Kruger Park Drives – Skukuza To Maroela
Lake Panic To The Maroela Camp Site
Driving from Skukuza to Maroela was amazing, for lack of a better word. We had a great early morning entering through Malelane, driving the H3, and then had some great sightings at Lake Panic Bird Hide. But it was from Skukuza to Maroela where we had one of the drives of our lives. After our amazing morning, we had lunch at Skukuza, where the Vervet Monkeys, Warthogs and Purple-crested Turaco’s were prolific. The Turaco’s were abundant in the Sycamore Fig close to the Cattle Baron restaurant, and we observed a few more bird species while eating lunch… The more common birds such as the Cape Glossy Starling, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Natal Spurfowl and Greater Blue-eared Starling were hanging around waiting to be fed by the guests, which is sad.
Skukuza To Maroela
Skukuza is classed as a town, and has a bank, post office and other amenities available. I remember watching the news as a youngster, always waiting for the weather to see what it was doing in Skukuza, it just reminded me of the Greater Kruger National Park. But, anyway, lets not get distracted, I want to tell you about our Kruger National Park self drive from Skukuza to Maroela Camp Site. It was breathtaking. It literally left us breathless, that is what I mean…
We started off seeing a few Impala, Greater Kudu and a small troop of Chacma Baboons close to the bridge where we crossed the Sand River. We didn’t have much time to get from Skukuza to Maroela, but if we did, I would have loved to of driven the Maroela Loop, which is a 7-kilometer dirt road off the H1-2. That runs close to the Sand River (Not as close as the main road). It does cross the predominantly dry Mutlumuvi River, close to the Rhino Post Safari Camp. I love this small dirt loop because of the amount of Leopard I have seen here. I remember fondly of 2 Leopard females we saw within a distance of 2 kilometers of each other in the late 2000’s… They say the Sabie River has some of the densest populations of Leopards in Africa per square kilometer, and the Sand River and Maroela Loop is not too far away, could be a reason why this sighting occurred?
Once again, I am reminiscing and getting distracted, back to Skukuza to Maroela…
The H1-2 Surprise!
It wasn’t long until we had one of our top 3 sightings of the trip. A first for me in the Kruger National Park, and I think it happened because Adrian was with us. Too much of a coincidence that he created our Logo, and the first time he traveled to the Kruger National Park, and we saw what we did. Eight Sable Antelope! Wow! I was amazed… Twenty years of visiting the Kruger National Park, of which I have driven the H1-2 countless times, and just before Mantimahle Waterhole, we stumble upon a herd of Sable. It was funny because we were talking about Sable Antelope on our walkie-talkies just minutes before the sighting. I know they are found often on this road, but I have never seen them here, or anywhere in the Greater Kruger. What could be better though? A huge Bull about 20 meters further on lying down! These Sable were in immaculate condition and so close to the road. They were in long grass, which was unfortunate for photography, but we still snapped away… What a sighting. I really hope we see more Sable Antelope in the Kruger now, it was so special. What was also unfortunate, was that people just passed by them, presumably not knowing what these gorgeous antelope are and that at the time of writing this there are only 300 or so in the Park. Thinking of how huge the Kruger National Park is, this is a tiny number. There used to be over 2000 of these beautiful animals in the Kruger in the 1980’s, but severe droughts, and most likely predation, caused these numbers to fall to where they are now, in 2018.
A Leopard With Cubs!
After that special sighting we continued to see Giraffe, Impala and Kudu, and we were flagged down by a car, it was at the Sable sighting actually. The kind couple told us that there was a Leopard on the dirt road ahead. We drove there at a steady pace, not knowing that we were going to encounter a Leopard mom and her two cubs! It was on the S36 dirt road, close to the N’watindlopfu Waterhole. She was on a boulder with some protection from trees for her two cubs. The place was packed with cars, and rightly so, this was another one of our top 3 sightings. We managed ton get a really cute video of the Leopard and one of her cubs playing around, being mischievous. We got a few images, but the angle we were sitting at was quite bad. The mother hung around this area for at least the next 2 days, which was great for avid Kruger adventurers. It was such an amazing sight, and we were really lucky… But we were going to continue on our lucky path.
