Tuesday, 19th June DAY 33

Not quite the end of our trip. Renette and I both agree that the lure of another Kruger sunrise far outweighs the hassle of getting home in the dark – so off we go.

As usual right outside Croc Bridge camp there is a young male lion wandering along the road (H4-2). He provides a most welcome diversion for us as we quickly leave the  cars behind, cross the Vurhami bridge and then turn right up the (S28) gravel road to Lower Sabie. The plan is to go as far as we can before the sun rises, turn around and then wander back with the sun at our backs. It works well.

We arrive at a herd of buffalo lying in the grass so we stop and enjoy our coffee next to them. And this is a lesson for all of us. On short visits to the Park, people tend to tear about trying to reel in the Big 5 but when one stays for some time one can rather linger and savour the moment. Today vividly shows how fulfilling this can be.

Soon the sun slips over the Lebombo its first rays catching the horns and wet noses of the buffalo as they quietly graze and munch away at their cud.

The gnarled old chaps are such a feature of Africa.

What an experience to listen to the sounds – the rustle of the grass, the oxpeckers and egrets and to smell that beautifully sweet bovine smell all in complete peace. The lion down at Croc Bridge is doing his job and no traffic at all comes our way.

I take some good natured ribbing from one member of my mailing list in particular about getting up so early each morning. I cannot emphasise enough the beauty of what we experienced this morning just quietly sitting amongst these buffalo in this exquisite, soft light with the chill of a winter’s morning in the air. An hour later and it is all gone as the moment is lost. As a keen photographer one knows all too well how precious is the light for the first two hours after sunrise – and if it is pleasing for the camera then it must also be pleasing on the eye as well.

We sit for 45 minutes before the first car arrives and when it does we turn and head for camp much enraptured about this simple experience that we have enjoyed so much. Truly one of the great acts of Mary’s opera house.

We cross the Vurhami bridge for the last time bidding farewell to our Saddlebills who are still working the pools. We hear a Fish Eagle call close by.

Our poor, harassed cheetah has moved to somewhere close to the Hippo Pool road (S25) as evidenced by the usual collection of cars. I do not see them but instead focus on a distant immature Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene) that is so typically hunting on the dry tree – all flapping wings and hanging upside down from branches.

Back to camp, pack up and we leave the Park at 9.30am after a really cracking trip. The trip back home is eventful. The speed limits in Swaziland must be the most ludicrous that I have ever come across. Along a good, empty highway the limit drops from 120 to 60Kph just because there is a desolate bus shelter at the side of the road. Ridiculous – but a wonderful way for the traffic people to earn some money. The road from the Mbuluzi River to Simunye has a speed limit of 60Kph for 5Km over an open straight road and which none of the locals observe. But approaching Simunye I am pulled over and fined for speeding. But the officer is pleasant, it is only R60 so I just shut up, pay and move on.

The Siteki-Big Bend road is so bad that in the interest of preserving our caravan we decide to take the Manzini road and then cut across down to Big Bend. It was not a good idea. I carefully measured the difference and the route took 67Km longer and 47 minutes more than if we had slowly taken the Siteki road. Furthermore one has just as much chance of smashing the caravan on the many unmarked, unpainted speed humps, so loved by the Swazis. So not an option and next time it is the Siteki road at 20Kph.

We have been warned that there are protests at Mkekayi north of Mtubatuba but my thinking is that by the time that we get there things would have subsided and everything cleaned up. I didn’t quite get this right either. At the Bushlands flyover we pass a cane truck that has burnt out heading north and I presume that this was set alight at Mfekayi (8Kms south) and the driver fled with his load of cane on fire until it enveloped the whole truck. Approaching Mfekayi we see many police vehicles about and then at the intersection there is black smoke billowing from burning tyres. Now especially with the caravan in tow I am starting to get worried as I see crowds ahead and there are large pieces of debris in the road. Someone hurls a half brick across the road just ahead of us and then through the smoke I note a huge crowd of toyi-toying protesters obviously in angry mood advancing on the road. Mercifully we get through just as police vehicles come racing up. And all the way down to Mtuba we pass police vehicles streaming northward. So it seems as though the protest was flaring up again.

Of course scenes such as this, after having spent 32 days in the peace, serenity and safety of Kruger, are rather sobering. All of which makes me so thankful that we can enjoy that great refuge of SA called the Kruger Park. My goodness but both Renette and I cannot wait to get back again.

And we do reach Simbithi Eco in the dark but the buffalo made it all worth it.