After the wonderful sighting of the Cheetah family, in the Kgalagadi, it was time to head for The Karoo via Augrabies Falls. The heat, relentless. Upon my arrival, barley checked in for camping, my assistance was needed. Someone had missed a step, along the path, and broken their foot or something. Details were sketchy. The front desk hurried us down the path. We came upon a lovely family and their mum in obvious pain. The park guides had already splinted her foot. Pretty well done, I might add. She needed x-rays and pain killers. Nothing that could be done there. Not much for me to do.
Augrabies Falls is like a mini Niagra Falls midst the rocky outcrops. The walk about is not particularly taxing with the ped-ways but those steps are meant for giants! Somewhat vertically challenged, I know, but even those towering above me had some issue navigating those lower steps.
There is also a reserve for one’s viewing pleasure. No walking safaris were available at the time. It’d be a nice place to do one, I’d wager. Driving slowly into camp and finding the best spot with shade trees, my eyeballs were melting. It was hot and humid. I peeled myself from the front seat and hiked back to the restaurant which had AC, as did the check-in office. I loitered for a little bit to cool off and catch up on blogging, before deciding to sign up for a night drive.
The heat lingered into the evening. It began to abate half way through the night drive. The night sky surrounding the outcrops with an occasional Klipspringer and three different types of hares (Cape, Scrub and Red Rock) far too quick for photos. The stars were out in full force and my fellow passengers from Spain were enjoying the evening as much as I. And then we get a flat. Not only a flat but a flat on a bus that had just been in the garage and thus no wheel spanner. A spare was on the bus but no way to remove the flat tire. We were now stranded waiting for another bus to come and get us. 30+ minutes under the starry wonder to ponder life’s secrets. I relished the moment. The Spaniards were missing their drinks. A very late return to the camp but at least the heat had finally dissipated to make the night more tolerable for sleeping in a roof top tent with thick canvas and nigh zero air flow.
The guide, the previous night, mentioned they had a healthy leopard population and pointed to a spot on the map that was known for frequent sightings early in the morning. Getting up that early after a late night was not easy but it was done. Alas no Leopards.
The drive about was pleasant until the sun rose and the heat, hotter than the day prior, set it sights on melting all life forms off the earth. After a few hours driving my heat capacity was breached. Returning to camp and walking about the falls seemed more tolerable, not by much mind you. But I wasn’t melting into the bakkie at least.
The heat continued to rise, easily in the 40 celsius with no wind. I cracked. I did. The thought of having to sleep in the tent through this type of heat was not enticing at all. I upgraded to a room with AC. A weak moment but oh so splendid. Safari Karma must balance things out, however. Find the last room with AC, sure, want water to go with that room, not a chance. Yup. The whole camp was without water. The pump had been flooded due to rains somewhere up the way. They worked diligently but the water was not available until late into the night and then was still a little murky. But the AC was marvelous.
The drive from Augrabies to The Karoo would be 800 or so KM the next morning. Waking early to get a head start, packed and ready, my plans were thwarted with a flat. I drove gingerly to the petrol station a few meters away. It would not open for another hour. Fine. Took out the jack, and started on the lug nuts. The first 2 had me going nowhere. All my body weight wouldn’t budge those suckers. Eventually enough blood was spilt and the universe allowed them to turn. Yay. Tire off. Water poured to find a leak. Wait what, no leak. Then why is it flat? It was full last night. Pump it up with the air compressor in the back and it looks good. Slowly it becomes squishy again. All this took about an hour and the gentleman working at the garage arrived. He used his compressor and we poured more water and even got down on our knees, ears pressed close to the tire, to find the bloody leak. No obvious leak. He thinks it’s a rim leak. Not much I can do to fix that. Punctures sure, rim leak no way.
We managed to get the spare tire down, not an easy feat as the hook is hard to hook in the slot to drop the tire. But we got it down and I got the spare on and loaded the flat tire in the back. Now two hours have gone by and I still needed to fix this tire and drive that distance. On the bright side the arm workout was excellent!
About 30 minutes outside the falls I came upon a small town of Kakamas and Dunlop Tyre. I popped in and asked if they could help me out. As I stood, the mountain of tires with punctures kept piling up. It’s harvest season for raisins. Chatting away with one of the farmers, he explained, it’s Monday and all the harvest equipment for all the farms will undoubtedly have punctures from the weekends harvest, making Monday a very busy day. Regardless the tire burden the tyre shop had my rim leak fixed, and the tire back on the front wheel and the spare back in its place rather quickly. What’s best, when asked where to pay, I received a smile and told it was on them. How wonderful is that. So Dunlop Tyre in Kakamas thank you for your wonderful hospitality. I was quickly back on my way heading to the last park, The Karoo.
