Tag Archives: elephants

KNP – The Drive from Satara to Punda Maria

Most people who visit Kruger National Park make a point of going to the southern part because of its accessibility and proximity to international airports and the main centres of the region.  Fortunately the landscape is favourable for seeing an abundance of animals, including the Big Five.  Whilst it is nice to be able to see all these, one pays a price and the price is overcrowding, with many vehicles vying for positions to see the animals.  If, like us, you’re used to the relative peace and quiet of the game reserves to the north of South Africa’s borders, these crowds can be a bit off-putting.  So it was with happy hearts that we left Satara as soon as the gates opened and headed north to the quieter part of the Park – our destination for the day being the camp at Punda Maria.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

It’s a long drive of 245 kms and with a speed limit of 50 kms per hour it’s a good day’s journey.  It takes a long time to cover the distance because you stop often to look at birds and animals.  Our first great sighting was a tree full of White Storks.  They looked like baubles on a Christmas tree!

White Storks

We hadn’t gone much further when we were confronted by a small herd of elephants walking down the road towards us.  There was no way of getting past them and they seemed determined not to leave the road.  They ended up pushing us back a kilometer or two as they plodded steadily towards us, unconcerned about the time we were losing.  After what seemed like an eternity they left the road and we were able to proceed.  The area north of Olifants Camp has large tracts of Mopani trees, a favourite with elephants, so we were to see many more on our trip up to Punda Maria.

Elephants on the march

Dawn in the Park is an awesome time.  We came across a Yellow-billed Kite feasting on a hare.  The Kite was undaunted by our presence and made the most of its meal while we clicked away and got some nice photos.  The Kite wasn’t eating alone – can you see the beetle that was also interested in getting a piece of the action?

Yellow-billed Kite

Spurfowls and Koorhaans are also found in great numbers along this route.  They favour the road for some reason, which makes it easy to get photos of them.

Swainsons Spurfowl

The variety of animals thins out as you head north, so unless you’re a birder, you could be disappointed.  We saw loads of Spotted Hyenas, which I will blog about separately, but apart from them and the elephants, there were hardly any other animals.   Raptors, both large and small were plentiful, the smaller one’s being Amur Falcons, which were everywhere.  Close to Shingwedzi we saw a Broadbill Roller for the first time on the trip.  This, together with colourful Red-headed Weavers (both male and female), was very exciting.  There were European Rollers everywhere – it would be nice if the Broadbills and Racket-tail Rollers were as prolific.

Broad-billed Roller

We actually arrived at Punda Maria in good time, but the heavens opened up as we were unloading our vehicle, so poor Rob was drenched.  Nothing that a good cup of coffee couldn’t sort out though.  Next blog about the lovely area between Punda Maria and Pafuri – new ground for us.

Mudumu National Park – a Namibian gem

It’s so exciting staying in a nature or game reserve and even better if you can set up camp in a wild area without any fences.  We decided to rough it on a recent trip to northern Namibia and opted to leave the beautiful (but crowded) Camp Kwando with all its facilities, to stay in a small park nearby called Mudumu.  The beauty of this place is that they only have three campsites and all that makes them campsites is a rough long-drop a few meters away from each clearing and a ring of old coals marking a fireplace.  You have to be totally self-sufficient to stay there, but the rewards are great.  Not only do you get to have the place to yourselves as the campsites are far apart, but you get to stay in amongst the elephants and wild animals.

Mudumu sunset

Our great campsite

All three campsites are on the banks of the Kwando River where the ellies love coming down to drink during the hot days and glorious still evenings, or to cross over into Botswana to feed.  Have you watched a small herd of elephants crossing a river?  It’s the most awesome sight.  They go in a straight line and babies are strategically placed between older ones so that they can be helped out if they get into difficulty.  Often just their trunks stick above the water like little periscopes.  It’s too cute to watch.

Elephants crossing the Kwando River

It was exciting to lie in bed at night and hear the rumbling sounds of the elephants as they walked quietly down to the river.  Their feet didn’t make a sound, but their rumbles sounded like a very loud cat purr and it was enough to give me goose-bumps knowing how close they were.  The park has literally hundreds of elephants and driving around can be quite challenging because the roads consist of deep sand in places.  Trying to make a quick getaway from an approaching herd of elephants is a bit of a challenge when your wheels are churning up sand.  They are very protective when they have young ones in the herd so it’s always wise to keep a safe distance between yourself and the animals.

