We are so thrilled today because we have Mark Roxburgh from Kiwis Abroad as a guest on the blog today, Mark and his wife Lindy visited the Kruger National Park for SEVEN months in 2018 and he is here to shed some light on their experience.
In 2018 we started noticing the #kiwis_abroad hashtag on Facebook and we were absolutely intrigued by it and later on we discovered the Kiwis Abroad Facebook group and we eagerly joined it for daily updates. The group belongs to Mark and Lindy Roxburgh and the group is used to document their stay at the Kruger National Park, it became fascinating to us because Mark and Lindy have been the only ones that we know of that have visited the park for such a long period of time, so we reached out to Mark to get some information about their stay.
What made you choose the Kruger National Park out of all the parks in Africa for your long time visit?
We have often been asked ‘why Kruger and not one of the many other Reserves in Africa’ and I suppose it comes down to two things, familiarity and cost! Lindy and I were talking about our plans and dreams for my retirement and we decided on South Africa as a base because of the cheap cost of living – it is really cheap when compared to New Zealand – and so didn’t consider other African Parks where the US dollar reigns supreme.
Had you ever been to the Kruger prior to your 2018 visit?
We have been visiting Kruger, as a family, since the mid-1990s as part of our annual vacation whilst I was working in the Middle East. We always found the bush to be very relaxing and so different from the endless sand of the desert.
How did you begin to plan for such a long trip?
Obviously it was going to take some planning when it came to bookings, especially over the school holidays, it needed to be done 11 months out. We also needed to decide whether to stay in the huts, or purchase a caravan or motorhome. The ‘hut’ option was discarded pretty quickly as it was way too expensive.
The caravan versus motorhome choice was complex, a large caravan meant a large towing vehicle and then the on-going running costs, whereas a motorhome meant we could tow a small vehicle behind it which was cheaper to run. By March 2017 things were all starting to fall into place and our planning was nearing completion. We had decided on our itinerary and started the booking process with SANParks. One consideration in our planning was the ability to replenish our food stocks. We had calculated that we could store three weeks of food and water and then planned our stays at suitable camps from which it was an easy drive to exit the Park to stock up.
Did you purchase the Jimmy and motorhome while you were still in New Zealand and hoped it was in good running order or did you purchase them once you arrived in South Africa?
We looked to the distant future and, as we planned to eventually export the vehicle back to NZ. So a motorhome and small towed vehicle was the decision and as we wanted reliability we opted for new vehicles for both the motorhome build, as well as the Jimmy.
What has been your favourite sighting and for the amount of days you were there did you experience any “once in a lifetime” sightings.
To try and identify one sighting that was the most ‘special’ is extremely difficult. We had hoped to witness an actual kill during our stay but that was not to be.
Elephant, my favourite (alongside leopards and wild dogs), are perhaps the most wrongly maligned animals in the Park. They are very intelligent and I think they only pose a threat when in musth or when a calf is threatened. I did a lot of reading on the elephant voices website (elephantvoices.org) to get an understanding of their gestures and body language before the trip and found it very helpful in understanding them and their probable intentions. I can sit and watch them for hours and on many occasions have sat with them mere meters from the car and watched as they browsed on the roadside bushes. On one occasion an elephant calf walked up to the car and sniffed across the bonnet and then down the side of the car before heading off with the rest of the herd. There were a few nervous moments because when the calf headed towards the car the ‘all mothers’ tried desperately to prevent it. Once their cause was lost they walked to the car and took up threatening positions right next to the passenger side door, ready to protect their young charge if needed. This was a very special sighting.
Another standout sighting was a female leopard and her two very young (still with their blue eyes) on the southern end of the S36. I had found the den by following hyena tracks that then merged with the leopard tracks. I then sat and scanned the surrounding area and finally the mom peered over the top of some rocks at me.
She and the cubs were fairly near the roadside but were hidden in rocks. Initially the cubs were only visible through an opening in the rocks and the first glimpse I got of them was just a blue eye. I sat for a couple of hours and they eventually showed themselves for a few minutes before heading back to their mom and into cover. I tried to keep the location secret as the den was vulnerable to both predators (the hyena had shown an interest) and the viewing public.
Unfortunately other visitors found the den and soon it was on Latest Sightings, pressure was too great and she lost both cubs (she has subsequently birthed another two cubs in 2019).
Which part of the park happens to be your favourite & which camps stood out to you?
The Park is so varied in both habitat and inhabitants, from the hill areas of Pretoriuskop and Berg ‘n Dal to the savannah around Satara. From the Mopani thickets of the north to the plains around Lower Sabie. They are all so very different and to pick a favourite area is difficult. Each has their own special attraction – well maybe not so much the Mopani thickets!
As our visit spanned autumn, winter and early spring we got to see vast changes in the bushveld. We had often heard how late winter was the best time for animal viewing and we got to experience it first-hand. August through to mid-October produced many fantastic sightings as animals migrated towards water sources; predators especially became more prominent.
Our favourite campsite would have to have been Tsendze. The tranquillity of the place is hard to match. Having no electricity means that there is very little noise at night as campers go to sleep early. The outdoor gas hot-water showers are also quite a novelty – having a squirrel peer down from the roof and watch whilst you shower is very different! The caretakers run the camp very well and come around each evening to have a chat with campers and enquire as to how their day had been. I also have no issues with Skukuza. It is a ‘city’ of a camp but the area is good as far as sightings are concerned. If you accept it will be busy (like anywhere in the south) then you can enjoy your stay. Both Satara and Shingwedzi have large camping areas and they offer very little in the way of charm, but the viewing in those areas certainly make up for that aspect.
