Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Our first trip to Africa south of Sahara was to South-Africa, visiting the North-East as well as the Cape Town area. The first week in this trip in 2005 concentrated around a four day visit in Kruger National Park (KNP). Our next travel to South Africa and Kruger National Park was in 2009, and again the first week had four days set aside for a visit to the park. Our experience about the park is based upon these two visits (even though planning for a third trip is in its beginning).

KNP is a large National Park, four hundred kilometers long (from south to north), traversing Mpumalanga and Limpopo. I will start describing my favourites from north to south.

The northern border of the park is the Limpopo river, and up here you feel the sub-tropical climate and will se birds hard to see anywhere else in South-Africa. Places like Crooks Corner (with view to Mozambique and Zimbabwe), and Pafuri area with Luvuvhu River, is one of my favourite experiences in Kruger. Dense woodland, flowing water and warm humid air makes this a really nice place, totally different from the park further south (dominated by savanna).

Nyala, at Pafuri Camp Site on the Luvuvhu River, 2009

Punda Maria is a camp in the north, situated on a hill. It's a small, intimate old-fashioned camp, with a great water-hole experience. I liked the stay here, again due to climate. The night drive was very nice in here, you really feel being in an isolotaed place in the low hilly landscape around the camp (even though we are close to the park border). And the sunset (and sunrise) at the waterhole gives you close contact (and photo-opportunities) with animals and birds.

Afrcan Savanna Elephant, at the nice waterhole, Punda Maria, 2009

Shingwedzi is the next major camp south. Not a very special camp (to me), but again a traditional camp with 'old' atmosphere. The wildlife along the river is great.

Mopani is in the mopani bush area, favourite food for the elephants. The camp is on top of a hill, and the terrace has a wonderful view over Pioneer Dam, a large (artificial) waterbody bringing a lot of life to the view (and shorebirds).

Letaba is another favourite. It's located along the Letaba River, and the view over the river from the banks as it turns below is great. The view is unfenced, and the closeness to the more open wilderness is really felt. The river area (mostly sandbars in the summer) teams with life of all kinds coming and going back into the bush in the background. And in the dark - just listen to Africans sounds! The camp contains as well the park's Elephant Museum, a really nice place to see how big the great bulls, and their tusks, once became!

 The almost dry riverbed of Letaba River, from the Letaba Camp, with Marabou storks, 2009
The next river, and major camp, is the Olifants, The Olifants river runs deeper in the rocky tarrain, completely different to the others up north. Great views are provided over the river and ravine, both from the camp, bridge and other lookouts. As Letaba River, the Olifants crosses Kruger west to east end runs into Mozambique. There are some really nice places (and hides) along Olifants downstream.

My wife Wenche Helene and myself, at the viewpost, Olifants Camp, 2005.
Now we are entering the highest part of the Kruger, and the most open savanna in the park. The Satara camp is in the middle of the area, in a hot summerday maybe too much so (longing for the breeze along the rivers). The camp is quite large, and not very exiting, but of course the savanna is. This is one of the best parts of the park to actually see the large cats, leopards climbing into the few large trees on the plains.

Leopard, south of Satara, 2009
Not much to say about the main camp in Kruger, the Skukuza camp and headquarter is very close to the civilization.... But the remains of the railway-bridge into the area bear witnesses to the fact that a park may be about taking the nature back.

Our first lion view ! Along Sabi River below Skukuza, 2005.

The road down along Sabie River to Lower Sabie camp gives back the "tropical" feeling. More trees and vegetation gives a greener impression, more birds, but less (harder to see) animals. The road follows the river woodlands, contributing to the feeling. Getting down to the camp, the view over the river from the restaurant area is fantastic, actually mostly wetlands (broad extension of the river).

Crossing Crocodile river further south, leaving the park, is a strange "return to civilisation" experience, immediatly missing the wilderness feeling in the park. That initiates immediately a thought on when will we be back next time. The plan is, november 2017!

