Boarding flight MN110 hit home the fact that we were on our way to The Kruger National Park for 6 days. Although the trip had been in the pipeline for several months, our busy schedules had not allowed the three of us an opportunity to grasp the gravity of the journey which lay before us. The Otter and I were last in The Kruger when we were youngsters and had both agreed that we would consider this our ‘maiden trip’ as our memories of the previous trip were reasonably blurred. The Don was to be our guide for the duration as he had spent an enviable amount of time in the Kruger and was considered by many – including The Otter and I – as an experienced campaigner when it came to all things bush-related.
After spending the night in a dodgy B&B on the east rand of Jozi, we were all keen to hit the road as early as possible so as to get a full days viewing in at the Park. 04h00 to be exact. The Otter immediately curled up in the back seat and was asleep before we left the city lights behind us, whilst I sat upfront with The Don, listening to him telling yarns about his youth. He grew up in the east rand so the territory was familiar. We made Nelspruit by 08h00 and headed straight to the nearest Wimpy. “Coffee and a double-cheese please.”
By 10h30 we were back on the road with a boot full of wood, meat, beer, biltong and various other necessary man-munchies, heading towards the Malelane Gate, which would be our port of entry into the Park.
Upon reaching the gate, we crossed the Crocodile River and whipped out our binocs with the hope of spotting any animals which may have been lazing at the river’s edge and luck was on our side as we spotted a host of Crocodiles (of course), Hippo’s and a lone Giant Heron. This spotting only heightened our excitement, which had been building since we went through the Nkomazi Plaza toll gate less than an hour earlier.
Things slow down incredibly once you’re in the Park as there are, naturally, strict speed restriction on the various tar and dirt roads. Our goal was to make it to Skukuza by 17h30 and we unanimously agreed that we were going nowhere slowly. With windows down and binocs at the ready, we made our way forward.
Feeling footloose and fancy free, we decided to take our first dirt road to the right which lead towards Gardenia and Biyamati. This turned out to be a great decision as we spotted a host of animals including Impala, Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Steenbuck, Elephant, Giraffe, Kudu, Baboon and Warthog. Being newbies in the park, the car would always grind to a sudden holt as all attention would be turned towards anything which resembled an animal, be it tree, branch or rock.
By 16h30 we had checked into Skukuza, but not before sighting a male and female lion chilling under a tree 20m off the road, just past Afsdaal, and spotting a leopard eating an Impala in a tree just past Mathekenyane. Spotting a lion was a treat but seeing a leopard was an absolute honour. The Don mentioned that in all his trips to the Park, he had never seen a leopard feeding in full view. The leopard sighting will stick with me forever.
We were in bed by 21h00 after a well deserved beer or two and a braai as an early start was on the cards the following day.
Day 2 dawned and we jumped in the car and hit the road with lunch at Lower Sabie our only goal for the day. The road ran along the Sabie River which resulted in both the wildlife and bird life being abundant for the entire trip. We counted ourselves very lucky to grab a second sighting of lions in as many days, as we spotted a handsome male with two females resting on the banks of the river. The trip to Lower Sabie took us all of 5 hours as again we stopped for each and every sighting. Yet not one of us were in a rush as all were content to take things as easy as possible. That’s the ting with being in the bush, if you mission from A to B, the chances are that you will miss spotting something rare. Such as the Nyala which we spotted through the trees about 10km’s out of Lower Sabie. Nyala are rare sightings indeed as they are very shy buck who tend to keep out of sight when possible. Again, The Don remarked that he had never seen a Nyala. Ever. What a treat.
After a lazy lunch on the deck at Lower Sabie, we decided to take the a dirt track home, which ran on the northern side of the river. For the first half of the journey we were doubting our decision as the landscape had recently underwent some form of controlled burning, which saw the earth scorched black and the animal life dwindle. It was a sight and reminded me of a ‘Mad Max’ landscape but the lack of sightings was disappointing considering the run of form we had experienced since entering the Park a day and a half earlier.
The landscape soon changed as we moved closer to the river and just as hearts began to drop and hope began to fade, we made another big sighting. Rhino! I was driving and had my eyes right and immediately spotted a large shape standing some 100m away through the brush. Even though I hadn’t caught a good look, I knew immediately what it was and yelled “RHINO!” to the surprise of The Don and The Otter. We grinder to halt and spent the next 20 minutes looking at the animal through our binocs. Later that evening we agreed what an honour it had been to have seen an animal which, in all likelihood, would not exist in a generation’s time. What a shame we humans are.
We topped off our stay at Skukuza with a night drive which saw us spot Hyaena’s, Lions and more Rhino’s. We couldn’t believe our luck!
We climbed into bed on the eve of our second day in The Kruger National Park feeling very chuffed that along with a host of other animals and birds, we had seen 4 of the Big Five. With a further 4 days still to go, we were certain that we could make it five out of five, with just a Buffalo sighting needed. Our next port of call was the tented camp at Tamboti and The Don assured us that the further north we went, the more Buffalo there would be. Hope had us sleep soundly that night.
You stay classy,