Friday, 14 August 2009

Day 3: Skukuza to Olifants

Wednesday 29th July 2009

We had a long way to drive (Skukuza to Olifants) which meant an early morning start - much to Izzi's annoyance. The tent had become very cold by 05:30 too, so the walk to the "communal ablutions block" was a bit of a challenge. Other happy campers were sound asleep by the time we left, and we were impressed by the "high level" accommodation provided by the tents mounted on top of Land Rovers.

We decided to have a quick breakfast at the cafeteria, and were met by a couple of hardy travellers and a group of vervet monkeys.

We then headed north out of Skukuza on the main road towards Tschokwane, a picnic site approximately half way to Satara camp. On the way we saw more FGBBs, helmeted guinea fowl, impala, warthog and hippo. We witnessed two hippo fighting, but unfortunately it was a very long way away. We also saw leopard, buffalo and lion (none of which I managed to photograph) which allowed us to notch off the first three of The Big Five.

We made a detour to one of the many watering holes en route, and saw a rather amusing indication of the relationship between the hammerkop and the hippo. The birds were flying low over the water, apparently looking for somewhere to land. Occasionally, a hippo would surface, and the aforementioned bird would take advantage!

By this point our stomachs were grumbling, and it was definitely time for "second breakfast". We stopped off at Tschokwane, revelling in the delights of French toast with syrup for Izzi, and Boerworst plus Kuduworst for Harriet and me. We weren't the only animals enjoying breakfast, however: there were glossy starlings and hornbills cleaning up after the humans, and yet more vervet monkeys helping themselves to anything which wasn't being guarded properly!

Feeling suitably replenished, we then set off for Satara. On the way we made the odd detour, and stumbled upon a troop of chacma baboons - including the newest addition and what looked the "old man" of the clan.

At another watering hole, just by the side of the main road, we were lucky enough to spend about half an hour watching a large bull elephant having a bath. By this time it was mid-day and I was photographing straight into the sun - as a result the contrast range was absolutely huge. I tried processing the following pictures in colour, but there was a terrible colour cast in the shadows (when was the last time you saw a blue elephant?). As a result, I've converted the images to monochrome. Once bathed, he climbed out of the water and spent several minutes rubbing himself against a tree: something he obviously enjoyed enormously, as the last couple of images clearly show. Now we know why the elephant is deemed to be one of The Big Five! Speaking of which, this was "number four" in our collection for the day: only the white rhino to go...

We arrived at Satara (a beautiful camp which, unfortunately for us, was fully booked) about 2.00, and it was time for "a little something". Izzi tucked into lamb curry, while Harriet and I had a cake and a drink each. I got severely told off by one of the rangers for "accidentally" dropping some crumbs from my rock cake into the vicinity of a variety of birds which had gathered around my feet. Slapped wrists, and a potential R2500 fine. Oops...

Also in the gardens at Satara was the first fever tree we'd seen while travelling north. Absolutely beautiful (and found in plenty of places other than the great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo), and with the most astonishing roots.

Onto the final part of the journey - the relatively short leg from Satara to Olifants. We saw a whole load more elephant on the way, initially walking in a train parallel to the road, and then crossing just in front of us. One of the adolescent bulls decided to display for us, which was pretty impressive. It was at quite a distance, though, so we were in absolutely no danger.

Then, finally, we managed to spot the final animal of our Big Five set: a white rhino was grazing quietly, very close to the side of the road. Rather graceful, for such a large animal, and beautiful in the late afternoon light.

Just before the gates of the camp closed, we stopped for a while on the bridge over the Olifants river. Impressive enough in itself, and wide enough for it to be safe to get out of the car and stretch one's legs; but, on this occasion, it was made extra special because there was a family of elephant just below the parapet, munching their way through whatever they could find. The perspective was very strange, looking down on these huge animals, but the experience was absolutely breathtaking.

We entered the camp with a few minutes to spare, and then collapsed for a while. The restaurant was being rebuilt, so dinner was from the cafeteria: simple food, but extremely welcome. Unsurprisingly, we all had an early night...