Is that a leopard or just a giraffe's bum?

Published: December 3rd 2013
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If you've been paying a attention, you'll remember that one of the bucket list reasons for coming to South Africa was to go on safari. I'm pretty sure it's the dream of anyone who's studied zoology or ecology and I spent many years drooling over photos and presentations by fellow PhDers and academics who studied baboons in Ethiopia or merecats in the Kalahari while I spent cold winter months watching goats in Scotland. Since I studied ungulates (mammals with hooves for those of you not in the know) I had stacks of papers on kudu and impala and other strange named species, and while I knew a lot about their mating behaviour and who they liked to hang out with, I couldn't have recognised one if it had wandered across the road.

We had a taster of the safari in Addo, and it was amazing, but next it was time for the big daddy of national parks - Kruger - nearly 20,000 km2 of park full of wildlife. We entered the park at Orpen gate, not even half way up the park, as our first camp was Orpen camp, right next to the gate. In Kruger, you can stay
Picnic site in the parkPicnic site in the parkPicnic site in the park

This one has a cafe.
in national park camps within the park but surrounded by pretty strong electric fence to keep out all those critters (although not very well at times, more on that later). You can leave the camps between around 6am and 6pm (although it changes depending on the time of year) and drive around tar roads and sandy tracks that form loops to and from camps, between them and up to picnic areas where you can get out of your car and cook an elaborate breakfast on a hired camping stove (others) or share a bag of crisps and some juice (us). Most people do what we did and stay in different camps, driving between them through the park. Different camps are in different regions and all have different wildlife to see. Satara, our second camp, has a large density of the big cats, whilst Berg-en-Dal, our final camp, is in white rhino country.

Orpen is a small camp with about six one bed bungalows and three two bed bungalows. Our bungalow had a bedroom and bathroom inside, and then an outside kitchen and big terrace with table and chairs. There were pots and pans and plates etc. for cooking, fridge, kettle and toaster. The bungalows are in a semi circle looking over towards the perimeter fence and over towards .....the animals! As Orpen is a small camp, it only has a small shop with no restaurant, but you could buy everything you needed from the shop, including charcoal and firelights for the BBQ. The shops in the camps are all pretty good, and sell sandwiches and pies and snacks, but there only seemed to be frozen meat in a lot of them, which isn't much good if you want to cook it that day. There's even a small swimming pool, which looks over the park, but it was a bit cold for that.

But we weren't at Orpen to admire the accomodation, we were there for the animals! We got in the car and drove out of the camp, along the H3 tarred road towards Satara camp. A couple of minutes along the road, a car passed us coming the other way with some children widely gesticulating ahead of us and putting their thumbs up.

Ooooh, something good ahead then.

Little further along, we could see lots of cars stopped, a good sign.

Oh, hang on, they were stopped because something was lying in the road. Or li-ing in the road. There was a pride of lions, three females and three youngsters, basking in the sun on the tarmac, I assume getting the heat from the road in the same way that your cat does when she sits on your computer. Just beautiful. They didn't seem at all bothered by all the cars with telescopic lenses poking out of the window (everyone's a photographer now) and just lay there as cars tried to move to the perfect angle for a decent picture or tried to manoevre around each other to get past. A pretty good start to the trip.

We continued driving off down one of the dirt tracks, taking little detours down to watering holes (which were largly empty, it being winter and dry) and spotting giraffe, zebra, buffalo and rare birds like the funny looking southern ground hornbill. The next morning we went on an organised sunrise game drive which started in the dark (at 4.45am!!) with us searching for animals with a big torch and then drove us around as the sun came up. It was great to have a

sound like they're laughing a lot of the time. Maybe at the elephants in the background.
guide to tell us about what we were seeing and explain behaviours of the animals that we were to see over the next few days as we drove ourselves.

After two nights in Orpen we moved onto Satara, only two hours away along the tar road although we took a long detour loop north to a picnic spot - where we saw a leopard in a tree, and then down again. We spotted a lot of animals ourselves, but so far for things like lions and the leopard, it tended to be friendly South Africans who told us where things were hiding and even showed us where to stop to get the best view.

At Satara we had another one bed bungalow, this time a thatched one in a circular shape, with the outside kitchen and terrace forming part of the circle. It was a lot older than the one at Orpen and could have done with a renovation. We had chosen perimeter bungalows which looked over the fence and into the park beyond, but there was less to see than at Addo. However, some of the wildlife did come in for a visit.
Naughty vervetsNaughty vervetsNaughty vervets

raiding kitchen at Satara camp
We had only just arrived and Mum had put food into the fridge, but not put the bolt across the cage it is kept in. Kris and I were just watching a troop of vervet monkeys that had come through the trees over the fence and were going from bungalow to bungalow, looking for food. We suddenly noticed that several had run up trees and were happily munching on some large orange pieces of...


Our butternut squash, that I'd cut up the day before and we'd not had room to BBQ. In a matter of seconds, they had opened the fridge and helped themselves to our dinner. Little buggers. That's what the lock on the fridge is for then.

