Thursday, December 27

A Kruger intermission, an underwater sojourn

Sodwana Bay, viewed from Jesser point

After a year of working quite hard on safari I was definitely missing my “alternate” world – under the sea.....

So when I realised that I was not working over Christmas (for the first time since 2007) I immediately made plans to go diving.

I hadn't been on the reefs of Sodwana Bay for almost four years and as one could, at a stretch, say it was on the way to Durban, where I planned to visit my extended family, well, it was the obvious diving destination.

Blue-lined & Yellow snapper

My timing was good, the sea has started getting warmer, there were enough divers around to make up a boat load of “advanced” divers to visit further reefs, but not yet the school holidays, so I could get some “off-season” discounts (plus the beach wasn't too crowded).

And, wow, I had forgotten just how glorious the diving at Sodwana can be!

Here are just a few of my photos, but they cannot really give you a feel for what we experienced:-

Paper Fish

The gorgeous, colourful hard and soft corals, sponges, anemones, clams and fish that proliferate on the reefs stretching north of Jesser Point;

Two-bar anemone fish

 The large manta ray swooping over and around us for most of another dive;

Ribbon Eels

Five different types of moray eel one afternoon, including the “cheeky” black-cheeked moray that nipped my hand as I struggled in the surge to take a photo of another;

The brilliantly coloured, tiny nudibranchs dotted almost everywhere we looked;

A view through one of the many arches on the reefs

A school of dolphins circling us playfully as we snorkeled with them after one dive;

Turtle tracks etched on the dunes as we skimmed past every morning;

The majesty of a large “raggie” shark winding away from us;

 And, at the end of a long morning's diving, that unique post-dive state of exhausted euphoria.


Ribbon-tail Ray

Giant clam

After that wonderful, diving break I am back to Kruger Park tomorrow, totally refreshed by almost 9 hours of immersion in the Indian Ocean, and ready for the bush again :)

I hope you have all had a happy festive season, and best wishes for 2013.

Friday, December 7

Wildlife, mountains & lakes in the Pilanesberg

A popular wildlife destination for those who can't get to Kruger, is the Pilanesberg National Park, only a couple of hours drive from Jo'burg.

Three weeks ago, my niece and I spent a few days in this very scenic part of South Africa.

We were both "on holiday", so we didn't do the "serious" safari bit, but relaxed, didn't keep to a schedule, and still managed to get many awesome wildlife sightings.

It's both higher in elevation and drier in this north western corner, so in addition to impala, there are also springbok to be seen. As well as blue wildebeest (aka gnu) we also spotted elusive hartebeest. Another special sighting for me was a colony of rock dassies (hyraxes) which we rarely see in Kruger.

The park is obviously a lot smaller but is nestled within concentric rings of high hills (we call them mountains here) which are the very ancient remnants of a volcano. So the landscapes are spectacular!

Here are just a few of my favourite photos / sightings...........

We only once got up before dawn,  it was worth it though!

We had quite a few great sightings of these awesome creatures....

and wildebeest and zebra were everywhere.......

no wildebeest babies yet but lots of zebra foals.

The Pilanesberg has plenty of waterholes / dams to attract the wildlife, and these are really beautiful.....

The elephant breeding herds remained elusive, with only one very distant sighting but we had wonderfully close encounters with these two male elephant.

We also saw many, many giraffe, but my favourite photo involving a giraffe was of this red-billed ox pecker:)

There were many other great bird sightings too......

White-faced Duck

Spotted Thick-knee and chick

Pied kingfisher

Then some of our most special moments waited until our last afternoon game drive.

We were admiring this herd of wildebeest walking, in file, across the silver green grassy slope when to our amazement a Brown hyena snuck into view. It didn't take long for the wildebeest to spot it and swiftly chase it off !

We were still oohing and aahing about the hyena, when around the next corner we spotted a pair of Black-backed jackal and their two pups in the road.

This small family was very shy and quickly disappeared from sight into their den under the road, but another kilometre on we came across a second mother with 5 pups! These were much more relaxed and we had a wonderful 15 minutes watching them play.....

The lighting was very bad so I apologise for the quality of these pictures.

And that was the Pilanesberg. It is always well worth a visit, especially if you cannot make Kruger.

We also saw lion, hippo, springbok, warthog, and many other creatures small & large.

Cheetah, leopard, buffalo and wild dog kept themselves out of sight, but maybe next time!

Tuesday, November 6

Memorable Bush Moments - the elephant & zebra

A blog buddy of mine, Caroline (you can find her on Lonicera's World ) has been posting recently on Life's Little Pleasures ( LLP's) and I'm not shy to admit that I am borrowing this concept but with an African twist:)

My posts are about "Memorable Bush Moments (MBM's)".

Surprisingly enough, these don't happen that often, not for me, anyway. We see many animals doing their normal "thing" - eating, ruminating, dozing or just standing/lying in one spot. As interesting as this is for people new to the bush, I need something more to make it "memorable" - uncommon or previously unseen behaviour, interaction between different species.... you get the drift?

