Upper Sabie River Road (S3)
The S3 tracks the border of Kruger along the Sabie River, upstream from Paul Kruger Gate. Most of the drive is through riverine bush and thick woodland, crossing a number of streams that feed into the Sabie. There are only two spots where the road gets to the river’s edge, allowing one views over the sandbanks and streamlets of the Sabie River.
Historically, this road was tipped as a good white rhino route, but development on the other side of the river appears to have driven these grazers away. The riverine bush supports a number of browsers such as giraffe and kudu, and there are sometimes sightings of the nyala here, even though they generally prefer the habitat in the extreme north of the Park.
There are wonderful thickets of tamboti as well as magnificent sycamore figs and leadwoods rich with birdlife. However, one cannot escape the sense of human encroachment across the Sabie, which compromises the taste of wild Kruger. Although the road is partly tarred, it is best to avoid this route after heavy rains. At the Kruger Gate one joins the main road to Skukuza.
Acrobat of the Skies
The bateleur eagle is one of Kruger’s most distinctive birds of prey. Recognisable by its red facial skin and bulky black and tawny body, the bateleur has a different design from other raptors.
Its head protrudes relatively far in front of its wings and it has almost no tail, which gives it greater manoeuvrability (its name is derived from the French word for acrobat). The bateleur cruises at low altitudes and so is often the first bird of prey to arrive at a carcass, often beating vultures to the scene of a kill.
It has a sharper beak than vultures and therefore often plays a useful role for other scavenging birds by slicing through the thick hide of the carcass to open the body up.
In indigenous cultures the bateleur is a bird of omen. The Zulu refer to it as the “warrior bird” because the sound of its wings are reminiscent of warriors beating their spears against their shields.
In Xhosa folklore, to kill a bateleur is to invite trouble or war, and a phrase to commemorate the passing away of a great man is to say, “The bateleur is dead”.
Doispane Road (S1)
Named after the influential ranger Doispane Mongwe, this is the main road from Phabeni Gate to Skukuza. It descends into the Sabie River catchment area with the Nyamundwa stream marking the divide between the western sourveld and the eastern sweetveld. Game viewing usually improves to the east of the stream crossing, because the grazing is more palatable.
The Nyamundwa Water Hole is worth a stop to check out whether the resident hippo and crocs are in. There are often buffalo and other grazers at the water hole, particularly around mid-morning.
The landscape opens up as one gets closer to Skukuza. Knob-thorns and marulas dominate the upper and middle slopes while figs, tambotis and sausage trees prefer the lower, more-watered contours. A series of picturesque koppies marks the favoured “Doispane” outspan of ranger Harry Wolhuter (near the turn-off to the dust road (S4) to Paul Kruger Gate) who used to camp here regularly in the early 20th century.
Wolhuter once caught a lion cub here after shooting its mother during a hunt. “Elizabeth”, as the cub was known, became quite tame and played blissfully with the ranger’s dogs. When she became too big to manage, Elizabeth was presented to Land Minister Piet Grobler who in turn handed her over to the Johannesburg Zoo. Wolhuter recalled that several years later on a visit to the zoo, his son called the lioness by her name and she came bounding over, clearly recognising his voice. The Doispane koppies mark a change in the landscape.
Eastwards, the climate is drier, leadwoods and magic guarri trees become common, impala herds are bigger, and the savanna opens up. This part of the Park is an overlapping area in the territory of the bigger predator species, with the possibility of seeing lion, cheetah, leopard, hyaena and wild dogs.
Because of the proximity of the Sabie River and the mixed woodlands and open grassveld, there is a varied choice on the menu for hunters of all kinds.
Leopard come from the Sabie River forests to hunt in this woodland, which is also the western habitat range limit for cheetah from the eastern grasslands. Packs of wild dogs are sometimes seen on the tar road in the vicinity of the S65 turn-off. Lion and hyaena are more common eastwards towards Skukuza.
On a lucky day, one may see all the Big Five along this road. An interesting detour to Skukuza is to turn right on the S65, which crosses the N’waswitshaka River and joins up with the Napi Road from Pretoriuskop. There is a beautiful bushveld forest along the N’waswitshaka River. There are often cheetah sightings along this road. Lion sometimes drink at dawn at the waterhole along this road and klipspringer may be seen on Sihehleni Koppie (388m).
Ngulube the Little Tusker
Warthogs use their tusks for digging and defence. The top tusks – which grow up to 60cm – are used to dig out roots, tubers and bulbs, while the shorter, sharper lower tusks (15cm) are used to fight off enemies. The lower tusks are kept sharp by the way they rub against the upper tusks. Warthogs go into their burrows backwards so that they can use their tusks against any predator foolish enough to enter their holes.