Many people who have been lucky enough to experience the natural beauty and excitement of game drives in the Kruger National Park, will understand that most of its wonder and glory comes from being at the right place-at the right time. This would be the case for my friend Robyn and I on that fateful September day.
We had been in the park for a few days already and on this particular morning we decided to drive from Satara camp through to Olifants. In the Kruger Park it is known that the early bird catches the worm – so eagerly we set off with the first rays of day break. Driving down the H1-4 tar road from Satara we had our first incredible sighting within 10 minutes of leaving our camp. In the middle of the road ahead of us was a pack of painted wolves, also known as hunting dogs – chasing a wildebeest just off the road. Painted wolves are endangered species and a very rare sighting to witness in the park. We watched in amazement as the pack ran circles around the lone wildebeest. We watched on in amazement at their techniques and strategies – they have a reputation for incredible teamwork. Once the pack circled the wildebeest a few times they seemed to lose interest in this prey and decided to go after something less risky and of a smaller size, a steenbok. Though we did not witness the hunt, moments later the pack emerged again with the remains of the much smaller steenbok. Watching the pack finally dash off into the bush left us feeling amazed at having witnessed this brilliant behavior from such a rare carnivore. In the distance a herd of elephants grazed on oblivious to the packs activity and we continued on our journey to Olifants camp.
A few kilometers ahead on our H1-4 road, at Ntomeni dam we came across two magnificent big male lions with large manes laying down near the water. They were very relaxed and in no hurry to go anywhere. I remember the rays of early morning sun shining beautifully off their golden coats. Seeing male lions in the park has always been a favorite of mine. We spent a few quiet minutes admiring these two incredible animals before continuing on our way.
Next we decided to take a new river road up to the S-89 as a route to Olifants camp. As we took this one-way turn off we came across another remarkable sighting up in a Boer Bean tree. We first noticed two cars parked to the left of the road, and much excitement in them with people looking up into the dense canopy of the tree. When we looked closer we noticed a female leopard feeding on the last remains of an impala kill which she had pulled high into the tree. Once again- we were thrilled and filled with excitement. We hurriedly got our cameras out and took many photos to capture this striking Kruger scene. With little warning, the leopard started to move and in what seemed like a single agile movement, she slunk down the tree trunk close to where the vehicles were parked and vanished – something these mysterious cats are so well known for. Later, having showed one of the photos we captured of her to a field guide friend, he had mentioned he believes she may have cubs as he pointed out the subtle suckle marks she had around her nipples – an hint that she may have had very small cubs nearby. Reflecting on the sighting, I remember how elegantly she moved – the perfect balance of grace and strength and then this powerful animal disappearing, as if by magic. We continued on our adventure along the dirt road that had led us here. What an incredible morning drive it had been so far! Could it possibly get any better?
As we bounced along on our winding river trail we reached the junction of the S-89 & S-90 – here we noticed a few cars pulled over looking at something on the right side of an open clearing. We quickly got our binoculars out and started scanning the trees, bushes and ground for any sign of movement. It did not take long for us to notice a pride of lions. We re-positioned the vehicle to get a better look and noticed they had a kill – a large buffalo bull, lying on its side.
This drive from Satara camp up to the S-90 provided us with a range of incredible sightings. Not only did we manage to see 5 of the “Magnificent 7”, but we still had the entire day ahead of us to explore even further into the park as this had all unfolded even before our breakfast stop. These 65 minutes of Kruger magic will forever be my proof that in Kruger- the early bird catches the worm!