Bergendal-Skukuza 12-13th October

Bergendal-Skukuza 12-13th October

Saturday, 12th

The Matjulu stream valley in which lies Bergendal camp has really been devoid of game. Lions are usually to be heard roaring about the camp at night and sightings by day are frequent. But during the week that I have been here, not a sign of them. In fact very little game at all. Once the grass begins to sprout no doubt the game will return.

The road options at Bergendal are limited so today sees me again heading for the Mlambane S119 road. But despite creeping along at 10kph I see very little of animals and birds. I have already stated that I find October my least attractive month in Kruger with the veld in poor shape and the migratory birds not yet arrived. It is amazing how quickly good rain rejuvenates things and the veld becomes a frenzy of activity. I do so hope that we have follow up rains to help the grass which already is sprouting.

At the ellie carcass down in the riverbed along the S118, precious little remains and I wonder at the disappearance of the large rib cage and spine. There are a few vultures around – Lappet-faced, Cape, White-backed and Hooded.

Cape Vultures (light coloured with yellow eye)
Lappet-faced Vultures

I return back to camp over the S120 Steilberg road but besides some ellies, giraffe and a few distant buffalo, I see little. Today is my last at Bergendal and tomorrow I move on to Skukuza for nine days. I look forward to the beautiful Sabie river which always throws up something of interest and of course my wonderful Lake Panic birdhide. However, it becomes more and more difficult to avoid the congestion and commercialism of Skukuza so tactics become all important.

This afternoon I visit the Matjulu water trough which of course is desolate after the rain but I do enjoy the White-fronted Bee-eaters.

Sunday, 13th

Frustratingly, the best of a magnificent sunrise is over by the time the gates open at 5.30am – another drawback of October month. The morning light is too beautiful to waste so I go down the tar to Malelane, up the H3 and then turn left along the S110 gravel Matjulu loop road. With senses on high alert, I creep along this lovely road but again nothing at all stirs. Not once do I lift my camera despite the soft morning light. Beautiful Bergendal has not been at its best and if I strip away the spectacular leopard sighting, then I saw very little.

Back at camp, I quickly hitch up the caravan and at 7am I am on my way to Skukuza. Other that some ellies, nothing delays my progress and I reach Skukuza at 8.45am. Today is a pre-frontal hottie and with all the shady sites already taken, I must make do with an exposed one. But with the air/con going I will survive.

I read of the sudden resignation of Kruger’s Managing Executive, Glenn Phillips. Although he officially resigned for “personal reasons”, rumour has it that accusations of racism were levelled against him, including using strong arm tactics against rhino poachers. I am filled with foreboding. His was an impossible situation. If you are going to keep high standards then you are going to step on toes and the moment you do that – the race card comes out. A tragic loss of a good man to Kruger and I am sure that the poachers are delighted.

As if to confirm my misgivings, I go for my midday swim and note the old litter surrounding the pool. The water is filthy brown/green, the gate is broken and missing palings leave gaps in the fence. And Skukuza is the capital of SA’s premier tourist destination…….. mindbogglingly inept.

This afternoon I cross the Sabie and head along the H1-2 to the Sand River – or what is left of it. A tiny trickle of water is all that remains, not enough for the waterbirds. So I push on and idle along the beautiful Maroela Loop S83. Again, the road is desolate, no animals, no birds so I rejoin the main H1-2 and head for the high-level bridge across the Sabie River (H12). A cluster of cars at the end of the bridge attracts me and I quickly learn that there are three Cape Clawless Otters in the river below. I squeeze against the railings and am delighted when they show themselves.

Water Thick-knees not too happy at the presence of the otters
A good scratch

Yesterday I remarked that the Sabie River has the habit of throwing up the unexpected and that certainly happened this afternoon. We have seen these otters before in the Sabie but not often. I always wonder why the crocs take no interest in them.

Skukuza has not had the rain enjoyed by Bergendal and with such dry veld, I can see myself keeping largely to the river – despite the traffic. Driving back to camp the sun disappears behind a summery bank of cloud to the west so here’s hoping that the rains are not too far off.