After leaving Entabeni early in the morning of the 8th for a three hour drive back to Jo'berg, we hopped a short flight to Nelspruit, the closest we could get to our destination of King's Camp in the Timbavati Reserve on the western edge of the Krueger National Park. Nelspruit turned out to be about another three hours from King's Camp, but we did manage to arrive just in time for the afternoon game drive. We had just enough time to drop our bags, change clothes, and hop in the Rover.
Our ranger, Morné, introduced himself and off into the bush we went. While Entabeni was much more open plains and grassland, Timbavati is dominated by scrub bush and small trees. It's a tangled web of "roads" and double-tracks that had us completely turned around in circles, but Morné knew exactly where he was going. We also had the benefit of a separate tracker this time, Selby, who perched himself in a little seat on the Rover's front bumper and scouted for tracks in the trail. As it turned out, if Entabeni was to be our lion encounter, Timbavati and The Krueger would give us the rest of what we were after and then some.
Within ten minutes we had come across numerous herds of the usual kudu, springbok, etc., and even a massive water buffalo (check another one off the "big 5"). But Morné was on a mission to find a female leopard that had been spotted the day before. Leopards are one of the most elusive animals to find as they are solitary hunters and quite content to remain hidden most of the time. In the process of our search for her, a pack of roughly 30 elephants started walking across the road both in front and behind our Rover. We were right in the middle of them, mostly female, nearly all enormous, but with a few babies hanging onto mama's tails as they wandered past. One of the biggest even stopped in the middle of the road and turned toward us as if to pose. No sooner had they passed by that we came across a handful of giraffe, peacefully gorging on their afternoon meal. Then luck found us again. As we drove forward, the female leopard several lodges in the Timbavati were simultaneously searching for just popped out in front of us on the road as if she was out for a casual evening stroll! We tracked her for nearly a half hour, finally backing off so others in the area could move in for a view. She was an absolutely magnificent creature.
Thoroughly satisfied with our first day's findings, we drove back to camp and, without question, the nicest accommodations we've had on this trip, or any other for that matter. The staff and attention to detail here is nothing short of amazing. Being relatively small, they can focus more attention on each guest, but as an example, we came back from the drive to found a hot bath already drawn for us and waiting. After cleaning up, we were treating to yet another incredible meal and shipped off to bed in anticipation of Morné's 5:30am wake up call and our next morning drive.