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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Kruger National Park
April 22, 2007

The Big 5

The Kruger National Park was established in 1926 as an amalgamation of the Sabi and Singwitsi Game Reserves. The park includes land from South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, covering approximately 20,000 square kilometres.

With a park this size, and on our reasonably limited budget we opted for the self drive option, staying in the park's Lower Sabie rest camp in a hut with shared kitchen and ablutions. This would give us maximum time within the actual park, and the flexibility to go where we want, when we want, at our own speed.

The hire car was dropped off by 9:00am on the first morning and we had an easy 45 minute drive from Nelspruit to the Numbi Gate at the South West corner of Kruger. For the remainder of the day we drove through the park, arriving at the Lower Sabie rest camp at 5:30pm. Just in time to watch the sunset over a Hippo pool.

The massive size of the park and the numerous network of sealed and unsealed roads, means several options exist to get between any two points. At times we drove for long periods without seeing another car. As far as animal spotting is concerned, we were quick to realise that Impala is to Kruger, as the Warthog is to Addo. We also saw an abundance of elephant, giraffe, birds, antelope and zebra. The only disadvantage of the self drive option is vehicle height. While most of the animals we encountered were right beside the vehicle, admittedly it is difficult to look deep into the long grass so we probably drove straight past a lot of animals without even knowing it.

Day two has been dubbed "Big 5 Day". We set out early, the gates of the rest camp open at 6:00am and we were well and truly on the road by 6:15am. We went north around the 'golden triangle' a series of roads linking Lower Sabie with Skakuza and Satara. Kruger National Park consists of 21 different natural ecosystems. Different animals have adapted to different plants, and the golden triangle perfectly combines the various ecosystems needed to spot the big animals.

Within half an hour of driving we had already driven very closely past large Elephant and Giraffe, when out of the corner of my I spotted a large horn - "RHINO, there is Rhino by the side of the car". A large White Rhino was lying on the ground right beside the road. After spending an hour watching this and four other rhino in the area we pushed on past great herds of Buffalo and Wildebeest.

After lunch we proceeded along the Sabie River back towards camp. For those of you that have been up close to an elephant, you will know the buzz you get knowing that an elephant can squash you like a bug. We were lucky enough to have a large cow appear out of the bush while we were watching her herd pass, she then walked up to the car and just stared at us. When she took a step forward to be within two meters of the car. I looked at Donna who promptly said "Yes Matt, I think reversing would be a good idea". That crazy Elephant then chased us about 30 metres down the road.

After spotting a Vulture in a tree, we were driving off when we came across the elusive leopard, crossing the road right behind us. Reminiscing about this later in the evening reduced Donna to tears, some of my quotes after sighting the Leopard were:

“If you are driving fast and looking forwards, you would miss it. But I was driving fast and looking backwards, so I saw it!”

“There is a f@%king cat or something crossing the road”

“It’s not a lion, it’s got spots”

“We have seen four of the big five, if we see a lion today, I think I might wet myself”

With the sun sinking below the horizon we positioned ourselves on a bridge overlooking the Sabie River and a small herd of Hippo playing in the water. A passing car tipped us off that a female lion and her cubs were by the side of the road about 15 km's away. With only an hour until the rest camp gates closed for the night we took off. After hitting the area they had mentioned we spent 15 minutes furiously scanning the sides of the road to no avail. Hugely disappointed we set off home, the sun now set and darkness quickly closing in.

About 20 minutes from the camp we sighted a large Spotted Hyaena walking up the road towards us. Leaning out of the window to get that special photo nearly proved my downfall. Donna's "Matt, MATT" did not register until I took my eye off the view finder and I realised it had walked up to within licking distance. In my panic to get the window up, I wound it down first.

Not five minutes further along the road Donna spotted a lion crouching by the side of the road. We got to within 10 metres when it moved into the grass beside us, where it was stalking some kind of prey. After two minutes of silence, she took off like a bullet, tearing through the grass, a second yellow streak going in the opposite direction. The last thing we heard that night was a small animals pitiful squealing.

As we drove into the rest camp's gates at 5:54pm we had the Big 5 in the bag. Although tired, we were both wearing huge grins.

Day three at Kruger was another early start. The best times for spotting animals are dawn and dusk, unfortunately the gates are only open from 6:00am till 6:00pm, unless of course you do a SAN Parks animal drive or guided walk. We opted for the guided walk which meant a 4:30am wake up.

At 5:30am, we and two others, were bundled into a San Parks 4x4 with two rangers and their rifles. We drove for about 15 minutes before turning onto a dirt track off limits to the public, which we drove on for a further 15 minutes. Slipping and sliding over the mud because of the rain last night.

When we disembarked, the Rangers loaded their guns and gave us the rules: single file, no talking, click your fingers if you have a question, take pictures when ever you want however for the big five wait until we say it is safe as they are dangerous, whatever you do, don't run.

We then walked off into the bush – Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino territory - to stalk animals. To be honest it was not scary, it was just thrilling.

After 5-10 minutes of walking, the Rangers stopped and pointed to some small birds wheeling in the sky. Then they dived into the bush. He whispered that there was an animal there, maybe 200 metres away, though it was so thick you could not tell what it was.

We now had to be very careful, do not step on sticks or dislodge stones. We do not want to startle the animal, but we want to get close enough to view it. Easier said than done when two minutes into the hunt, Donna nearly stepped on a spitting cobra sunning itself on the path in front of us.

For the next 10-15 minutes we crept closer until we identified it as the elusive and rare Black Rhino. Good, but bad. Good because they are so rare to see, bad because they are so unpredictable. They have bad eyesight and will charge anything they detect.

After watching the Rhino for 15 minutes from 20 metres away, the wind changed direction and it caught our scent and moved further into the thicket. Unable to draw it out we retreated, then circled around to the other side where again we went closer. After maybe half an hour we moved on, this time down a valley and along a river bed.

After an hour or so we came across a pack of African Wild Dogs, again very rare animals to see, the Rangers had not seen them in three months and they were just as excited as us. After walking quite close they ran off into the bush.

We continued walking to a pool with Hippo where we stopped for breakfast, before walking along a Rhino’s spoor until we diverted and went back to the truck.

An amazing experience we would recommend to anyone. Watching the sunrise over the hills, being on foot in a dangerous place like that – it really makes you feel alive.

We spent the remainder of the day taking in Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra and Hippo around the Golden triangle, and an hour before we had to leave the park we were treated to a pride of lions by the side of the road.

Kruger was the perfect way to end our South African leg of the journey, we took in excess of 600 photos over the three days and could have easily stayed on for a longer period of time. We have added a small sample in the Kruger Gallery.

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Amazing, I'm sitting at my desk and reading and day dreaming I have spent well over one hour on this page alone, so touching, so thrilling, so intense, this is truely my favorite web page. Now that is what I believe is a great african wilderness safari. Im jealous xx

Angie - May 17, 2007

Whow!! l don't know what else to say How truly amazing, thrilling, exillerating, exciting - l wished l was there until the spitting cobra came along!!!!

Lachie & Stella - May 10, 2007


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