The 40th Be with you 2 be

After what felt like a lifetime of waiting for this trip to arrive, this is the one negative of having to book close to a year in advance if you want specific units or lodges and the Boulders is just that, it is a must as you either take out the whole lodge or not at all.

Knowing Boulders is in the deep Mopani thicket not exactly the easiest for game viewing we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to book ourselves into our favourite camp Satara for a night. This would give us the opportunity to enter the park as low as possible.

We left earlier than our normal 4am we had to collect some excited travel buddies on the way, with a realistic target departure time to leave JHB 3:30am we crushed it and were already on our way long before then… Destination?  Paul Kruger gate, with a stop off at Hazyview to collect car number 2 of our convoy.  

Topping up with fuel, food, coffee drinks and a bit of unnecessary shopping we teamed up with our second inline and final car for the day. The heat already tearing through our clothes we knew Kruger was around the corner anxious we meandered through narrow roads littered with potholes, goats and speed traps. The environment went from dusty urban to game enriched dense thicket.

Finally arriving at Paul Kruger gate all hopes of a group photo in front of the Paul Kruger memorial were dashed by a breeding herd of elephants crossing the road and feeding from the luscious trees which are regularly relied on by cars seeking even a tiny bit of shade in the parking area.

Is it safe to get out?? NO!!! but we had no choice so managing to park as close to the check in reception we popped out took some personal pictures as the Matriarch of the group didn’t even give us a flick of an ear and meandered off into the bush.  Checked in, excited and ready to go we had no idea that this particular elephant encounter would set the tone of things to come.

As the heat climbed, we stayed along the river on the tarred H1-1 for as long as possible all the way down to Lower Sabi. Unfortunately, with time not on our side we hade to leave this beautiful area of the park and head North to Satara along the H10. We were pushed for time and had to limit our game viewing and photography time.

Having a quick stop at Tshokwane our plan of getting up to Satara to unpack and go for a short sundowner drive was foiled by getting wind of a stationary lion a few km’s down the S34 considering how quiet it has been we agreed to try our luck.

Expecting a bunch of cars bundled up trying to peer through a gap through the trees we were greeted with a Male lion, 2 lioness’s and a cub lazing in the shade not 8m from the road, and the best part not another car insight.

Surprisingly with what has seemed a large amount of recent rains most of the dams and expected water dependent game was scarce the most part, crossed over the Sweni River seemed to break this drought, if this was because of the time day or just a slight more availability of water still remains debateable.

Crawling in well within our E.T.A. along with a quicker than expected check in process we still had time for a short Sundowners driver. Hastily unpacking the necessities, sticking on our air-conditioning to the max along with and a cold shower for some rejuvenated us with an hour and a bit to go before gate closing. A little venture down our favourite S100 road did not prove fruitful but still very eventful, it was time accept defeat turnaround and head home.

After our trip to Satara in September where we had a magical meal at the newly established Cattle Baron restaurant, we thought we introduce our fellow travellers to this magical experience, sadly magical it was not. I like to believe it was just not Cattle Barons day, we got seated with a smiling face and picked a spot out on the deck but that was the last service we received of any sorts. Feeling forgotten about not waiter or waitress in sight to take a drinks order. Being the thirsty bunch we are, after about 30min we took matters into our own hands and managed to order directly from the external bar. The bar lady clearly under pressure took the time to assist and promptly gave the next few waiters a good few words since then our service was much improved. Food ended up being a mixed bag of nice, good, ok and meh. Seemed like the burgers were the winners of the night.  

Waking up at 4am in the bush just seems right. Energy levels replenished, the idea was to venture down and up the S100 again before checking out of Satara. This time it did not disappoint! Theres a feeling when the abundance of plains game suddenly depletes an eerie atmosphere overcomes ones early morning personality loss with a confused emotion of nothing is here but something is! This time we were right as we were rewarded with and a distant lion sighting, through the binoculars we could count at least 9 lions lazing around. Moving off from these flat cats we ventured on, reaching the end of the S100 it was time to return, after turning around our good start just got better. On the mark where we left our original lions this time a few cars sparsely gathered our distant flat cats now sprightly and next to the road. They just came to give us a satisfactory goodbye and wish us well on our way.

Checked out from Satara the long journey had begun, having no choice but to stay on the H1-4 tar, skip past Olifants, and rush to meet up with car number 3 of our convoy at Letaba rest camp.

About 2.5 hours North of Letaba we reached Mopani rest camp, the game viewing was few and far between. Greeted by extremely friendly staff and a well airconditioned reception, this was our last check in for the trip so those without Wildcards had to pay their conservation fees. Officially checked in, ice and firewood stocked up we headed off to our final resting place for the rest of the trip Boulders bush lodge.

Boulders bush lodge locate about 10km South as the White backed Vulture flies.  For us without the luxury of wings is about a 30min drive from Mopani with a private access road accessible from S142 on Northern side or from the H14 on the Southern side.  

The only protection this wild unfenced lodge offers is that it has been built a few meters off the ground on stilts complete with semi enclosed walkways. This can pretty much keep one safe from the ground bound game the likes of Elephant, Buffalo and Hyena. Any animal with a slight bit of acrobatic skills such as Leopard, Baboons and Monkeys can find a way in to the commune area without a hassle. Nocturnal animals especially Honeybadgers and Genets roam freely on the walkways between the rooms, braai area and the communal areas. Be on a constant look out for Spiders especially the speedy Red Roman (Solifugae) and snakes seeking warmth in the evening.

Between the Mopani thicket and the extreme heat the next day or two manifested an underwhelming amount of wild life on drives. Sitting on veranda with a G&T or beer watching what approached the waterhole seemed like a more fruitful exercise. The waterhole 100m away from the lodge maybe a tad far for the naked eye so be sure to have a pair of binoculars handy and readily available.

Every night at boulders was an eventful one along with plenty drinks, random conversations and belly filled laughs and the odd spurt of back of the neck hair raising noises whilst sitting around the unprotected braai area kept the adrenaline pumping.  

We were blessed with a cloudy day which dropped the temperature significantly, advantage needed to be taken of this cooler weather, so another hungover 4am departure up to Shingwedzi this time only one in the convoy this time but we had been told on good authority the river route is worth doing, and boy did it deliver, three set of Lions, Countless antelope, magnificent birdlife, never ending Jackleberry, Tamboti & Fever tree forests.  If we saw two other cars it was a lot, never did we ever feel so secluded in the Kruger especially when we got stopped for 15min by one Rock Python crossing the road still with no car in sight.

The days went by way too fast and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head home. Exiting Phalaborwa, our trip home took just under 6hours with limited stops. We headed from Phalaborwa through Tzaneen into Polokwane jumping on the N1 South to Pretoria & JHB. From Phalaborwa to Polokwane the roads were mediocre and between the Potholes and a tight twisting scenic mountain pass this route should be avoided being done after dark.

All in all, a great trip with friends. If one is dead set in staying at the Boulders as one should be, do it in the beginning of the trip and ensure a few nights further South in the park not only for more rich game viewing but it will also give you the option to exit the park further South for a more relaxed shorter journey home.

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