Published: December 22nd 2011December 19th 2011
We had a great time in Kruger National Park and we saw lots of wildlife, including countless rhino, which completed our "Big Five". However, I do think we were a bit spoiled by our introduction to safari in Botswana. In Kruger, we had to rely on our own spotting skills and we had to remain on the marked roads. This meant that if there was a cheetah relaxing in a thicket even several meters away from the road, we would never see it (cheetahs are a bit of a sore spot because we still haven't seen one, even though it's the leopard that is supposed to be the hardest big cat to find). We relied on the wildlife that came to us, rather than tracking the wildlife by sound, terrain and even bird alarm calls, as our Bushmen guides did in Botswana.
We also obviously do not have the guides' knowledge of the animals that we are seeing. In that respect, it worked out well that we were on guided safaris in Botswana beforehand. We learned the rudimentary facts about the big mammals we were spotting, so we could interpret their behaviour more accurately. A perfect example was an elephant
bull in musth that we came across as he gave himself a sand bath in the road. As we got closer, we could see that his temporal glands were oozing and he was dribbling urine. Apparently the urine of a bull elephant in musth is also very strong-smelling, but we knew enough not to get closer to argue whether or not this was especially stinky pee! We had been told that elephants in musth are out of their right minds and will charge at and challenge anything, even a bird that they know will fly away. It turned out that our little white Hyundai looked like a possible threat to this bull and he raised his trunk, tossed his head and long tusks, and started to come after us. We reversed down the road with the bull in pursuit until he finally veered off towards an appealing-looking riverbank! We left that encounter wondering if our rental insurance would cover elephant damage or if this would be considered an act of God....
Another aspect of wildlife spotting that we learned in Botswana, after our accommodation had already been booked in Kruger, was that the best times to drive are in
the early morning (departure at 4am) and late evening before sunset. In Kruger, since we were staying at a different camp each night, we ended up spending a portion of the day driving rather than having siesta in preparation for the early morning or late evening drive. A better arrangement would be to book two nights in two or three different camps and drive the smaller roads during prime viewing time.
All of that being said, our self-guided safari gave us the freedom to decide where to stay, when to drive and when to relax at the breakfast buffet or do some shopping. We also quite enjoyed the self-catered bungalows (built in a modernized mud and thatch hut style with outdoor kitchen) as we could have some inexpensive comfort food and enjoy a braai (South African for barbecue) and a box of wine for a change.
For those that may be reading this in order to plan their own trip to Kruger, it is definitely worth spending three to four days in the Park. We stayed in Olifant, Satara, Skukuza, Crocodile Bridge and Berg-en-Dal camps. We would go back to Satara, Skukuza and Berg-en-Dal for sure, and maybe
Crocodile Bridge once the renovations are finished. Olifant was quite out of the way and the highlight is the Olifant river where families of elephants come to bathe. it was great to watch their antics as we had our breakfast, but we had much more intimate elephant encounters during the drive (and none have beat the sight of the bull feasting on the Acacia tree right outside our shower at Sango Safari Camp in Botswana). Berg-en-Dal was by far the nicest camp with the nicest bungalows and a rhino museum. Our bungalow had a fire pit and a barbecue pit as well as an indoor bar.
Finally, some highlights of the wildlife encounters in Kruger were as follows:
1) Our first hyenas, seen on an otherwise disappointing guided night drive. They definitely have a guilty way about them just like in the Disney movies...
2) Heron surfing on the back of a hippo, all the better to catch the fish as they swam by! The same heron had success and gulped down the fish with a quick flip of its beak.
3) Zebra foal with huge head and gangly legs, tucking his fuzzy tail and bounding
away at the sound of the car engine starting.
4) Elephant calf wallowing in the mud so that only his flapping ears could be seen as mother and aunties splashed their bellies with cool water from the same mud hole.
5) Elephant calf picking up stones from the road and putting them in his mouth while mother pulled his tail to keep him in line.
6) Our first White Rhino only meters from the road, glancing at us then continuing to graze at a leisurely pace with oxpeckers on his back and swinging from his ears. We were quite lucky with this guy as all of the other rhinos we saw were skittish and hurried away as soon as they saw the car.
7) Another male white rhino with a girlfriend challenging our car with tossing horns and stomping feet as we drove away!
8) Tough old bull giraffe with bald horns, patchy hair on his neck and callouses all over his head, presumably from fighting with other bulls.
9) Older male lion reclining under a tree only meters from the road.
10) Brave butterfly fluttering around the above lion's open jaws as
Our first up-close White Rhino
The name is a bit misleading; they are actually called "wide" rhino because of their wide, flat snouts, as compared to the Black Rhino, which has a pointy upper lip.
he panted....I know what our cats at home would do with such a butterfly...
11) Hundreds of dung beetles at work on a pile of rhino dung. They made an alien rustling, clicking sound as they rolled their dung balls and protected them from marauding beetles.
12) Two black rhino sightings on our very last guided game drive! There are only 600 or so in the park, as compared to the thousands of white rhinos, so we were quite lucky. They even seemed to pose for their picture when the guide said that typically they would either charge the truck or run away.
13) Two young elephant bulls wrestling, with trunks raised and tusks locked, trying to see who could make the other back up first.
14) Large solitary bull elephant using his penis (or "fifth leg" as the guide called it) to scratch his foot....I'm not kidding. Fully extending the penis also helps the bull to thermoregulate....
15) Large family of warthogs, including about 15 piglets, on the run from camp staff at Crocodile Bridge. There is a big warthog and vervet monkey problem at this camp because people have been feeding them. Every
warthog had its ears pressed flat and its tail straight up in the air as it trotted out the gate. The sad ending may be that the monkeys have to be culled as they cause lots of damage and can become aggressive over food.
As you can see, I could spend all day watching elephants, but we also saw wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, Kudu, Nyala, waterbok, steenbok, duiker, countless exotic birds, baboons, and the list goes on, but no cheetahs, leopards or lionesses! We have high hopes for the Serengeti....
Stay tuned for our next post about Durban and the Drakkensberg!
There are more photos below