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Updated by Shyam Subramanyan on Mar 15, 2018
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South Africa: Self-drive safari planning

Wild Dogs: 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).

Cheetah: The H7 tar road between Orpen and Satara

The H7 runs through a great variety of habitats, from lush riverine forests along the Timbavati River in the west to dense Delagoa Thorn thickets around Nsemani Dam in the east. Somewhere in the middle, however, where the S36 and S39 gravel roads join up with the H7 to form a large crossing, the veld opens up beautifully. If you’re going to search in only one place for cheetah, this is it! The amount of times we’ve bumped into cheetahs around this crossing is uncanny, so we always slow down a little and to keep our eyes peeled when we drive this stretch. Scan the base of every large tree, because they often mark against them as they walk from one trunk to the next. You might even find them on fallen trees, where they have a better vantage point to scan the surrounding veld.

Lion and Cheetah: The N'wanetsi River Road

This road is usually more interesting than the H6 because there is more riverine woodland along the road, and consequently a better chance of seeing game. There are more lion sightings reported along this road compared to the H6 a few kilometres to the south. Many of the grazers are found in mixed herds of wildebeest, zebra, impala and waterbuck, collaborating in keeping a look-out for dangerous predators.Kruger author Wilf Nussey once watched a cheetah kill an impala right next to the road along the S100. He described how the cheetah, exhausted by the chase, was frightened off the kill by the arrival of several cars. In the confusion, a large leopard dashed between the cars, grabbed the fresh impala carcass and made off into the riverine bush, leaving behind a bunch of disbelieving tourists and a hungry, tired and disappointed cheetah.The S100 marks the divide between the open grasslands to the south and the rockier Olifants rugged veld, which lies to the north. There are often herds of buffalo in the grassland around Shibotwana windmill and Nsasane Water Hole. Nsasane is the Shangaan word for the umbrella thorn tree and was named after a nearby grove of these acacia trees.The N'wanetsi River Road joins up with the Gudzani Road (S41), which takes one south to the edge of the Lebombo Range towards Singita Lebombo and the N'wanetsi and Sweni Water Holes. A curious sight at Gudzani Dam is a regular fishing expedition by birds. Herons, egrets and hamerkops line up on the concrete dam wall to catch fish washed down the shallow spillway. This is a favourite water hole for waterbuck.