Then it was just a short 10 minute drive to Marakele. I checked in quickly and then headed to Bontle Camp.
After a quick drive around the camp I found a shaded camping spot and had my tent set up in no time.
I went for a drive to the bird hide and then a short drive into the eastern section.
I drove to the eastern side of the Park. I loved all the Mountains.
I drove to Tlopi Tented Camp. I loved the set up with all the huts facing the dam. The only downside was that there was a huge troop of Baboons hanging out around the camp. Some of the huts were not occupied, so I had an opportunity to step onto one of the decks overlooking the dam. I found a lifer Highland Spreadwing.
I came across a rhino midden a little distance past the camp. It was a miniature hive of activity. There was a Spotted Joker Butterfly and a Dung Beetle in the midden.
The best sighting however was the Striped Kingfishers. There were 6 of them and they were up and down and displaying. It was very noisy but stunning.
The camp was full and there were lots of families with kids. They were playing and swimming, and everyone sounded really happy. It was a wonderful afternoon. After dinner I did my usual night walk.
The best sighting of the night was also the cutest sighting of the trip. I was scanning the trees hoping to find a chameleon when I found something better. I found two Long-billed Crombecs sleeping in a tree, little heads tucked away to make them look like little headless horsemen! I could have picked them up, they were too fast asleep to notice
I had a relaxed start the next morning. I enjoyed my coffee outside my tent, and then went on a short birding walk. There were lots of birds in the trees above my tent – Black-backed Puffback, Long-billed Crombecs, Fork-tailed Drongos, a Yellow-throated Bushsparrow and a Chinspot Batis.
Other birds that looked beautiful in the perfect morning light were a Fork-tailed Drongo, a Groundscraper Thrush and a Red-billed Hornbill.
I left camp a little while later – my destination was the Lenong Lookout point. I only saw a few animals – these included a Giraffe and some Zebras.
I had heard about the road up to the lookout point – it was narrow, steep, and some people thought it was terrifying.
The road was narrow.
The road was steep.
I encountered a car on its way down at one point, and it was a little terrifying to reverse to a spot where the car could pass.
But it was also completely awesome.
As I arrived, many of the people that were there were leaving, and I had a little quiet time before the next group arrived. I sat for a bit, wandered for a bit, sat a bit more. The view was really incredible.
There was a busy little Lazy Cisticola and a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
I saw the Cape Vultures in the distance. There was at least 40+ floating on the thermals.
I spent about two hours on the top of the mountain. It was one of the coolest places I had been. I sat on the rocks and it felt as if I could see forever.
My timing to leave was great, as a large group of people arrived just as I left. The drive down the Mountain was great – I did encounter two other vehicles on the way down but we managed to pass each other without any issues. I could now appreciate the view.
I drove along the Mbidi Road. I was once again impressed by the mountains.
I finally found the animals I’d been looking for – elephants. A large herd was feeding between the trees. Sadly not close enough for my liking.
The rest of the drive back to camp was quiet with only an inquisitive Giraffe close to camp.
Since I was up, I decided to go for a little walk.
There was also an immature Nomad and more Dancing Telchinias.
I only had the macro lens with me, and for a few minutes I regretted not bringing the long lens as there were many birds around, including some Violet-eared Waxbills. But these two hornbills were very comfortable and allowed me to get really close to take some macro photos.
Once it cooled down a bit I went for a drive to the hide. At first it was quiet with only a few doves and a Yellow-billed Hornbill. Then a few Impalas arrived for a nibble around the edge of the water.
There were a few warthogs and kudus on the last stretch before camp, but other than that the road was quiet. The vegetation in the western side of the Park grows very close to the roads. It gives it a really intimate, cozy feel, an aspect of the Park that I really loved.
My night walk was quiet. The Green Pea spider from the previous night had some dinner. On one of the fallen over trees I found about 12 Sundowner Moths.
I wanted to go on a sunset or night drive but they were all fully booked. The guy at reception twisted my arm to go on a Morning Drive instead. There were seven of us who met the driver just before 05h00 on Easter Sunday.
We headed out of the Park and drove along the tar road. After a couple of turns and a large gate we were back in the Park. We found a herd of impalas and then saw a mom White Rhino and a calf running through the bushes. Large bright eyes high up in a tree gave away the position of about four Lesser Bushbabies. We found ourselves back at another gate, and after a few more turns back in the Park once more. We were driving along Lenong Drive when the sun started to come up.
It was the most perfect scene on this very special Sunday.
We continued our drive, but it was very quiet. We turned onto Mbidi Drive, but despite everyone scanning the surrounding area, the animals continued to hide away. We came around a bend, and I thought – that stump that the elephants must have pulled into the middle of the road looks just like two lions. Then I realised that it wasn’t a tree stump, but it was in fact to lionesses! As we approached they got up and walked down the road away from us.
They finally moved to the side of the road and when we drove past we could get a good look at their gorgeous faces.
On the way back to reception we saw a few kudus and Zebras.
All in all it was a fantastic morning drive.
When I got back to my tent I changed and went on a short morning drive. I had hoped to find the lions or the elephants, but found neither. I did not see a single animal or bird that was close enough to photograph.
I decided that that would be my last drive. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at my camp site and reading. It was one of the most relaxing afternoons I have had in a long time.
It was only about 3mm long, but extremely cute.
I enjoyed my last braai, listening to the kids play and then the night sounds when they settled.
It started drizzling just as I was getting ready for bed. I lay on my mattress and listened to the thunder. It was very loud and I could actually feel the vibrations through the ground. It was an incredible sensation.
The next morning I packed up early. I was glad I did, because as I drove out of the Park the rain started coming down in earnest.
Marakele is a beautiful Park. Animal and bird sightings requires some work, The vegetation, especially around Bontle camp is fantastic. And the Lenong Lookout is worth every terrifying, amazing second of the drive up the mountain.
A short three hour drive from Johannesburg, this is a perfect weekend destination.