Once the ‘business’ part of tour South Africa trip was finished, we decided to spend some time wildlife watching in Kruger National Park. This was our chance to see some of Africa’s wild cats in the wild.
There are many safari options to explore Kruger and surrounding sanctuaries and we chose a 4D/5N trip with Viva Safaris, mainly because it included a stay in a tree house.
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Wildlife watching in Kruger
We arrived at Tremisana in the late afternoon and went on an afternoon drive straight away. While we did not see much wildlife on the drive, we managed to spot two animals that we have not seen before: a Grey Duiker and Common Duiker along with a few Giraffes and Impala. After the game drive, we drove to Marc’s Tree House Lodge.
If you don’t mind climbing up and down the tree all day, a tree house is a really fun accommodation option. Our house was fantastic. It was constructed around the tree branch, so we had a massive tree trunk growing through our room.
The balcony was at mid-canopy level and opened up to the sea of green treetops. At night we would hear hyenas howling somewhere below and occasionally we had frogs camping inside the room.
Day 1 – Lions & cheetahs
As fun as staying in a tree house is, the lodge had one major downside – it was outside Kruger NP, lying adjacent to Kapama Reserve. And because the camp was outside the park, we didn’t have the opportunity to go on any night drives at all and missed out on a lot of sightings of nocturnal wildlife.
Daytime we typically spent on a safari in the park. On the first day, we saw a male Lion sleeping concealed in the high grass only a couple of meters from the road.
The rest of the day was rather quiet in terms of wildlife sightings. We saw the usual ungulates and quite a few Waterbucks, but no predators.
However, on our return home, just a few kilometres away from the Orpen gate we spotted the rarest cat of all – the Cheetah. It was a female with a sub-adult cub feeding on the kill in the tall grass. This was quite a stroke of luck – there are only about 200 cheetahs in the park and we saw 2 of them!
Cheetahs are amazing cats to see in the wild, but if you are looking for a more up-close-and-personal introduction, check out this ethical cheetah encounter in Zimbabwe.
Day 2 – Marc’s Tree House and Afternoon drive
It’s been raining all day and we had a free morning so we decided to explore the area around our guest house. We used the time to watch some very tame Nyalas that were living on the property, but otherwise are very rare in the wild. We also spent some time bird watching and spotted an African Paradise Flycatcher and a Yellow-Breasted Apalis.
In the afternoon we took a drive on the guest house property, but the only quality wildlife we saw was a Black Rhino with a calf. The rest of our wildlife watching for the day was concentrated on frogs around the campsite, of which there were plenty of. In just over an hour we spotted five species: Banded Rubber Frog, Bubbling Kassina, Foam Nest Frog, Snoring Puddle Frog and Guttural Toad. The toad I found in our tree house!
Day 3 – Wild dogs and White lions
Practically as soon as we drove through the gate this morning, we spotted a Leopard. Unfortunately, it was completely concealed in the grass by the time we arrived, so it wasn’t a particularly good sighting.
We spent 8 hours driving around the park but didn’t see any new mammal species. We did, however, amassed quite a bird list including Grey-headed Parrot, Saddle-billed Stork and Kori Bustard.
It was on the way home again, that we saw the most amazing animals of the day. A few kilometres from the Orpen Gate we spotted a young Leopard hiding in tall grass.
As soon as we drove through the Orpen Gate we saw a pack of Wild Dogs running across the road and disappearing into the thick undergrowth.
And just as we thought that it couldn’t bet any better, our driver spotted White Lions behind the fence on the Timbavati Reserve side. The male disappeared practically as soon as we arrived, but the three females were happy to lounge in front of us for quite some time.
The rare white lions of Timbavati are world famous for their unique coat color. Wild white lions are rarely seen anywhere else, suggesting that the ‘white gene’ pool is almost completely unique to this area.
If there is one cat rarer than a cheetah in Kruger it is definitely the White Lion. Our guide has not seen them for 12 years.
Day 4 – Last Day in Kruger
On our last day, we were treated to watching a pack of 17 Wild Dogs lounging on the road right in front of our car and then going on a half-hearted chase after the herd of impala. The dogs didn’t catch any of the impalas, and it didn’t look like they really meant the chase – most of the dogs I saw had full round bellies.
The rest of the day continued as a variation on the “large groups of animals” theme. We saw a huge herd of African Buffalo – probably close to 100 individuals, a huge herd of Impala and a large herd of Zebra.
Even Elephants came in large numbers. The most amazing site of the day, however, was of a single animal – a male Leopard resting on a tree branch. As we were driving around the park later in the day we saw another Leopard that crossed the road right in front of our car.
Other interesting animals we saw were White Rhino, Nile Crocodile and a Dwarf Mongoose. And of course an impressive amount of birds, including Black-shouldered Kite, African Fish-Eagle, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle and Jacobin Cuckoo.
Day 5 – Back to Johannesburg via Blyde River Canyon
The Blyde River Canyon is a spectacular spot. We drove past it four times during our travels in South Africa and we never had a chance to stop for some exploration. The wildlife is hard to spot from the lookout points, but we managed to find two species of lizards: Spotted Rock Lizard and Pungwe Flat Lizard
Check out this excellent post on the different accommodation options in Kruger National Park and how to book them.
Suggested Wildlife Guides for South African Wildlife Adventure