During our time there, we were also visited by hornbills, baboons, a honey badger and a wildcat. We were just sitting around after dinner, playing cards, when a large, stripy, long-legged cat appeared by the wall and looked in at us. No moggy, but actually a wildcat. Another night, we were doing the same when we heard a shuffling noise, and looked out to see a honey badger coming to look for some food. Sound lovely don't they - honey badgers? They look pretty cute, but they are vicious and can apparently fight off lions. We weren't going to pick a fight with him, but luckily he realised that we'd finished all our dinner and put the remainder in the animal proof bin, so he wandered off to look elsewhere.

Our last camp was Berg en Dal in the South. From Satara it was a long drive, but we succeeded in having our first first spot of a lion en route. Before that, we'd always had to be helped by friendly, fellow safari-ers, but this time, Kris was looking out of the window in the back and spotted a lioness lying in the grass next to the road! Now it was us telling passers by where to look. We felt like right experts! Then I first-spotted a rhino and then another, and then another. Berg en Dal turned out to be the place for rhinos. After about 20, we started to get blase about them.

At Berg en Dal we had a two bedroom bungalow, big enough to sleep 6 which was much more modern than the last two. All of them were in woods which was reminisent of Centre Parcs, if Centre Parcs had baboons. It is a big camp with shop and restaurant looking over a dam, and nightly film screenings, as well as big swimming pool. One of the best things about this camp is the permeter fence walk, from which you can view wildlife. We stood looking out at a herd of elephants grazing just a few feet from us, but with a nice big protective electric fence between us. Amazing though.

From Berg en Dal we did a sunset drive which left at about 5pm and drove us around looking for animals as it got dark. There are definately different animals to see at night and we caught sight of a civet cat. However, there are big search lights in the truck that the passengers help look for wildlife with, and unfortunately, the girl with ours was shit. If animals were often found next to the wheels of the truck or in the top of a tree, we would have seen lots of stuff, but as they aren't, we didn't. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted to grab the torch out of her hands. *sigh*.

As I said above, Berg en Dal is in white rhino country and we saw loads, to the point when they got as common as giraffes. By the way, the difference between black and white rhino isn't the colour - they are both grey - but the mouth. 'White' is actually some kind of version of the afrikaans for 'wide' as white rhino have a white bottom lip for grazing on grass while black rhino have a pointed lip for browsing on branches. Black rhino tend to be found in undergrowth and forest, more hidden away whereas white rhino are found on open savanna grassland so are easier to see. We didn't see any black rhino, but their white cousins were huge and facinating.

After two nights at Berg en Dal it was time to leave. Six days was probably enough safari for now, but I could have gone back and done much more after a couple of days break. We bought a Wildcard from SAN parks, which entitles you to free entry into all the national parks in South Africa for a whole year. If we lived in South Africa,
Mongoose Mongoose Mongoose

peeping out of his hole.
we'd be in a national park all the time. to move to South Africa.....

Any suggestions?

If you're planning a trip to Kruger, you need to book the accommodation quite early on, as it does really book up, especially during holidays and at weekends. We only started looking in January because a tour operator mentioned that there weren't many vacancies, and had to change our planned route through the park because there was no availability at all for the bigger camps at the weekend. The camps are managed by SANParks and you book through their website. If you log in, you can see a chart with the dates along the top and all the camps down the side, with various types of accommodation and how many of each type are available for that night. It's much easier to plan your route with that than to plan it first, and then find that your prefered camp is full or doesn't have the right accommodation available.

All the accommodation has self catering facilities and the big camps have restaurants and cafes. We'd read awful things about
Orpen bungalowsOrpen bungalowsOrpen bungalows

from the fence
the food there, but we ate lunch in the cafe in Skukuza which was nice, and had dinner at Berg en Dal, which was small portion but tasty. There are shops at most of the camps, but it's best to stock up with some stuff at a supermarket on the way in. There was a big one outside Malelane gate, and at Hazyview, but only little tiny ones outside Orpen gate. The nearest one to there seemed to be Hoedspruit. We used the one in Graskop, but it was pretty small.

Additional photos below
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3rd December 2013

What a trip! A really nice write-up of it as well, easy to read and follow and quite humorous. I look forward to reading more about your travels. =)
3rd December 2013

I loved reading this blog, and it has made me more determined about planning a safari trip soon. I was looking forward to more zebra/animal jokes, so was a bit disappointed on that front... :)
4th December 2013

Lack of zebra jokes...
Ah, sorry, I wrote this one and Kris is the zebra joke man. You could suggest some though. Are there any more? The safari was amazing. You should definately do it. A lot cheaper than we originally thought it would be too.
25th April 2016

Looks like you had a great time there. We are going to Kuger in couple of days for 2 day safari and then panaroma drive. Lions on the road sound scary, I am still skeptical how they allow visitors with no wildlife experience (like us) to drive in those tiny cars!

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