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Thursday, January 19, 2017

11/29: Our First Sighting of Ostriches at Kruger

After staying at Crocodile Bridge Safari Lodge just outside Kruger National Park's SE entrance for the last three nights it was time to move on. We had mixed feelings about that, though, because it had been such a great stay even if the generator had gone out a few times. The 'rooms' were in fact the most luxurious tents complete with a queen bed, a single bed, a full size fridge, a kettle with an array of teas to choose from and a massive bathroom. It was hard to leave especially since we had idyllic views of Crocodile River right from our porch and the owners were also very welcoming and hospitable.

By 10:30, we finally dragged ourselves away from the lodge and headed to the north central part of the park as we'd be staying at Skukuza Rest Camp for our final two nights in the park. We remarked again how, even though we had loved being driven around while at Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, we preferred to have the freedom to drive where we wanted and the option to change our plan on a moment's notice.

Thanks to Lil Red who identified this bird as a lilac-breasted roller for me!
Heading toward Lower Sabie, it wasn't bad driving for just five minutes and seeing five giraffes together, an elephant, wildebeest, warthog and impala! It was no wonder park officials and those tourists familiar with Kruger describe this area of the park as one of the best opportunities to witness so many animals. Too bad we hadn't purchased a bird field guide as we had no idea what the following multi-colored birds were.

This lone elephant was a mere eight feet away. Close enough, don't you think?!

Just a minute later, there was a large herd of elephants on the other side of the Sabie River.
As we crossed the Sabie River, we were reminded how lucky we were here now because two weeks ago, the drought had been so severe there was no water at all. 

In the Sabie's shallow waters, we spotted ten hippos and lots of birds. This was our first time being north of the Sabie River which runs west to east across the south central part of the park before continuing east into neighboring Mozambique.

Some heavily pregnant zebras, we thought:

The vegetation north of the Sabie was noticeably far less dense, almost bordering on sparse.
When we came across a group of cars up ahead, Steven called it perfectly when he said there must be a lion or leopard nearby!

1,400 foot high Muntshe Mountain in the distance with zebras in the foreground. We had observed a gazillion more of them today than in the previous days combined.

We didn't know of course whether so many zebras were naturally or always here or whether they had just recently moved to this area of the park which was due north of Crocodile Bridge.

I took this photo because of the zebra's spectacular mane. 

Heading still straight north, this was our first time seeing this type of landscape in the park.

These low-lying, brownish-gray grasses were also new to us.
After driving for a few hours, it was a pleasant change to be able to stretch our legs at the Nkumbe Lookout. I had read that although a visit to Kruger is motivated by wildlife sightings rather than beautiful views, the lookout points in the park are much more reliable than the animals’ location. In other words, visitors might not get to see all the animals they hoped, but stopping at one of the these lookout points, guaranteed a jaw-dropping view. 
We had been so lucky as we had already seen all the animals and more we had hoped to see, so the view from Nkumbe Lookout was simply an added bonus in our minds. The thatched and shaded area was a perfect place to just relax for awhile on the cement benches.

It was so peaceful overlooking the veld, a flat area covered in grass or low scrub common to southern Africa, as it was incredibly quiet. 
We were only able to pick out these two impalas escaping from the heat under this lone tree in the open, uncultivated grassland.

Back in the car and still driving further north, we caught sight of one of the few nyalas we'd seen so far today.

Oops, we'd been spotted!
Close by was this waterbuck with this unmistakable white ring on its rump.

Still further on were this group of six ostriches. They were definitely the highlight of our day so far. The ostrich is a member of a group of birds known as ratites, which means they are flightless birds without a keel to their breastbone. 

Ostriches are the largest of the 8,600 bird species existing today. Standing tall on long, bare legs, the ostrich has a long, curving, predominantly white neck. These huge birds, which sometimes reach a height of 8.5 feet and a weight of 300 pounds, cannot fly, but are very fast runners. 

