Posted by: Tommy | December 20, 2010

Berg En Dal

Kruger National Park has 12 separate camp locations that accommodate visitors.  Since the park is almost 200 miles from top to bottom, with a max speed of 30 mph on any road, we’ve booked sites at several different camps over our 10 days here, in hopes of seeing the whole range of the park.  The first place we’ve stayed is Berg En Dal.

Berg En Dal is the southern-most camp location, about 5 miles from the main southern gate.  We stayed for 4 nights, the longest that we’ll stay at any one camp location.  The first day we arrived only a couple of hours before sundown, so we just got camp in order, visited the amenities and Anna made a nice dinner of eggs with mushrooms and sauce.  We chose a campsite along the eastern fence with a perfect view of the sunset in the mountains.

On Tuesday, we were booked for an early morning game drive.  At check-in, we were informed that “early morning” means 4:30 am. That was unexpected.  Luckily, we were exhausted Monday night and got to sleep around 9.  Still, 3:45 came pretty quickly, but we were up and dressed in time for the drive.  Not surprisingly, since it’s at 4:30, there was just us and another couple of the drive.  We went about 40 minutes without seeing anything, before coming around a bend in the road to find a giraffe grazing from a tree, standing in the road.  We stared at him for a while and then he moved out of the road and we continued on.  The drive was, in retrospect, fairly uneventful – though at the time we thought it was great.  I spotted a water buffalo, an old solitary bull, lying in a riverbed.  Anna, in her only actual finding of an animal so far, saw a rhino from well across a ravine.  The other couple managed to spot a rock (they thought it was a rhino) and a tree (not sure what they thought this was, as it was obviously a tree).  Near the end of the 3 hour drive, Rasta (the guide) stopped the jeep – because some elephants were right near the road, eating the trees.  They weren’t nearly as big as I thought they’d be.  Rasta explained that these were very small juvenile females – aha!  So we’d seen 3 of the Big 5 – we thought it was a successful drive.

We got back to camp around 8 and made breakfast.  Our plan was the hang out until the early afternoon, then go back out to see things at sunset.  That plan lasted for an hour. Then I decided that we’re only on safari for 10 days and we should see more stuff. Anna was enjoying reading her book, so I went driving alone.  I picked a road that was about an hour away that I would drive and be back in about 3 hours for lunch.  I didn’t see anything on the way there, but on the road I got my first glimpse of zebra, which was cool.  I saw a few kudu females (a huge deer-type animal) and a ton of impala.  From a distance, I saw a huge African elephant which was not small and fit my expectations perfectly.  I rounded out the drive by seeing a rhino mother with a baby.

Our evening drive was somewhat uneventful and not nearly as memorable as what happened on our return.  We got back to our chosen campsite…. and found that someone else thought it was nice, too.  2 moms, with 3 kids each, had set up their pair of giant tents right next to ours, between it and the fence, blocking our view of the sunset and filling our previously-quiet space with screaming children.  They had parked their two large vans directly next to our tent, effectively boxing us in.  One of them walked over to us, as we had parked our car next to theirs, and asked “Can I help you?”

To which I informed them that they were in our spot.  She looked around and said, “What?  Where is your tent?”  It’s right here, by your car.  And it was…maybe 5 feet from where we were standing.  Now, I should explain that we bought a tent that we could carry on planes and buses for the 10 weeks we are in Africa and it is tiny.  It is especially tiny when compared to the canvas palaces that every South African we’ve seen here totes around.  Our tent barely holds Anna and I, but I’m pretty sure a family of 12 could comfortable live in either of the two tents that these ladies had erected in our site.  The reality is that it was already dark by the time we got back and we were getting up at dawn to go out driving the next day, so no harm would be done by having them in our site.  They had already told us that they’d be leaving the next morning, so we just let it go.

