Friday, 17th November DAY 3

4.30am is quite a mission for some so we are third out of four when we arrive at the gate five minutes before opening time. The sky is quite clear to the east so we decide to go down to the Biyamithi weir. The road (S114) takes us past the Renoster koppies and then to the four way intersection at the top end of the Biyamithi road. Here we find four hyena milling about in the road, one seriously pregnant. They are gazing intently into the bush close by but we see nothing.

2Km further on Renette’s almost forgotten hair-trigger explodes into action as she spies a leopard lying close to the road. It proves to be an ageing tom-cat and he too is having difficulty in waking early. Eventually we coax him to lift his head for a photo and then down he goes again. Nothing wrong with him – just in retirement – like us.

We have seen no evidence of burning and the veld is a beautiful mixture of last season’s dry grass and new green grass springing up. I cannot but feel that the burning policy of old had much to do with the killing off of so many of the giant marulas that used to cover the eastern plains.

With pools of water standing everywhere, it is to be expected that the weir would be quiet but…. it is still glorious in the early morning light. Our resident hippo has moved out but in his place are two large crocs.

We take the Biyamithi River road (S23) back – one of the most attractive in the Park with its riverine trees and granite outcrops.

We stop to photograph klipspringers and cuckoos. The Woodland Kingfishers have arrived and the impala everywhere are dropping their fawns.

So as to get back to camp earlier we think it is better to cut across onto the Afsaal – Skukuza road (H3) but our plan backfires – in a very positive way. We come across a group of cars and right amongst them is strolling a male leopard, quite calmly. Being a main road, before long there are ten cars in a jam and the leopard wanders off into the bush. The cars all disappear but we stay on and soon discover our man eyeing out some impala. But eventually he again slinks off deeper into the bush and we too leave.

At the T junction we turn right towards Skukuza (H1-1) and just beyond Granokop come across eight Wild Dog trotting ahead of us. Rather like Ethiopian marathon runners, these amazing animals just keep up their pace for some kilometres with another jam of tour vehicles and buses in their wake. Interestingly, a couple of dogs stop and emit a rather birdlike howl which I cannot remember hearing them do before.  Today is so typical of Skukuza. Early this morning we went for two hours before seeing our first car and thereafter on the gravel roads, probably six in total. But on the main tarred roads it is bedlam. Skukuza is all about when, where and how and if one gets that right, it is great.

Back at camp we go to inspect the enormous lodge that Murray & Roberts are building on the west side of the camp. It is a vast two storey complex sprawling over quite a large area. I suppose that will mean more people and more evasive action will be necessary on our part. At midday we go for a swim and what with the sun and some brisk lengths, we feel good. I prefer summer to winter in the park for a number of reasons, one being the good exercise one gets from swimming.

We take a short afternoon nap but no doubt after our exertions in the pool, we oversleep and leave ourselves little time to go around Stevenson-Hamilton (S22).

On the way back we come across a pale morph of a Wahlberg’s Eagle feeding on something next to the road. Considering that this photo was illuminated by a following cars headlights, then I can’t complain.