Among the Renosterkoppies Hills in Kruger National Park
Throughout the lowveld savanna just south of Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger National Park, in South Africa, are a series of scenic hills collectively known as the Renosterkoppies Hills.
In the Renosterkoppies Hills is a landmark lookout called Shirimantanga Hill. It was there that our daring was put to the test. It is one of a few places within the wildlife preserve that visitors are allowed to alight from their vehicles.
We did so on the morning of our second full day in the Park.
I woke early that morning around 4:30 a.m. then dozed until Bob got up at 6:30 a.m. Our breakfast was interrupted by wildlife viewing when we spotted monkeys and cavorting Kudu on the opposite side of the river from our hut. Next, a Cape Buffalo nonchalantly meandered along the riverbank leading our eyes even further downstream to where three others basked on a sandy point.
Before exiting Skukuza Rest Camp, we stopped at the Reception Centre where numerous Lesser Masked Weavers provided excellent views of their colourful plumage.
A gregarious Glossy Starling glowed iridescently in the sunlight as it tossed aside yellowed leaves on the ground.
The day’s self-guided tour was planned to take us south on S114 through a series of random dust roads in combination with the primary dirt roads. As long as we made it back to Skukuza Rest Camp before nightfall, we were free to roam the Park at random. Bob and I had all day and expected to fill the time taking in the scenery and looking for wildlife.
Our first stop was at Shirimantanga Hill or Koppie, and like the other Renosterkoppies, it stands out against the flat landscape because of gigantic boulders that mark the spot. Some of the massive granite rocks are about the size of a house!
The word “koppies” in Afrikans means hills. It is the concentrated deposits of humongous boulders that constitute each koppie and provide the necessary elevation required for the Renosterkoppie Lookout known as Shirimantanga Hill in the Renosterkoppie Hills. It has an elevation of 449 metres.
Renosterkoppies is the Afrikans word for rhino hills, an appropriate name because Rhinoceroses are often seen nearby.
Bob and I gave serious consideration to the idea of getting out of the car because all the crevices and cracks between the boulders provide ample hiding spots for wildlife.
In the end, we decided to take the chance.
A winding path conducted us around the monolithic boulders in order for us to peer through the trees to the bushy valley below.
It is important to pay tribute to the person for whom the memorial is placed at this location: James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first warden of the Sabi Nature Reserve. Owing to his efforts over the course of 44 years, the Nature Reserve was expanded to become Kruger National Park. Both his and his wife’s ashes were distributed here.
Before merging back onto the main road after spending some time at the Lookout, Bob and I spotted several Natal Spurfowl foraging in the dry grass beneath the bushes. The cryptic colour of the birds’ plumage certainly defies detection since it so well matches the vegetation in the savanna habitat where these birds are found.
There is little difference between the males and females of this species other than the spurs on the males’ legs are longer in comparison to those of the females. These birds are also known as Natal Francolin.
The Natal Spurfowl were quite vocal as they moved about looking for seeds, fruit and tender roots.
Excitement revealed itself around almost every corner as we roamed the savanna that day in Kruger National Park. When in the vicinity of Gayisenga, a flicker of movement in the distance drew my eye to where a bare sandy ridge interrupted the stretch of dry grass and acacia thorn thickets.
The slender hind quarters of a graceful Impala stood stark against the white sand, and we could see the silhouette of another behind a tree. Moments later, a pair of Impalas stepped into the open and began to clash, head to head, while two other Impalas stood by.
We were riveted to the action that lasted a few short minutes and saw the pair crossing the distance to the road where they continued to battle right in front of us.
I just have to make mention of the multitudes of Dung Beetles that were evident everywhere that a pile of fresh manure had been deposited. With the rich population of elephants, rhinos and giraffes present in Kruger, there was an ample supply of the nutrient-rich waste for Dung Beetles to feed upon.
The impressive beetles known as rollers are capable of rolling balls of dung that weigh 50 times their own weight!
Our route took us past Mpondo Dam, a reasonably large waterhole that usually attracts good numbers of animals though none were evident when we drove by.
The most prevalent mammals in the Park, Impala, were becoming such a frequent sight that we soon opted to pass them by even as beautiful as they are.
A graceful Giraffe had us oohing and aahing at its limber neck that seemed to stretch on forever, the beauty of its evenly-spotted coat and the calm with which it observed us in the car.
It was not only mammals that delighted us that day. One of the most remarkable birds that we spotted was a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. This male was truly something special to see and could easily have been overlooked if we had not been driving slowly and constantly scanning the bushes. Sitting quietly in a tree at the roadside is consistent with the behaviour of these birds that frequent dry thorn fields and broadleaved woodlands.
The bill of a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill often accounts for one-sixth of the bird’s body length. With it, a Hornbill is capable of overturning large obstacles when searching for insects, nuts or seeds but refrains from using its bill to dig. Most foraging is done on the ground or in low vegetation. Endemic to southern Africa, Bob and I felt blessed to have seen this gorgeous individual.
We never knew what creature might show itself next. Kudu,
Elephants, and Warthogs all were observed as we soaked up the South African experience.
The animal sighting that gave us the greatest thrill that afternoon was that of a Leopard. On other occasions, we had spotted Leopards in the distance basking on rocks, but this cat crossed right in front of our vehicle. We were ecstatic and couldn’t think of a better ending to our day’s excursion! We hastened our return to Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger National Park as there would only be a couple of hours to rest before setting off on a guided evening safari. Oh the wonders that the onset of darkness would hold.
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