We saw Elephants, a Flap-necked Chameleon and a shy Sharpe’s Grysbok as we drove on past Leeupan and Tshokwane onto the H1-3. We had a brief sighting of a female Lion before Kumana Dam… It was a poor sighting, but we were very fortunate. We would have a better Lion sighting on our Skukuza to Maroela drive though!
The Central Region Produces
At Kumana Dam we saw Impala and Waterbuck, and quite a few water birds. Birding wasn’t as great as it was during the morning, even though we saw some of the bird species that we had seen earlier that day. We managed to get a quick glimpse of a Black-backed Puffback, Meve’s Starling, and Ground Hornbill, which included an immature bird in the flock of three.
We started seeing more Blue Wildebeest and Burchell’s Zebra as we got closer to Satara. It was a good sign, because the Satara area is predator country!
Predator country it was… We had seen the Lioness, and then, to our surprise, 2 juvenile male Cheetahs. It was just after the S126, the Sweni River Road, one of my favourite roads in the Kruger National Park. What an amazing sight. This was only the third time Aimee and I had seen Cheetah in the Kruger, the first time for Adrian, and Skye and Patrick had not had much success with them either. We spent a bit of time with them as they walked close to the road. They were also in long dry grass, but we managed to get some video and photo’s. This had to also be one of our top 3 sightings, which also included the above – herd of Sable, Leopard and two cubs. These two Cheetah were most likely recently “told to leave” by their mother. Male Cheetah that are brothers tend to form close bonds and hunt together for life after they have passed their adolescence.
Nsemani Dam – Always A Pleasure
We carried on for a while, and made a turn off onto the H7 towards Orpen, where we would check in for our Maroela Camp one night stay. We saw Blue Wildebeest, a lot of Impala, Burchell’s Zebra, Giraffe, Grey Go-away-birds, Arrow-marked Babblers, various Dove species, Hooded Vulture, Lilac-breasted Roller, Starling species and quite a few other birds.
Our highlight was Nsemani Dam though. This place seems to be a magnet for wildlife, even when it is dry. The highlight? Missing a Lion kill by a few minutes. At least 3 female Lionesses had taken down an impala right next to the road, and had devoured it quickly, maybe due to the fact that a male was close by. The male was feeding as well when we got there. One Lioness walked across the road and lay down on the dry dam wall after the feed. At this time it was late in the day, but very hot, 30 plus degrees! This Lion sighting was amazing. Being on the main road however, it was very busy and hard to position ourselves.
There were more Hooded Vultures perched in a tree close to the kill. I don’t think they would have had much to feed on though, the carcass was stripped.
The Day Was Almost Over…
How could this get any better? Easy! We drove a few kilometers and stopped at a tree where there was one other car stopped with a serious lens coming out of their window. I assumed it must have been a raptor, and it was. What did we see? A Verreaux’s Eagle Owl! Beautifully perched in the tree for photography purposes. The light was bad, but we managed to see this beautiful large Owl, formerly known as the Giant Eagle Owl, up close. We also got a few photo’s.
As we meandered our way through the H7, we eventually reached Orpen to check in to Maroela. Not before we saw a herd of about 50 Buffalo drinking from the rest camp’s dam. What a sight! This day had been truly amazing and one of the best ever. I might say that a lot, but this was really the best day we had ever had in the Kruger National Park, animal wise…
We observed a beautiful sunset on the dirt road on the way to Maroela. The day was capped off with two sightings of Spotted Hyaena, one just before Maroela Camp Site, and one patrolling the fence as we entered. Absolute magic! We set up, had a braai and sat around the fire listening to a pair of Scops Owl’s calling, one of my favourite sounds of the bush. What an amazing day, possibly the best ever for us? There will be more, that is for sure!
Read about our day two adventures here, when we had an amazing drive from Maroela to Satara!
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