Published: September 21st 2011September 11th 2011
After leaving Pezulu it was just a short drive to Kruger National Park. We took a slow meandering game drive through the park towards Skukuzu – the site where we checked in for our walking safari. The awesome thing about driving through Kruger is the excitement of never knowing what you are going to see. One thing we didn’t realize is that the animals come so close to the vehicles. We didn’t expect that at all… The thing is though – they just look at the vehicles as some big nosy other animal and don’t really pay them any mind. So you really get to see some of them so close- it is awesome! We saw so many animals in Kruger that it is hard to list them all – during the game drive that first morning / afternoon – we saw buffalo, elephant, giraffes, zebras, all kinds of antelope, hippos… and I could go on and on. We just kept looking at each other in disbelief as we couldn’t believe we were really on a game drive seeing all these wild animals just chilling in their natural habitat.
We arrived at Skukuza around 2:30 p.m. to check
in for our walking safari. We joined 6 other guests to head off into the wilderness for the next 3 nights. Our head ranger was Andre – who was a riot!! He was amazingly smart and knew everything there is to know about Kruger, animals, animal tracks, animal poop, etc. Not only that, but he was hysterical – he reminded us of Eddie Murphy in the movie Coming to America. He loved making fun of people’s accents and mimicking the way we talked and would get a kick out of telling jokes and seeing what he could get us to believe. His assistant ranger – Phillip – was the opposite, serious and quiet – but he could spot ANYTHING – no matter how hard it was to see. We would often see him point – and say to each other – oohh Phillip’s got something. The funny thing about Phillip was that he never said a word the whole time – except for when we would get in the jeep to do a game drive and then you could hear him talking Andre’s ear off in the front seat.
Our 3 days started with all of us loading
into the safari jeep to head to Metsi Metsi – our base camp. On the way we got to see all kinds of animals. The most memorable experience from that drive though had to do with an elephant. We were driving down the road and saw all kinds of vehicles backed up. We then saw that the reason they were backed up was because an elephant was in the road taking all the time in the world to eat out of a tree. The rangers backed up and Andre asked someone how long they had been waiting – to which they replied "awhile" – the big guy wasn’t in any hurry. So Andre says to Phillip – let’s move this elephant out of the road, to which we all looked at each other confused – how do you move an elephant out of the road? Before we knew what to think Andre drives towards the elephant revving the engine and banging on the side of the jeep. The elephant abruptly turned around and ran across the street to our left but didn’t go far – it turned around right on the side of the road and looked right at us.
All of us were frozen in the jeep thinking this thing was going to charge us. It was not happy! The rangers waved all the vehicles by that had been waiting – all the while this elephant is looking right at us so close it was unbelievable. We stayed and watched him for awhile and Jeff even took a video – and then drove off to our base camp. It was exhilarating to say the least.
We arrived at our base camp and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. It was roughing it don’t get me wrong – no electricity, shared bath houses, and shared toilet huts. But it was really nice nonetheless. We had a cute little “A” frame tent / hut that overlooked the bush. The showers had hot water and all the facilities were amazingly clean. There was a boma where we would meet to sit around the camp fire, and a big rondaval where we would eat meals. When it was dark they would light lanterns at our tent and around the camp which made for a very romantic ambiance.
In addition to the rangers there were two men who took
care of everything in the camp, Ernesto and his son, Alfons. Ernesto had been working in Kruger for something like 30 years and Alfons was actually born in Kruger. Each morning someone would wake us at 5:00 a.m. and bring us hot water for our basin so we could wash up. We would then have about 30 – 40 minutes to get ready before we would head off for our morning walk. The way they called us when it was time to go was by beating on drums – they did this in the morning when we would come to the main hut before heading out, before brunch, and before dinner. Before leaving we would have rusks and coffee at the main hut. The first morning we went to get rusks and, never having had them before, just started eating them dry. A dry rusk is like gnawing on a super hard and thick crouton. In fact, we were told they give them to teething babies to chew on. Someone nicely told us that you are supposed to dip it in your coffee and that was much better! They instantly transform, becoming soft and delicious.
We would ride
in the jeep to our starting point and then walk for 3-4 hours, stopping in the middle for snacks and a brief rest. We would then return for brunch and siesta time. The siesta time was wonderful. From noon or so until 3:30 was set aside for siesta. To have all that time with nothing to do was amazing. In addition to taking a nap you could go to the bird hut and look out over the bush for animals, you could take a shower and clean up, read, or journal. At 3:30 p.m. the drums would be beaten and we would go for tea or coffee and biscuits before heading on our sunset game drive. We would do a game drive and then they would take us to a nice spot where we could get out and watch the sun go down. We saw some beautiful sunsets… Once we got back to the camp we would relax by the campfire until the drums were beaten to let us know dinner was ready. The food in the camp was out of this world! Ernesto was the cook and each meal was absolutely scrumptious in a good home cooked kind of
way. The best part was the bread – Alfons and Ernesto are from Mozambique and the bread from Mozambique is to die for. We were lucky to have it at every meal and each time they made it a little different and it was equally amazing.
