Three Kruger National Park TRIP REPORTS with guide and photographer Mike Lentz
Posted by Wild4 Photo Safaris on 22nd Sep 2018
TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS by Mike Lentz
Trip Report: Focus on The Kruger Aug-Sep 2018
Being late winter here in Kruger National Park, things are quite dry and colours can be a bit challenging, however if you make the most of it during this time by getting up early you will be rewarded with some amazing opportunities to photograph natures splendour.
First off we spent two nights at Satara Rest Camp after collecting Michael and Nicky at Skukuza airport. This is more or less in the central area of the park and we spent a lot of time around waterholes and dams, where the game literally came to us! On our second morning whilst on the way to a waterhole we were fortunate enough to come across an African Wild Cat which had just crossed the road. It gave Michael just enough chance to press the shutter release before it vanished into the dry yellow-brown grass. This was a splendid sighting and one so rare it can never be predicted. I believe Michael will have some great images here.
Return guest and good friend, Graham joined us on the third day where we set off to Olifants Rest Camp, here we spent three nights. There is a causeway on the Olifants River, on the way to the camp, which is remarkable for birds and we saw Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Black Crakes with a chick, Warblers, Green-backed Herons, Fish Eagles, Cormorants and storks of various kinds, to mention a few. Although not the easiest terrain to spot lion and leopard, we had an amazing sighting of a cheetah female with a cub quite close to Olifants Camp. We watched them for over an hour before a bull elephant ushered them away. From here, we set off south again, this time to the main rest camp and KNP headquarters, Skukuza.
On our first morning there, Nicky spotted a family of four Cape Clawless Otters playing in the Sabie River. This was an incredibly unusual encounter possibly never to be repeated because they are such shy creatures! What a stroke of luck we all agreed!. Skukuza has been well known for leopards in the past since it lies close to the confluence of the famous ‘Sabie’ and ‘Sand’ rivers and we hoped we would have a have a good chance to see one whilst staying here for the next five nights. This proved true and on the second last day we had an excellent sighting of a gorgeous female in a Scotia tree. Both Graham and Michael got great photos of her just as she descended. Skukuza is also great for lions and we had multiple sightings, actually we saw lions almost every day along the Sabie River. Mostly they were well fed and sleeping. We also saw a cheetah female with four cubs on an impala kill and Graham was somehow lucky enough to witness a hyaena rushing in and snatching an unsuspecting vulture during all the chaos!!!.
A real treat for me was having two sightings of African wild Dogs. One pack even had ten very playful pups. It is always incredible to see these rare and highly endangered predators in Kruger and so we spent over three hours with them. Sadly we said goodbye to Michael and Nicky as they flew home from Skukuza midday on the 11th. Im sure both Michael and Nicky take wonderful memories of Kruger with them. From here, myself and Graham continued on to Maholoholo Forest Camp for three nights to photograph vultures at the infamous ‘vulture restaurant' as well as spending two full days at Kinyonga Reptile Park, near Hoedspruit were there is the chance to photograph venomous snakes, crocodiles, lizards, chameleons, geckos, iguanas and much more. This was a wonderful three days, something very different and I even got a nice photo of a Horned Baboon Spider showing off its fangs.
buffalo relaxing in the morning sun
A Bateleur Eagle drying out after a drizzle
alpha male wild dog keeps a eye on us
elephants drinking always has an appeal
klipspringer surveying from a rocky perch
an ostrich at Kinyonga
Horned Baboon Spiders at Kinyonga Reptile Park have intimidating fangs
Custom Photo Safari
Next we had return guest and good friend, Barbara Callaghan here on her ninth visit to SA. Keen photographer and nature enthusiast, she was very excited to be back and fortunately Kruger produced some wonderful sightings over her stay at the well known Skukuza Rest Camp.
Two leopard sightings, a number of lion sightings as well as great elephants, plenty of great waterbuck, impala, zebra and giraffe as well as great birds. On one of the mornings we were to witness a crash of rhino lay claim to a waterhole much to the dismay of a herd of disgruntled elephant bulls. Were both agreed it was fascinating watching the interaction between the two mega herbivores.
