Denis and I (Ronda) have just returned from a wonderful twelve days in Kruger National Park…. a wilderness area the size of Israel, with an amazing animal life. It was my second visit, Denis’s first.
‘But would it be your ideal holiday?’ I was asked when I mentioned we were taking time off from wildlife-watching to go wildlife-watching. I replied it would be pretty close, and the trip itself only confirmed this.
The new flight from Australia to Johannesburg with Virgin Australia offered a great deal, and we hired a 2WD car for 12 days (4WD is expensive and generally not necessary).
Safety is one issue that stops people from traveling here, but we never felt in danger (no more so than anywhere else anyway). Driving from Joburg to Kruger is easy, and the airport is the same side of the city as the highway towards Kruger. In Kruger itself, you feel protected against crime (not too many muggers want to be out there amongst the lions), and if you keep windows up when predators or baboons are around and don’t anger any elephants, you should stay pretty safe against most possibilities.
We weren’t especially focused on the Big Five (a term that comes from the most dangerous animals to hunt) – we wanted to see everything, big and small. One of our first sightings was this brilliantly-green chameleon crossing the road with its strange, back-and-forth movements that made each step forward seem painfully slow.
It wasn’t long before we saw one of the big guys though – an elephant appeared close to the roadside, then ambled quietly away.
We were to see a lot of them – single males, small groups, and large herds with everything from babies to utterly massive individuals – quietly feeding, crossing the road, or at water tanks – or just the other side of the car!
Those in the river were really entertaining to watch – elephants know how to have fun, and love water!
Near Orpen Dam, we saw a herd of impalas making a great fuss about something across the road. We followed their transfixed gaze and saw our first wild cheetah – no two cheetahs, wait on … three, four! A family feasting on an impala, so the group over the road had good reason for concern.
We didn’t see many other predators this time, apart from one lioness half-hidden by the lush vegetation (end of dry season would have been better for visibility), two African wild cats and a hyena. But we also saw porcupines, loads of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and wart-hogs (and impalas of course), ostriches, secretary birds, and much, much more.
Most of the time you have to stay in the car for your own safety, but can wander around the rest camps (these are like small villages with a range of accommodation from basic camping to luxury, surrounded by high electric fences), and can get out at hides, picnic areas and long bridges.
Two things I didn’t do on my last visit were sleeping in an overnight hide and walking in the wilderness. This time we did both.
The hide was at Shipandane, near the Mopane rest camp.
I left my mobile (cell) phone in the car and when I went before dusk to retrieve it, there was a huge male elephant with massive tusks on the far side of the car-park, devouring a tree. I watched him very carefully and would have retreated instantly had he showed the slightest interest in me, but he didn’t look at me until after I had the phone and was back behind the gate.
The hippos put on a good performance until too dark to watch, and dance of the fireflies that followed was marvelous.
Our walk with two well-armed rangers from Lower Sabie took us through the wilderness for three hours, stopping to investigate rhino dung and termite mounds and view giraffes, kudu and hippo. The hippo caused us to divert from the track near the water and scramble up a hillside instead – hippos are one of the most aggressive of all African wildlife, and can be very territorial.
The rest camps of Kruger are pretty safe, surrounded by tall chain wire fencing with electrified wire at the top and electrified grids across the road at the entries, and cater to all levels of comfort.
Indigenous foods were hard to find. We bought a small jar of spirit containing a mopane worm (caterpillar of an emperor moth) but would like to try the more traditional style some time (I’ve eaten witchetty grub in Australia, and bamboo caterpillars in China, so why not? And it’s not much different zoologically from eating lobster). There is a useful article on the lifecycle, ecology and harvesting of mopane worms in Science in Africa.
All in all a wonderful trip – I’ll be posting more details on the SANParks forums soon