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
I started off the trip with a visit to the local Chinese market where I went to purchase a 32G memory card for the company camera. The weather was perfectly suited for a Cape Town to Kruger flight as the skies were blue. Within an hour I had already arrived at Cape Town International airport for checking in at 10:40 hrs. After all the airport formalities I proceeded to our terminal where an SA Airlink Embraer 190 plane was waiting to take us into the South African sky.
The flight duration was just under two and a half hours and by 13:05 hrs, we had already touched Kruger National Park soil. A representative for Hamiltons Tented Camp where I was staying that same night was waiting for me. His name was Dumisani and he was also my driver, he ushered me towards the awaiting Hamiltons vehicle together with two other Italian guests who were going to stay at Imbali Safari Lodge, the sister lodge to Hamiltons. The vegetation was green and full of animal and bird life. The air was filled with a scent of the wild and the temperatures was quite high, some near mid 30's - to be expected this time of year. To be honest, I hardly noticed as Cape Town was exactly the same the previous day!
The driver took us towards the Kruger National Park's Orpen gate where we were going to enter for us to access the Mluwati Private concessions which houses Hamiltons Tented Camp, Imbali Safari Lodge and Hoyo Hoyo Safari lodge. We drove through Kapama Game Reserve where the main road, the R40, was being revamped. Over the years clients have complained about the state of the road but the sight of maintenance work in progress, brought a sigh of relief to my troubled thoughts over the past years.
The drive was about one hour long and before 2pm, we had already reached the Orpen gate. We paid our park fees and proceeded into the Kruger along a nicely tarred road. Along the drive we saw mainly plains game, wildebeest, zebra, impala before we ramped off into a gravel road towards the lodges. The sky was cloudy with pregnant nimbus clouds. The roads were quite bumpy and also confirmed the term 'African massage' often used when describing the state of the safari roads.
We drove on them for another 1 hour or so and by the time I reached Hamilton Tented camp, I had already ticked off two of the 'big-5' off my list. I saw a herd of breeding elephants with tiny calves and also came across a large herd of buffalo of about 200 strong. The Hamiltons Camp staff welcomed me in an African way with them dressed in traditional African attire and also sang an African song of welcoming guests. I got a welcome drink while completing some documents. The camp manager, Godfrey, showed me to my room. The suites are tented, come with a king bed, a private pool, a tab and two showers, one inside and one outside. There are other amenities which contribute to the 5 star luxury status of the lodge like a fully stocked bar fridge, hair dryers and clean linen and towels. The lodge is also built on the banks of a river, N'waswitsontso.
High tea was served at 15h00 with fruits, biscuits, nuts and muffins on offer. There were 4 other guests from Israel, who had just checked into the lodge and with me included, we will make up the full guest list staying at the lodge. At 15h30, we left for our first game drive which was a sunset of the afternoon game drive. There was nothing much to see except for the plains game and some funny baboons. The highlight of this drive was when we came across a large elephant bull in musth. He refused to give way for us and had a very up close encounter with him. We continued searching for the 'big cats' but to no luck. We headed for a high vantage point where we set up for our sundowner drinks. There was biltong, nuts, local beers and spirits on offer. We watched the sun going down and our guide Nicholas told us very interesting stories about the Kruger National park and local villages.
At dusk we drove back to the lodge and we now used a spot light to see the animals from the reflections of their eyes. We were hoping to see a leopard or lion but we were fruitless. Upon arrival at the lodge, I was met by one of the lodge co-owners Cindy, with whom I sat down with for a while to discuss the industry trends pro-covid. She also arranged for me to do a site inspection of the sister lodges the next morning before I checked out.
We sat down for a three course dinner. The food was excellent and it lived up to its five star expectations. Drinks were offered and after an hour or so, I was ready to retire to my room. To get to my room, we went through an elevated wooden catwalk. I was escorted by a guard because dangerous animals like hyenas, leopards and lions were sometimes visiting the lodge at night. I retired for the night and the next morning woke up to the sounds of nature. It was raining heavily outside, and our morning game drive was cancelled as a result. They gave a driver who took me to Imbali and Hoyo Hoyo (pictures still in my camera). Imbali is more like the headquarters of these three lodges and with it also being the only one with cellphone reception. The network is terribly poor in Kruger park although the lodge has Wi-Fi. Only Hoyo Hoyo has no Wi-Fi.
I came back for breakfast at Hamiltons and it was still raining heavily. The local rivers were starting to fill up and the lodge management were now worried that I might not access the bridges for my Skukuza transfer. I had to be rushed to Skukuza via a different route due to the flooding rivers.
The driver dropped me off at Skukuza around 1pm and I was fetched by a Mala Mala guide who was ready to take me to their reserve.
Continue reading part 2 of Pascal's adventures in the Kruger!