It’s kind of hard to believe, but it’s been almost one year since Sam and I were travelling in South Africa. Where did time go?! Our three week trip was spent covering the length of the country from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and needless to say, one of the coolest things we did was go on safari in Kruger National Park. Seriously, I saw animals I never even knew existed!
Our visit to Kruger was filled with lots of oooh-ing, ahhh-ing, and calling out ‘Pumba’ every time we saw a warthog. That never got old! We had a guide who was a bit of an introvert, but he still had us all in stitches every time he pulled a safari joke; case in point, the time he told us that the wildebeest was the last animal God created since it looked like a mash-up of leftover pieces. I bet he says that every time he brings visitors to Kruger, but it still cracked us up.
Another funny moment was when I proceeded to take 20 photos of impalas within 5 minutes of entering the park. Having never seen one before, I thought it was one of the coolest animals ever and I couldn’t believe there were so many of them around. That was until the guide informed us that impalas are everywhere; basically the equivalent of photographing pigeons or seagulls. Ohhh.
I left Kruger with so many good memories, so today I thought I’d share a few of those highlights with you:
Watching a fiery sunrise en route to Kruger
South Africa has some of the most magical sunrises I have experienced anywhere on this planet. There is a fiery intensity to them that paints the sky blood red and leaves you with mouth agape wondering how this is even real.
On the second morning of our drive to Kruger National Park, we witnessed a sunrise just like that. We were bundled in hoodies and blankets, blowing hot breath into our hands as we tried to stop from shivering, when the sun slowly started rising in the horizon and transformed the sky into what you see in this picture. The cold suddenly didn’t matter anymore.
It was so beautiful that our driver pulled over and we all sat there marvelling at the sight before us.
Coming across a pride of lions
One of the things I learned on our first day of safari is that people are very generous when it comes to sharing information about animal sightings. Soon after driving into Kruger National Park we were stopped by two separate vehicles who informed us they had come across a pride of lions not too far from the main road. We followed their directions, veered down a small dirt road, and what do you know, there lay a pride of lions just lounging on the grass about 10 meters away – probably digesting their latest catch!
We could see a lioness with 5 smaller cubs sleeping the morning away, but then one of the cubs woke up and started playfully rolling around on its back, much like a kitten would. The lioness took this as a sign to give the cub his daily bath and started licking his fur all over, meanwhile we sat there quietly watching this family of lions go about their daily routine. It was something so simple, yet so special to witness.
If that weren’t enough, just as we were getting ready to continue on our drive, we spotted the alpha male himself having some alone time just a bit further from the group. He had a messy golden mane and looked ever so regal like the true king of the jungle he is.
Being surrounded by elephants
There was this one moment on safari when we were driving through the park and we noticed a herd of elephants slowly making their way towards the road. Our guide brought the truck to a stop and we just sat there and waited to see what would happen next.
Well, what appeared to be a herd of 10 or so elephants began to cross, but then even more started coming out of the bushes and heading in the same direction. At one point I turned around to see that not only did we have a huge herd in front of us, but there was also another herd crossing directly behind!
We were surrounded by elephants marching, trumpeting, and making sure the little calves didn’t stray behind. That’s the most elephants I’ve ever seen in one place at one time, and it was amazing.
Watching life unfold at the watering hole
So it turns out the watering hole is a pretty happening place to be. When we drove up, there were so many little things going on that we almost didn’t know where to look. But there in the middle of all the water buffaloes, storks, wildebeests, impalas, and monitor lizards, there was one hungry croc who caught our eye.
This one particular crocodile was attempting to make its way over to the edge of the watering hole as discretely as possible, where a herd of impalas were drinking water. It would approach with nothing but its beady eyes above the water line, but then just as it came within a few feet of its prey, the impalas would become startled, which would result in their legs getting stuck in the mud, and then they would struggle to free themselves and run off while the crocodile took a lunge.
This routine repeated itself over and over again, and each time all the girls in the vehicle would be ‘awww-ing’ over the poor impala (myself included!) who was about to become lunch, while the boys cheered for the crocodile who was about to get its meal. But every time the croc was left empty handed.
After a while the impalas wandered off and a group of wildebeests approached the hole. Thinking he could get a little more meat off of these guys, the crocodile repeated the whole routine again while we watched from the edge of our seats. It was like watching the Discovery Channel!
Coming across shy giraffes
I have to admit, I got pretty excited every time we saw a giraffe even though they were plentiful at Kruger.
To me, this is such an interesting animal to observe. They are like the supermodels of the animal kingdom; tall and lanky, extremely poised and elegant, but also a little bit awkward in their own bodies.
I was so amused anytime we would see them galloping around while their legs tried to keep up with them, or neck swiping at each other when they got into a fight.
However, my favourite was when we spotted a rather shy giraffe who was trying to hide behind a tree. The foliage may have hidden her body, but her scrawny legs and crane of a neck were really hard to miss. I just picturing a game of hide and go seek amongst the animals; the poor giraffe would have gotten the short end of the stick each time.
Having a leopard walk out in front of us
Seeing a leopard in the wild was one of the coolest yet most terrifying experiences ever.
During one of the early morning drives, we noticed that there were several vehicles parked alongside the road expectantly gazing into the bush. After asking around in hush-hush voices so as to not disturb whatever was out there, we learned a leopard had been sighted.
Our driver also pulled over and started scanning the ravine, where sure enough, a lonesome leopard was out for a walk. However, being the expert camouflagers that they are, it wasn’t long before we lost sight of the leopard. Many of the cars drove away, but we decided to stay put and see if it would reappear.
We were all gazing off in the distance to the last place we had spotted the leopard, when all of a sudden the real thing walked out RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR TRUCK! Too close for comfort, too close for comfort!
We all froze – I don’t even think I was breathing! – and watched as the leopard strutted its stuff in front of us, glanced up our way, and continued on to the other side of the road. I don’t think anyone was expecting to get that close to the wildlife.
Spotting a white rhino at the very last minute
By the end of our second day on safari we had managed to spot 4 animals out of the Big Five. We had come across a pride of lions, the elusive leopard, a herd of elephants, and countless water buffalos, but the rhino was still missing. Our guide kept stopping to scan the bushveld, but with sunset approaching we were running out of time and we needed to leave the park.
Then just 2 kilometres short of the exit we were flagged down by a car who had spotted something in the distance. Could it be? We all turned to look in the direction she was pointing and when we saw the white rhino emerge from behind a bush there was a wave of silent hooting and fist-pumping through the truck.
There stood the white rhino straight out of prehistoric times. The rhino is considered to be a rather solitary animal, so getting to see one right at the last minute felt extra special.
Catching the sunset over the Drakensberg Range
Sunsets in South Africa are magical. I mean, just look at that!
Yet another highlight of our Kruger safari involved driving to a private reserve where we parked the truck on a hill overlooking the Drakensberg Mountain Range and watched the sun do its magic. The dead tree trunks in front of us turned into dark silhouettes while the sky burst into a fiery orange that faded into peach, dusty rose, and then lavender.
We all had fun taking photos and then just sat back munching on cookies and sipping on wine until it grew dark.
Have you been on safari in South Africa or elsewhere?
What were some of your highlights?