Since moving to White River in 2009 we’ve popped into Kruger countless times. Who wouldn’t? A scenic drive along the R40 to Hazyview and in through our favourite southern gate, Phabeni, brings us to Skukuza within two hours after a stop at the Golf Club and Lake Panic. Then the routes joining Skukuza to Lower Sabie, Pretoriuskop and occasionally a trip down to Crocodile Bridge are repeatedly traversed either as day trips or longer stays but after 6 years, it was time to strike out further afield.
Satara was next up and the plains offer a new assortment of game, however, it’s a long, slow drive from Phabeni to Satara through the park so it was back to the map for an alternative rut-breaking route and our eyes alighted upon Orpen camp, so decided to drive round the park through Bushbuckridge to Orpen gate and spend a couple of nights there.
Hopping into Henry, our campervan, we set off early one morn and were pleasantly surprised by some spectacular scenery enroute. Perched high in Henry we were able to see over the settlement sprawl to distant mountains, vivid escarpment views, plantations and orchards and a prime South African sunrise, and all too soon we arrived at the charming Orpen gate and camp. We doublechecked the time – exactly two hours door to gate, the same as our usual Skukuza jaunt. It hardly seemed possible to have arrived at (for us) untrod fields further north so quickly – yay for White River being very handily situated!
Orpen Camp consists of 15 bungalows, a shop, small restaurant and a swimming pool but the campsite is about 2kms down the road so we pointed Henry campwards and carried on. Not 10m outside the main camp gate we saw two lovely elephants cooling off in a small waterhole. Then a large herd of game – impala, wildebeest and zebra – crosssed the road, followed by some waterbuck and an enormous warthog. All of this mid morning on a day which reached 50 degrees and was so unbearably hot we did the ellie thing after staking out our campsite and returned to the swimming pool to wallow in the tepid water for an hour or so.
An excellent feature of this camp is the manmade waterhole, complete with camera, just outside the fence in easy view from the thoughtfully provided benches. Absolutely oblivious to the array of bino’s and cameras pointed at them, jackal, buffalo, elephants, impala, zebra and giraffe pulled in for late afternoon drinks and hung around companionably. What an awesome spot this is.
The plains landscape reveals everything and over the weekend we had amazing sightings, all within walking distance of Orpen –wild dog, jackal, kudu, prolific birdlife, giraffe, buffalo, steenbuck galore, lots more elephant and herds of plains game. But Kruger saved the best for last – two leopards almost touchable from the vehicle on our way out, a magnificent male pointedly ignoring the three cars parked metres from his tail, and his lady lounging in a tree about 100m down the road. According to the gate guard, we’d missed the pride of 13 lions sprawled on the road just an hour previously.
Having discovered this gem a mere two hours from home, we’ll be back for more. It’s fabulous to find a less crowded corner of Kruger within easy reach of White River.