Friday, 13 June 2008

South Africa 2008: Kruger Park and home

Last year Milord and I were in South Africa and we spent 5 nights in the Kruger National Park. This is a game reserve the size of a respectable country, where animals roam free with the barest human influence. Various tarred and dirt roads wind through the park and every couple of hundred kilometres there are rest camps: bungalows with a restaurant and shop enclosed in an electrified fence where you can stay the night. We had a blast – I’d not actually been to a game reserve before so it was new for the both of us. We drove many miles and saw oodles of animals, although we were disappointed not to spot a leopard – the only one of the “Big Five” that we didn’t see. We were very excited to be going back again for 4 days of our honeymoon!

It’s a fairly long way from Sodwana to the Kruger Park, so we left the dive resort by mid morning. For some reason I had no road atlas, so I had copied a few directions from someone’s Lonely Planet and we hoped that those combined with a compass would get us there! It was interesting navigating without a map, and the compass proved invaluable! Our route took us though the Zululand district, along the border of Swaziland (a separate kingdom which is apparently good for a visit too but we didn’t have time), over the Drakensberg mountain range, and into the Mpumalange province (have a go at pronouncing that… it’s mostly phonetic) where the park is situated.

Wow, what a drive! We travelled past dozens of little villages of grass huts huddling alongside tin shacks on bright green hillsides, and had to watch out for cows and goats and people in the road. It was fascinating – a side of Africa you don’t see when you stick to the big cities. I never felt unsafe, although I would not have liked to be driving there after dark (especially with the cows and people in the road!). The scenery was spectacular, especially as we climbed into the mountains. In the early afternoon it began to rain, getting harder all the while. We saw lightening and heard thunder getting closer, and then all of a sudden we were engulfed in rain so hard that we couldn’t see the road! I squealed and Milord coasted to a stop, and we sat there with the hazard lights flashing for several minutes until the storm moved off and we could see again! It was a bit thrilling!

Then onwards, out of the rain, out of the mountains, and finally into the Kruger Park. By this time it was late afternoon and we had been driving for 8 hours. Luckily I had assumed we’d be tired so we had booked into a rest camp just a couple of kilometres from the gate. We didn’t expect to see anything interesting in such a short distance, but as usual the Kruger surprised us… we came around a corner to find a huge elephant walking towards us in the road. And he had the biggest engorged willy you can possibly imagine – it seriously looked like a fifth leg! We couldn’t go anywhere, so sat as quietly as possible as this intimidating sight strolled past us, absolutely boggling at the appendage. By the time we got our wits about us and dug out a camera and followed him he’d, uh, calmed down and his willy was tucked away again. Not something you see every day, that’s for sure!

We stayed in a very nice modern bungalow in the Berg-en-Dal (Hill and Dale) rest camp. We bought steaks and salad and cooked over coals, then had an early night. The following morning we had a lazy start, and I relaxed in bed with coffee and my book while Milord showered. We’d left the screen doors wide open as there were no bugs and it was a glorious morning. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a cat walk through the living room… a cat? I jumped up and scared the daylights out of several vervet monkeys who were silently helping themselves to our bread rolls on the kitchen counter.

One thing to remember about the rest camps: While the electric fences keep the big bad animals out, little agile monkeys can jump over, and burrowing animals can dig their way under!

From then on we always kept our screen doors closed! Another camp we stayed in (Orpen, very nice, small and newly built) had baboons and a honey badger raiding people’s food (we saw them at it!). If you forget to turn your fridge (always outside for some reason) to the wall to jam the door there is nothing to stop the buggers helping themselves, day or night! It was cool seeing the honey badger slinking through the rest camp though, as you never usually catch sight of one!

Our days in the park were excellent, and we managed to spot all of the “Big Five” in one day: Lion (lolling around in the distance), Leopard (eating a deer under a tree), Rhino, Elephant, and one lone Buffalo at twilight. We were very chuffed! Apart from that we saw warthogs and impala and kudu and waterbuck and jackal and eagles and vultures and mongooses (mongeese?) and baboons and monkeys and birds and more leopard and lions and yeah, it was very very cool. Awesome.

Then we drove 4 hours to BestGirl’s place, freshened up and went to a family gathering, had a good night’s sleep, packed, drove to the airport and flew home. Back to reality, back to job hunting and renovations and rain.


What a fabulous trip. Perfect, all of it!

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