We’ve been very lucky to spend 13 days doing 12 hour game drives through Kruger National Park. I’ve written a couple of posts about our first wildlife encounters in the park but here’s what our final week looked like including our first night drive.
We could see vultures circling in the sky which usually means their flying above a kill and are waiting their turn to scavenge the meat. We couldn’t seem to find a road leading to the area they were at but we had two bloody-faced hyenas run past us who clearly knew where the action was happening. We later found out that a pride of lions killed a giraffe on the golf course!! I just love the rules here; stay in your vehicle at all times…but you can play golf without any fences stopping wild animals from entering.
We witnessed some elephants getting rather annoyed with a car that came too close. A teenage elephant took it upon himself to confidently stand head-on to the safari vehicle so that the whole herd could safely cross the road behind him. It was all to protect the tiny baby of the herd who was absolutely adorable.
We also saw some lions fast asleep in the tall grass with legs spread, it’s so funny how carefree they are. That evening we checked into Ngwenya Lodge where the security guards greeted us with a very jolly dance. The resort was built on the border with Kruger national park so we had a fab view of the crocodile river and we could quietly sit in the hides and look for wildlife. We even had a wild elephant come and visit us, reaching his trunk over the fence-line to take the fresh greenery from our resort.
As our new lodge was just a 15 minute drive to the Crocodile Bridge Gate we decided to do a morning drive, return to the lodge to relax at the pool and then go back out for a late afternoon drive. The morning drive ended up being very quiet but we did spot some interesting birds like the huge bateleur which is in the eagle family and has a fabulous red face.
The afternoon drive was very rushed as our original plan of having lunch out didn’t happen so we had to get an early dinner instead…and with the slow South African service we ended up only having an hour to drive back out the park – leaving no time to stop for wildlife. We ended up seeing our first couple of cheetahs who were walking through the bush parallel to us. We were all a little annoyed as now we didn’t have enough time to stop and see where they were heading which was such a shame. The same thing happened with two leopards under a tree, we were in too much of a rush to even see them but apparently they were well hidden in the grass.
Anyway, we were heading back to the national park for a third time today as we booked onto a night drive from 8-10pm. The night drive is a two hour safari arranged by the national park so we wouldn’t be in our car but instead a large open-sided sort of truck. The park was so dark when we arrived, there were a couple of lights at the gate and two staff members but even the toilets were totally un-lit. It was bizarre as wild animals could potentially come in and it would be hard to see them in the darkness…but at least we could look up and see the sky filled with twinkling stars.
There were only 11 of us taking the night drive which meant the truck was less than half full so we could spread out and have a seat on each side. Powerful torches were handed out to people and then we were on our way. Just a kilometre from the park gate was a large male lion asleep in the middle of the road. We were allowed to take flash photography and the torches could be shone on the animal but not on their face. Our grumbly engine wasn’t even enough to wake up this lion, he was fast asleep and had the most fabulous mane. The males ‘package’ is really far back, like not between their legs but in the butt-zone so this lions balls were casually resting on the road.
We watched him for a while and then continued our drive. There were so many eyes shining back at us from the torch light. Many were the common impalas who were laying down but we also spotted zebra and wildebeest. The main reason for doing this night drive was to try and see the nocturnal animals like the ganet, civet and caracal. We managed to spot a jackal, wild cat (like a domestic cat) and a civet which looked like a badger with grey and black leopard-print fur.
There was a herd of elephants eating leaves from the trees and acting exactly the same as they do in the day time. One flapped it’s ears a bit to say she wasn’t happy with us being there but when everyone went quite she settled down and continued eating. It was a fun experience but I wish we saw more cats or heard more wild noises like lions roaring. But for £20 for the two hour journey I was more than happy. The lion was still in the same place on our way back but he was sat up so we got a nice view of his handsome face which was sadly covered in a lot of fresh cuts and old scars.
We started our day with a rhino who was was laying down and pretty chilled. But it got better as we took a dirt road and came across a group (or a crash as it’s known) of 7 rhinos. A safari vehicle came from the other direction and parked very close to the rhinos who were about to cross the road. They continued crossing but one of the bigger ones began charging before putting his brakes on which was really exciting to watch.
We took a short day today so after the morning drive we relaxed in the warm sunshine and jumped in the pool. We made sure to take a gin and tonic down to a hide for sunset and scan for any wildlife. We spotted a hyena, waterbuck and hippos before the sun dipped behind the hill and the sky turned fuchsia pink.
Today we spotted cheetah again but it seems to be a bit of a trend that we never get a good view of them. It was a mum and cub laying under a tree quite far away so we were squinting through our binoculars. The mum did get up at one point before laying back down but most of the time we just saw a tiny bit of her face and both of their tails swinging between the bushes.
Further up the road the traffic became very slow…but it was still moving so we knew it had to be an animal walking either in the road or parallel to it. I tried to get a peak ahead of the two cars and then I saw the butt of a leopard! It was just strolling down the road and we managed to get a pretty good view. The leopard veered into the shrubs and laid down, looking our way before getting up and quickly vanishing between the bushes.