The first day on our walking safari we were walking through the bush and had several white rhino sightings, the first being a mom and her little baby (less than 2 months old). As we were walking later we could see a group of 4 white rhinos in the distance. Phillip and Andre had all of us sit on a log and be silent and still. As we sat the rhinos walked down and right in front of us – giving us an amazing, unobstructed view of them. White rhinos have terrible eye sight and so Andre said they could not see us even though we were close and right in their line of sight. However, they did smell our tracks and once they did you could see all their heads pop up and look around. At one point they started to look like they were going to come towards us and Andre
jumped up in front of us all with his rifle. We all jumped and froze - we did not want to see these beautiful rhinos get shot. He said the danger was that since they can’t see – when they decided to run they could have literally ran right into us unintentionally… After a few minutes Phillip told us all to get behind a bush that was nearby. We all stood up and as quickly and quietly as possible gathered behind this bush. Then not a second or so later the 4 rhinos (hearing us get up I guess) ran around the bush that we were behind and off to the distance. You could hear them breathing as they ran by – it was incredible. Jeff was able to video tape a lot of this and we have already watched it a few times reliving the experience.
The second day we had some really beautiful sightings. In the jeep on the way to our starting point in the morning we stopped to look at some elephants that were surrounded by this red haze – dust that they had kicked up. The sun was just rising or had just risen
and the way that it looked with the sky, the cloud of red dust, and the elephants was surreal. During our walk we got the chance to walk right by a group of zebras which was just beautiful – their stripes against the golden grass of the bush was stunning… Jeff was able to video tape this too and it captures it wonderfully. The real highlight of the second day though was at night. So we had seen so many animals at this point it would be hard to list them. But we had not seen lions, leopards, or cheetahs – some of the big time predators. We had told ourselves to not be disappointed if we don’t see them as they are rarer and there is no guarantee that you will see them on these safaris. In fact, we had thought it was very unlikely to see a leopard and virtually impossible to see a cheetah because of how rarely that happens. Truth be told though we still were holding onto the hope that we would see lions. So at the end of the second day we are on our evening game drive and seeing not much at all
The log where we sat and watched the rhinos
The rhinos were behind us and we were sitting facing the other way towards them.
animal wise. The landscape was beautiful with the bush, the dessert areas, and the mountains in the distance. But we were seeing nothing as far as wildlife which was odd. Jeff jokingly said that maybe that meant lions were close. Well… when we were almost to our stopping point to watch the sunset Phillip all of a sudden told Andre to go back and Andre looked up into the rocks, pointed, and said “lions”. The atmosphere in this jeep was instantly charged with excitement. They were lounging high up in the rocks with the sun setting behind them. It was amazing. There were three lying right up against each other with their paws hanging down over the front of the rock and then to the right there was another one peeking out at us from behind a bush. You could just see his shadow. Although they were far away Jeff was able to get some awesome pictures where you can actually see them better than I could with the binoculars. After staring in awe at these lions for awhile – we headed off to watch the sunset at a great lookout point where we could look out over this huge
expanse of the bush below us – as far as the eye could see.
We were completely happy with our experience at this point and thought it couldn’t get any better… boy were we wrong. On our game drive back to Skukuza the next morning we had a leopard walk across the road right in front of our jeep. It heard us and ran a little – into the bush and to our left. Then it stopped and watched us, eventually sitting down behind a bush to just look at us. He walked off out of sight eventually once he had had enough of us… We also came upon a herd of elephants with a few babies among them – digging for water. Jeff got a great video of that as well. Once we got back to Skukuza and said our goodbyes to everyone we headed off with our guide Pete for more game drives. Believe it or not we saw another leopard – this one lying in a tree. You would not believe how well these animals blend in – it took us awhile to figure out what all the vehicles were stopped and looking at and eventually
we had to ask someone. Once they showed us where it was and told us what we were looking for we were able to see it. It wasn’t far from us but we never would have spotted it just driving by.
We finished out our day with game drives and eventually made it to the Lower Sabie camp – where we spent the night. The next morning we did more game drives as we exited Kruger. Although we thought the trip to Kruger was over and couldn’t be topped off – Jeff managed to spot a cheetah on our drive out of the park. A cheetah and her cub! I didn’t see the cub, but Jeff did. She didn’t wait around long so it was a brief glimpse of her and then they were gone… into the bush. We kept saying in another life, Jeff would have been a ranger – this proved it. It was a great sighting. The funny thing is we had just talked about cheetahs that morning over breakfast, all the while never expecting to actually see one.
As we left Kruger we could not believe our safari had actually happened and that it
was already, sadly, over. We keep saying that the thing about this trip is that each thing we do is so amazing that we don’t want to leave – but we also have these great things that we are looking forward too as well. As we left the park we were looking forward to heading into Swaziland and staying at the Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary that night and then Mozambique, especially now that we know what their bread is like!
There are more photos below