Boys head to the bush

2011-09-23 14:13

A fresh kill of a fully grown male kudu in the morning was a sign that there had been a battle of bush war proportions just a few hours earlier.

The carcass, with a chunk of its belly ripped out, lay on the side of the road for tourists on game drives to gawk at what was obviously an early morning breakfast interrupted.

This was just one of the many captivating incidents recorded over four nights between Talamati Bush Camp and Skukuza Rest Camp during a yearly weekend away with our wildlife-mad friends – otherwise known as a boys’ weekend away.

And for the first time since the yearly safari started seven years ago, we spotted two rhino a few minutes after entering the park through the Orpen Gate, which was swiftly followed by a debate on the differences between black and white rhino.

Fortunately, one of the camp’s enthusiastic and experienced guides, Chester Mhlanga, helped solve the riddle later as he gave us a full lecture on another encounter of the endangered species during a night game drive.

The choice of hitting Kruger National Park every August is informed by counsel from rangers and guides who know the park inside out.

They say that because it’s just after winter, there’s little vegetation to hamper one’s view. Also, it is time for the first rains, that bring with them all sorts of new life.

Snakes and other cold-blooded creatures that hibernate in winter make their way back to higher ground, the grass goes green and the trees are full of new shoots, and birds that flew north for winter in search of food once again populate the massive lowveld landscape.

It is also at this period that most of the smaller streams and rivers – mostly tributaries of the giant Olifants River – are dry. So are the many man-made and natural watering holes.

A giraffe instinctively knows that it is at this time of the year when a trip to one of the few and lowly stocked watering holes is a big risk.

Still we were lucky to catch a lone giraffe going through what looks like a laborious process of lowering its body and swinging its neck like a crane to drink without becoming a predator’s meal.

And how lucky we were to also witness an errant lone elephant breaking down a normal-sized tree to feed on branches that were initially out of reach.

The same adult bull was spotted running and trumpeting later at night.

This year’s trip also had another first as we decided to take a different route through the park. Instead of driving straight to Mbombela via the N4 to reach the gate before the strict 5pm lock-up, we exited the N4 at the Dullstroom off-ramp and cruised one of Mpumalanga’s most scenic routes.

The road winds through a maze of gum and pine tree plantations that look like a blanket over the escarpment, while herds of lazy livestock graze in the far distances.

Belfast is the first town on this route and still boasts ancient buildings and a small dorpie brewery of centuries gone by.

It is a perfect whistle-stop for tourists as it offers great traditional South African lunches, curio shops and some of the best biltong from that part of the country.

As the journey continues the road snakes over and between the breathtakingly majestic Sabie Mountains.

It cuts through the Highlands Meander as it invites you towards Mashishing.

After the JG Strydom Tunnel, motorists can park on dedicated viewing spots where one can then lap up the beauty of the mountains from all angles.

This is also an opportunity to pick up more curios from artists and traders who line the place with the usual wooden suspects.

From here, the road descends lazily with Matibidi village lying perfectly to the right.

This is where much caution needs to be exercised as goats and children compete for gymnastics honours by jumping onto and off the road without a care in the world.

Having previously entered the park through the main Kruger gates, Numbi and Phalaborwa, it was the first time we entered this vast park via Orpen.

And it was surely a good start as we stumbled upon a rhino mother and calf before we could even unpack at our Talamati Bushveld Camp.

For a change, this felt real as the camp is more hardcore than Skukuza or Pretoriuskop.

Besides myriad naughty monkeys that roamed around the camp, there is virtually no cellphone reception and the camp mainly depends on fixed-line telephone communication.

But who needs to be on his cellphone while on a holiday like this? The main point of escaping from the concrete jungle into the bush is to briefly disengage from the intruding Facebook, Twitter and BBM craziness that our world has become.

An evening braai in the middle of the savanna with nothing but guides standing guard with hunting rifles was quite the adrenaline rush, thanks to the cackle of hyenas and other night prowlers howling from a distance.

Our nerves wore off as the meat and wors began roasting and the malt flowed freely.

The next day we moved camp to Skukuza, where we were greeted by a pride of lions – the same ones we had encountered the year before.

Guides maintain that lions normally keep to the same territory in the process of raising their young.

Skukuza has always been good to us and we spent the day unwinding; playing tennis, soccer and cricket with the locals.

Unfortunately the final score line cannot be printed here to protect our dignity.

As per our tradition, after a day of sport activities we enjoyed a braai put on by our guide Ezekiel Khosa, who has been a our good friend throughout the years.

The trip would not have been complete had we not spotted a leopard, and this we did on our way out towards the Numbi Gate.

It made the sojourn memorable as we spotted all the members of the Big Five for the first time.

After this and an encounter with an ageing spotted hyena that was clearing our braai stand of leftovers, 12 months just feels like such long time before our next trek east.

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