It had been almost 3 years since my last visit to this magical Park. I had been looking forward to this visit since booking it 7 months earlier. It had been 6 days since the Springboks had won the Rugby World Cup, and I thought it was therefore very appropriate that the first animal I saw after driving through the gate was a Springbok. I thought – that is our champion animal! For the duration of my visit they would be all over the Park, as if to celebrate the win!
Soon after the Bokkies, I added my first new bird to my Park list – a Blue Korhaan.
At the turn off to the Ubejane Loop I was in two minds about going there first or checking in. I had some food in the car, so I headed to camp first. On the way I saw more World Champions!
The groceries were quickly packed away, and I headed out. I made a quick stop at Doornhoek Dam. There were some kudus and baboons. Then I drove to the Ubejane Loop via Link Road.
I have no words to describe how it felt to drive the very familiar roads. Despite the fact that it was still very dry, I was so thrilled to be back. When I looked out over the Park from the top of the mountain, all the stress and tension from the past few months just left my body.
A Black Backed Jackal was sniffing about near the waterhole, and in the process flushed a Double Banded Courser and an African Pipit. A small herd of Black Wildebeest was also nearby.
I also saw my fist Gemsbok and Red Hartebeest.
Before I got back to camp I saw Vervet Monkeys, Eland, more Springbokkies and Mountain Zebras.
I went for a short run before my braai. It was surprisingly chilly, so I did not spend much time outside. It had also been a long day (my flight to PE was at 06h00), but my first day in this special place was rather perfect.
I walked around to the restaurant and saw a pair of Red-billed Oxpeckers. This species was re-introduced to the area a few years ago, and small colonies have been forming all over. A real success story!
Someone had left a plate and a tomato sauce bottle outside, and the local troop of Vervet Monkeys got hold of it. They are so naughty, but it was very entertaining to watch them get the tomato sauce out of the bottle!
Soon everyone was on the truck and we were off to find a cheetah. The guide – Richard – soon picked up the signal. She was moving, and gave us a bit of a run around, but after a while Richard was comfortable that we were close enough to get out and walk. After about one kilometer Richard spotted her. She was walking, and then lay down under a bush. We approached quietly.
It is the second time that I did the cheetah walk, and as with the first time, I was speechless. She was completely relaxed with our presence, and just lay there like a queen. It is incredible to be this close to a wild cheetah on foot.
Soon after returning to camp, I was out again. We found the cheetah quite close to the road on the Ubejane loop, and I thought I’d go and see if she was still around.
Soon after leaving camp I came across these guys having a dust bath.
Mountain Zebras have this way of looking at you as if they have never seen a human before. Almost every zebra that was close to the car gave me this look.
I did not find the cheetah, but I came across a Red Hartebeest. I also saw a Yellow-fronted Canary and a red-capped Lark.
I stopped at the dam again. There were a couple of zebras, and there’s that look, again.
I spent about 10 minutes at the dam before I drove on. But then I saw a gemsbok approaching. I turned around to go back to the little waterhole to get a photo.
Turning around for this gemsbok was an excellent decision. While I was taking photos, Richard, the guide from the morning’s Cheetah Walk, stopped next to me and told me that the Cheetah had just made a kill just a few minutes ago, at about the spot where we had found her in the morning. I was off in a flash and found her quite easily.
She must have made the kill in the 10 minutes I spent at the dam, because she was still panting and had not started feeding yet. Once she dragged the Springbok into the shade, she lay down for a well-deserved rest.
I spent a long time with her, until she started feeding. Eventually I felt like a snack myself and I headed back to camp, knowing I’d be back soon. On the way I saw another Gemsbok. And then another highlight of my trip. Just as I reached the tarred section of the main road, I saw two black shapes soaring overhead. I could not believe my eyes when I saw this pair of Verreaux’s Eagles!
This sighting was so unexpected and made an already great day even better!
It was quite warm, and I decided to have lunch at the chalet. I had some feathered visitors pop in. There was a Cape Bunting, Mountain Wheatear, African Red-eye Bulbul, Neddicky and Familiar Chat, to name a few.
I was soon back on my way to the cheetah. It was still warm, so there were only a few sightings on the way there.
I found the cheetah in the same spot. She had dragged the springbok to the shade of another tree and continued feeding.
I spent a long time with her. Eventually she seemed full and lay down for a little nap. I decided to drive up to the link Road.
I found a mom and a very small Red Hartebeest calf.
Another favourite spot of mine is a little water hole at the top of the Mountain on the way to the Link Road. I spotted a number of little birds here – Red-headed Finches, Buntings, Cape Robin Chats, Pin-tailed Whydas, Pearl-breasted Swallows, and a not so little bird in the form of a curious Ostrich.
