Tuesday, September 29

A Safari Guides Diary Sept 2009

A few days break in Johannesburg and I realised how long it’s been since I last put finger to keyboard and recorded some of what both I and that small slice of African bush called Kruger National Park have been doing.

Last night we had the first thunderstorms of the rainy season, as usual much flash and noise but a bit lacking in the wet! The Southern African interior does not look it’s best at this time of the year. Spring does bring out our beautiful flowering trees and many of the acacias are a vibrant luminous green, but the overwhelming colour scheme is still a dingy grey, straw, and black. 

Slender Mongoose
In the bush the animals are generally looking in poor condition, except for the predators who don’t have to work nearly as hard to hunt for their dinner. The Olifants River has dropped to just a trickle in the last few weeks and on the cool cloudy days we had last week it seemed that every hippo in the river was out on the sand banks to escape the overcrowded, drying up, hippo pools. Nature taking it’s course – we have no shortage of hippos inside Kruger National Park and if a small percentage didn’t die at this time of year from starvation and exposure then there would be a real problem next year! As it is, the ground for hundred’s of metres around the waterholes is now totally devoid of grass.
a "honeymoon" couple
a rare sighting of the Serval

The safaris have been the usual mixed and wonderful bag of sightings, people, experiences and joy.

For a change, in early September I took an 8 day safari to Zululand – revisiting the delights of Lake St Lucia, Kosi Bay, Hluhluwe Reserve and the Dlinza Forest at Eshowe. Some of the wonderful experiences we had included spotting humpback whales from the beach at St Lucia, being very, up close and personal with some elephant and their calves in Hluhluwe, listening to the invisible birds in the high forest canopy of the cool, shadowy Dlinza Forest and walking on the pristine, endless beaches near Kosi Mouth. Northern KwaZulu-Natal including Maputaland have a wealth of hidden treasures and outside school holidays it is a little visited destination. This area of course includes Sodwana Bay – my most favourite dive destination – but not on this safari unfortunately!

Kosi Estuary

Kosi Mouth
The people that have been with me on safari over the last 4 months have ranged from a 4 year old Australian to two energetic 83 year old, British South African ladies, and every age group and nationality in between. I couldn’t help crowing over the Springbok rugby victories to the 2 parties of Lion’s supporters that I had in July and it was especially nice to have a friend from my field guide course come on safari with me in August. I have also been lucky to have several safaris with people keen on seeing our bird-life and we have had some very rewarding encounters.

Collared Sun bird

Yellow billed hornbill

At my favourite bird hide in the south of Kruger, there is one pair of Goliath Herons and no less than 4 pairs of Grey Herons all currently nesting within easy view of the hide. Just to join in the breeding frenzy, an Egyptian Goose is also sitting on a nest amongst all the herons and the masked and spectacled weavers are frenetically collecting fresh thin strips of green grass and reed to speedily build their new nests. Just to add to the delights of this particular bird hide are the many crocodiles and hippo that frequently slumber near by. On one memorable visit a couple of months ago a small elephant herd came down to drink at the waters edge right next to the hide, literally within touching distance, and another time last summer we had a large hippo sleeping right under the floorboards of the hide – inches away, I could look straight into it’s bright pink nostrils – there was no difficulty in keeping everyone quiet on that day!

The antics of the animals continue to astonish and delight – the absolute highlight of the last few months being the Grey heron that landed on the mostly submerged back of a hippo charging across the bottom of a waterhole, and giving the distinct impression that it was enjoying the ensuing “surf ride”.

The handsome zebra stallion with whom we had a face off – we waited for him to cross the road a little way in front of us, he wouldn’t, and when we gave up and slowly drew level with him, he walked up onto the road next to us giving us a very haughty look as he passed nonchalantly by. The closest I’ve ever been to a zebra in Kruger!

Then, just two weeks ago we came across an hours-old elephant calf, the afterbirth still freshly red and wet on the road, the mother, calf and second adult female just a few metres off in the bushes. The little one could hardly stand and was obviously still not capable of moving very far. We came past the same spot about 6 hours later and the mother and calf had only moved about 100m. I could see very clearly then why baby elephant mortality is so high in the first year. It would be so easy for a pride of lion to separate mother from baby…………

Another elephant mother, gently nudging her days-old calf with her front foot as it lay totally “lights out” on the dry, dusty ground and then tenderly supporting it with her trunk and front leg as it tottered sleepily into her shadow.

Southern ground hornbill

At sunrise one morning, the deep, haunting song of the Southern Ground Hornbill, as a small family group moved down onto the sands of the Letaba River.

And I could go on and on. I feel so privileged to be spending so much time in the bush and above all being able to share it with so many other people.

So to all my old friends out there as well as to all of you who I am still to meet – keep well, happy, and saving hard to come on safari with me with me soon………

Water Monitor Lizard

Young female Waterbuck

Thursday, April 2

Diving our East Coast

The mighty Whale Shark
I hope you are all well and enjoying the change of seasons in your part of the world. Here, as always with a “late” Easter, winter made a fleeting appearance on the Tuesday, briefly disappeared, but now the cold fronts sweeping up from the Antarctic via the Cape are starting to make regular appearances again and the night time temperatures have dropped significantly and the wind has a distinct chill no mater how sunny the day.

It’s even cooled down in Kruger in the mornings and evenings – on my last safari I was wearing my fleece quite regularly! I definitely have acclimatised to the hot and sticky low veld summers – any air temperature less than 25 degrees C feels decidedly Antarctic to me!

