Details of a Safari trip in Kruger National Park, South Africa, and all the animals and surroundings of this beautiful place
South African Safari – Kruger National Park
It is a different kind of adventure – one so spectacular, so unique in its own right that its story must be told. It comes from the land of creatures, from the smallest ant to the largest land mammal, with all the glory and beauty of our living planet as its background.
Touchdown in Hoedspruit and we arrived into another world. The heat itself was a strange living thing, and our eyes, unaccustomed to such dazzling light, were squinting and watering with the effort to focus on our new surroundings. Leaving the small airport, we were driven along tarmac roads which changed quickly to rough terrain without warning. The minibus bounced nicely along, miraculously unhindered by this unstable route, unlike us, hanging on for dear life, afraid of being spewed into the wilderness at any moment.
We saw elephants wandering around their huge wild home. We spotted an animal in the distance, a waterbuck, then impala, zebra, and warthogs—this within 30 minutes of arriving. We were to find out that this was only a tiny sample of what was to come.
Our Game Lodge was set amongst 66,000 acres of trees and lush grasses and aside from a fast running river in front of the natural hotel’s main decking area. The vast numbers made the only noise of birds and insects that resided in paradise so peaceful here. You relax and lose yourself in the tranquility that is nature at its best. You feel weightless in mind and calm in your heart and soul as you stand on this human-made stage and take in the scenery. Water rippling, trees talk to each other as their branches sway in the breeze and all the chatter in the animal kingdom. It was an orchestra of sounds, like a massive conference conducted by invisible beings, demanding attention with their unique voices.
Our hut was round with a thatched, witch’s hat roof, close to the reception area, and was called ‘Zebra.’ It was surprisingly spacious, with twin beds, a desk, a large wardrobe, and a dressing table. Terracotta tiles cooled the floor, a welcome blessing from the intense heat. Through a doorway was a separate shower and toilet. Bare and open to the elements, this hut was perfect for safari, with modern facilities to make a man feel at home.
Once settled, we went straight back outside to the decking, not wanting to miss nature’s real-life movie. It was to be the center of our world for the next three nights. We sat at the front, the river directly below, and we took in the sights, smells, and noise of the African jungle.
We noticed a strange splashing noise and grunting to our right. Hippos! Impressively huge, you could see in the near distance their big, bumpy heads and flapping ears; it sent you into a trance as you watched them slowly disappear back under the murky waves.
A giant kingfisher with beautiful blues atop a white and black body and a bright, almost a luminous orange beak stuck to a wondrous head – what a treat! It sat close by on a branch and watched us with beady eyes, following our movements, checking us out.
I was amazed at the numerous butterflies that flew past. Strange colors, shapes, and sizes are floating in mid-air as if on invisible puppet strings; the way their wings fluttered was hypnotizing.
Bugs! Weird, like totally alien miniatures! Their shapes were so unusual – one was like a butterfly but with four sets of wings and crazy patterns. The flies and ants were a lot bigger, of course, and the grasshoppers chatted away like they were having a debate with each other, the sound so loud.
As time flew by, we suddenly heard a loud bang. We turned towards the noise and remembered this was the lunch drum. I had forgotten all about that as I took in all the sights around me. We smiled, knowing that we were both thinking the same thing – all the noises of this morning had made us fall in love with Africa. We ate lunch under a wooden canopy, both instantly relaxed as we chatted to other arrivals to share our excitement.
On Safari – Our First Drive Out
Our transport awaited many jeeps at the front of the lodge, with three rows of seats in stages behind the ranger’s seat and rifle. On the front of the jeep was a small fold-down chair with a handle on each side. It was where the tracker sat. A tracker is a highly trained man who can spot any creature’s spoor and locate it quickly. We sat at the back, on the highest seats. It was comfortable, the chairs cushioned leather, not what we expected. Metal bars in front of us were to become our most invaluable accessory.
As we drove deep into the park, we realized how bumpy and unpredictable the terrain is here. We were flung left and right, and it was a task to stay seated and keep hold of my camera at the same time.
Most people imagine safari to be only on the great African plains. Kruger was a fantastic ocean of trees, a swaying, breathing green jungle covering the horizon for miles. Some trees were dead and lying in lush openings with vegetation growing from their lifeless limbs. Termite hills had been built with particular expertise right through many.
We drove past concrete dry riverbeds, waiting for the rains to come and replenish them. The scenery was mind-blowing, the feeling of total peace instantly incredible, and you felt at one with this natural phenomenon.
As if that was not enough for any novice, we were blessed with privileged encounters.
The buffalo we saw at a distance. Vast and impressive, these dangerous creatures are known to have attacked and killed many men. Their horns are solid and bony weapons attached to a massive natural killing machine.
We drove around the river and came to a clearing near the steep bank. We looked across to see the decking area we had just left, and a giant elephant was slowly walking past. Amazed, I wondered what the elephant would have done had we still been sitting there? We watched it continue its amble along the riverbank, pulling at the grass with its trunk. This precious visitor stunned us into silence. I was happy our first close encounter was this beautiful species. Africa is the elephant, in all its wondrous glory. The biggest land mammal on earth and it had waited for us to be opposite so it could present itself for our pleasure.
We came across another fantastic, usually elusive and shy but huge and ancient being – the rhino. I have only ever seen these creatures on TV, but now we were sitting about 7 feet away from this prehistoric wonder. I’m not convinced whether it was male or female; it was huge with massive armor panels perfectly formed over it, in sections as if it was a giant jigsaw puzzle of flesh, strategically placed piece by piece. It nosily ripped clumps of grass with its vast lips as we watched open-mouthed.
One of the oldest earth dwellers, a species that has survived on earth for so long, looked slightly out of place that day. Its survival is a testament to its resilience and ability to adapt to its ever-changing environment. It was a heart-wrenching feeling to leave this beautiful animal, but we had to move on.
Our last surprise before sunset
We drove into a dry riverbed and met up with two other jeeps filled with other excited sightseers. The focus of our attention was lying 20 feet away, hidden in long grasses and reeds. A male leopard the locals have named ‘Batman’ was lying there sleeping, his belly pumping fast to help it cool down in the dense evening heat. He lifted his head to look at us, not bothered that we had gatecrashed his snooze. His fur was so soft-looking, with beautiful colors and ‘rosette’ patterns.
We left Batman, and after a beer, some homemade food, and excited chatter by a lake, we boarded the jeep again as the sun went down around us. Darkness arrived quickly, surrounded us, penetrating our entire being. The stars sparkle above like huge jewels, lighting our way with the help of the moon that had taken the sun’s place as nature’s torch. With no artificial lights, it was intensely spooky here. Our eyes adjusted to the night so that we almost had perfect views of the shadows. We did not see any movements in our guide’s torchlight, but we felt that we were not alone out there in the bush.