This particular "moment" happened in September whilst on safari in Kruger. The photos are not all of "professional quality" but I think you will get a "feel" for the action..........

Location:- Nsemani Dam, near Satara, Kruger National Park

We had already been at the waterhole for a few minutes watching a pair of youngish male elephants play in the water and then leave it for some semi-serious "tusk measuring" contests.

They eventually broke off and moved off to the right along the upper bank of the waterhole.

This was just as a small herd of zebra came down to drink.........

The pictures speak for themselves  (please remember to see enlarged pictures click on the first one).

The ele on the left had just chased off some Egyptian geese...

A peaceful scene, until.....

see how he sneaks up behind the bushes.....
and then a sudden charge right behind the zebra!

and they've gone!

Saturday, October 27

Zululand – from Zebras to Whales, Owls to Twinspots

I've been meaning to post about Zululand for sometime now. For the last four years I have been fortunate enough to guide a safari each spring/early summer to this beautiful part of South Africa.

In actual fact, the main reason I've just been back there is due to extolling its wonders to Dave and Jean, whilst they were on safari with me in Kruger in late 2009. So this year, they returned and asked me to guide them on an exhilarating 10 day exploration of this amazingly diverse province.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve

Picture in your mind - steep, grassy mountain sides; dense cool shady forests; crashing Indian Ocean rollers; endless silver beaches; colourful coral reefs; glittering lakes, lazy rivers and reedy marshes; and in-between, around these carefully conserved wilderness areas, the scattered rural homesteads and settlements of the Zulu and Shangaan people and the extensive sugar, pineapple and eucalyptus plantations of “big” agriculture.

Nyamithi Pan, Ndumo Game Reserve

A province of contrasts, a modern melting-pot of the low-intensity but persistent competition for the rich, rain-endowed rolling landscape, between people and wildlife, big business and traditional practices, conservation and development.......

For many years, this part of South Africa has been little known except to South Africans themselves, but international visitors who want to experience Africa beyond the “big 5”, are growing in numbers.

Cape Vidal
The destinations roll off the tongue – the Elephant Coast, Maputaland, Ithala, Ndumo, Sodwana, uMkhuze, iSimangaliso, iMfolozi, Hluhluwe, St Lucia, Cape Vidal......

And so.... to the safari itself......

The rains came early this year, so for October the country side was unusually lush, with wild flowers scattering colour over every open grassland, and woodlands intensely green with the bright colours of new leaf. The pans, lakes and rivers were all full and muddy brown and the skies were mostly grey, black and white with mists and thunderstorms.

The mammals, birds, insects and reptiles, thriving on this early release from the privations of late winter could be seen anywhere you looked and we had some really memorable experiences. These are just a few of them:-

African Wood Owl

A Marsh Owl perched on a fence post next to the roadworks – a first sighting for all of us, and then the very next morning, another first, an African Wood Owl perched deep in a forested mountainside going down to the Phongola River;


We saw at least one (usually more) White Rhino on every day of this safari;


A tense, bumpy, slippery 20 kilometre drive, on deeply muddy roads into Ndumo, culminating in a wonderful sighting of giraffe soon after entering;

Zebra at uMkhuze

An hour, plus, sitting enraptured in the car park of an uMkhuze hide, watching Blue waxbills, Yellow-fronted canaries, Pink-throated twinspots, Golden-breasted buntings, Green-winged pytilias, White-browed scrub-robins, Fire finches..........;

A leopard dragging it's antelope kill away into the thickets close by;

Morning on the beach

Seeing hump-back whales breaching against the sun rising over the Indian Ocean;

Coming back to our log cabin after a long day out bird and animal watching to find all our bread and bananas scattered into crumbs by invading monkeys;

The agile bats whizzing around our heads, inside the cabin, catching insects attracted to the lights;

The magnificent, stately Kudu bulls of Lake St Lucia Eastern Shores;

Two large crocodiles patiently stalking warthog and bushbuck just in front of the hide (not successful whilst we were there);

On a rare sunny day, vultures, eagles, kites filling the skies above the rolling iMfolozi hills;

First hearing and then spotting a Gorgeous bush-shrike in a thicket right next to the road;

Picnic breakfast on the banks of the Hluhluwe River;

 First, one large family of elephants, youngsters digging holes, chasing each other whilst mothers calmly carry on demolishing bushes and pulling lush grass. 

Then as we carry on up the river valley, more and more groups, herds, families of elephant, young males sparring, youngsters flopping down on river banks, older males deep in the trees up the hill sides, stately matriarchs with babies hugging their flanks........

And our last morning, on the open grasslands of Ithala, seeing Secretary birds, Blue crane, Bald ibis, Ostriches, Lanner falcons, zebra, rhino, Tssessebee, Red hartebeest, warthog......

Tssessebee in the flowers

Blue Crane (our national bird)

Hartebeest and Wildebeest

A glorious finale to an unforgettable 10 days.

Thank you Jean and Dave!

PS. The company that organised this particular trip now offers 7 day Zululand Explorer packages, so if any of you are inspired to visit Zululand after reading this post, please contact me and I will put you in touch with them.