Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Day 7: Letaba to Shingwedzi

Sunday 2nd August 2009

I woke up early, so decided to go down to the Letaba river to watch the sunrise again. Fat chance, as this was the only day on our holiday which dawned overcast and grey. The sun did peek out from between the clouds for a few seconds, but I'd have been better staying in bed!

The Letaba river itself is very wide, although there wasn't much water in it at the height of the dry season. Overlooking the river is a terrace next to the restaurant and cafeteria where it is possible to sit and watch the world go by. Working on the same principle as a ha-ha, the fence has been positioned in a ditch under the terrace, giving the onlookers the distinct impression that there is nothing between them and the wildlife!

At the left hand edge of the first picture above it's just possible to see a notice attached to the fence. On closer inspection, this is what it says:

The floods which devastated Mozambique to the East started in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, causing damage in those countries too. The "2000 floodlevel" notices can be found at many locations within Kruger Park, and its clear that the water must have inundated certain areas. The overwhelming majority of the animals moved themselves to safety on higher ground, apparently, which is more than could be said for their human counterparts downstream.

The picture below shows the rondavel in which we were staying, along with a very large number of bottles in the window (not all alcoholic!). For an area which dedicates itself to conservation, Kruger has very poor recycling facilities - although we were told that all the rubbish was sorted after it has been collected. The warning notice was just round the corner, and demonstrates that the park authorities have a more diligent attitude to health & safety than they do to recycling! The fruit themselves are long and sausage-shaped (now there's a surprise) and are about the size of a rugby ball. I'll post a picture of one later.

We left Letaba and started to drive North, stopping off for a quick look in the river as we did so. Paddling around in the small amount of water were a yellow-billed stork and a white egret.

A little later in the morning the cloud started to disperse and the sun came out. We stopped off at one of the picnic sites, and I spent some time watching the local hornbill population fight over the copious amounts of elephant dung which appeared to be up for grabs. As can be seen from the following pictures, the YBHB is significantly bigger than the RB version, and it used the size advantage to bully its way to the choicest morsels!

We also saw a grey hornbill - obviously the John Major of the hornbill world...

We didn't see much game in this part of the park - just crocodile and elephant - and this was almost entirely due to the prevalence of one particular kind of tree: the mopani.

Mopani means "butterfly" in the local language, and it's clear why when you look at the leaves. The trees just take over, though, and it's possible to drive for miles seeing nothing but the wretched things. Sometimes the mopani grows into full-sized trees; sometimes it stays as low-lying scrubby bushes. Either way, apart from looking reasonably attractive because of its autumnal colouring, it was extremely monotonous.

In the middle of the mopani area there is a rest camp called - you guessed it - Mopani! We'd decided not to stay there, which was probably a wise decision. There was nothing actually wrong with the camp itself (other than the cafeteria having run out of muffins - outrageous!) but simply the paucity of game in the area owing to the eponymous vegetation. There were impala lilies flowering in the camp, which were very attractive, and a rather amazing baobab tree. The camp also has an artificial lake created by damming a river, and the dead trees gave it a rather surreal and spooky atmosphere.

We carried on driving north, and it was at this point that Harriet - being a geographer - produced a GPS receiver which she had secreted about her person. The reason was that we were approaching the Tropic of Capricorn, and she wanted to know when we'd crossed it. We needn't have worried, however, as we found a line in the road and a large rock with a plaque on it. Needless to say, Harriet's GPS disagreed with the "official" line...

Careful inspection of the rock in the first photograph reveals a second plaque tucked away on the left hand side. It seems there were no real rocks in the general vicinity, so one had to be manufactured specifically for the purpose! Now you know who to call when you need a rock in a hurry...

Onwards and Northwards, leaving Mopani camp and heading for our final destination: Shingwedzi. On the way the vegetation started to change (thankfully) with the result that we started to see some game again. Highlights were a female zebra with her foal and a rather splendid male kudu - not hiding behind a bush, for once.

Shingwedzi camp has a rather different feel to the others: for a start, the accommodation is in the form of rectangular semi-detached bungalows rather than the usual rondavels. It was also very flat and dusty, and had a distinctly Mozambican feel to it. We stayed around in the camp for the afternoon doing some rather essential laundry, which gave me a chance to wander around taking pictures of the trees and their shadows.

We'd booked an evening drive which started off by taking us along the banks of the Shingwedzi river. On the far bank was a pathway, and our driver spotted a group of three buffalo climbing up it after going for a late afternoon drink. A large bull elephant then appeared at the other end of the path, heading down to the river for his drink. Buffalo are known for their stubborn nature, and showed no sign of budging when the elephant saw them and decided to charge. Eventually they backed down, however, but it took a little while. The last image of the sequence shows quite clearly the size disparity between the two species...

Everything was a bit lame after that little episode! We saw some rather fine giraffe just as the sun went down, and then sat for a while watching the sunset itself.

The drive finished with a sighting of a hyaena family by the side of the road. My opinion of hyaena had been changing gradually during this trip, but watching the pups playing just like any other dog completely bowled me over. I'm cross that I managed to chop the legs of the image of one pup licking the other, but I was distracted by their fun character. I know that Disney always portrays hyaena as the "used car salesmen" of the animal world, but I really liked them after this experience.