Travel Journal

Kruger National Park

(Tuesday 5 May 2009) by Dopps Family
Stop – 15: Marloth Park, Needles Lodge (May 1-3), Mvuradona Lodge (May 4-6)
Nelspruit is the largest town outside of Kruger Park but still just a town. Nonetheless, they are building a brand-new 40+ thousand seat soccer stadium which will have only 4 games played in it during the 2010 World Cup. If there is a more obvious waste of public funds in a place where the average person makes around $150 per month with 30+% unemployment, then I’d like someone to tell me. Maybe they’ll make more use of it after the 2010 games, but I wonder how many township houses could have been built with the money being spent on just this one stadium?
Anyway, we continued to Marloth Park, a game park with lots of lodges just on the southern side of the Crocodile river which borders Kruger Park. The lodge we stayed at for the first half, Needles Lodge, has 6 rooms with breakfast and dinner included. So far the most expensive place we’ve stayed at but not the nicest. However, we also booked a package which included 2 days of all-day game drives into Kruger. Since we have little kids, we had our own closed vehicle since kids under 6 really aren’t allowed in the open trucks. But when the afternoon heat gets to 39C having the AC in the closed rig was a godsend. When we were in Tanzania there were times we could drive for hours and never see a car, spend an hour in the same spot watching elephants and, if lucky, drove on dirt roads without potholes big enough to swallow your rig (let alone tarred roads). In Kruger many of the roads are paved and there are so many people and cars it feels more like you’re visiting a zoo from your car. It was a good thing we had booked via a park guide since we were able to drive around the long queue of private cars at the gate. Apparently on busy days like this day they only allow in 15 cars at a time and after 250 cars at each gate then no more cars are allowed in. It was Saturday and Friday was a public holiday. Many people from Jo’burg were visiting for the weekend. In the park we soon saw rhino (right as we drove in), giraffe, impala, kudu, wildebeest, elephant, buffalo, steenbok, waterbuck, many beautiful birds and even cheetah. We even lucked out after brunch and saw a lone leopard about 20-30 meters from the road – not bad to see 4 out of 5 of the Big 5 in just 4 hours. When we did spot the leopard there was only one or two other cars around and they moved on most likely not sure what they were seeing since we could only see the tail. So we moved up a little further and ended up seeing him slowly walk up a trail. Our young guide (26 years), Cliff, told us to start looking at books and to the other direction when cars started to come by so that they’d move on. Cliff said once rumor breaks out a leopard has been spotted then 80 cars would be on top of you within minutes and the dance begins for best position for cameras and viewing. About six months ago a leopard was seen walking the road next to Lower Sabie Camp between the electric fence and the road where a T junction was. With cars moving quickly in on 3 sides and the fence on the other side he felt trapped and with no escape option jumped the fence and was electrocuted.
Perhaps the strangest sight was a water monitor, a large lizard at least 1.5 meters long, in a small shallow pond that was using his long tail to “net” small fish. He would stay in the center of the pond and sweep his tailing in an arching motion up and along the water’s edge and by scooping the water and any fish and frogs towards his body he would end up with a nice snack. Our guide had never seen this behavior before and it was quite remarkable watching a lizard use his body as a fishing net.
Our second day in the park was considerably different. There were far fewer cars and in some respects less animals. We still didn’t spot any lions but did watch a boomslang (tree snake) catch and eat a frog. Nonetheless we did see a large number of white rhino and a couple that walked right across the road in front of us.
On Monday, May 4th, we packed up and migrated down the road within Marloth Park to our second lodge, Mvuradona Private Game Lodge, which is situated on the south side of the fence bordering Kruger Park (south of the Crocodile River). For free we were able to drive the dirt road bordering the Kruger fence and saw elephant, rhino, buffalo and eventually four female lions along the river, although from a distance. We noticed several places where the fence had large holes which small animals and predators could crawl through. Just down the road from our lodge a leopard kill was spotted from a couple days ago and the carcass is still up in the trees so we’ve been advised to not walk with the kids away from the lodge just to be safe. You also have to be on guard with the monkeys, which already took a couple bananas and a bunch of grapes from our table as we were sitting there. In Marloth Park they don’t allow the lodges to put up fences in order to allow the animals to roam freely but they also don’t observe the rules entirely since most everyone seems to feed the animals (mostly zebra, warthog, kudu) fruit and grain. With no natural predators, except for the occasional escaped lion or leopard, the animals in this park are becoming more domesticated which can cause problems – especially if people stop feeding them or get too close.

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