Thursday, 19 April 2007

South African Holiday Part 5 - Kruger Park

Part 1 - Sydney - Saldanha
Part 2 - Saldanha - CT
Part 3 - Cape Town
Part 4 - Pretoria - Kruger
Part 6 - Kruger - Sydney

We were booked into Skukuza camp for our first night, which is a couple of hours north of Malelane Gate. After sorting out our entry permit we ventured into the game reserve. I have not really been in a game reserve before (unless you count when I was very small – all I remember is being bored in a hot car), and neither had Milord so we were quite excited. The speed limit in the park is 50km/h on tar and 40km/h on dirt, so we did 25km/h ;-).

As we beetled along the road Milord said “Isn’t this just like the Ozzie tourist – expecting to see game within his first five minutes?”. I’d just laughed with him when he hit the brakes and said “Rhino!”. “Bollocks” says I. “No, really!” And there, to my left under a tree, was a great big rhino! A mad scramble for cameras and much clicking (about this point I started to come around to the idea of the SLR) and we had bagged one of the Big Five (rhino, lion, giraffe, leopard and buffalo... we saw all of them except leopard).

That first afternoon between Malelane and Skukuza was simply amazing. We saw more rhinos, heaps of impala, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest… and we’d only been in the park a couple of hours! Fabulous.

At Skukuza we stayed in a permanent tent. This is practically a hut, with cement floor, metal frame and wooden door, but canvas roof and walls. It had a fridge, fan, lights, and the most comfortable beds we’d been in for over a week. The one downside was that it was pretty hot when we went to bed (it got close to 40deg C every day), but the temperature dropped a lot at night and by 2am I was looking for a blanket. The other irritation was having to dress, find shoes and walk across the camp in the night for a wee.

The rest camps in the Kruger are huge areas enclosed in electric fences, containing huts, campgrounds, restaurant and shop, and sometimes a swimming pool and play area. Apart from some exposed bridges and picnic clearings they are the only places you can leave your car in the park. The gates close at 6pm and open at 5:30am, and the only animals you may find inside are birds and monkeys (little bastards jump the fence and raid the camp). It’s very safe, and about the only place in South Africa I was happy walking around alone in after dark! If you aren’t self catering the restaurant does a buffet every night, which was pretty good considering I don’t usually like buffets!

That first night we checked in, had a shower and a couple of beers, went for dinner and passed out in the tent. Apart from one toilet trip I don’t think I moved – it was my best sleep since we’d left Sydney. I woke at 7am as the sun reached the tent and started to heat it up.

For the next four nights in Satara and Olifants we stayed in rondavels – round thatched huts with en-suite, air-conditioning, and kitchenette. They get cleaned every day, and are very comfortable. Each one has a little veranda outside where the kitchenette is, and we’d splashed out a bit to have views which was great (in Satara the perimeter fence, and at Olifants we overlooked the river). They also each have their own braai-place, and we grilled steaks, mushrooms and corn cobs a couple of nights.

Apart from the usual driving around, we also went on a few extra excursions. We did a dawn drive, a sunset drive, a night drive and a bush walk. The drives were interesting as these were outside the hours we could be out of the camp, and we saw a few creatures that you don’t see during the day like owls, hyenas and jackal.

The bush walk was amazing though, and I strongly recommend it! It starts with the dawn (which means leaving the camp before 5am) and two rangers with shotguns lead a small group of people though the veld pointing out tracks and scat and stuff. We saw skeletons and a baboon spider tunnel (and we teased him with a piece of grass until he came out, wow they’re big!).

This was all getting a bit hot and boring as we tramped along next to a river, when suddenly the rangers stopped and pointed. They’d just mentioned elephant noises, so I was scanning the reeds trying to see the damn elephant, when suddenly there was a roar and this lioness came charging out of the reeds! I nearly wet myself. The rangers gathered us behind them and we stood in a little herd facing her about 20m away. The next moment a cub went scrambling up the bank behind her, and she turned and followed, pausing on top to give an unmistakable “leave now” stare. Then she was gone, and we quickly left her territory! Spine-tingling stuff!

Other highlights include:

Reversing down a dirt road for half a kilometer as we were in the path of a large elephant who didn’t look like he was in the mood to go around us.

Gingerly edging around a hyena suckling her cub in the middle of the road early one morning.

Having an afternoon nap at Olifants only to find that the vervet monkeys got into our fridge while we were sleeping and made off with all the sweets and fruit. Luckily not the steak!

Something worth knowing:
You cannot buy petrol in South Africa with a credit card (how am I supposed to know that?! You used to be able to). The only ATMs in the Kruger that take foreign cards are at Skukuza and Letaba. Sometimes the ATMs will go out of order while you drive to where they are. There is a long story behind this, but you get the gist!

Part 6 - Kruger - Sydney

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