The northern section of Londolozi is known for its beauty; dotted with rocky outcrops and the wide Manyelethi River meandering through the shade of Leadwood and Jackalberry trees.
But before one can get there the Sand River needs to be crossed. We had headed down to the sand-bottomed Finfoot crossing first, hoping to ford the river there. On arriving at the crossing point we saw that the water was WAY too high. Well according to myself and tracker Lucky Shabangu. We decided to play it safe, and I radioed in to say we were changing our crossing point to a much easier one; the Causeway, a concrete bridge crossing. Later on, of course, I would receive many chirps from the ranging team offering me free driving lessons, perhaps an advanced 4×4 course and James Tyrrell – who is notorious for getting stuck – even went as far as to offer to drive me back and forth through Finfoot crossing a few times to show me how it was done.
As we descended down onto the causeway our attention was drawn to the water as some hippos interacting. Then Lucky shouted, “OTTER!”
To our right in the reeds was a Cape Clawless Otter, inquisitively propping itself up on its back legs to peer over the reed-tops at us. In my almost two-and-a-half years at Londolozi, this was the first otter I had seen.
I fumbled for the radio, my hand quivering as excitement got the better of me. I radioed in what we had just found, mainly to make the rest of the team as jealous as possible in the hope that they might forget about us chickening out of crossing at Finfoot. We watched as the otter foraged around the river searching for crabs, fish and freshwater mussels.
We continued up across the causeway into the North stopping to watch crocodiles hunting fish along the way. We were heading to the rocky outcrops where the Tsalala lioness has been denning her new litter. We arrived at the rocky outcrop and Lucky pulled off an amazing spot, pointing the lioness out to us lying on one of the big boulders up on the hill. It was a long distance view so we watched this special sighting of a mother inspecting her den through our binoculars. At one point we saw her go into a small cave where we thought she may be keeping her cubs. At only about a month old they will still be suckling and need to be kept in the relative safety that these boulders offer.
We continued on our way and few moments later we were enjoying the company of a big male giraffe who towered over us while an oxpecker sat atop his right horn. As the bird inspected the crown of the giant for a juicy tick to snack on a much bigger bird was peering down at us from a dead tree: a Martial Eagle, the largest of the African Eagles, with a wingspan of just over 6 feet. This eagle is considered Vulnerable in our part of Africa, another rare sighting for the morning.
Some of my guests had indulged the night before in the bounty that Londolozi has to offer behind the bar and so we decided to stop for an all-important coffee break in the Mayelethi River to revitalize the energy levels. Back up from our break with the obligatory caffeine hit, we continued over a crest, now approaching Ximplalapala Koppie. I was engrossed in conversation with my guests about nothing in particular (it may have been quantum physics), when Lucky shouted “STOP! SNAKE!”. We came to an abrupt halt. Lying in the road, basking in the sun was a beautiful Puff Adder. Its beautiful cryptic markings were brilliantly lit up in the morning light. Snakes in general are very seldom encountered on game drives and in my time at Londolozi this was only the third Puff Adder I had ever seen.
We were able to drive right up to it and have a good look at it. Puff Adders are notoriously lazy snakes and are known to not hiss or strike when approached as to avoid detection. They lie in wait for days or even weeks at a time to ambush prey like frogs and mice.
Heading back to camp, Lucky and I decided to man up and cross the river at the third and final crossing know as Taylor’s Crossing. It was not Finfoot but at least it would up our river-crossing credibility (we hoped) as this was a rock and sand-bottomed affair. On our way down to the river we bumped into the Tracker Academy who had just found a male leopard. What luck; a last treat before breakfast. We enjoyed a view of a rather well-fed Flat Rock male as he groomed himself, seemingly having had a good meal during the night.
When we got to Taylor’s Crossing we saw that either the river had dropped dramatically in the last few hours or our confidence after an incredible morning had risen, and we sailed effortlessly over the shallow ford and back to camp. After a morning with a couple of rare sightings, I’m glad it wasn’t going to be that rare occasion that I got stuck in the Sand River!