On our last night at Shimuwini we watched an ox-blood full moon peep up over the trees, then heft itself slowly into the night sky. We were sitting like three Stooges on a bench above the Letaba River, waiting for it to rise. And it did, three-quarters of an hour later than the previous evening. It was worth the wait.
Dusk at Shimuwini: reflections on the river.
Our day’s drive in the direction of Bateleur Bush Camp surprised us with its wildlife reveal, mostly because we passed mainly through thick mopane tree and shrub veld, which makes it very difficult to see anything. The winter colours are gorgeous, particularly when backlit by the sun — russet, gold, emerald — but the dense leafy screen is obstructive to the eyes. All the signs are there … the ellie dung, buffalo droppings, pug marks of leopard in the sand … but for a long while, nothing moves. Or seems to move.
Leopard (or lion, but we felt they were too small) pug marks on the road.
And then it started to happen, a steady, consistent string of sightings, evenly spaced between stretches of nothing. As I’ve said, the bushveld nicely strings you along. A healthy-looking spotted hyena crossing the road, then posing beautifully for the camera at a culvert on the roadside. A huge family herd of elephant with the teeniest of babies and all sizes in-between, communing and nudging and shoving while stripping mopanes in a dip at the roadside. All you can hear is the rustle and snap of leaves and twigs. Swish, swish, swish, and a few throat rumbles. At one point, the only two vehicles on the road, we were encircled by elephant, about 20 of them, as they leisurely crossed over. We even had a little mock charge by an ornery young male as we slowly passed him by.
Zebra descending to the river in a dust cloud.
Then there was the silhouette of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, the size unmistakeable, some distance in, sitting on a dead tree at a water point. This at 8:30 a.m.! We watched a female giraffe with the tiniest baby I’ve ever seen bolt across the landscape, then stand for an age staring intently in the direction we’d just come from. We reversed and strained through our binoculars to see any sign of a pursuer, but nothing revealed itself. And yet another spotted hyena — this is the most we’ve ever seen on a trip — next a dainty steenbok with the longest eyelashes, staring at us quite unafraid, and a klipspringer posing gorgeously on the top of a rock kopje. As we turned into Mopani Camp, a massive herd of buffalo created a traffic jam while crossing the road, engulfed in a dust haze, like a localised sandstorm.
This is Baobab Country!
Mopani’s restaurant has an unbelievable position overlooking the Pioneer Dam, which looks more like a broad river with a series of deep inlets, where a ginormous herd of elephants with its requisite crop of teeny-tiny babies was hot-footing it to the water’s edge, trunks waving, ears flapping. There were waterbuck, impala, Burchell’s zebra, and a giant Goliath Heron.
How are these fluff-seeds of a thorny succulent at Mopani?!
Bateleur Bushveld Camp has a bird hide overlooking a manmade waterhole, with some semblance of night lighting. All looked very quiet at first, but our patience was rewarded (in spite of a very rowdy partying chalet of British visitors right next to the hide; we could hear them guffawing seven houses away). First, a side-striped jackal! Its bushy tail and distinctive horizontal stripe across its flank gave it away. A most exciting sighting for us. Then, on a skeletal tree, that classic owl silhouette that you see in fairytale books, against a pale pink sky … it was a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. Two in one day! Finally the barrelling dark shape of a honey badger which never quite made it to the water, a male bushbuck, and the invisible grunts and groans of what might have been buffalo waiting in the wings.
Front and back views of our unit (only seven in the camp!). This is exclusivity.
We’re really enjoying Bateleur (other than the 32°C temps), which today in the late afternoon had a band of around five or six male kudu charge past (play hour?) in the dry riverbed running in front of us, then an enormous male elephant with a broken tusk stripping branches right up against the electric fence (he and I went eyeball to eyeball, and he even gave me a little threatening head thrust and an ear-flap; I emphasise that I kept very still and non-threatening and respectful). During all that, a crowd of around 20 ellies slurped and sprayed and kicked up dust at our tiny waterhole.
Not much to complain about here.
This is how close I was to an elephant bull on the other side of the fence!
20 ellies sharing an afternoon bath in one tiny waterhole.
Eyeball to eyeball.
I’m just loving the giant-canopied riverine trees, many with lumps and bumps and texture.