Can you break down the expenses for your trip because you were there for a long period of time
When we were planning the trip we had no accurate indication on what the overall costs would be. We had no idea of what food would cost, likewise with the ever changing fuel price. How would we budget to make sure we didn’t run out of funds? In the end we took what we considered would be appropriate figures and used them. Every cost was entered into a spreadsheet to keep tabs of how things were going and to ensure we didn’t have a major blowout.
How did we do? The total cost for our Kruger stay was R154979.16. This is broken down into food – R40769.71, accommodation – R72573.87, fuel – R23553.63 and essentials and one-offs – R18081.95 (the biggest portion of this was for data!). We had only spent 67% of our budget and we didn’t deprive ourselves of anything.
What happened to the Jimmy and motorhome once you were back in New Zealand?
It was not easy finding somewhere that could provide under-cover parking for the motorhome – it stands 3.3 meters off the ground! Finally we found a place where we could store both vehicles near Pietermaritzburg.
I know you were planning to come back for another 7 months in 2020 but we see you were back again in May, besides the bush being addictive what made you come back so soon?
We had intended to spend the majority of 2019 in the Park as well but unfortunately we had to change our plans. We were able to salvage some of our plan and spend a couple of weeks in the Park during May, and then again a nine week period from mid-August until the end of October.
As avid Kruger visitors ourselves, we have experienced our share of downfalls, can you name me some of yours.
Unfortunately all too often we found the communal facilities, both the wash-up and ablutions, had been left in a disgusting state by our fellow campers. One of the pitfalls of communal living, but it does make one wonder how people live at home! The one aspect that SANParks could definitely improve on is the maintenance of the laundry facilities – if you offer the facility you should ensure it is working. However I suspect that miss-use by the public is probably the main reason for the breakages!
What camera and equipment did you use for the trip?
I had bought a Nikon D500 camera and a Sigma Sport 150-600mm lens when we started planning the trip and this was my go-to camera. I also have an older Nikon D7100 and a Nikon 70-300 lens which I used when subjects were too close for the D500 combination. Over the seven and a half month period I took over 25000 photos. Perhaps a bit too ‘click happy’ but that did produce some spectacular photos (well I think so!)
Did you enjoy caravanning? Or couldn’t you wait to get back to the comfort of your home.
The motorhome has most of the comforts of home so there is not much that we wanted for. However all the camps sites in the Kruger are unfortunately sand and continuously having to clean sand from the floor of the motorhome did become a bit tedious. From that aspect it was nice to get back to the real world, but the sheer beauty, peace and tranquillity of Kruger is hard to beat.
How did the food situation work? What did you eat on most days?
We ate very well; breakfasts were muesli, lunches were varied and included cheese and biscuits, toasted sandwiches or rolls and viennas. Each night we BBQ’d – not a braai, because a braai is on a fire and we used gas!
A variation between salad, and BBQ roasted potatoes, onions and butternut became our evening staple. Meat was either chicken, pork or beef each night. We found meat to be very cheap when compared to New Zealand so we ate only fillet steak, pork fillet or chicken tenderloins. All food groups are way cheaper in South Africa – but then again I suppose it came down to our perception of what ‘cheap’ was. One thing we did differently, when compared to our previous short trips, was the lack of treat food – no rusks with morning coffee, no eating at the restaurants and no ‘specials’ from the camp shops. We tried to live as if we were living at home.
How did you find other visitors and SANParks employees at the park?
We enjoyed the interaction with fellow campers as we swapped stories about the day’s sighting whilst washing dishes at the communal facilities each evening. We often met the same people further into our stay, they were returning for their second visit and we were still there. I found that the Kiwis Abroad Facebook group also generated a lot of following and we had many of the Group members call in to our campsite and say ‘hi’.
All the SANParks staff we had dealings with were pleasant and professional – from the Entrance Gate staff to the Reception staff, and from the Field Rangers who we often saw out on patrol to the Section Rangers who I spoke with. An example of the outstanding service we received was towards the end of our stay when we had a booking for Balule camp. Unfortunately our solar power had failed and our only alternative accommodation was a fully booked Satara camp. The Camp Manager was extremely helpful and went out of her way help and found us a place to park for the next week!
How much luggage did you bring on over for your trip?
We considered the logistics of bringing out our clothing each trip and decided that we would rather have a complete separate wardrobe for our use in South Africa. In so doing it also meant we could bring out other items that we felt we wanted from home without having to worry about our luggage weight limits. So we are now able to travel light which is always good. An obvious requirement for such a long stay is the availability of laundry facilities. The large camps all had laundry facilities. The downside was that usually only one of the two washing machines were serviceable which usually meant having to queue to use the machine.
Mark and Lindy are headed back to the Kruger in March of 2020 for another seven months, They decided to change it up for this trip by starting their stay in the north of the park in the hopes to see some of the late summer birds, other changes include staying at each camp for a shorter period, this way they plan to traverse the park north to south TWICE during their stay.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post, we certaintly were envious while reading it, we would like to thank Mark and Lindy for sharing their experience and photos with us.
Make sure to join the Kiwis Abroad Facebook group here so that you can keep up with their 2020 adventure, Mark shares post almost daily on the group.