Ostriches are mainly vegetarian, eating grass, succulents, berries and seeds, though they will also eat insects. They swallow large numbers of pebbles which help grind the harder food in the gizzard and aid digestion. 

Ostriches have been successfully domesticated and are now farmed throughout the world, particularly in South Africa, for meat, feathers and leather. 
Noticing another lookout on our map, we detoured from the paved road east to a gravel road en route to the Orpen Dam Lookout. We read a sign that said the dam had sadly been invaded by water lettuce and red water fern, which were declared as alien weeds, as they originated from South America. 
From the lookout high above the water, we didn't see the lettuce or fern. Instead, while munching on the sandwiches we'd made back at the lodge, we followed an elephant as it made its way from the bushes on the lower right and then across the dam.

Once the one elephant had safely reached the other side, two others, perhaps the mother with her baby, began the short trip across the dam to join, what he thought, was probably the father.

Watching their progress had been so much fun.
We had planned to keep traveling north on the dirt road so we could see more of the central area of the park, but the road was in terrible shape. Instead, we turned around and headed west on another gravel road that was in far better condition.

We came across a turnout soon afterwards and took that. There were no animals there then but we figured there must have recently as there looked like fresh animal tracks in the mud. 
Not far away, though, were more elephants.

Even though we'd been driving virtually all day every day for three straight days, we still hadn't gotten any further north than about the lower third of Kruger as the park was so large. Before coming to Kruger, we had thought that we'd definitely be able to see the middle and northern areas of the park. That proved to be totally unrealistic as in the southern area of the park, there were so many dirt roads to wander down and lookouts to stop at, both of which obviously had  plenty of animals. We also wanted to relish what we were seeing and not rush onto another place with no guarantee of there being something even more exciting there. Perhaps, we'll be back in South Africa another time. If so, then it would be fun to discover the other sections of Kruger that we didn't see this time.

Tshokwane Trading Post was an ideal spot to escape from the car and view what there was in the shop and lookout area.

The post's restaurant offered some unusual, to us at least, menu options. After seeing some of the animals in the wild, it was hard, just a bit later, to then see the same ones on a menu!

Resting in the shade behind the trading post, we managed to spot a steenbok in the brush. 

Also saw a .... bird of some type!

From the trading post, we began driving southwest toward Skukuzu Rest Camp, where we were staying for the next two nights. It wasn't long before we caught sight of two giraffes who looked like they were nuzzling each other. So adorable!

The Kruger Tablets on the road from Tshokwane to Skukuza commemorated Paul Kruger who was responsible, in 1898, for joining the land between the Sabie and Crocodile rivers to create the Sabie Game Reserve. That was the forerunner of Kruger National Park which was established in 1926.

Before we reached Skukuza Rest Camp, we were lucky enough to detect two female lions in the undergrowth. 

After checking into our cozy bungalow at the camp at 5, we walked over to the combination gift shop/mini grocery. I couldn't help but think this was my type of yogurt; after all, it did say chocolate chip!
We decided to take a break from cooking our own dinners and had dinner at the camp's Cattle Baron Restaurant overlooking the Sabie River. 
Skukuza Camp was originally known as Sabie Bridge until the name was changed to Skukuza in 1936. The name Skukuza comes for the Tsonga name for James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first warden of Sabie Game Reserve.

From the restaurant, we could see the old Sabie railway bridge.
In the distance were some nyalas, the last animals we observed for the day. 

We turned in early as we needed to be up before 4 for a very early Game Walk led by rangers. Steven, unlike me, is not an early riser, so he was really hoping the early start would be well worth it! I will be sure to let you know in my next post if it was!

Posted on January 19th, 2016 from Littleton, Colorado.


  1. WOW, wonderful photos of elephants crossing the river. Also, "Some heavily pregnant giraffes, we thought:", I thing they are zebras. Lil Red

  2. Oops - guess I just had giraffes on my mind when writing that. Indeed, they were zebras of course!


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