The scenery is one of the best things about this Park. Even in these dry conditions, the views leave me speechless.
Further along the Ubejane loop I was just in time to see a small family of Meerkat.
I stopped at the Doornhoek dam, and there were some eland. I arrived back at the chalet, and as I looked at the mountain, I saw an incredible sight. There were lots and lots of Cape Vultures soaring above the mountain. I counted at least 30 of them. The light was fading fast, but it was still an incredible sight to see.
Today I was going to drive Kranskop loop. I first stopped at Doornhoek dam. There were some Kudus and World Champions.
A little further I was just in time to see a duiker disappear into the thick bush. This was the first time I’d seen one of these antelope in the Park. The light under the bushes was not great, but I had to take a record shot. I also only had time for one pic before he darted off.
I’d heard a couple of Red-chested Cuckoos call during the first few days, but I’d kind of accepted that I would not see these birds. All of a sudden a bird flew past my car and landed in a tree right next to the road, just behind my car! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was thrilled to add this bird to my Park list!
On the drive to the top of the Mountain I came across a couple of small herds of eland.
The road to the top also netted a few more birds for my trip list – Sickle-winged Chat, Buff-streaked Chat and African Stone Chat.
I will be honest and admit that I am always very conflicted when driving the Kranskop loop. There is a part of me that is terrified of this narrow roads as it winds it’s way to the top and a height higher than Johannesburg. But fortunately the part of me that is not terrified is the part that always wins, because once you make it to the top …. how can you not be in awe of this breathtaking view?
I enjoyed a leisurely coffee in the quiet on top of that Mountain. It was so peaceful and quiet, I could almost believe that the rest of the world did not exist.
I decided to drive the Rooiplaats Loop. Not one of my favourite roads as I have not had many sightings there in the past. It was very quiet again. There were a couple of Bokkies, Blesbok and Black Wildebeest.
The rest of the drive was quiet with only a handful of sightings.
There were a few more zebras on the way to the Ubejane loop.
It was quite hot, so I decided to relax at the chalet for a couple of hours. Well, I tried to relax. But soon I was out for a walk around camp. The birds were out, and I was so happy to add a Southern Boubou to my trip list. I got this bird as a lifer in MZNP in 2014 but have not seen them in the Park since. Other birds included African Firefinch, Amethyst Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Double Collared Sunbird and White-browed Sparrow-weavers.
While I was walking I thought about snakes, thinking I should be careful as I did not want to step on anything scary. I did not come across any snakes, but I did see this agama.
I was sitting in the chalet having lunch when I heard a Familiar Chat making a lot of noise on my patio. I went to have a look, and this is what I saw –
It was such a beautiful animal! It was not bothered by my presence what so ever, and I followed it as it moved across my driveway to nearby bushes – keeping a safe distance obviously!
Other visitors during my lunch included a pretty lizard and a cute little mouse.
For my afternoon drive I only did a short drive – first Doornhoek Dam and then to the end of the tarred section of the main road.
On the way tot eh dam I heard Cardinal Woodpeckers calling, and soon spotted an adult feeding a fledgling.
On the tar road I saw some eland, gemsbok and kudus. But it was once again the World Champion Bokkies that decided to have their own parade.
I was understandably in no rush to go anywhere, so I had coffee and breakfast at the chalet rather than in the Park somewhere. Some birdies came to say goodbye – a Red-winged Starling and child, Cape Bunting, and a Southern Boubou.
All the regulars came to say goodbye this morning.
Just before the Ubejane Loop I found a beautiful Pale Chanting Goshawk and a few Striped Swallows.
A Ground Squirrel showed me it’s umbrella tail.
In all my visits since 2012 I’ve seen Gemsbok, but always just one or two together, and not the large herds I saw in 2012. As I was on my way to my favourite waterhole, I saw this herd of Gemsbok – the most of these antelopes I’ve seen together in a long time.
But all good things must sadly come to an end, and eventually I had to tear myself away and start making my way to the gate for the next part of my trip. Just before I left, I saw more Gemsbok and Mountain Zebras.
Soon I was on the last few kilometers to the gate. And it was appropriate again that the last animal I saw was the first animal I saw – a World Champion Springbokkie.
I missed out on some animals I had hoped to see, but I added more than 20 birds to my Park list. And even though I did not see everything I wanted, I still had an incredible time. My heart was breaking as I left, but I was also so grateful that I was able to spend a few therapeutic days in my paradise.
And my sadness was soon replaced by a new excitement as only a few hours away was another wonderful destination – Addo!