Wednesday 13 December 2023

Kruger National Park, South Africa - July 2023 - Day 4 - The Grasslands to Letaba

We had a long day today, a drive of about 170km up to Letaba Rest Camp. This had not been the initial plan, which had seen us staying overnight at Skukuza. However after I had booked the trip and all the accomodation my youngest daughter had decided that she would like to come too. I was able to add her to the existing flight booking, and increase the number of people from two to three in all of the Rest Camps except Szukuza which was by that time full. I extended the search to nearby Rest Camps of which there are quite a few, but I had to go as far north as Letaba until I found somewhere that had availability for three. Perhaps I could have chanced it, and just turned up, I'm not sure, but they do check paperwork at the Park entrance as well as the individual camps so perhaps not. From 6000 miles away it had seemed sensible to have everything planned and in order, and anyway it would allow us to see some different habitat - scrub gives way to vast grasslands as you head towards the Oliphants River. Plus you cross from Mpumalanga into the province of Limpopo - another area of the eBird map shaded in. 

We left the camp early, crossing the Sabie River just south of the camp and heading up the slope on the H10 road towards Tshokwane. The weather was a little mixed, with light rain for most of the morning and really quite cold. It took us 2.5 hours to cover the 30km to Orpen Dam because it was so good. We saw our first Ostrich, another White-browed Coucal, and some Golden-breasted Bunting. The mammal highlight was a family of Hyena lounging around outside their den not too far from the Nkumbe View Site which is about two thirds of the way to Tshokwane. The view point is magnificent by the way, you are on an escarpment looking west over a vast plain - it felt more like East Africa.

The view at Orpen Dam is also fantastic. The viewing area is almost like an amphitheatre. In the poor weather there was not a huge amount going on, a few of the now normal animals like Hippo, Elephant and Crocodile. Bird-wise there were a few Egyptian Geese, and on the slope down towards the rive (viewed from the path!) I found a White-throated Robin-Chat that the kids were not interested in!

Leopard Tortoise

Orpen Dam

We grabbed a bit of breakfast at Tshokwane before carrying on north - we needed to be at Letaba for a sunset drive and so were aiming for 4pm. The stretch of road between here and Satara camp has a few pools on the east side, and our first Jacana were here, along with African Woolly-necked Stork, Grey Heron and some hawking Little Swift. There was also another Leopard causing the usual traffic jam! 

After lunch on the go at Satara, we carried on towards Olifants. This road was excellent, with lots of game - Kudu, Impala, Zebra and Wildebeest, and at one point, three female Lions thinking about having a try but ultimately deciding to lie down and do nothing! There was some momentary excitement when a herd scattered but it turned out to be a large Baboon. There were large passerine flocks in this area, too many to count really, White-winged Widowbird and Red-billed Quelea mostly, but also lots of Golden-breasted Bunting which are really smart. Another big target fell here, Kori Bustard - Africa's largest flying bird. At the bridge over the Olifants River there were triple figures of Little Swift and lots of Plain Martin. We were now in Limpopo.

White-breasted sunbird, lower bill stained with pollen

Rufous-crowned Roller

Tawny Eagle

Kori Bustard

The savannah and grassland habitat gave way to monotonous Mopane scrub, miles of it, and very difficult to see into. This persisted all the way to Letaba, and we checked into the camp slightly ahead of schedule as we simply drove through this area without stopping. In the camp itself a short walk to the shop and back, as well as around part of the perimeter, picked up Amethyst Sunbird, lots of Arrow-marked Babbler, loads of Helmeted Guineafowl beyond the fence and a few Natal Spurfowl.

Our sunset drive was memorable, leaving the camp and following the Letaba River before heading into the bush. We encountered 2 Lions on the road after dark, as well as a Leopard that we were able to drive alongside and get amazing views as it padded along without seemingly any concern at all. I guess they are used to these trucks. This was something like our fourth Leopard in three days and this was the best views we had had, and the first one we had actually seen doing anything! We also saw Steenbok, ReedbuckWaterbuck and Side-striped JackalOur day ended around a brai as was now entirely normal. If I am honest I would have loved a salad, but the fresh vegetable selection in the camp shops was beyond pitiful. Red meat all the way, which did not displease my 19 year old son in the slightest. I remember being his age....


  1. Enjoying these accounts, excellent pictures as usual although I'm not sure I'd have fancied all that driving 🤔 Also, Rufous-crowned Warbler?

    1. Thanks for spotting that. I am actually a little concerned that I have early onset dementia or something. I keep finding that I have written the wrong word in an email, or missed a word out. Warbler vs Roller is perhaps at the more severe end, but it is happening with increasing regularity and I am not sure why.

    2. Thought you would prefer to know than not, but didn't want to sound critical. I am very familiar with the 'missed out words' scenario.