Bergendal Dec 2018

Kruger Park – Caravanning with Renette and myself  5 Nights Bergendal, 8 nights Lower Sabie and 9 nights Satara.  1st – 23rd December 2018.

Early December is a favourite time for us to travel in Southern Africa. The rains have begun and the weather is surprisingly cool – usually. Gareth, our third son, has been suffering from bushveld withdrawal symptoms down in the Cape and with school now closed he jumped at the chance of joining us in Kruger. As a final test of their relationship, Sarah, his fiancée, is also coming as well.

Saturday, 1st December

Renette and I set off at 4.45am from Simbithi together with maid Gladys who we will be dropping off at her home near Mtubatuba. A few growls of thunder see us on our way and we make steady progress. At Mtuba we turn off the N2 and quickly reach Gladys’s lovely little house which Renette inspects for the first time.

At the deserted Golela/Lavumisa border we cross over into Swaziland in absolute record time of 6 minutes. Then on to the infamous Siteki road beyond Big Bend. And glory be, there are construction signs up and the roads verges have been bulldozed along most of the 37Kms in preparation for the resurfacing to begin. We take 75 minutes to traverse the potholed mess but grimly hang on in the knowledge that in a year’s time all will be well.

At Mananga the new Swaziland border building is operational and we fly through. I decide to take the shortest route to Malelane through the town of Tonga, marvelling again how this has grown since our last visit. Progress is slow and I regret not taking the usual route cutting across to Hectorspruit and then the Malelance Gate.

From a distance we can see the red/brown veld across the very low Crocodile River entering Kruger. What a disappointment. Although Satara had heavy rain two days ago, no rain at all has fallen in the southern areas of the Park and everything is drought stricken. The Bergendal campsite is not too full but all the heavy shade has been taken so we select the same site that we enjoyed with Mary in August. In no time at all the caravan is set up and with the air con going we snatch a quick recovery nap. So much so that we miss going out for our   evening drive.

Mary messages us to say that heavy storms are sweeping up the KZN coast but sadly there is no trace of them here.




Sunday, 2nd December

Renette stays in camp to relax so I am first at the gate at 4.15am by myself. Down the tar 11Km to the T junction, up the H3 and then after the Matjulu bridge, right along the S114 gravel to the Mlambane River road (S139). Without seeing another vehicle I begin a slow dawdle along this most beautiful of roads. But it is pitifully dry and by the time I have reached the low causeway, I have seen nothing of interest. A car on the far bank alerts me to a lioness lying close to the water point.

The weather is cool and a little cloudy so I decide to quickly get to my favourite Biyamithi weir. As usual it is a picture in the early morning sun. The day is rapidly warming and before long herds of impala, ellies, giraffe and buffalo arrive for a drink.



There are the usual waterbirds about and I photograph a Malachite Kingfisher and a Wood Sandpiper.








Given that this must be the only water in the area, then the level is remarkably high – just below the overflow. I suppose that the water seeping through the sand of the riverbed upstream still manages to recharge the weir even in this time of drought.

On the way back I cut across to Afsaal and then down main H3 tarred road and back to camp by 9.30am just as the temperature starts to soar.

Today is a real +40 degree hottie. We spend midday in the caravan and I read that the Weather Service is predicting three more days of heat with no rain before it subsides on Wednesday. On top of that the El Nino in the Pacific suggests that this is going to be a hot, dry summer.

Renette and I then cool off in the swimming pool. At about 3pm thunderclouds suddenly come rumbling in from the west. We go out to the Matjulu water point at 4.30pm with the sky now dark and threatening. With some ellies and rhino milling around the now dry waterpoint we settle down for coffee whereupon there is a direct lightning strike right near the Quantum. After mopping up the spilt coffee, rain begins to fall and although not heavy it persists for a good hour or two. I estimate that about 5mm fell which should have given the grassroots a little encouragement. Coming back to camp in the gloom we see our first two impala babies.

Monday, 3rd December

After a little more rain in the night, we are first at the gate at 4.20am and then again make our way down the S110 tarred road. Unlike yesterday everything is fresh and damp today with a clear sky.

