Kruger National Park (Northern Section)

The wildlife does definitely get much sparser as you get up into the northern section of Kruger. Having said that, the scenery is more attractive in the north and it’s much much quieter.

Overview: 3 days, 504 km (of which 406 km inside the park and 98 km from the park gate to Monday’s overnight stop at Tshipise)

Saturday 16 February

Route: north from Tsendze Rustic Camp (just south of Mopani) on the H1-6 tarred road, left onto the S52 and a quick stop at Red Rocks. We’d intended to follow the S52 right round the loop and back to the H1-6 near Shingwedzi, but it was closed at the turnoff for Bateleur Bushveld Camp so we had to retrace our route as far as Red Rocks before completing the rest of the Shingwedzi loop. A late lunch at Shingwedzi then down the S134 and S50 to Kanniedood in the afternoon

There’s some really nice scenery in this part of the park:

Mark suddenly announced at one point that we’d picked up a hitchhiker. He’d felt what he thought was a leaf flutter in through the window……

We’ve had a few hitchhikers since, both inside and on the bonnet (a couple of grasshoppers have travelled quite impressive distances with us, one the entire way from the park to Tshipise!).

There were lots of very tame hornbills knocking about Shingwedzi camp at lunchtime, both yellow- and red-billed:

Also a lovely little crested barbet:

More lovely scenery in the afternoon along the river:

A bustard, a spoonbill, and a white-fronted bee-eater:

Overnight at Shingwedzi, a really nice little camp.

Sunday 17 February

All of the tar roads between Shingwedzi and Punda Maria had been closed (presumably due to all the recent rain) so our options on Sunday were somewhat limited.

Route: north on the H1-7 from Shingwedzi with a brief stop at Babalala. Continuing up the H1-7 then left onto the H13-1 to Punda Maria for lunch. Then back east on the H13-1, turning left onto the H1-8 as far as the power lines before retracing our route to Punda Maria

Here we go again….. Our Kruger map and guide has a list of species on page 2 and the number of each species present in the park. You have to take it with a pinch of salt as it doesn’t say who came up with the figures or how they were estimated: nevertheless, it says that there are only 120 wild dogs in Kruger.

On that basis, Mark was lucky to see two dogs snoozing in the grass just after we entered the park then a large pack of 15-20 dogs a few days back. What should we happen upon first thing on Sunday morning? Five more wild dogs….

It was really interesting to watch these dogs’ hunting strategy. Four of them trotted down the road whilst the other moved parallel to them about 60-80 metres into the bush. Mark was sure that dog was there to flush prey out. They did try, but whatever they were chasing must have run away from the road as the four dogs on the road suddenly piled into the bush at full speed. If it’d come the other way, towards the road, they would’ve been ready and waiting.

They had no success this time: we saw them again a few minutes later with no tell-tale pink faces….

Although we felt like we really didn’t see a lot of wildlife in the northern section of the park, when we went through a list of what we had seen, it was quite extensive. Maybe part of the problem is that by starting in the south, you can become a bit blasé about things like wildebeest, zebra and impala by the time you get to the north?

I did finally manage to get a half-reasonable photo of a male nyala. I love the mohican hairdo and the orange footballer’s socks!

Dwarf mongeese:

Mark is also really impressed by dung beetles:

Bushbuck near Punda Maria camp:

Overnight at Punda Maria. There’s been a rest camp here since the 1930s and the building housing the reception and shop is certainly pretty tired, though the camp site was absolutely fine and almost deserted.

Monday 18 February

Our last day in the park 😦 Thankfully, the rain having now stopped (it’d rained on Saturday and Sunday mornings before brightening up somewhat in the afternoons), the untarred roads were now open again.

Route: from Punda Maria, we did the 25 km Mahonie loop (on the S99), then onto the H13-2 tarred road, left onto the S60, left again onto the S61 and left yet again onto the H1-8 tarredroad heading north. Right onto the S63 gravel road and Pafuri picnic site. We did a loop of the S63 (the gravel road east to Crooks Corner then back along the tarred road to the picnic site again for a late lunch. Then the H1-9 to Pafuri gate

Monday didn’t start off too well. First thing in the morning, Mark was outside sorting out the cab (we put the chairs and a few other bits and bobs in there overnight so that they’re out of our way). I suddenly heard a stream of very loud expletives. Mark doesn’t often sound really really annoyed, so I went to see what was going on.

Those who read our post about Addo Elephant Park will know exactly where this is going…. Mark had walked round to the driver’s side of the NAVI-SOK but had left the passenger door open. Out of nowhere, two monkeys had appeared….

I was hoping that the monkey who stole my salt and vinegar crisps would spit them out (I wasn’t annoyed enough to want him to choke on them) but no, he seemed to munch them quite happily. His accomplice had tried but just failed (having been spotted by Mark) to grab the plastic tub containing a small bag of fruit pastilles and a small bag of jelly babies…..

Quite shockingly, we didn’t see a single elephant on Monday, or for that matter a single giraffe…. (what is the world coming to?). We did see a yellow-billed oxpecker though. We’d seen posters about these in the various reception buildings; they’re quite rare and they’re trying to track their spread through the park.

I have no idea what this bird is, but it’s super cute:

A Sharpe’s Grysbok. We were now finally getting those pesky small antelope ticked off the list!

Really nice scenery in the area up near Crooks Corner:

South Africa’s answer to the Dark Hedges?

Crooks Corner is at the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers. This confluence marks the boundaries between three countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. In the past, this remote area was a haven for ivory smugglers, gun runners and other undesirables who, having got themselves into a spot of bother with the law, could hang out here waiting for things to quieten down, ready to quickly cross to another country if necessary.

And that was it, our Kruger adventure all but over. From the Pafuri gate, we had an easy 98 km drive to our camp site at Tshipise.

We were really sorry to have to leave Kruger. We saw a huge amount of wildlife. What didn’t we see? Well, we only saw two white rhino (on our first day. We didn’t think much of it as white rhino were two-a-penny at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi; we later found out that no-one sees many white rhino in Kruger), no black rhino, and whilst we saw lion and leopard, we didn’t see any of the smaller cats (cheetah, caracal etc). Other people had seen them, so they’re definitely around. We didn’t see eland or any of the really rare antelope (roan, sable, or Lichtenstein’s hartebeest). And as for the birds we didn’t see, well, we’d be here all day…

We’ll just have to go back sometime……. I seem to recall Jo’burg being east of London for the purposes of round the world plane tickets….. A mental note has been made!

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