Long days of travel can be tough. Freyed nerves, some unhealthy eating and a few aching legs.
It’s all the more special then when you catch these little moments of light which help put the privilege of our experience in perspective.
Tomorrow we begin our Kruger Park adventure. My first time back in 10 years, and Mari’s first bush experience.
We are excited, humbled and so very lucky. – L
It’s embarrassing to say that my expectations of what it would be like to be on a game drive were anything but realistic. To be honest, I didn’t even fully realize to what extent my images of the ‘safari’ were based solely on movies and film. As much as Lex tried to paint me a picture I still had images of large roaming herds across plains with birds soaring above and every species of animal coming together around the watering hole. Everything was panoramic, a single shot which encompassed all the different animals living together, not only in the same ecosystem, but literally side by side.
As we entered the park today, those expectations were quickly put into place. While I expected fields of golden grass, it was really more trees and long disguising brush. Instead of seeing animals together in constant interaction, it was elephants over here, an eagle a mile down, and baboons 200 feet further along.
Yet even though things didn’t meet my “expectations,” the reality of the situation still trumps anything I could have imagined. Never in my dreams did I imagine seeing a kudu burst out of the bush during torrential rains, never could I have understood the sheer strength of an elephant as it tears down an entire tree, and never would I have been able to envision what a giraffe looks like when it runs. – M
The Kruger National Park is prominent setting for a bunch of my favourite memories as a kid. Many family holidays were spent in cars with our noses pressed to the window trying to be the first one to spot a Big 5 animal, or sitting round a fire in the evening listening to the sounds of the bush.
It’s with great enthusiasm then that I get this chance to visit the park again with family, and at the same time get a chance to give Mari her first bush experience.
As some of you will know, some days on a drive can be barren of sightings. Impala or Zebra might be your most memorable spot, with hours passing with nothing but bush, grass and the occasional hornbill to fill the time. I set out on the drive hoping for more than that, but at the same time trying to check Mari’s expectations, just in case.
After an hour of only common impala sightings, an angry thunder storm rolled in and cut our visibility down dramatically. I crossed my fingers but began to prepare my “this is just an unlucky day” speech for Mari. Before I could formulate my first sentence, brakes were applied and gasps filled the car. A kudu burst from the bush and paused briefly to stare right at us before darting back into the rain soaked veld.
As if a curse was broken the rest of the day brought baboon, giraffe and many up close elephant sightings. Watching this bull elephant plod off into the distance I turned to see a familiar smile on Mari’s face, and realised that I shared it too. No matter how many animals we see, it’s impossible not to feel the magic the park holds. – L
Even though you spend the whole time sitting in a car, a day in Kruger Park can be surprisingly exhausting. Afraid to miss a sighting, I keep my eyes peeled on the horizon. I scan up and down, constantly trying to process the difference between the long grass and what might be lying behind it.
Every once in a while someone gets lucky and shouts “stop!” and we reverse the car to catch sight of a wildebeest, buffalo, or what ever other creature is roaming through the bush. A huge part of the rush and challenge of the drive is making these difficult sightings, like a master game of I spy.
While we spend our days searching the bush for camouflaged animals, many times, it’s the animal that comes to you. Some of the most spectacular sightings are animals crossing right in front of you or those that seem to just enjoy a momentary stop to chill at the road’s edge. These hyenas made their way to the road to lounge on the pavement warmed by the afternoon sun, giving us an incredible up close and personal experience. – M
On a game drive there are few guarantees. You can’t be sure if there’s an elephant round the next bend in the bush, or if there’s a leopard hanging out in that tree across the river bank. To make sure you don’t miss a beat, you’ve got to constantly be on alert for a sighting.
Unfortunately the bush also doesn’t guarantee any great animals spots at all. No matter how hard you stare through the long grass or how many horizons you scan, some days there are just no real beasts to be seen.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to be seen at all. Whether it be a quiet moment all alone with the sounds of a watering hole, or a family of mongooses burrowing into a picnic site bin, there’s always a memory to take home with you.
Today was a quiet day for sightings, but as we made our way home through the park a spectacular sunset set the bush alight in a golden haze. The disappointment of our days animal count was quickly forgotten amid the reminder that every day in the park there’s the guarantee of something incredible. – L
We’re coming up to out last few days in the park and while we’re sure there’s a lot of fantastic viewing to come, here’s a hastily thrown together edit of some of what we’ve seen so far.
Tonight we’re sleeping at Biyamiti Bush Camp in the park itself, and we’re sipping beer to the sounds of the bush. Goodnight! 😉
Music: Madeon – Pop Culture
Animal spotting can be an art, even when it comes to elephants.
Elephants are one of the most prolific creatures in Kruger park, coming in at over 19,000 in the 19,485 square kilometer park. Every day you’ve got a high chance of not seeing just one of them, but a whole clan.
