Sunset Dam is a legendary spot. Many Kruger aficionados will probably state that it’s their favourite waterhole in the whole of the park. It holds a massive population of Hippo’s, despite the fact that the Sabie River is only a few hundred meters away. The river also holds a fair number of these semi-aquatic behemoths, but nothing like the numbers in the dam. Perhaps the lack of flow and more stable water levels in the dam are reason for this, but either way, if you want to see Hippo’s up close and personal, this is THE spot. Not that you’d want to get too personal with a Hippo…
In fact, there are so many here that their dung enriches the water with excessive nutrients, which results in soupy green water due to the algal bloom. In certain cases there can be blooms of extremely toxic algae, which can result in the death of any animal which ingests the algae while drinking. For this reason numerous other dams, such as Siloweni Dam, have been destroyed in recent years.
Sunset Dam is also home to a large number of Nile Crocodiles, ranging from arm-length tiddlers to monsters three or four meters long which probably weigh several hundred kilograms. Indeed, this is one dam you definitely don’t want to end up in.
Birds are also plentiful here. It’s a great place to see White-crowned Lapwing, a river specialist which is restricted to the Sabie, Olifants, Levuvhu and Limpopo Rivers and is regularly seen at the water’s edge where the cars stop. A dead tree in the water is a nesting site for Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, Village Weavers and Lesser-masked Weavers. A scan along the shoreline will turn up Water Thick-Knees at rest, while Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers can also be seen in the vicinity. Yellow-billed Storks are also common here, as is the ubiquitous Grey Heron.
In terms of mammals there are always loads of Impala hanging about, and these are prey for Lions, Leopards, Cheetah, Wild Dog, Spotted Hyena and the reptilian giants in the water of course, while Elephant and Buffalo often arrive during the heat of the day to bathe and wallow.
The great thing about Sunset Dam, besides the birds and wildlife, is that it is located just outside the gates of Lower Sabie Rest Camp, so you can always spend the first and last moments of the day there, and can also pop out quickly during the heat of the day to see what’s happening.
This panoramic shot was taken in July 2013, on a warm winter’s day when the water is considerably colder that the air, meaning that the Hippo’s, around 18 in this group, spend much of the day out on the banks enjoying the sun. Since taking this panorama I’ve learned a bit more about taking panoramas. For great, high-res panoramas set your lens to around 50mm, and, for a horizontal panorama such as this, orientate your lens vertically (in portrait orientation), and take a series of shots overlapping by around 15 – 20% as you pan across the scene, which you can render through something like Photoshop Photomerge. That way you’ll end up with a large panorama with as much detail as possible.