The Karoo is a little hidden gem off a major highway nestled amongst The Great Escarpment. This would be the last stop before Cape Town. Karoo beautiful. A bird hide, and fossil trails and plenty to see. The camp was sprawled and very nice with many pleasant campers. No night drive, they had a minimum of 4 people and well it’s just me. Maybe something the next day. The evening came quickly and the giant tortoises roamed the camp. There would be plenty to drive the next day. The last full day of 4×4 driving. The escarpment made the nights cooler and definitely more pleasant to venture into dreamland than the falls. I plopped the tripod and camera on the roof of the bakkie and tried my hand at night captures. Good thing as the next night would be too cloudy.
Early start to catch the sunrise midst the escarpment. The landscape is fantastic, making driving slow, enjoyable and honestly fun. The 4×4 sections were not very taxing and just fun to drive. It was a great way to spend my last couple days with Springbok doing what we did best, getting lost.
The various passes through the park offered different perspective. Klipspring was the windiest, steepest and funnest of them all. The further you venture into the park you can see Hartmann’s Zebra, Eland and Springbok. Supposedly there is Aardwolf, Brown Hyena and Caracal but none that I could find. Still it was a fabulous place to finish this 4×4 adventure.
I may have spent 9+ hours driving around and grinning like a Cheshire cat. I treated myself to a nice dinner at their restaurant and even managed to get a sunrise drive. The last game drive of the trip. Enough people had finally signed up. A wonderful evening. The morning drive was early and relaxing. No great sightings and I don’t even think my camera came out. I just breathed it all in, tried to ingrain every sight, sound and smell into my sensorium for eternity.
Leaving The Karoo was bittersweet. I was looking forward to Cape Town and hiking Lion’s Head and Table Mountain but saying good-bye to the bush was hard. It feels so comfortable and comforting with endless little surprises. I could stay there forever. It was time to go, I made one last loop through the one paved track on the way out and headed for the metropolis that is Cape Town.
Rather delayed but it has been difficult trying to write the last few blogs as that would mean this adventure has come to an end. Not quite ready to admit its finality, lol.
Regardless, this one is loquacious. So grab a cup of your favourite beverage and here we go.
I last left you in Agulhas heading to the Kgalagadi via Namaqualand. I had hoped to do the drive during the flower phase of the Namaqualand but I made it for the scrubby brown bush phase. Pseudoscenic leading to the dry desert area full of red dunes that is the Kgalagadi. My last chance to see Aardwolf, Aardvark, Brown Hyena, Serval and Meerkats. Surely this would the place.
The temperatures continued to rise for the long haul drive before approaching the first camp. Now the Kgalagadi is a very popular park. Many book 11+ months in advance. I was happy to have 5 days even if they were spread out. Twee Rivieren would be the first camp and the only place with guides to do game drives. So much for my nocturnal animal list.
Armed with a camera trap in hopes of maybe catching one of these elusive night critters. A more remote campsite was chosen and marked by leaving a table behind. The universal sign of occupancy in the bush. And off to the park for a quick gander. It quickly became apparent why they tell you to deflate your tires a bar or more. The corrugations were back, with sand, and no real escape for many stretches of the park. Once at the park I realized that you can book, many months in advance, and drive the eco trails or even the one way routes that would require a convoy, taking you into the more remote areas. Next time. Add it to the ever-growing redo list.
The afternoon was blistering hot, not much shade but it was nice to be in the bush again. The smell of dried out pans and all the babies full of the joy of life. An evening game drive turned out to be rather fortuitous and a nice way to start this adventure off.
Apart from the usual suspects, Dikkops and Scrub Hares frozen in the headlights, an African Wild Cat was spotted. But this one was not shy at all. He hung around for quite some time. Unsure why he was so at ease with the game bus, yup the bus was back, until he went into stalk mode. He had his eyes on something. With a quick pounce we soon realized he was not a smart kitty at all. A large King Cobra quickly reared up and shot its venom. It all happened so quickly. The cat kept at the snake who quickly fled to a tree near by. The cat persisted until the cobra fled. Wow.
Not a bad start to a windy, cool evening. Shortly, after that wonderful sighting, another snake, a rather glutinous Puff Adder. Whatever he had feasted on made him rather sluggish and well-rounded or oblong.