More pictures:

White Pelicans, Sabie area, 2005 
Saddle-billed Stork, Sabie area, 2005

Lonely bull, African Savanna Elephant, 2005

Zebra, the southern sub-species, Satara plains, 2005
Cape Buffalo, said to Africas most dangerous animal, Pafuri area, 2009

White-backed and Hooded Vulture, at an Elephant carcass, Pafuri area, 2009

Yellow-billed Kite, Crooks Corner, Pafuri area, 2009

Greater Blue-eared Starling, Shingwedzi Restcamp, 2009

Red-crested Korhaan, 2009
Elllipsen Waterbuck, Letaba Restcamp, 2009

Giraffe, southern sub-species, Satara plains, 2009

White Rhinoceros, Satara plains, 2009

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

Cat Tien NP is most infamous for having the last Java Rhino of the south-asian subspesiec. Shot into pieces, probably by its caretakers, in october 2010, four month before our visit. It was simply permanently EXTINCT! 

That said, it was just a great place. Accomodation was below western standards, but you just do not care, living in this wilderness is just great. And the birdlife was terrific. All common and rare rainforest species may be found, but it is hard work and a lot of waiting, walking or just sitting. And it might reveal the greatest and most colorful experience.

Arrival at Cat Tien's main tourist entry, by ferry crossing the river, Cat Tien NP, 2011
Some pictures from our visit to Cat Tien National Park in 2011 (five month after South-east Asias last Rhino was shot to extinction in this park...!):

Indian Roller, Cat Tien NP, 2011
Crocodile Lake, it takes a 5 km hike through the rainforest to get here, Cat Tien NP, 2011
Giant tree, along the hike to Crocodile Lake, Cat Tien NP, 2011
Green Peafowl, coming at dawn and dusk into the fields, Cat Tien NP, 2011
Great view from tourist balcony on the park border river, Cat Tien NP, 2011
Little Spiderhunter, after a crash into a window, flying away in minutes, Cat Tien NP, 2011
Black-and-red Broadbill, hard to catch the rainforest birds on photos, Cat Tien NP, 2011

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Etosha..., just taste on the word, the name gives an aura of african mystisism and wilderness! Rarely have we been looking more forward to arrive to a new place - and our high expectations were almost met!

Black Rhino, somewhere in Etosha NP, Namibia, 2012

The Etosha park is dominated by the enormous salt pan centrally in the park, which is holding one quarter of the parks area. The park itself is as big as Vermont State in USA if we count in the new extension towards the Atlantic sea which recently became open to visitors. In addition to that - most areas (except north of the park) has a very low human population, and the wilderness continue beyond the park. But the park itself has the waterholes who really attracts wildlife.

Dry and hot! The Lions are guarding the waterhole, outside Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha NP, Namibia 2012

The word Etosha has its origin among the local tribe languages - and is translated as "the great white place". It clearly refers to the salt-pan itself, which is as big it can be seen from space! The area beyond the pan is first dry savanna, slowly moving into bushveld and even woodland to north and east and along the few watercourses.

The animal life of the area is rich and easily available. Due to the areas dryness, animals as well as most birds will congregate at the waterholes for daily water and survival, at least in the dry season (there might be some rain in january - march timeframe). Africas Big 5 and other attractive game are present, and it's the first place i've been able to watch both species of rhino in a day and really do a comparisson.

Namaqua Sandgrouse, outside Namutoni Camp, Etosha NP, Namibia 2012

African Scops-Owl, Halali Camp, Etosha NP, Namibia 2012

The two camps we would like to mention will be Okaukuejo and Namutoni. Okaukuejo Camp has a very special attraction in its waterhole, kept lightened throughout the night, making it impossible to go to bed! In Africa you get used to early nights, and the safari is over, but here it never ends. Continously new animals and even birds arrived. Fantastic!

Tawny Eagle, Kori Bustard and Black-backed Jackal at Okaukuejo, Etosha NP, Namibia 2012

Namutoni had more water, and that is probably the cause to that this place is a historic old German fort. This was the north-eastern limit for the empire, hrere they met with the more peaople rich bantu tribes from the woodlands in north and east, which still populate the fertile areas in north Namibia. What's left at Namutoni is now a national park camp, the main building clearly an old fort.

Here is the link to the parks official web-pages: http://www.etoshanationalpark.org/

More pictures from the park below:

Banded Mongoose, greeting us on the walking bridge to Namutoni Fort, Etosha NP, Namibia, 2012