Open Safari Vehicles
The open vehicles allowed us to scent the wilderness, from the dewy damp grass to a heady mixture of vegetation. We stopped at some Impala and Maxwell cut the engine. We watched them for a while as Maxwell explained the intricacies of their social structure. My thoughts moved away from where we were and in the distant silence I imagined a lion roar echoing across the plains and through the valleys.
The sharp scent of elephant dung and urine smashed the senses. Maxwell stopped the vehicle and explained the metabolism of Elephants, telling us why the food was not digested properly. There was a crack of a branch up ahead. Masocha told us that there was a breeding herd of Elephant feeding nearby. We listened and slowly the sounds became clearer. It was difficult to imagine that a herd of elephant could be so quiet. We caught a glimpse of grey in the bush before they disappeared into the valley.
Shabeni Hill is one of the most dramatic of the many rocky outcrops in the Kruger Park. It is scenically spectacular and has a variety of vegetation growing on its slopes including aloes and the wonderful Sycamore Fig. From the road you can look out on the vast expanse of this legendary wilderness as it stretches to the distant horizon.
At Shabeni Hill we saw the dainty Klipspringer, a small antelope that lives only in rocky outcrops. Its ballerina-like hooves ensure that it is adapted to this environment. We saw a small herd of stately Kudu browsing on the green leaves of the smaller trees. Masocha told us a story about the kudu that his grandfather had passed on to him. We watched a Dung Beetle fighting and forcing a ball of dung. The beetle lays an egg in the dung ball for the larvae to live on when it hatches.
We identified many birds including the beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller and the undertaker-like Marabou Stork. We learnt of the medicinal uses of trees and identified dung and tracks as the light of the morning passed into the heat. I had lost track of time so caught up was I in the intimate embrace of this magical wilderness area.
Landscapes of ancient songs
We had a great sighting of two white rhino grazing very close to the road and crossed the paths of Zebra, Giraffe, Wildebeest and more Elephant before stopping to stretch our legs on a hill looking out over the African landscape. I tried to gather my thoughts, but the morning had been overwhelming. My mind was wandering, unable to grasp what we had experienced.
Landscapes of an ancient song still play to the rhythm of the earth and sky, teaching our souls of the link to our past and where we once walked. The trees rise from the wide plains into the season-greyed sky, a sky that has kept watch over the savanna for as long as our memory exists.'
On the way to our brunch stop we found vultures sitting in some trees a distance off the road. We could not see what they were waiting on. Masocha explained that there was probably a kill and that the predator was still feeding on the carcass. He deduced this from the fact that the vultures were waiting patiently in the tree. If the carcass had been deserted by the predator then the vultures would be on the ground feeding.
A feeling of disappointment at not being able to see the action was replaced by a heightened sense of excitement as I realized that the wilderness was holding something secret from us. We could not just barge in and lay claim to everything. This secret side, the idea of not knowing, excited me.
Afternoon: the shadows were lengthening as we headed on the road toward the park gate. The heat had lost its harshness and the landscape was bathed in a gentle light. We saw many animals including a big male lion that was not very co-operative. He was lying in the shade of a tree in thick grass and would roll over every now and then providing us with a sneak view.
It had been an unforgettable day of scents and sights, enhanced by the knowledge and care of Maxwell and Masocha. They had kept us enthralled with stories and facts and had also prepared a wonderful brunch. Their enthusiasm for everything was infectious.
I sat in my room and thought back on the day, the great sightings we had, the landscapes and scents we had experienced and the wonderful interpretation of it all by our two guides. I realized that the Kruger National Park is a great experience but to fully appreciate all aspects it is essential to have a guide who knows the area and is familiar with the culture of the people living in the area. We had got all this and more on our safari.
By Leigh Kemp