Snake night it is. It has been far to long since I’ve had a good snake sighting. Soon to be followed by a Barn Owl and a new mammal – Cape Fox. Very cute little guy similar to a jackal but fluffier tail. And the Puff Adder once more on the way back to camp, he really had no motivation to move.
Dawn chorus was early the next morning as we ventured north to Nossob camp, home for 2 nights. Camera trap managed to get a jackal, or rather the head of a jackal and the butt end. Hopefully, tonight will be better.
Ambling towards the next camp a plethora of cars were stopped up a head. Great start to a day, must be a cat of some sorts. Sure enough two male lions, or three. And the back two were skinny with their back bones showing. Definitely in need of a meal. They also seemed less than impressed with the leader of the coalition. Taking many rests and ignoring his calls. Trouble is brewing. Perhaps a failed coup?
And soon they flopped down, all under their own respective tree. With the tall grasses not a hair could be seen. Time to move on.
Next was this little guy practicing his Tinder profile picture, lol.
Quickly followed by this little one, he was barely the size of my hand.
And nap time, just before the rest stop this kindergarten class taking its required nap. Everything was under or in a tree as per usual on these blistering days.
After a much-needed bladder stop I noticed a large flock of birds circling. But not the usual vultures. Medium to small-sized birds, 20-30 circling and diving. Time to go and investigate. There must have been an emergence of some sort of flying insect, all these birds were loving it. Hawking their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Such close passes around the bakkie. Not caring at all, I could have reached up and touched many of them. Astonishing. The Juvenile Lanner Falcon was the most numerous bird.
I watched the feast close to an hour. People drove past me probably thinking I was crazy but it was so cool watching them do all these mid-air maneuvers to catch the bugs. And eating them whilst in flight. Pretty freaking awesome in my book.
Many of the waterholes were dry, even those with solar pumps. A puddle or two could be found surrounded by my avian friends.
The night was unsuccessful for the camera trap and for the remainder of the days too.
Early rise to explore around the northern aspect of the park just shy of the border. A little confused as the exit north was behind the camp not readily visible. The gate for the front gate was the wrong choice, I realized after a wee amble. The faint call of a lion, the night prior, was towards the north. Sure enough these beautiful boys show up.
The heat grew from the early morning. And of course on a hot day with no shade in sight a Cheetah is sighted, or two. Under a tree of course and they quickly flop down. I tried to wait them out but after 3 hours in the searing heat with no AC and only my own musings to keep me sane, I cracked and moved on.
A beautiful day, hot yes but the clouds ever so fluffy dotted about the wild blue yonder.
The next day started cooler, heading West. Skirting the Botswana border for a couple of days. The park encompasses South Africa, Botswana and a dash of Namibia. A rock formation or mound separates the countries. Off to Mata Mata, the place for Meerkats. There is even a troupe in the camp ground. The clouds gathered as I drove, made the day pleasant, temperature wise.
Overcast skies and wind makes prey rather skittish and even harder to find. The day was growing dark and windy. And before I reached camp thunder and lightning in the distance. It chased us all to camp and then abated. Temporarily. Not much was out on such a day but a few made their appearance, briefly.
The Mata Mata camp has a bird hide, a quick look revealed an injured hyena wading in the waterhole. He tried to hide as the water laden clouds rolled in. He hid under a tree as the first torrential down pour came. Luckily after siting down briefly in the bird hide, the thunder rumbled quite menacingly enticing me to go set up camp. Moments later heading back to the bird hide the deluge was unleashed. Sadly, it was over rather quickly. The dry parched land soaked up every drop. The birds gathered. It was only a few minutes later when the real storm hit. Lightening strikes all too close. Made me glad to be next to a tall tree, not under it as a roof top tent is quite high. The rain came from every which way. The bird hide, the only other place apart from the bakkie to hide, now became a wet prison. The wind blew the rain 360 degrees, there was not a dry spot to stand in and hide. Sopping wet after 30 minutes of torrential rain I scuttled back to the bakkie. Camera safely nestled and dry. Priorities, lol!
And that’s when the fun started. The camp was now a lake. I was on one island safe and dry, or so I thought, in my roof top tent. The ground tents were swimming in inches of water. We gathered shovels and started to dig trenches for the water to flow into the field away from camp. I helped my neighbours out, honestly I was worried one of them might have a heart attack from all the digging so I offered. An hours worth of digging and the water started to flow. In the late evening the rains started again and continued into the wee hours.
