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Sable Dam & Satara – Taking the scenic route home

We had decided not to do the obvious and leave via Orpen gate, but to rather drive all the way down and exit at Crocodile Bridge gate. The map told us that Satara Camp to Crocodile Bridge is 127 km, so we calculated that we would be at Crocodile Bridge between 11 am and 1 pm. We should have known better!

We started the day by driving through Satara Camp with our GoPro camera, recording the look and layout of the camp.

After dropping off the keys, we turned the car South, towards Crocodile bridge.

Giraffe skeleton

The sightings for the day were not spectacular – the usual general game, baboons, and elephant roadblock. We rounded a corner, and saw something in the road that looked like the usual elephant dinner leftovers, but on closer inspection, turned out to be much more interesting. It was a giraffe skeleton, still with some skin left on the head, lying halfway into the road. Not elephant dinner leftovers – lion dinner leftovers!

Happy to have kept up our record of always seeing something unique on our way out of the park, we continued on towards Tshokwane, stopping at the Southern-most Baobab, pausing at water holes, trying to identify birds, and generally not focusing on getting to the gate. We pulled into Tshokwane around noon, and had a delicious lunch of Kudu wors and pap.

After lunch, we drove the spectacular section of the H10 between Tshokwane and Lower Sabie, over the so-call “Roof of Kruger”, past the Mkumbe lookout. Wow, what a sight! Unbelievable, on our 12th trip to Kruger, it was the first time we saw this stunning part of the park.

Beginning to realize that time was ticking and the road back to Gauteng was still far, we started pushing on a bit more, and finally crossed the Sabie river – with more water in the river than we had ever seen! Regardless of the time, we also couldn’t resist stopping at Sunset dam for a few minutes. Even though there wasn’t much going on at Sunset dam, it is always a magical place to sit an relax for a few minutes.

We reached Crocodile bridge just before 3pm, and quickly ran into the shop to stock up on Ginger beer and Marula cool drinks, leaving the park over the low-level bridge. Like the Sabie river, the Crocodile river also had more water than we had ever seen. After slowly crossing the bridge, we hit the long road to Pretoria with heavy hearts, and plans for a quick return to Kruger.

Sable dam & Satara, 2014 – Sable Dam Hide

We entered through Phalaborwa gate just after 4pm. The very friendly gate staff supplied us with the keys to the enclosure around the hide, a braai grid and a rechargeable light. As is customary, we turned off the radio and opened the windows as we slowly drove the few kilometres to the hide.

SableDam_IMG_6842Sable dam was still very full after the heavy rains of March, and the bush around it lush and green. We pulled into the hide and unpacked our cameras just in time to photograph the spectacular sunset, reveling in the fact that we didn’t have to hurry away to get to another camp or gate in time.

The amenities at the hide is very basic, but sufficient. There are two braai-areas, complete with braai, some seating, and a table with a bench where one can sit if want to. Inside the hide are 9 beds with surprisingly decent mattresses. Both doors have sliding locks, and all the viewing opening inside the hides have mesh shutters that can also close with sliding locks, to keep unwanted “guests” out during the night.

SableDam_IMG_6876When the sun was gone, we built the braai fire and had dinner, followed by hot-chocolate, made with water boiled on the fire, while listening to the night sounds and marveling at the intensity of the stars. Lions, Hyaena and Jackal raised their voices above the background noises of insects and the bats that prey on them. Once, an amazingly loud lapping-sound turned out to be a spoon bill filtering through the shallows towards the right side of the hide.

Early the next morning, we re-stoked the fire, boiled water for coffee, and left the hide behind, hoping to find the owners of some of the voices we heard through the night. We found one – a lone Black-backed, that paused in the grass, lit by the early morning sun, just long enough for a few quick photos.

Sable dam & Satara, 2014

Trip Gallery

Having run out of ideas for birthday gifts for Johan, I decided to give him a trip to the bush. I spent hours on google, searching for private lodges that offer the bush-feel that I knew he would want (including at least some of the big 5) and yet fall inside the realms of affordability. There were none. So I went back to our national parks, and gave Johan a choice – Pilanesberg, Marakele, Mapongupwe, or Kruger. He picked Kruger, and specifically – Satara. In an attept to make the trip extra-special (it was his birthday gift, after all) we decided to start by spending the first night in the sleep-over hide at Sable Dam.

What an experience! Any trip that starts with a sunset as spectacular as the one from Sable Dam hide, can only be good!

I will start with the lists of species that we spotted:

Birds

1. Common Ostrich
2. Crested Francolin
3. Red-necked Spurfowl
4. Swainson’s Spurfowl
5. Helmeted Guineafowl
6. Egyptian Goose
7. Golden-tailed Woodpecker**
8. Southern Red-billed Hornbill
9. Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
10. African Grey Hornbill
11. Southern Ground-Hornbill
12. African Hoopoe
13. Green Wood-hoopoe
14. Lilac-breasted Roller
15. Purple Roller
16. Giant Kingfisher
17. Pied Kingfisher
18. Burchell’s Coucal
19. Grey Go-away-bird
20. Cape Turtle Dove
21. Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
22. Kori Bustard
23. Northern Black Korhaan
24. Black Crake
25. Double-banded Sandgrouse
26. African Jacana
27. Water Thick-knee
28. Black-winged Stilt**
29. Three-banded Plover
30. Blacksmith Lapwing
31. White-crowned Lapwing
32. Senegal Lapwing*
33. Crowned Lapwing
34. African Fish Eagle
35. Hooded Vulture
36. White-backed Vulture
37. Lappet-faced Vulture
38. Bateleur
39. Tawny Eagle
40. Martial Eagle
41. Secretarybird
42. Reed Cormorant
43. Grey Heron
44. Goliath Heron
45. Great Egret
46. Western Cattle Egret
47. Hamerkop
48. African Spoonbill
49. Yellow-billed Stork
50. African Openbill
51. Woolly-necked Stork
52. Saddle-billed Stork
53. Magpie Shrike
54. Southern White-crowned Shrike*
55. Fork-tailed Drongo
56. Brubru*
57. Black-backed Puffback
58. Black-crowned Tchagra
59. Orange-breasted Bushshrike
60. Grey-headed Bushshrike*
61. White-crested Helmet-Shrike
62. Chinspot Batis
63. African Stonechat**
64. Mocking Cliff Chat*
65. Cape Glossy Starling
66. Greater Blue-eared Starling
67. Burchell’s Starling
68. Red-billed Oxpecker
69. Rufous-winged Cisticola
70. Long-billed Crombec
71. Arrow-marked Babbler
72. Sabota Lark
73. Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark
74. Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
75. Blue Waxbill

Mammals

1. Impala
2. Bushbuck
3. Kudu
4. Waterbuck
5. Steenbok
6. Grey Duiker
7. Blue Wildebeest
8. African Buffalo
9. Plains Zebra
10. Common Warthog
11. Giraffe
12. African Elephant
13. White Rhinoceros
14. Hippopotamus<
15. Lion
16. Leopard
17. African Wild Cat
18. Spotted Hyaena
19. African Wild Dog
20. Black-backed Jackal
21. Slender Mongoose
22. Dwarf Mongoose
23. Tree Squirrel
24. Vervet Monkey
25. Baboon

 
* New species
** New species for Kruger National Park

More posts with photos to come…