It seemed to be a day for cats as we spotted two lions sleeping right beside the road. They were causing quite a traffic jam of photographers but it was hard to get a good view due to some selfish people staying in the same position. We also spotted a massive herd of buffalo, all congregated by the river and our first male Nyala, a beautiful big antelope with a furry chest.
The weather has been so strange lately, one day it can be as hot as 37° and the next just 17°. It’s actually a little harder to see the animals when the weathers cooler as their not as thirsty or desperate for water so they just stay put. But today we did manage to spot our first Sable antelopes which have straight horns with neat ridges all the way up them.
While giraffes are a very common sight these days we had to stop and photograph one who had a rather bizarre pattern across it’s fur. Not only was it very dark (which usually suggests it’s older) but it wasn’t a neat pattern like normal, it looked more like jagged leafs which was pretty cool.
We passed herds of wildebeest and zebras on our way to a dam where there were also hippos and elephants. Two male elephants were having a bit of a ruckus away from the herd and we watched as a very young elephant ventured away from the herd too. She wasn’t heading towards the males but seemed to be aiming for some waterbucks drinking from the dam. They charged off when they saw her approaching so she stopped to have a little drink and then we watched as she almost looked back and realised “shit, I’ve travelled too far from my herd!!” At which point she began running frantically back while letting out excited trumpet noises which had everyone at the viewing platform laughing as it was such a cute scene.
On our way out the park we managed to see some hyenas crossing the road who were followed by some wild dogs and they all began running. They were chasing impala who were racing as fast as they could across the hills but then we lost sight of them all so we have no idea how it ended.
It’s our final day in the park and we’ll be travelling with the trailer as we move to our final destination up in the Drakensberg Mountains. We still managed to have a nice 6 hour drive through the park but we actually didn’t see anything too exciting except for a herd of buffalo crossing ahead of us and an elephant that seemed to be asleep in the middle of the road, swaying slightly from side to side. We had to wait about 10 minutes before it moved and we could overtake it but the car behind us seemed to piss the elephant off as it began chasing them down the road.
We’ve had a fabulous time in Kruger and spent about 12 hours most days driving around and searching for wildlife. In the end we spotted a total of 48 lions, 47 hyenas, 22 wild dogs (considering there are only 100-200 living in the park we were very lucky) 15 rhinos, 4 leopards, 4 cheetahs, 5 jackals and 1 civet…along with hundreds of elephants, zebras, giraffes, antelopes, hippos, birds, baboons, wildebeest and buffalo.
Now we’re making our way to Crystal Springs Mountain Lodge near Pilgrims Rest. This is for a 3 day period where we’ll be enjoying the crisp mountain air as we’re up at 1300m elevation. We checked into a property near a rocky cliff-face with views of the gorge and rolling hills. The property had a lovely terrace where we could enjoy the sunset and the lodge was set in a nature reserve home to many African animals. This meant wildlife was right on our doorstep and we even passed some zebras after checking in.
When we woke up the next day we had a troop of monkeys swarm our balcony. We closed our gate and were amazed at how cocky they were, showing their razor sharp teeth and trying to grab us through the bars if we got too close. We actually wanted to leave the house and go for a drive but as soon as I grabbed my lunch bag including two bananas for the day they immediately clocked what I was holding and about 10 more monkeys appeared at the gate – including a baby who was small enough to enter our property which took us all by surprise. We eventually managed to exit and take a drive down the mountain via Pilgrims Rest. It was an old gold rush town and something I hadn’t expected to see in South Africa. The buildings looked quite American and Wild West with pretty verandas and corrugated iron roofs with the business name painted on it.
We then stopped in Graskop to get breakfast at Harry’s Pancakes. Craig and I shared a butternut squash, feta and sweet pepper sauce one, and the other was filled with dark chocolate mousse with a side of ice cream which was delicious. Then we headed back up the hills to see the Blyde River Canyon from the Three Rondavels viewpoint. It was heaving with people including tons of school kids. The view was pretty damn spectacular though, even in the hazy weather we had. It was almost like the South African version of Arizona’s Horse Shoe Canyon as the river meandered below us with a prominent peak in the centre.
We had the option to visit the other sights in the area but they all had an entrance fee and to be honest Craig and I are spoilt from all of our travels. I loved the Blyde Canyon view though and from my online research it looked like the best sight on the Panorama Route so we were happy to head back for the day and relax.
Craig and I decided to treat ourselves to a full body scrub and back massage at just £28 per person for the hour and a half treatment which was delightful and the perfect anniversary gift to ourselves. The following day we took a stroll around the reserve with Craig’s brother and met a herd of wildebeest on the way. The track was made of red dust which covered our feet and shoes but it was ideal to see animal footprints. We all enjoyed studying the tracks and trying to figure out what animal left the print. Now it’s time for us to make our way back to Pretoria where we’ll part ways and begin backpacking South Africa on our own.