It turns out that they live about 30 miles away and frequently come to Kruger for weekends and holidays, so we were able to pick up some useful tips for better viewing.  Surprisingly, they told us to stay mostly on the main roads.  Kruger has a series of nicely paved roads that run through most of the park and a series of gravel roads that jut out from the paved roads.  The gravel roads are full of potholes and rutted by rain, but they have much less traffic.  She said she’d seen plenty of game along the side of the main road and that we should definitely try it.

The next day, we did just that.  We were out by 6, heading for Skukuza, a camp about 3 hours away.  We were amazed to find a ton of rhino, in groups of 2 or 3, along the side of the main road early in the morning.  We saw zebra, kudu and a few elephants as well.  We stopped at a rest area about halfway through to have breakfast (Cornflakes) and for Anna to get some coffee.

All the rest areas and campgrounds have “spotting boards” – basically a map of the area with colored magnetic dots where people mark where they’ve spotted different types of animals.  At Skukuza, we looked at the spotting board and saw that a camp nearby that we hadn’t planned on visiting was having a ton of elephant sightings that day.  Anna’s #1 most wanted animal was the elephant (she had missed the big one that I’d seen the previous day) so we changed our plan and headed to Pretoriuskop to find some elephant.

And we did.  We saw multiple small groups of elephant families, solo bull elephants and some juvenile bulls shoving and fighting each other (this behavior is very common).  Then we saw a full herd – over 40 elephants moving together, keeping the small (relatively) baby elephants in the center and the adults facing the outside.  It was very interesting, and kind of scary.  There was a point where they crossed close to the car and we had to back up because a few of the big momma elephants were threatening us.

We had to hurry back from the elephant spotting because we had scheduled a sunset game drive. As we were cruising along at the speed limit to ensure we had enough time to get back, talking about how the number one thing I wanted to see was a leopard, we glanced ahead and saw…a leopard. He was just cruising along in the road. We stopped next to him, just watching. Leopards are beautiful, lithe animals that move with grace, making them absolutely fascinating to watch. He knew we were there, but seemed to enjoy prancing around and showing off. He walked right next to the car under Anna’s open window – she could have petted him (if that wouldn’t have been incredibly stupid).  The leopard was walking from front to back, so we turned the car around and started driving behind it.  There were about 6 cars that had built up in the road, all following this leopard.  We followed him for about 15 minutes, until he ran off into the bush.

We then really had to head back for our evening game drive. There was just enough time to make a gin and tonic for Anna and get on the safari van. We had the same guide, Rasta, and he told us some of the same information. We saw the same pack of wild dogs we had seen twice that day already, but they were still interesting to watch. The group was much bigger this time – around 14. I asked Rasta before we left to find us a hippo out of the water. Indeed, the only cool thing we found after nightfall was a hippo cruising through the grass out of the water. Interestingly, hippos have to eat at night or in heavy cloud cover because they are very susceptible to sunburn. This also explains why they hang out in the water all day.

When we got back from our game drive, yet another big group had taken over our campsite. This time, there were 4 tents, a mobile kitchen, 2 cars and 8 people.  In our campsite.  Annoyed, tired from getting up early, and hungry, we made an easy dinner and went to bed.

Thursday, having already seen the big five, we felt we could just relax and enjoy watching the animals as we found them. We took our time watching a dung beetle cross the road while rolling a perfectly-spherical ball of elephant poo by standing on its “hands” and pushing the ball with its back legs. We sat and watched a rock monitor lizard, a group of male impala fighting each other, and other animals we came across. The one thing we most wanted to see was a really good lion sighting, but those are rare.

More to come tomorrow.

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Responses

  1. I’m excited to hear about your safari-something on my bucket list-and that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune!
    I have a brother-in-law that is a big stamp collector. Any stamps you could get for me would be great since you are going so many places! How could I get some money into an account for you-if you would be interested in doing this? It’s in the 70’s here today-nice!! I so look forward to your posts-thanks for taking the time. do I see a book in your future???

  2. I am soooo behind in your posts for reasons you know. I love thinking of Anna getting the little luxuries like time to read and an evening gin & tonic. Take care of each other. Love, Mom


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