The southern section of Kruger doted with its beautiful granite ‘koppies’ provides for quite a large diversity of both fauna and flora, even just waiting at Renosterkop Pan ‘ we were treated with an array game species. We found it rather productive to monitor the various waterholes in the area instead of chasing sightings. Either way, its worth visiting Kruger again and again. It was wonderful having Barbara on tour and I trust she will be back again one day.
elephants in monochrome
lilac breasted roller taking-off
A male leopard patrolling his territory
male lion with an impressive mane
white-headed vulture in flight
Focus on The Kruger Aug-Sep
The final Focus on The the Kruger Trip was nothing less than spectacular and the ten nights in The park were unforgettable. First off, after collecting Gerry and Jennifer from Skukuza the airport we made our way to Satara for five nights. En route we came across a female leopard relaxing in a jackalberry tree near the road, a fabulous sight it was. Eventually we arrived at camp and with all the excitement, we planned the next few nights and had an early night so we could be fresh in the morning.
The next day produced some incredible game viewing at Shimangwaneni waterhole near Satara where we saw elephants, buffalo, kudu, giraffe, waterbuck, warthog, impala, zebra come and drink and we also saw a number of hyaena. That afternoon, on the way back to camp we were fortunate enough to find five young male lions resting near the road near Sweni waterhole. Just before we had to leave, a group of buffalo suddenly appeared running away from the waterhole and we realised that a few lioness had surprised them and were actually hunting in the area. Sadly we lost view of the action as they ran into thick bush and one can imagine the drama that took place that night. This was a very exciting end our day.
The following morning shortly after leaving camp we came across a large male leopard, in an apple leaf tree with a fresh young warthog kill. Really fun to see we snapped away, even though it was a bit far from the the road. Eventually the leopard moved from his tree, much too the anticipation of a handful of hyaena who were waiting below. Fortunately the leopard had stashed his kill with precision and so the hyaena were left enviously watching the kill from below.
The third afternoon we spent at Nsemani dam where we saw three lion cubs and lots of general game and baboons playing like young kids. Shortly before our return to camp we had two cheetah cross the road in front of us although they moved off quite quickly and the light wasn’t great for for photos. We considered ourselves lucky as these cats are extremely rare in The Park.
Each day seemed to produce a something special and if I wasn’t the bigger game, it was birds. One afternoon, while parked at a section along the Nwanetsi river we spotted the elusive painted snipe. We also had bateleur, tawny and marshal eagles, a pair of scops owls, all kinds of vultures, kori bustards, and a gorgeous bush shrike, amongst others.
And so we left Satara with heavy hearts as we had had such an amazing time there and headed south to spend five nights at Lower Sabie. On our way, close to Tshokwane, we found a coalition of five young male lion resting on the roadside and were able to get some fantastic pictures before moving on. We also saw a family of klipspringer, a rhino bull and plenty of elephants on the way to Lower Sabie and so now we had officially seen all the members of the ‘Big Five’.
a young male lion looking rather handsome
Kori bustards are a regular sight around Satara
a panning opportunity of a cheetah cub running through the grass
little baboons playing on the road can be highly entertaining
Lower Sabie Camp is located on the Sabie River and one need not go far to see the animals. Elephants, lions, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, bushbuck, kudu, nyala and impala can all be seen here almost every day. The sunrise from the camp is nothing short of spectacular and we spent each morning waiting for it to appear opposite the river. Gerry is highly skilled with sunrises and sunsets and his pictures are remarkable. Its definitely worth getting up in time to see the sunrise in Kruger. Sunset dam is also a must and we spent many hours there watching the hippos, crocs and myriad of birds. Tucked under a bush at Sunset Dam, one morning we spotted a black-crowned night heron. These are quite rare in The Park.
On the road between Lower Sabie and Skukuza, we had lions hunting impala and we saw a chase, before they disappeared into the riverine thicket. Later that day we found the same lions with full bellies, lying near the road in the shade and it became clear they had been successful. A number of hyaena were also found lurking in the area. We saw lions every day some less active than others.
