Friday, 18th May DAY 1

Well this is a new one. Yesterday I bring the caravan to our rather cramped simplex in Simbithi and after packing it, find that the street is too narrow to turn so I must reverse it in the dark. I attempt the tight turn into Dave Wilkinson’s garden and after cutting through the edge of a flower bed, leave some deep wheel ruts in the soggy manicured lawn. What a bad start although poor Dave is very kind about the mutilation of his garden.

Here at Simbithi we have had almost 100mm of rain over the past week. After more heavy overnight rain we set out at 4am heading for Swaziland. Mtunzini has already had 280mm of rain and as we reach there we run into a blinding deluge which is most intense between Enseleni and Teza. With visibility very limited, I note the Grantleigh buses in the gloom lined up at the Mposa turnoff trying to break into the early morning N2 traffic. What a strange feeling as we pass by. This is a ‘cut-off low’ of note which has hung over the Richards Bay area for days with no wind but torrential rain. And north of Mtuba the sky clears completely and before long we are bathed in the sunshine.

At Golela we fly through the border and on the Swazi side we use our usual diversionary tactics to put off over zealous custom officers at the gate. We must guard our meat filled cool boxes at all costs. One stern looking fellow comes to the window pumped up with importance with his eyes aggressively roving over the contents of the vehicle. “No, we are going to Kruger Park to look at the lions, leopards and cheetah”. I ask him what is the African name for a cheetah which stumps him so he refers to all the other officials. Curiously, after much discussion and laughter they agree that the only name that they know is “cheetah” – there is no African name for them. Anyway it was enough to distract everyone and with toothy smiles they waved us and the cool boxes on.

The Siteki Road is really now shockingly bad after the rains. The potholes are really deep and so plentiful that one can only creep along. With all the poverty and decay my thoughts drift to the King with his fleet of luxury BMW’s, his private jet and his string of wives. Oh dear. At one point we come across a roads department lorry laden with gravel and workers who are haphazardly throwing shovelfuls into the holes. But what were holes now turn into hummocks and the ride is just as rough. What is problematic is that the road north of Siteki is also breaking up with many new potholes developing.

At the Mananga border post no one knows the local name for a cheetah either so while they scratch their heads we shoot through. The new Swazi Mananga border building will be operational next month.

We arrive in Komatipoort at 12 noon – 8 hours since leaving Simbithi. But it is still a lot closer than Pringle Bay.

Entering the Park we see a pride of lions snoozing under some bush 100m from the gate. Thereafter a quick trip to Skukuza (H4-2 and H4-1) dodging ellies and lion induced traffic jams. The veld is just exquisite – carpeted with browning grass now that winter approaches. To me this is exactly how the bushveld should look.

We quickly set up camp and are now ready to get to grips with the birds and the photography. This place is paradise.