I debated bringing my good camera on this journey. I love my digital Canon SLR with additional lenses and filters, but trying to figure out how to carry without damaging it along with all my other belongings was a difficult puzzle I decided to not solve. So I chose to use my phone and just be happy with the results. The only thought I had was, “If I wind up in Africa on safari, I am going to wish I had it.” Boy was I right.
While my phone does a nice enough job, the zoom feature is lacking when I am trying to get a close shot of animals who blend in with the surroundings. I did the best I could and will only share the best photos of the lot. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Let this be a learning lesson. Always figure out a way to bring your best camera on big adventures.
That was my disclaimer. Now on to the good stuff: Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in the entire continent of Africa. It spreads across more than 7,500 square miles (nearly 5 million acres) in the northeast corner of South Africa. According to Wikipedia, protection of this land dates back to 1898 and is now a UNESCO site.
In the previous blog, I shared that I was staying at the Sefapane Safari Lodge. In addition to accommodations, they also offer various activities. I signed up for the Evening Safari With Bush Braai through the lodge. A braai is the South African term for “grill-out” or “barbecue.”
Ten of us loaded up into the lodge’s safari vehicle. Since I forgot to take my own photo of the truck, I borrowed this photo from Sefapane Safari Lodge’s site.
We set out on a five hour adventure into Kruger National Park in hopes of seeing animals, birds and beautiful scenery.
With Tropical Storm Dineo expecting to hit the Mozambique coast, rain was in the forecast starting the evening we went on our safari. We were all hoping the rain would hold off until after it was complete. It did hold off until much later that night but we did experience some strong wind at points along the way.
From the lodge, we drove about five minutes to one of nine entrance gates to Kruger National Park, the Phalaborwa Gate. Once we passed the gate-keeper, we cautiously bumped our way down the deeply potholed and pitted dirt path into the park. Within minutes, a large, female warthog welcomed us. The first animal sighting is always exciting!
As we slowly drove along the fence line toward another safety gate, large amounts of heavy-duty vehicles, machinery and earth piles came into view on the other side. Separated by only an electric fence stands an operating copper mine. South Africa is incredibly rich in natural resources and minerals like copper, gold, diamonds, granite, platinum, and the list goes on. This particular operation in Phalaborwa is now owned by a Chinese company. It felt a bit strange to be looking for animals in their “natural habitat” with mining operations going on just a stone’s throw away. But, it is just an example of the way things work sometimes in South Africa.
On any African Safari, we are always on the lookout for “The Big Five.” The Big Five was a phrase coined by hunters to reference the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. The term stuck and transferred over to the safari world as well. The Big Five include: African Elephant, African Lion, African Leopard, Cape Buffalo and Rhinoceros. While Kruger National Park is home to all five, the chances of seeing them all in one game drive are unlikely as the African Leopard and Rhinoceros are rare sightings on their own.
After passing through the security gate, we headed deeper into the park. Beautifully colored birds darted around our safari vehicle through the thick, lush foliage. As we came to a “T” in the road, a gasp was heard. Immediately to our right was an African Leopard. I do not think anyone the in the vehicle was able to catch a photo because of how quickly it moved back into the overgrowth but we all caught a glimpse of the spots. What glorious spots they were. The leopard is among the most difficult to spot while on safari because they are nocturnal (typically active at night). In fact, the rest of my immediate family have been on numerous game drives and have never seen a leopard. This was a very special sighting. Even after the spots were gone, we all sat in silence hoping it would reappear but it never did.
We continued on down the jerky, uneven paths. We saw impala by the herds, feeding with their young. Cape Buffalo (one of The Big Five) were spotted in the shade under the trees, always with the Oxpecker bird on their back. Monkeys darted around just behind the first layer of trees – easy enough to see but not photograph. And then, the giraffe was spotted.
Just a baby. A curious baby, male giraffe happened upon the right hand side of the vehicle. We sat quietly looking at it, as it looked at us. The thought of “If the baby is here, the mama must be near,” gnawed the back of our minds. And then, she appeared. He was on our right and she stood at the end of the trail in front of us, watching. Giraffe’s are mild, timid, curious creatures. They do not often make sudden or defensive movements. They watch. They look. They listen. They wait. The baby waited. The mother waited. We waited. Who was going to move first? Finally, mama giraffe made the first move, cutting through the growth to get to her baby. We crawled forward at a snail’s pace to watch but also to let her know we are not a threat. I never see enough of the giraffe. They are such a unique animal; No other animal with similar look or characteristics. I could see a hundred of them and still be intrigued.
As we crested a hill, the most beautiful, unexpected river came into view. The largest of the water sources running through Kruger National Park, Olifants (Afrikaan’s for “Elephants”) River runs north to south, through Mozambique, eventually emptying out in the Indian Ocean. The view was breathtaking. Impala fed upon the grass around the river. Waterbuck wandered in the muddy sandbars. From beyond the banks, we could hear the grunting of the hippos making their presence known. From where we sat, they looked like boulders out the water. Just a glance through binoculars and one can see the hippos staring at our safari vehicle, alert to the new arrival.
We drove a bit further and took a break along some river rocks and boulders. As the sun was starting to set, the clouds took on beautifully muted shades of pink and orange. We had just enough time for a beverage, snacks and a deep breath of appreciation, all the while hearing the hippos grunting in the background.
We ended our evening with a Bush Braai. A table was set, lit up by lanterns for a fabulous braai (grill-out). Several salads, chicken kebab, steak and more awaited our arrival and a glass of wine topped it off. Such a great way to end our safari.
As we drove our way back toward the gate along the bumpy dirt paths, handheld spotlights illuminated the wilderness, always looking for more animals. We were delighted to have one more encounter with Cape Buffalo in the middle of the road.
It was uncommon for us to not see any elephants or zebras. Although we were not given any exact reason as to why they were not present, I am guessing Tropical Storm Dineo has something to do with it. Elephants are extremely sensitive to changing weather conditions. I am guessing they made their way to a safe place. But again, that is my own speculation.
The rain started to fall only a couple of hours after our return to Sefapane Lodge and then again the entire next day. I am glad I took the opportunity for the Kruger National Park game drive while it was available!