The Kruger Experience
Day 1: After a comfortable four hour drive from Johannesburg we arrived at the Numbi gate of the Kruger National Park where our hosts for the next three days, PG [PeeGee] and Eden, were waiting for us. Without too much ceremony we clambered aboard the open landrovers and headed into the park.
Our destination was Skukuza Camp, the largest and most popular of Kruger’s camps. On route we stopped to view waterbuck, zebra, steenbok, elephant and numerous species of birds. The male lion was the highlight of our first day in Kruger National Park.
Skukuza is a very comfortable camp with all the modern conveniences, including telephones, cell phone reception and a large shop stocked with foodstuffs, alcoholic beverages and curios. The bungalows are well kept, have piping hot water and a fridge for keeping things cold.
Day 2: A black headed oriole was serenading the morning as we sipped our tea and coffee. Not even a breakdown to one of the vehicles could dampen the anticipation. We all bundled onto one vehicle and headed out for a short pre breakfast drive in the vicinity of Skukuza. We saw Buffalo and Kudu with some members of the group been fortunate enough to have a very brief sighting of a leopard as it ran across the road. After breakfast we headed out on route to Pretoriuskop camp in the west of the park. On route we saw a breeding herd of Elephant, Kudu, Buffalo, Duiker and Rhino.
Pretoriuskop boasts the first tourist hut in Kruger. The bungalows are comfortable and well kept. Within a short drive from Pretoriuskop Restcamp, the birthplace of Jock of the Bushveld can be found.
Day 3: The opportunity arose to experience one of the Kruger National Park 4x4 adventure trails, where it is possible to travel on roads that are not used by the general public. Due to the remoteness of the areas the park authorities insist on two vehicles travelling together.
The ruggedness of the terrain limits the game viewing but the mere privilege of been away from the main routes more than makes up for the scarcity of game. We did have an exciting encounter with a large herd of buffalo that were crossing the road when we came upon them. The Mtshawu Dam, where hippo and crocodiles basked peacefully in the sun, was another highlight of the trail.
The southern-most camp
It was a long drive to our next overnight at Crocodile Bridge in the south eastern part of the park. It is a beautiful drive through different vegetation types and terrains. The sun was almost setting as we came within sight of the camp and five white rhino next to the road. After a few minutes of watching the rhino we became aware of two cheetahs in the background. They were moving off slowly but we all had a good view of them.
Crocodile Bridge is a beautiful camp situated on the banks of the Crocodile River, the southernmost boundary of Kruger National Park. Frogs serenaded us during the night and a hyena, in the quest for food, paid a visit to the camp.
Day 4: There was some rain during the night that settled the dust and infused the air with the beautiful scent of renewal. We packed up early and headed north to our next stop at the walking trails camp. There was a lot of African wildife on the way including Zebra, Wildebeest, Baboons, Elephant and Buffalo. A highlight was the wait for a female leopard and her two cubs to appear from their hiding place in a rocky overhang. They did not come out but the anticipation was a great experience. We stopped at Tshokwane picnic area for a brunch with the starlings and monkeys before arriving at the walking trails camp in time for tea snacks.
Destination Kruger – Walking Safari
The camp is situated in the Satara area of Kruger National Park and is privately run. The concession area available to the camp is 50 000 hectares thereby ensuring the ultimate Kruger experience. The camp offers game drives, walks and night drives. A highlight of the camp is the wide open night sky allowing for incredible star gazing.
Evening: The sun was a red ball as it touched the horizon. From our viewpoint on a hilltop we looked out over the vastness that is Kruger. The silence of the evening was overwhelming.
On the night drive the sharp eyes of the guides picked out genets and African wild cat as the spotlight probed the darkness. We stumbled on three White Rhinos that were grazing close to the road and stopped under a wild fig tree to listen to the sounds of a sleeping baboon troop. Arriving back at camp we were welcomed with a glass of sherry to ward of the night’s chill. The wood fire and gas lights added to the warmth of the moment.
I lay awake for a long while listening to the night sounds and contemplating the wilderness. The distant roar of a Lion was the last thing I heard before the morning wake up call. Tea and coffee with rusks were served before we climbed on the vehicle to drive to the walking area.
Day 5: Morning: The sun was forcing its way through the mist and impala snorted alarm at our presence. ‘It is very important that we adhere to silence. There must be absolutely no talking,’ our guide Hennie explained, ‘human voices carry a long way and we do not want the animals to hear us from too long a distance.’ Hennie discussed all the safety issues and tested the wind with ash taken from the camp fire before we moved off into the bush with only the sounds of our footsteps to betray our whereabouts.
The morning light reflected on leaves dampened by the mist and spider webs glistened in silhouette as the sun began to take control of the morning. We stopped at intervals to learn of impala lilies and magic mushrooms, we scented plants and read spoor on the ground and learnt of the feeding habits of African wildlife by examining their dung. ‘White Rhino is a grazer so will have grass material in the dung whereas the black rhino is a browser so it will have more leaf material in its dung,’ Hennie explained.
A journey of seven Giraffe looked down at us quizzically as we passed by and screeching red billed oxpeckers gave away a herd of impala. The low bushes were littered with the webs of trampoline spiders and orb spiders had spun their traps between the trees. We studied hyena and elephant spoor and learnt to tell how old it was.
‘Rhino!’ We all stopped in mid stride and stared ahead. Across a ravine two white rhino were feeding, unaware of our presence. We watched as they moved into the bushes. After testing the wind direction by shaking his ash bag, Hennie motioned us forward again. With a heightened sense of excitement we picked our way through the ravine and slowly tracked the Rhino. We came upon them feeding in an open area but this time they sensed us and ran off crashing through he bushes.
The sun was making its presence felt as we headed back to the vehicle, tired but exhilarated. Back at camp a shower and brunch awaited us.
The herd was flowing through the bush, black lava on the brittle browns of late winter. Dust reflected in the late afternoon light, the air was infused by the tart scent of five hundred Buffalo and the screech of Oxpeckers following the herd.
The luxury lodges in the private reserves bordering the Kruger Park provide oasis' of comfort where you can experience the Africa of old in absolute luxury. Laze at a swimming pool looking out over pristine bush, indulge in the pleasures of the spa or just relax in your room.
Journal: The afternoon game drive was led by the very enthusiastic John who carried his Kruger Park childhood through to us in stories and information. We saw elephant, impala and a large herd of buffalo. We had stopped for sundowners when the roar of a lion split the evening. This was followed by a reply. ‘I know where they are,’ John exclaimed as he packed the cocktails away. We drove through the bush on a non-existent road until we suddenly came upon a male and a female lying up in some long grass. It was obvious from the male’s demeanour that they were in the mating process. We had great viewing of the interaction between the two. John explained the prides of the area and where this pair fitted in. It was dark when we left the two lions and started for the camp. On the way we heard a leopard coughing but after a thorough search proved fruitless we headed back home.
The Essence of Kruger
The evening was spent around a blazing fire under the stars. We listened to stories of the African bush that had been passed on from generation to generation and revelled in the experience that is Africa. The private lodges capture the experience perfectly.
The whoop of a hyena carried across the bush and all fell silent again. My thoughts were filled with the scents and sounds that we had experienced during the past five days. I tried to find highlights but soon gave up. Each moment was a highlight. Each moment fitted in to the experience that is Kruger, the experience that is Africa.
by Leigh Kemp