Heads down.  Bottoms up!

A highlight of our visit was seeing a herd of about two hundred elephants walking through the veld in a straight line.  When we stopped to watch them, a command went out, probably from the matriarch, and every elephant just froze.  Some had feet in the air in mid-step, trunks were raised or lowered, but they didn’t move.  They stayed like this for many minutes and didn’t make a sound.  It was almost eerie watching this beautiful spectacle.  When the command came that they were safe, they all moved on again, very quickly and quietly.  We felt so privileged to watch this beautiful sight.  Apart from elephants there is an abundance of birdlife and other mammals.  We found these baboons quite amusing if only for the attitude they displayed!

Baboon sentinels

Our previous visit to this park was disappointing, although we did see a pack of wild dogs, but this time we were fortunate enough to see lots of roan and sable.  These antelope are not terribly common so it’s always great to get sightings of them.  That’s why it’s better to stay in the park as opposed to taking day trips – you put yourself in a better position to have all the right experiences.

Roan - Mudumu National Park

Mudumu National Park has yet to catch up with the 21st century as far as pricing is concerned.  We paid about N$50.00 per person per day to stay there, which was basically the entrance fee to the park as well.  With Botswana pricing itself out of the average holiday-maker’s range, this place makes financial sense.  We didn’t book ahead.  I don’t think it’s necessary as not many people know about it.  For all you South Africans reading this – this place is worth visiting, as is nearby Mamili, which I will chat about next week.  Not only do you get good value for money but there is a great adventure factor too – you definitely feel like you have left civilization far behind and it’s just you and the wilds.  What a pleasure.  Never mind the abundance of elephants and the solitude of the place – the sunsets alone would be enough to get us back there!

 

Close encounters of the elephant kind

Being a great lover of elephants and also having close ties to KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, I was saddened to read recently of the death of conservationist Lawrence Anthony, the author of “The Elephant Whisperer”.  What a story he had to tell about his experiences on his game farm Thula Thula in KwaZulu Natal.  His elephant tales brought tears to my eyes and I could only dream of adventures like that.  His book is a must read if you’re interested in real-life stories of elephants and conservation.  He was also famous for rescuing animals from the Baghdad Zoo during the war in Iraq and for founding The Earth Organization.  His passing is a huge loss to the world of conservation.

   A cute baby elephant

Talking of adventures with elephants, we had an adventure of our own in the BwaBwata National Park in the western Caprivi area of Namibia some time ago.  We’d heard somewhere that this park had the highest concentration of elephants in Africa so took a day trip into the park to see them.  We drove virtually the whole day and saw only one elephant.  There was plenty of dung around to indicate their presence, but it got to the ludicrous point where we were joking that the dung must have been shipped in to make it appear as if they had any elephants at all.  Disappointed after many hours of seeing none, we headed out of the park only to be stopped at a bend in the river by elephants walking down to the water to drink.

   Young African elephant - Chobe

When I say elephants, I mean hundreds of them.  Within minutes we were surrounded and one young bull didn’t like the look of us at all.  He did a mock charge, flapped his ears, bellowed loudly and hopped from foot to foot.  We couldn’t retreat for two reasons.  We were in very thick sand and we were surrounded by lots of other elephants.  It was very frightenng.  We sat quite still with hearts pounding and palms sweating as we waited for a chance to leave.  The irony was that we were witnessing more elephants than we could ever imagine and we didn’t dare lift a finger to photograph them so we came away with no photos at all of this experience.  The pictures in this blog are from other areas.

   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The herd took over an hour to pass us on their way down to the water.  If it hadn’t been so dangerous, I would have enjoyed the spectacle more.  We’ve seen horrendous pictures of vehicles being flattened by elephants, so are always very wary of getting too close to them.  We consider ourselves very lucky to have escaped unharmed and I’m not ashamed to admit that it took about six brandies to steady our nerves when we got back to our campsite (and I don’t even drink brandy!!)  We sure had an adventure to chat about over our campfire that night.

   Mother and baby - Chobe

If you’d like to read more about African elephants, WWF has an excellent website.

   African elephant