Before we start, a quick introduction.. Pascal has been with Safari.com for nearly 7 years, making him one of our most senior consultants. He now specialises in high-end lodges throughout Southern Africa including Kruger Park and surrounds, Botswana and his native Victoria Falls. He was born in Zimbabwe, so the African bush feels like his backyard.
It's been a little while since his last visit to the Kruger, so we thought time to change that!
Day 1 and 2: Hamiltons Tented Camp
My first stop was at my local Chinese Market to purchase a 32G memory card for the company camera. I’m not an expert photographer, but I know that a digital camera is useless without a memory card. That done, I made my way to Cape Town International airport for check-in at 10:40. After the usual formalities, we boarded our plane and took to the mellow blue South African skies.
At 13:05, we touched down on Kruger National Park soil. A representative from Hamiltons Tented Camp named Dumisani was there to meet me, and two other guests, from Italy, who would be staying at Imbali Safari Lodge, the sister lodge to Hamiltons. Dumisani ushered us to a waiting vehicle and we began the drive.
The vegetation was lush and alive with animals and birds. The aromas of thousands of indigenous plant and animal species, mixed with the distinctive smell known as petrichor, filled the vehicle. From the Greek words for stone (petra) and a mythical fluid that courses through the veins of the immortals (ichor), Petrichor is the distinctive scent of the earth following a period of rainfall. The smell is caused primarily by the release of a compound known as geosmin, which the human nose is able to detect in concentrations as low as 0.4 parts per billion.
But for now the sun was shining, as Dumisani drove us towards the Orpen Gate, through which we would access the Mluwati Concession, which houses Hamiltons Tented Camp, Imbali Safari Lodge and Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge. First we traversed the Kapama Game Reserve, where the R40 Main Road was being repaired. Over the years I have heard many reasonable complaints from clients, in many different accents, about the state of the road, so the sight of maintenance work being carried out was a welcome one. Any developments that make for (even) happier clients are fine with me.
We reached the Orpen gate just before 2pm, and paid the park fees before proceeding into the Kruger, where we quickly spotted herds of grazing wildebeest, zebra, and impala. The sky was hung about with nimbus clouds, swollen with the coming rain, by the time we turned onto the gravel road leading to the camp, and received the traditional 'African massage' that is a feature of driving over bumpy terrain. On the one hour approach to Hamiltons, I ticked off two of the 'big-5' on my list, after viewing two elephants with their tiny calves, and a herd of some 200 buffalo.
The Hamiltons Camp staff were dressed in traditional African attire when we arrived, and greeted us with a song of welcome. After filling in a few forms, and drinking something cool, I was shown to my room by Godfrey, the camp manager. The tented suites come with teak floorboards, a king sized bed, a slipper bath, indoor and outdoor showers, a fully stocked private bar fridge, a private pool, hair dryers, deluxe linen sets and stunning views of the seasonal N'waswitsontso river. The camp is named after the late Colonel James Stephenson-Hamilton, a leading light in the establishment of the Kruger National Park, and a champion of African wildlife conservation. The design takes inspiration from the early twentieth century big game hunting camps beloved of the colonel, and evokes all the style and luxury of that unique era.
High tea was served at 15h00 with fruits, biscuits, nuts and muffins on offer. At 15h30, we left for our first game drive. We saw some plains game and a few baboons cavorting in the trees, before we came across a most impressive sight: a large bull elephant in musth. This periodic condition sees male elephants massively increase their production of reproductive hormones. Drunk on testosterone, which significantly increases aggression, the big bull blocked our path and even mock charged the vehicle a few times before stomping off, presumably in search of a mate.
We resumed our search for the big cats my fellow guests were so keen on seeing, but were unfortunate not to find any. After mounting a nearby hill, we enjoyed a selection of drinks and snacks while the sun began its slow descent. There was biltong, nuts, local beers and spirits on offer, as our guide, Nicholas, entertained us with stories about the park and the people who live in it. As dusk set in, we made our way back to the camp, using a spotlight to catch the reflections bouncing off a mirror-like membrane called the tapetum, which is found in the eyes of many wild animals. We hoped to spot a leopard or a lion in this way, but once again our efforts were in vain.
When we got back to the lodge, I sat down with one of the lodge’s co-owners, Cindy, to discuss industry trends in the time of Covid. She also offered me a tour of Hamiltons sister lodges the next morning before I checked out. Then we sat down for a five star dinner, which was as decadent as befitted the luxury setting. A guard escorted me to my room after dinner, along an elevated wooden catwalk. Despite the name, it was actually built to provide safe passage for guests, given the number of predators prone to visiting the camp at night.
It was raining heavily when I woke up the next morning, which meant the morning game drive was canceled. I was driven to Imbali and Hoyo Hoyo, the sister lodges I mentioned, and conducted a quick tour, before returning to Hamiltons for breakfast. The heavy rain meant my travel plans needed changing, as the local rivers were swelling, and several bridges on my original route to Skukuza would likely be flooded. And so a new route was planned, and it was in some haste that I set off on the next leg of my journey, which would take me to MalaMala.
Continue reading part 2 of Pascal's adventures in the Kruger!