Camping in colourful Kruger

Camping in colourful Kruger

It has been nine years since I last visited the Kruger National Park. Before we were married, Alex and I spent some time there during an amazing month-long, cross-country road trip. I’m afraid our most vivid memories of the experience are of crowds: Forty plus cars in an aggressive scrum, jostling to see the pride of lions casually strolling down the road; circling the Skakuza camping grounds again and again, unable to find a free site amidst all the impossibly large trailers; a minibus rudely blocking our beautiful view of the dam and its inhabitants… It wasn’t a bad experience at all! Just kind of… inauthentic (for lack of a better word). BUT, we knew we’d like to go back again. This time, for our family vacation with my mom and brother, we wanted to spend time in the North (previously, we only went as far up as Satara Rest Camp). What ensued was an unforgettable trip, and certainly one that felt authentic!

Infamous for spectacular birding, Punda Maria and surrounds did not disappoint! Our day trip up to the Pafuri picnic spot and Crooks Corner was certainly one of our best drives (slightly delayed due to two bully-boy elephants that refused to let us pass!).

bull elephants in the road kruger national park

The wonderful guide at Pafuri was beyond thrilled to show us ‘his’ birds. “I-have-it-here, I-have-it-here, I-have-it-here”, he chanted while doing a little happy dance, after pointing out yet another beauty that calls this remote section of the park home.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, apart from one pesky rainstorm that literally left us waking up in a muddy dam… Thankfully, during this cloud break we were still in Punda Maria. When we moved to Shingwedzi, our neighbours shared video proof of events there: 100mm in 24 hours, with multiple, ankle-deep rivers gushing through the camping terrain, washing away shoes, chairs and small children (I kid about the latter, although I’m sure it would have been possible!).

Apart from fantastic game drives, Shingwedzi also introduced us to the magic of “Bum Birding”: Birding from the comfort of your own camping chair, with a cup of tea in one hand, a book in the other (which you never actually open), and the expansive sights and sounds of Mother Nature enveloping you. It was incredible how much we actually saw! It was also a welcome break from all that time spent in the car; an opportunity to really unplug.

Our last stop was Satara. Although it was notably busier than the previous, more Northern camps, we enjoyed it very much too. Only once did we really have to sit in a lion-viewing scrum. But even this delivered fun, ranting conversations about people’s total disregard for one another (and shockingly enough, even for the lions!). People be crazy…!

lioness kruger national park

Finally, we enjoyed a few fabulous nights at Sanbonani Resort, just outside Hazyview. Alex immediately dubbed it “Sanbo-larney”, impressed with the delectable luxury!

From here, we visited White River and the stunning Reflections of Africa Art Gallery, where my work has been a permanent fixture since late last year. What a treat to finally see the gallery in person! The collection of work is truly breathtaking — I actually felt a bit out of my depth, surrounded by all that awe-inspiring talent… Nothing that some comforting words from gallery owner, Coleen Williams, and my supportive family couldn’t cure. The enormous Belgian waffle at the restaurant next door also seemed to help… After all, a waffle a day, keeps self-doubt away!

reflections of africa art gallery

A small selection of our favourite Kruger highlights:

Similar to our trip to the Kgalagadi last year, we visited the Kruger out of season. We still managed to see 145 bird species, of which 54 were new sightings (on our previous visit to the Kruger in 2013, the birding bug hadn’t bitten yet!).

leopard kruger national park

Three separate leopard sightings!!!

african wild dog kruger national park

A pack of wild dogs playing in the road at sunset!

african wild cat kruger national park

The resident African Wild Cat in the Satara Rest Camp, casually strolling past our camp site.

pearl-spotted owlet kruger national park

On arrival at Shingwedzi, I looked at a tree beyond the fence, and jokingly announced that it looks like an “Owl Tree” and that I plan to see an owl in that tree before we leave. A couple of evenings later, with the setting sun casting a golden light over the veld, I picked up my binos to look at a little bird in the Owl Tree that looked… odd. Turns out it was a Pearl-Spotted Owlet, looking teeny tiny amongst a gregarious flock of starlings! As if the sighting alone wasn't cool enough, I had literally just shared a throwback to my painting of a Pearl-Spotted Owlet on social media! It's as if the Universe just knew...

A fabulous night drive from Shingwedzi! Apart from the awesome sightings - a civet (!!!), genets, wild cat, hyena, spring hare, hippos, crocs, various antelope - it was just such a different experience to a day-time drive. Our guide, Bishop, was very entertaining and knowledgeable!

punda maria bird hide kruger

crested guinea fowl kruger

The 'welcoming committee' at Punda Maria: a flock of Crested Guinea Fowl!

crowned hornbill kruger national park

tree squirrel kruger south africa

The little tree squirrels were absolutely adorable!!!

kruger national park game drive

martial eagle kruger south africa

tortoise drinking water kruger national park

A tortoise drinking from a puddle in the road...

shingwedzi camp site kruger

Shingwedzi -- with all our camping gear hanging out to dry!

leopard kruger sightings

Leopard sighting number one -- a private viewing that happened so fast, it almost didn't feel real!

baobab kruger national park

The baobabs were astonishing! First time seeing them in the flesh, and I was blown away by their sheer size and wonderful varying personalities. Very special indeed, since just a week before we left for the park, I finished a very unique commissioned painting featuring a baobab!

brown-hooded kingfisher kruger

beautiful river in the kruger national park

kruger camping the happy struggling artist

Dinner-time routine at Shingwedzi. Alex is juggling onions........

dwarf mongoose kruger national park

satara camping kruger

Bum-birding at Satara.

kruger the happy struggling artist

red-billed oxpecker kruger national park

lion pride kruger national park

baboon kruger national park

A baboon contemplating this thing called Life...

african jacana kruger national park

nyala kruger national park

The tiniest Nyala babe we've ever seen! It was visibly embarrassed that Mom wouldn't stop licking!

pied kingfisher kruger national park

white-backed vulture building a nest

A White-backed Vulture picking branches to add to its nest!

hinged terrapin kruger national park


sanbonani lodge hazyview

The sensational trees and views at Sanbonani.

sanbonani lodge birding the happy struggling artist

Taking Bum-birding to the next level -- making use of the deck chairs at Sanbo-larney!


Love South African wildlife? Me too! Check out my range of gorgeous, photo-realistic fine art wildlife prints:


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1 comment

Stunning share! I can relate to all. You have a magic way of putting it down onto paper. xoxo

Marian Mattinson

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