One very special sighting during our stay at Lower Sabie was of a pair of rhino mating. Gerry , having sufficient focal length, managed a few great shots of the action. Jennifer and I watched with binoculars and this was fine for us. The same day we found a herd of around five hundred buffalo along the river which was an incredible sight. These big herds will split up during the wet season.
Birding along The River is very good and we had Pied and Giant Kingfishers, catching fish near the causeway below Lower Sabie Camp. Watching hippos sunbathe is a classic sight as mostly they are in the water with only eyes, nose and ears protruding. At Lower Sabie you will see hippos in full view and one gets some great photo opportunities.
The scenery is what makes this area of the Park so special and when we had had enough of the River, with its amazing big trees, we headed west toward Ronesterkoppies, close to the Stevenson-Hamilton memorial. The huge granite outcrops in the area stand majestic and can be seen from a distance. Leopard, lion and rhino are often seen in these areas. Gerry and Jennifer got some great landscape shots here and I made an effort to explain the geology of the area to them in detail. A trip to the south-central section of Kruger is well worth it, if not for the game, then for its sheer beauty.
We concluded our five night stay at Lower Sabie, with an amazing sunset and by the final morning, the weather had turned and cloud and rain ensued. Lucky for Gerry and Jennifer, it was time to leave and so we made our way to Skukuza airport were we said our goodbyes. It was great to spent ten nights with this fabulous couple and we all agreed it wasn’t “goodbye” but rather “see you later”. Im sure they will be back again one day. I would sincerely like to thank Gerry and Jennifer Monopolis for choosing Wild4 Photo Safaris and it was a real pleasure meeting you both.
scenery along the Sabie River is truly beautiful
a steenbok poses for us
an African jacana feeding at Sunset Dam
Sunset over Lower Sabie Camp
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The Wild 4 team made my trip to South Africa a truly memorable experience. Photographing some of the orphaned captive animals at the private game reserve on the extension was a great way to start the holiday, and Stu's tuition on techniques, composition and familiarity with your gear was the foundation for the rest of the trip. In Kruger we had some wonderful sightings - including the 'Big 5' all in one day on two consecutive days! The highlights were spending 20 minutes with a leopard cub in a tree no more than 30 metres away, and on the last day watching a pride of 14 lions stalking a herd of zebra for more than an hour - just wonderful experiences! I'm sure the quality of the shots I took was infinitely better than if I'd gone on a regular safari, as the whole focus of the experience is expertly designed to maximise photographic opportunities - including only 3 photographers in the specially designed vehicle. Stu's knowledge, enthusiasm and patience were boundless, and Ann's spotting and catering skills were also priceless! I hope to visit Africa again soon, and without doubt Wild 4 will be my first option.
Greg Morgan, UK
On arrival we were treated as part of the family by Stu Porter, his wife Justyna, and parents John and Ann. The conditions for finding and photographing everything from small birds to large game was perfect – a 500mm lens on hire from Stu, a specially equipped vehicle, which was referred to as a hide on wheels ( with only 3 photographers) , a dedicated and professional approach to photography and plenty of time. We would set off at sunrise, find a group of lions as they were beginning to yawn and stir from sleep, or a pair of saddle-billed storks building a nest, and quietly move our cameras into position. The initial sighting was accompanied by the rapid firing of shutters, but then we would wait as long as necessary in the hope of getting further shots. Stu was very sensitive to our needs and would only make suggestions about the best camera settings if he thought we needed his advice. His awareness of how animals behave was very useful in planning our shots. Stu’s knowledge of African Wildlife and skill as a wildlife photographer is second to none, and I have learned a lot from his expertise. I am delighted with my photos !! This was the trip of a lifetime, good accommodation, delicious food and great company. It was altogether a wonderful, challenging and thrilling experience and, if you are looking for a photo safari in Africa, I too recommend you contact Stu Porter at Wild4.
David Austwick, UK