of smell and hearing are just as important as sight when out searching for game. I often hear or smell an animal long before I see it! So keep your windows down and your radio off.

Yellow-billed Stork juvenile

Equipment

Here is my recommended gear list traveling to the Kruger National Park.

Necessities

  • General purpose lens (an all in one lens, e.g. 18-200mm, 24-105mm etc. Used for family snaps as well as landscape and environmental shots)
  • Telephoto lens (anything above the 300mm range would be ideal. A little bit of length comes in handy at Kruger)
  • Beanbag for the window (something to keep the camera steady when needed, I use a homemade beanbag made with rice. It can also be useful when sitting in a hide)
  • Two or three decent size memory cards
[space height=”20″] If you are using a bridge camera like a Powershot, Finepix, Coolpix, etc. then only the bottom two points should apply to you. In most cases when travelling with the whole family, bicycles, skottle, tent, etc. – less is more!

Luxuries

  • Second camera body (I keep my second body at my feet with a 70-200mm attached for easy access when I need something a bit wider)
  • Wide angle lens (something in between 14-24mm)
  • Super telephoto lens (Anything on the longer end of the scale with a shallow depth of field to really isolate your subject, i.e. 400mm f4/f2.8)
  • Teleconverter (when that leopard in a tree is just out of reach)
  • Ball/gimbal head with a ground pod or door mount (you can never be too steady when stuck in a vehicle)
  • Reliable tri-pod
  • Laptop or file storage unit to back up your images at the end of each day (once you’ve had a card go bad you’ll never go on holiday without one of the two again)
[space height=”20″] If you do have the space, why not take the kitchen sink! If you’re a bit strapped for cash however, but would love to take a 600mm f4L IS with you, why not rent it for the week instead at a fraction of the price?

I hope this inspires you to head out to Kruger on your next family holiday! Part 3 of the ‘Making the most of the South of Kruger’ coming soon.

Chad Wright

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