We love this account of a morning safari by one of recent guests
It took just few moments after departing with our guide to cross the Sabie Bridge, just as the first rays of golden sunlight shone through the bushveld trees. We went through the Kruger Gate, turned along a bend and came face to face with a lone Spotted Hyena strolling down the middle of the road! As it passed right by the side of the vehicle it let out its strange whoop. It was brilliant happenstance to start off our safari.
We enjoyed plenty of good sightings of giraffe, kudu and impala on our route along the Sabie River, and stopped to watch young male impalas in horn-clashing contests while a Whitebacked Vulture and two juvenile Bateleur Eagles hunched in Leadwood tree close by. Our guide explained that it was rutting season for the impalas, and that the birds were waiting for the sun to rise higher so that they could catch the warm-air thermals and save energy by gliding as they search for prey.
Moving on we crossed paths with a cute family of Banded Mongoose who were on a morning walk with a pair of Swainson’s Francolin. On our way to the Nkuhlu picnic site we had close encounters with a sleepy looking Steenbok pair lying under a thorn thicket, Waterbuck making their way towards the river and a gorgeous family of elephants dozing in the woodland right at the roadside. At Nkuhlu, we found a spot with a serene view over the river and ate our breakfast packed by the hotel while Cape Glossy Starlings and Vervet Monkeys watched around us to see if there was any chance of sharing our food!
Just after setting off again, we stopped on a bridge over sandy riverbed with a few rocky pools and stands of reeds. In the distance, a Wild Dog family, we counted 12 individuals, had come down to drink. A few of them chased each around on the sand bars. Although we needed our binoculars to watch the interaction, it was real joy to see these endangered predators enjoying a carefree morning. The next stop was N’watimhiri Dam which was teaming with Woollynecked and Yellowbilled Storks, African Spoonbills and Great White Egrets. A pair of African Fish Eagles flew into the nearby treetops, and their ringing call, that quintessential sound of the African wilds, filled the air. Hippos were grunting lazily in the water. Comically, a pair Hammerkop Storks and a Grey Heron had staked out their favourite fishing spots on the backs of two of the hippos. But the best sighting here was a magnificent Saddlebilled Stork, with its immense wings spread wide, coming into land at the water’s edge. It was immediately mobbed by its two begging juvenile offspring, and we watched the parent patiently feeding them.
On the way back towards the gate, it started to get swelteringly hot. We took a looping dust road along the stretch of the Sand River and were lucky to see two lionesses lying in the shade of a tree. If that wasn’t enough to satisfy us, there was a stunning leopard lounging in a tree just before the gate. So, our morning Kruger Gate safari was perfectly topped by a whooping hyena in the cool dawn and tailed by a lounging leopard in the midday heat!