The trick to a good elephant spotting, however, is predicting how they are going to move. Lex’s mom is the master of this art of prediction. Having successfully guessed the likely path of a lion the day before, when Jeanne said to stop and wait for a large group of elephants that were rambling through the trees, we heeded her advice.
She was right to suggest we wait. Soon enough the whole pack of elephants came marching across the road, giving us a new perspective of their immensity. As they rumbled past us it wasn’t long before they disappeared out of view and the entire herd was once again hidden in the bush. – M
While all of our time in Kruger National Park was continuously rewarding, having to exit the gates every evening was always a heartbreaking moment. It was then no surprise that some of our most unique and remarkable moments came from the nights we were inside the park itself.
We made our way down south from Skukuza, setting out for a private bushcamp named Biyamiti. The road was long and hot, but not without some reward. After mistaken shouts of ‘elephant!’ and ‘buffalo!’, our eyes focused on what was actually our first white rhino spotting. A few minutes later, with our eyes pressed firmly against binoculars, the huge animal emerged from its hiding spot with a little calf alongside.
After some time admiring the animals we tore ourselves away and wound our way down to our stop for the night. The little camp sits on a private road and so the only people around are the few who are staying there. It has bare amenities and simple concrete bungalows, perfect for a real ‘in the bush’ experience.
We unloaded our supplies for the night and kicked up our feet next to the early flames of a braai. The African sun ended the day with all its usual ceremony, and we spent time recalling the highlights of our drive. As night fell and the sounds of the bush increased over the crackle of the fire, I think for just a moment all of us felt humbled by the nature that spread out all around us. – L
Being with your own transport in Kruger National Park certainly has many advantages. You can set your own course for the day, steal a few extra hours of sleep when you’d like, and there’s no competing with a larger elderly gentleman with a zoom lens as big as the window you’re sharing. Although that’s not to say being without a tour doesn’t also have its drawbacks.
One of those things you miss out on is some of the most active hours for animal viewing. Before the gates open to the public and after they shut, are some of the hours in which many of the big animals start to move. Either lying on the warm roads as the colder evening sets in, or stalking the early mornings for food to fill their bellies.
Knowing the advantages of the golden hours, we eagerly put our names down for a sunset drive organised by the park itself. A trained ranger led the drive, his knowledge helping to make even the mundane fauna and flaura take on a new life in our eyes. We soaked up the information eagerly, each tidbit changing our perception of the park.
As the sun tinged the world in gold before falling behind the distant hills we watched the park take on a new life. Reflective eyes glowed from the trees, a pack of hyena scrambled along the dips of the road, and a lone male lion contemplated our arrival before he set off back into the night.
We saw and learnt things we couldn’t have without the sunset drive, and these hours outside of the gate times will be some of our fondest memories of our time inside the park. – L
Seeing this long legged wonder in person was a highlight of my Kruger trip. When I call these mysterious animals a wonder, I’m really not exaggerating. As everyone knows, they are the tallest living animal on the planet. While there are no other living creatures quite like it, the giraffe hasn’t always been alone in its awkward looking shape.
One might quickly guess that the giraffes’ closest living relative might be a horse or a deer, but you’d be mistaken. The giraffe is one of only two living animals in the family Giraffidae. The other animal is the okapi, a creature native to central Africa that I’m convinced must have been born out of a late night encounter between a giraffe and a zebra. The eight other members of the family are now extinct deer-like mammals. So if you’ve ever pondered how prehistoric a giraffe looks, you weren’t far off. – M
We woke up in the camp site of Skukuza before sunrise the next morning. Fumbling around in the dark with a single torch between us, we squeezed into our hiking shorts and plotted our route through the camp to the meeting spot for our morning bush walk.
The rangers introduced themselves as Pilot and Mohammed. They loaded us, several other tourists and their rifles into a large open sided jeep and off we went. The cool early morning air saw several animals hanging out by the road. Hyenas scurried off into their little roadside holes as we passed, a genet dashed across the road followed by the squawks of an angry hornbill and a little elephant calf trumpeted angrily at our interruption.
Before long the rangers pulled up onto a dirt road, briefed us all to stay in single file and we set out into the bush. As we walked we’d never go more than a few meters without the guides pointing out interesting flaura, fauna and, most excitingly, fresh animal tracks. Impala hoof prints dominated but, there a leopard or hyena had recently passed and here a rhino had grazed only moments ago.
It didn’t take long before the guides raised their hands and brought us all to a stop. Signs of the bush which we’d all missed had told them exactly what they needed to know. We crept round a thicket of thorny trees and there 30 meters away stood three large white rhinos. “If they come this way, dive behind this bush,” said a now stern Mohammed.
For 20 minutes we moved through the bush watching these giant beasts crunch, stomp and poop their way through the scrub. With no car between us, or fence to protect us it was the most connected either of us had felt to any previous sighting. The enormous animals held such a presence that even now, a week later, we both agree that it was the defining moment of our Kruger National Park experience. – L