Comforted by a dry tent I snuggled in for a cool night of sleep. Shortly after falling asleep I was rudely awakened by an ice-cold drop of water. Turns out the tent is water-resistant but the saturation point was reached, at least along the seams. None of which you can avoid and sleep comfortably. Could be worse, could be completely soaked. I managed to zig zag myself so even if the drops dropped, my head would not be their target. Nestled in again, by now well past midnight. Enter stage two of sleep deprivation. The lone lion.
The rain had stopped, at last. Now all the scent marks and boundary markers of the predators had been erased. He wanted all in the land to know this was his land. It’s been far to long since I’ve heard the full power of a male lion roar. He went on for a couple of hours. I could hear him circling his area as he marched roaring about every 15 minutes. He stopped just before sunrise.
By morning the rain gave way to a beautiful dawn sunrise. There was no evidence that such an unleashing occurred, apart from the trenches. Tired and somewhat sleep deprived I made my way back to Twee Rivieren for the last night in this amazing park. Needless to say the rain prevented any Meerkat sighting. I had one more day to try to see the desert animals, and it wasn’t looking very promising.
Back to the south and Twee, a slow going journey to enjoy every last moment this enchanting place had to offer. I may not have seen what I had hoped for thus far but what I saw instead was just as awe-inspiring. And the best was yet to come.
Ambling slowly as not to miss anything and because those corrugations were on my last nerve I came upon this little cutie. The morning was cool and the sun was just starting to heat us all up.
That cuteness gave way to a parade of vehicles and a beast of a lioness. The camera lenses that would give anyone an inferiority complex were everywhere. We all took turns playing lead car and following her on her journey. It took some time but I had finally maneuvered into the front and I had a feeling she would drink at a large pan that sprang up after last nights rain. Hurrying, as one can going 10 KMH, to get to the perfect spot. Eventually she had enough and crossed the road and over the hill.
On a natural high after being that close to such large lioness drinking it NEVER gets old.
Slowly making my way I next came upon this big guy. It stopped me in my tracks. I mean I’ve seen them down before but those are usually the babies. This guy was just chilling.
A little ways down the rest of the Journey emerged.
Rains bring out the birds especially if the sun is out the following morning. This morning was no exception.
The Twee camp had not seen any of the rain we had the night before, not even a drop. The roads went from muddy and soggy to a dusty mess. Last night in this amazing park and a night drive seemed the way to commemorate the evening. Probably one of my favourite game drives to date. We had an older guide, nearing 60 I’d wager. There are many ruins from settlers in the park and his great-uncle, if I’m remembering correctly, was born in one of those preserved stone homes. He was amazing. We went down the flora, fauna tour and we ate wild cucumbers and learned about Devil’s Claw and wild flowers and trees and all those little things I love to learn about. And then that sunset, a fantastic way to end my time in the park.
We arrived back at camp, a rather full camp, in the dark. I had forgotten my head torch and only had my UV light aka scorpion finder to get back to camp. Turns out this was rather fortunate. These windy nights bring out the scorpions. They are hard to see in the dark even with a good spot light, but this UV light was quite useful. The scorpions glow, full body glow as they race towards you. It’s an unsettling feeling, walking in the dark with these glow bugs racing towards you, pincers up ready to vanquish anything they cross. No need to worry I made it back in one piece.
The final morning, the plan was to sleep in and head out and to Augrabies Falls en route to The Karoo. I couldn’t resist going in for just a few more hours one last time.
Slow start with a few birds and the usual Wildebeest walking the pans. Reaching the predetermined marker, I turned around and headed for the exit or I’d have never left. On the way up there had a been a herd of Springbok and one rather pregnant and uncomfortable Springbok. On the way back I saw her in the distance. She lay behind a bush. There is always a bush, even in the middle of nowhere, whenever you want to see something amazing. Shortly, this little guy emerged. I may not have seen the actual birth but I saw the first steps and suckling. Beyond words.
Nothing could be better than a new-born. Still excited I was flagged down by a passing vehicle as is the custom to share possible sightings on the road you’ve come from. New born Springbok, I shared enthusiastically. Not a flinch from this lovely couple. Theirs ought to be good if the newborn didn’t render a response. Cheetah! They actually saw the hunt, in front of their car. If I hurry, she’s still eating and has cubs. The dust was blowing behind me before they could finish that sentence, lol!
Now this is how you end your time in an amazing reserve. Kgalagadi, you may not have given me what I had hoped to see but this is beyond what I could have hoped for. Here’s hoping the Karoo will provide as well.