Unfortunately, being on the southern extremity of the Park one is always reminded of “civilization” being close at hand.

The Malelane sugar mill.

Then coffee on the Matjulu bridge and then onto the S110 loop gravel road back to camp. Although everything is crisp and fresh, we see  nothing of interest. We debate that given the state of the veld at Bergendal whether iit would be preferable to go early to Lower Sabie which always has thhe river and Sunst Dam.

Bergendal was built in the late 1970’s and is different in style to the other Kruger camps. Attractive face bricked chalets set amongst beautiful trees and clumps of natural bush make for a most appealing setting.

No sooner than I have posted the above blog than my laptop screen turns red and flickering. So with Renette’s tooth also needing attention we jump in the Quantum and head for Malelane at 1pm. Some of you may remember that we discovered an excellent dentist, Dr Singh, in town and I offload Renette there as I go computering. At a recommended shop and after testing my laptop they determine that the screen is faulty necessitating sending it to the HP factory. The only other alternative is getting a satellite screen and plugging it in. Easier said than done. I am sent from shop to grubby shop and no one in the whole of Malelane has a screen of any kind and eventually I have to concede defeat. I collect Renette and we thankfully leave the swarming masses behind as we take refuge through the Malelane Gate into Kruger. After a late 3pm lunch at the Bergendal Tindlovu restaurant we have a late afternoon swim to recover.

I discover through the red flickering that I can just make out what I am typing so I will update whilst I can. Tomorrow we are heading quickly to the Biyamithi Weir which is far and away the best spot near Bergendal albeit over 30Km’s distant.

Tuesday, 4th December

It takes some stern words to waken the gate guard at 4.30am so four cars finally leave camp at 4.35am. Within 200m the fourth car (NR – Howick) has raced to the front and rapidly disappears. We have long ago learnt not to upset oneself at people’s rudeness and we let them be.

We are going quickly to the Biyamithi Weir this morning but as we travel the sky darkens and becomes heavily overcast. The urgency to reach the weir at sunrise disappears and we slow down going up the H3 tar and then turn right along the Mlambane S118 river road. Everything is tinder dry and there is just no water at all to attract the animals so we see nothing at all. Approaching the S116 intersection a hyena is running in the road ahead of us making for the water trough across the riverbed. Here we come across a Sanparks tour bakkie watching a small group of wild-dog and two lions under a bush. I note the damaged door of the new bakkie and the tour guide relates to me that two weeks previously the vehicle had found itself amongst a herd of buffalo that had been stampeded by lions. One buffalo had crashed head first into the bakkie.

At the weir all is gloomy and with the wind rippling the water surface prospects for photographing are poor. Upstream we see a lioness nosing around a bush. After a couple of hours we abandon our morning plan and head quickly back to camp. At Bergendal I try to find some birds but such is the dryness of everything that even the birdlife in this excellent camp is not what it should be. Lunchtime is interrupted by some electricity loadshedding so we are not totally escaping the real world.

Late afternoon and I go off to do the Matjulu Loop anticlockwise. The sky is very threatening and coming back along the gravel S110 lightning is playing over the mountains to the west. Approaching camp and the wind picks up and a really powerful storm descends on the Quantum which is buffeted and rattled with hailstones.


I pause at the little stream just outside camp and watch the incredible spectacle of Africa transforming from drought to flood. Frothing chocolate brown water gushes into the stream bed and the veld is awash.


Back in camp I pass torrents of water sluicing down the roads.




I go to inspect the dam but it is still completely empty. Anticipating that this will not be for long, I walk upstream along the fence and before long I hear the rushing of water ahead and meet the frothing, debris laden surge coming down the streambed.






Before long the waters reach the dam wall. At this point I must visit the shop before it closes and by the time that I return in the gloom the water is almost up to the lip of the wall.

Surely that marks the end of the drought that has so blighted this part of  Kruger. Here is hoping that the normal summer rains return which will restore the veld to its usual splendour.

We look forward to venturing out tomorrow to see how extensive the rain has been – particularly at Mlambane and Biyamithi