After an exciting first two days filled with many great sightings, we were all keen to make our way north in search of more wildlife. High on the list of must-sees were the Buffalo (the illusive fifth member of the Big Five), the Cheetah and the Wild dog. Rumours by fellow guests were that both Cheetah and Wild Dog had been spotted north of Skukuza and The Don assured us that spotting Buffalo wouldn’t be a problem, so we left the camp with hope in our hearts.
We crossed the Sable River and set our baring north towards Satara at the set speed limit. We weren’t in a rush but wanted to get some miles under the belt. Sightings were limited in the morning, with the biggest excitement being a lone pair of lion ears lying under the brush a few metres off the road. By this stage, we were no longer newbies in the park and sightings of Giraffe, Impala and ‘Togs – our nickname for the Warthog’s – no longer created the excitement which it had previously. Both these animals are everywhere – literally everywhere – in the Park.
We stopped for coffee at Tshokwane where The Otter had the first of his run ins with a Vervet Monkey, whilst The Don spotted a Golden Breasted Bunting – a lifer for him. The monkey incident was particularly funny as the Monkey nicked a muffin which I had just bought for The Otter, in full view of him. Those little bastards are so cocky that they literally jump onto your table, look you in the eye, and take your food.
Soon after Tshokwane, we completed the Big Five as we spotted a huge bull Buffalo chilling on the side of the road. They’re pretty docile animals but the stories you hear about their strength and will, makes them an awesome sight. The Buffalo is considered to be the most dangerous animal in Africa, which says a lot for a suped-up cow. We high-rived each other on our Big Five achievements. We were chuffed!
We had agreed that a dirt road session would be the order of the afternoon and so after a brief stop for lunch on the side of the road and a viewing of a massive Boabab Tree, we turned left towards Talamati. The river ran alongside us as we travelled west and I constantly had my eyes on the trees with the hope of spotting either another leopard or a Giant Eagle Owl. The Don had placed a bounty of ZAR200 on the Eagle Owl’s head and I was keen to claim the cash.
By the time we had passed Talamati, the sun was at its highest point and the roads were dusty. This was the first time we would learn that sightings in the midday sun are unlikely. Couple that with a dusty road and you’re lucky if you spot a ‘tog. The heat and gentle movement of the car soon got to me and I found myself drifting to dreamland.
I woke up at the Orpen Gate, where we needed to check-in for Tamboti, which was a couple kilo’s around the corner. I ducked into the tuck shop to grab a new supply of biltong as ours had run low and made my way to reception to have a look at the daily sightings board. The evidence on the board made me feel like we were possibly running a day behind everyone else in the area as all the big sightings had been seen the day before. Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and Wild Dog had all been spotted in the vicinity. As we drove the few kilometres to Tamboti, I briefly questioned whether we had made the right decision by taking the dirt road to Talamati.
If the lack of sightings during the day had placed any form of dampener on the three of us, the Tamboti camp lifted our spirits immediately. The camp is considered the top tented accommodation in South Africa with one scribe going so far as to say that the animal sounds heard during a night at Tamboti are “deafening”. I could understand said scribe’s sentiment as the various tents overlook the Timbavati River which although dry, showed evidence of many animals having passed over it.
We settled in for the evening around the fire and watched an awesome sunset as we sipped on our beers laughed at the days events. We had a brief conversation with the Australian couple staying in the tent next door, who confirmed my earlier doubts regarding dirt roads in the middle of the day. We agreed that we would try to stick to tar from there on out.
After dinner, The Don called it a night and disappeared into the tent, whilst The Otter and I switched from beer to whiskey. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and it was great to catch up with him. He’s a top bloke and we spoke about everything from business to cricket to James Bond – of all things. At one stage during the evening, as we were sipping on our third – or fourth – whiskey-on-the-rocks, we heard a scuffle behind us. We both immediately turned around and stared directly into the face of a Honey Badger. We had been told by the Australian couple that Badgers had been spotted in the camp and upon hearing this I was keen to check one. They’re nuggety little creatures and the one before us that evening, was no exception. He was obviously there looking for scraps left over from the human’s dinner and seemed to have his routine down to a fine art. First check the bin, then check the patio, then check under the tent’s decking, then move on to the next tent. The Otter and I were simply in his way that night. He sniffed at us and went on his merry way. We were super chuffed with the experience and made our way to bed with smiles on our faces.
The whiskey may have slowed our start the following morning but both The Otter’s second run in with a Monkey and The Don’s sightings from his early morning drive, soon had us back to full strength. Again The Otter had an overly confident monkey try to steal his food from him and at one point it seemed as though the Monkey felt he could take The Otter. It was hilarious to watch the monkey sizing The Otter up and then mock-charging him. Eventually we got the Monkey to piss off thanks, in part, to a very large stick and listened to what The Don had seen on his morning drive to Satara. Leopard!
This got us in the car very quickly and we were soon on our way to Satara for lunch. The Don had also mentioned that in a particular area of the road, the possibility of spotting an extremely rare bird – The Senegal Lapwing – was possible. I have an interest in birds and so was keen to help him out. This was to spark both The Otter and my interest in sighting birds in the Park. We had spotted our fair share of Hornbills and Lilac Breasted Rollers since entering the Park but had been preoccupied by the search for animals not to pay any attention to anything else. The Don, on the other hand, is a keen birder and was excited at our sudden interest in the feathered creatures.
The trip to Satara went by with little sightings besides Zebra, Buffalo and a lone Rhino. The Rhino was standing some 20 metres away from us on the rise of a hill and was an absolute unit with a beautiful long horn. It was this sighting which made me realise how awesome and powerful a creature the Rhinoceros and I found myself ashamed at what us humans are doing to them.
After lunch, we headed north on the tar road towards Letaba. The sightings board at Satara had indicated that both Cheetah and Wild Dog had been spotted on the road and we were keen to tick those two off our list. Unfortunately we were out luck and besides the odd Elephant, Zebra and Wildebeest, our sightings were limited. This gave us time to tick off a few birds however and we managed to sight and identify a good number. Secretary Bird, Bateleur, Brown Snake Eagle, Martial Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Cape Vulture, Brown-Headed Parrot, Burchall’s Cougal, Purple Roller, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Brown-Hooded Kingfisher were all memorable sights.
We turned left onto the Timbavati dirt road which would take us back to Tamboti and just like the day before, were disappointed with the limited sightings. Perhaps we had experienced such an incredible first 2 days that our expectations were too high or perhaps we weren’t learning from the advice we were being given by other guests regarding dirt roads. Either way, I soon found myself drifting back to dreamland.
We had a brief dinner and were in bed early. Our spirits were somewhat low as we lay in bed and chatted about our lack of big sightings over the past 2 days but The Don reminded us that we should count ourselves fortunate for that which we had already seen. And rightfully so. The thought of the potential sightings which lay before us, as we made our way north, gave me hope and I slept soundly.
You stay classy,