This is, without a doubt, our favourite camp. It is not a large camp, with the accommodation numbers going up to hut 79. (Compare that with Satara which goes up to 179 and Skukuza 313!) Being in the north, it is much less commercialised and therefore much, much quieter.
Shingwedzi is the only one of the rest camps to have two entrances. The main entrance is accessed via a 2 km stretch of road which turns off the H1 where the H1-6 becomes the H1-7. The one we have used on this tour is the back gate which marks the official end (or beginning) of the S50.
The Shingwedzi River forms a loop, flowing northwards to the west of the camp, then turning east to pass the camp. Just east of the camp it turns sharply to the south.
The huts of the camp are laid out in two circles. Coming in from Kanniedood via the back gate, the first circle consists of huts with thatched roofs as the one below. You can see our trusty Isuzu parked on the right. I have also included my favourite Red-billed Hornbill photo which was taken just a few metres away from our bungalow. If you look at the hut photo, bottom right, you will see the palm leaves where the hornbills were scratching about.
The second circle is larger and consists of more modern semi-detached chalets like the one below. As before, that is our Isuzu parked behind those two trees.
There is a host of bird life to delight keen birders, though I must tell you that you are now in the tropics and it is very hot, especially in the summer months. Walking about with binoculars looking for that elusive bird in the heat of the day is definitely not a pleasant exercise!
I have mentioned before that the Shingwedzi swimming pool is my favourite. I am not really a hydrophile, but soaking in the pool in the heat of a summer’s evening while watching the Night Jars swooping to and fro overhead, their large eyes reflecting the lamplight, has got to rate as one of my highlight Kruger experiences.
As in all Kruger camps, there are plenty of resident Tree Squirrels about. On one visit we had the good luck to be right next to a large tree which was home to a squirrel pair. They were very active in the early morning and late afternoon, but during the heat of the day one of them lay draped upside down in the crook of the branches while the other hung out of the entrance to its nest. As I was unable to get a good shot of either of them on the move, I have included one which was taken along the Kanniedood.
Another resident which provided some excitement one hot day, was a large Rock Monitor. (In South Africa the monitors are also known as leguans.) We were notified of its presence by the objections of a family of Green Woodhoopoes. We watched, quite enthralled, as it climbed the tree, wondering if it was after hoopoe eggs or nestlings. But, no, it was simply hot and tired and wanted to rest on a shady branch. After about twenty minutes it climbed down again and waddled off.
It is quite easy to distinguish a Rock Monitor from a Water Monitor, also known as a Nile Monitor. The Water Monitor is darker, with a different stripe pattern, as can be clearly seen in the photo below.
Another feature of the camp is the number of beautiful Impala Lily bushes.
The camp is situated right on the river and there is an excellent viewing point near the administration centre and camp shop. Here you can sit at sundown and watch the animals come down to drink from the river.
I did mention that there are plenty of elephants in the Shingwedzi district!
The two photos below show the levels of the 2013 flood. The signs say ‘FLOOD LEVEL 20 JANUARY 2013’.
We are now going to take a short tour of the road from the front entrance gate of the camp to the main road - the H1. It has no name or designated route number so, for the sake of clarity, let’s call it the camp main entrance road. It is a mere 2 km long, follows the course of the Shingwedzi River and provides excellent views of it.
Below is a view of the river just a short distance from the main entrance.
On the opposite side of the road is the turn-off onto the S134, a ring road which takes you to the S50 and the back gate of the camp. We had a hair-raising experience once on a late afternoon visit to the Mashagadzi Waterhole. Not only is this waterhole a deep disappointment (you cannot approach it closely) but our way out was blocked by a huge, mean elephant bull who refused to move and clearly was not pleased with our presence. We thought we’d never get to the gate before it closed. Desperate prayers were eventually answered and the bull moved off. We got through the camp gates by the skin of our teeth!
It was also here that we had our one and only cheetah sighting in the far north. We had just turned onto the ring road when it crossed the road in front of us and then disappeared into the bush. It was a very brief sighting but Barry did manage to get it on the video camera. These photos are stills from the video, so the quality is not that good.
A bit further along the main entrance road, there is a long and deep pool in the river that was apparently scooped out during the 2013 flood, so even during the driest season, you are sure to see game. The series of photos of the elephants below is a case in point. The photos were taken in January 2016 at the height of the drought, though admittedly, the Shingwedzi area had had some rain. This group of four young bulls had a wonderful swim and then had a wrestling match.
Very early one morning we found a troop of baboons sitting here on the side of the road overlooking the river. As it was in March, with the main part of the rainy season over, it shows perfectly how much water this pool retains.
The baboon that appears to be suffering from an acute case of haemorrhoids is actually a female in oestrus. I was very relieved to discover this fact, as I had often wondered why some baboons had this revolting-looking condition!
Buffalo are usually to be found in large herds, but often there are one or two old bulls which live on their own. These old bulls have been evicted from the herds by younger bulls. They are particularly fond of wallowing in mud pools or simply lying in pools of water. It is no wonder that many people think that their correct name is Water Buffalo! Strictly speaking, they are African Buffalo. They are often referred to as dagga boys. As dagga is an Afrikaans word for cannabis, this seems weird, until you discover that dagga is derived from udaka, a Nguni word meaning mud!
Below are two photos taken in January 2017 when the horrific drought of 2015/16 was finally broken. The one is on the river itself and the other in a pool at the side of the road.
Thus far we have concentrated on the river side of the road but the opposite side provides many sightings as well, including lion. Unfortunately, the lion we saw once was a lone sleeping male and the vegetation and his position made decent photographs impossible.
We have now reached the H1 and are going to cross it to follow a short bit of dirt road to where there is an excellent view of the confluence of the Shingwedzi and the Mphongolo Rivers. (See the map above.)
The photo on the right was taken during the dry season, the two below after good rains. The Shingwedzi is in front coming from the left. It was the force of both these rivers in flood which devastated the camp, which is just a few kilometres downstream.
We now turn back to the H1 and turn left onto the H1-7. Just a short distance away is the bridge over the Shingwedzi where we alight from our vehicle. This is perfectly legal, if you remain between the yellow lines painted on the surface of the road.
Obviously it’s not a good idea if there is an elephant or one of the big cats on the bridge!
We stand at the rail and look west for another view of the confluence. It must be a sight to behold when it is in flood!
We look down onto the river bed and there we see a pair of Bataleurs!
This is probably the same pair we have seen a number of times along the main entrance road. Frustratingly, we have never had a clear view of them to get good photos.
Bataleurs are the most striking of all the eagles and it is easy to see where they get the Afrikaans name ‘Berghaan’, which means mountain rooster!
To give you a better idea of how beautiful they are, I am including some of our Bataleur photos taken elsewhere. We saw the one on the right along the H13 which is the road to Punda Maria. (More about this route later.)
Below left was a fantastic sighting along the Olifants River on the H1-5. It was right above us at the side of the road. This was when I stilll had my first and very basic camera with only a 4X zoom capacity, which should tell you how close it was!
Below right was the best sighting ever of a juvenile Bataleur taken near Crocodile Bridge.
We return now to the bridge over The Shingwedzi River.
The closest we ever got to a crocodile was at Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie. I include its profile to show its very impressive set of chompers!
To end off with, a glorious sunrise taken from the bridge over the Shingwedzi.