My month long break was really great. Had lots of fun helping out at the Dive School, on a Rescue course and getting back “in touch” with all my friends there. Also good practice to refresh my own CPR, First Aid and rescue management skills of course. (Applicable to the bush as well as the sea!)
Late afternoon on the beach at Ponta Malongane, Mozambique
Then I packed up my diving gear, camping equipment, food and booze and lit off for the coast! Ahhhh…. how I love the deep blue Indian Ocean and those glorious, endless green sand dunes and white beaches of the African east coast. 

Looking over Sodwana Bay, KZN, South Africa

The first four nights were at Sodwana Bay in a wooden chalet with a stunning tree top view over the bay itself, and 3 days of diving on it’s pristine coral reefs – in my opinion the best in the Indian Ocean. 


Two bar anemone fish

Teardrop butterflyfish

An incredible underwater sighting of the Whale Shark

We were incredibly lucky and had a whale shark cruise in over the top of us on dive number 4, and then first thing the next morning we snorkeled with another whale shark and then a whole school of dolphin on the way out to “7 mile” reef.

Inshore Indian Ocean Bottlenose Dolphins

Afternoons I spent on my balcony, catching up on my reading, enjoying the view and the antics of the Samango monkeys in the tree tops around me. Pure peace – though I must admit to wanting to share many of the moments with some good friends.

Camping at Parc Malongane

On Day 5, I packed up again and headed north, through the border, to Ponta Malongane in southern Mozambique to join my friends from the dive school for another 4 nights of sand dune, beach and coral reef diving. This time we were camping - a lovely, densely treed camp ground hidden behind a low sand dune from the beach. It was hot and screaming with mosquitoes, so our anti bug juice was fully utilised – but only when we weren’t diving or relaxing on the beach.
The last day we had to pack up in the rain and we all considered ourselves very lucky that was the only rain we had!

For the last part of my months break I headed back south, down the KwaZulu Natal coast to Durban, where I spent day a few days each with various members of my extended family. The previous 15 months had been so hectic on safari that I found it very hard to believe that it had been that long since I had last seen everyone.
But I was there at last and made the most of it. There was no way I could predict when I would next make it to Durban........

Monday, March 2

a break from Safari work

Wild Fox glove

I woke up in the early hours of this morning with a familiar anxiety attack, “where AM I?”,  and then, “where am I picking up my clients….. have I over slept?”  A regular part of my safari routine, is the sleepless night in Johannesburg before leaving for the Kruger again… it doesn’t matter how organized and familiar the pre-trip routine is now, I just can’t get a good night’s sleep. It’s a whole different matter once I am on safari – I sleep like a baby for the 5 hours I usually get in a night.

Spotted Hyaena with cub

Whenever I am back “at home” for more than a couple of nights, I often wake up disoriented not knowing where I am and what I am supposed to be doing in the morning. Overall though, a very minor inconvenience….. I really enjoy being on the road, living out of a suitcase and hardly ever spending more than 2 nights in a row in one place. I used to think that in my previous lives I was a marine animal or a bird – now I am beginning to think that I must have been a gypsy or nomad of some sort.

Well, once again I’m officially unemployed. I left Outlook Safaris at the end of February, mainly to get a decent break from the road and to catch up with my family and diving. I’m worrying a little about how long it will take me to find the next job, especially in this economic climate, but I hope that it won’t take too long, and I’m going to enjoy the next few weeks anyway! I spent last weekend assisting on a Diving Rescue course at the Dive School and I will be camping at our local training quarry/lake this next weekend to assist instructing the “open water” component of the course. Then on Tuesday 10th I leave for Sodwana Bay for 4 days diving, then straight from there to join the Dive School at Ponta Malongane in Mozambique for another 4 days diving. I am soooooo looking forward to getting back into the sea again! Then I will return to Johannesburg via Durban where I will spend a few days catching up with all my extended family in that part of the world.

The last week of March will be crunch time for really looking hard for some more work. At the moment, after 6 days in Jo’burg I am already missing the bush – guess what? I am definitely not considering going back to a desk job in the city!!!

Sabie River at Skukuza

Kruger is, as always, absolutely spectacular – it is now late summer and on every trip new flowers have made an appearance and the grass is getting longer and longer. Luminous green has made way for gold as the overall background colour in the bush. Flash floods are now regular occurrences when thunder storms blow through – the ground is so saturated – particularly in the south, that every drop of rain immediately runs off down into the water courses. The Sabie River was roaring over the low level bridge close to Skukuza a couple of weeks ago, quite a sight, and as we made our way out of the park on that morning it was evident that many of the smaller streams had come right over the bridges during the storms in the night.

Wet, miserable baboons
The funniest sight that morning was the troop of baboons huddling together with hands, feet and heads buried as deep in their fur as they could get, looking so absolutely miserable in the drizzle.

The exception of course is the north of Kruger. Once one hits the central plains around Satara and drive northwards the grass is short, dry and gold brown and many trees are already looking autumnal. The pans and waterholes are still full but food will be in very short supply this winter.

One of the real pleasures of the last 12 months has been experiencing the bush through the full cycle of seasons. As a visitor I avoided the bush in summer, too hot, too wet, too few animals etc. etc. The experience of the last few months has shown me what I have missed for so many years – the lushness, the bird life, the flowers, the babies…….

I’m sure that I am not going to be away for long!

Pale-phase Tawny Eagle

Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Leopard in Sabi Sand Game Reserve