Kruger Park Safari

IMG_5743Today was one for the record books. I bounced out of bed 45 minutes early, brimming with excitement about our first safari in Kruger National Park, here in South Africa. I quickly put on some hot water in our kettle to make some coffee. This roused Michael, who began getting ready as well. I was dressed before he made it off the bed. We gathered our packed breakfasts and made our way to the front gate to meet our guide a few minutes before our meeting time of 530am.

Frank, from The Other Animals SIMG_8360afaris was out of town, but sent us his best guide to show us around the park. South African Marc Cronje is a personable young man who actually grew up in a zoo. His father worked in the zoo in Joberg so he has been around animals his whole life. Literally. You can tell because he has an ease with nature only comes with a lifetime of experience. Frank couldn’t have left us in better hands. Marc answered all our questions with expertise and had many an interesting story from his four years of guiding.


I borrowed a soft heavy blanket from our hotel room and wrapped it around me as we took off down the road in the open-air safari truck toward the gate. The air was crisp and the sun came up quickly. We were only 3rd in line at the gate and Marc hopped out of the truck to chat with his fellow guides. At exactly 6AM they opened the gates and all the guides raced to the guard shack. Michael and I purchased a “Wild Card” which gives us unlimited access to all the South African parks for a year. The 2770 rand (about $230 USD) international couples pass is worth it if you are spending more than a week here. Plus, I don’t mind supporting the animals. They need all the help they can get. Marc told us about the poachers who are driving the rhinos to extinction because of a myth about rhino horns curing cancer. Park officials have implemented a shoot to kill policy on poachers in the parks, but unfortunately, just like the drug trade, it is a losing battle. ThIMG_7929e foot soldiers that make it into the park are expendable and the smuggling kingpins are safely out of reach. The exotic animal smuggling problem is quickly surpassing the illegal arms trade according to the numbers. If this continues, the only rhinos left will be in zoos. It makes me sad.

The first animal we saw was, in fact, a sleepy rhino unsuccessfully hiding behind a sparse bush. He was a huge creature and nothing was waking him. We continued on and Michael spotted his first elephant! He called him Bob. Bob who was barely 15 feet away, was tearing branches off trees like he was peeling a banana.

We watched the elephant for while then continued on our way when another game truck full of people pulled up. We are insanely lucky to have the whole 10-person truck to ourselves. I felt very spoiled when we would pass truck after truck packed solid with tourists. “Sardine Safaris” are one way to do it but not optimal. If you ever have an opportunity, a private safari is where it’s at.


Over the next eight hours, we saw lots of impala, elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, boks, turtle, warthog, buffalo, alligators, a squirrel, baboons, vervet monkeys, a rhino, kudu, two leopards, tons of birds, butterflies, and a giant snail crossing the road. Perhaps my very favorite moment was when we were alerted to some activity by the excitement of the monkeys in the nearby tree. The chatter escalated rather quickly and we knew something dangerous was near. We all waited, and I scanned the bushes with my eagle eyes.


Suddenly, I saw him! Through the tall golden rods of dry grass, a heart-shaped furry face peered out at me. Just as I saw him, he saw me and he darted across the clearing. I barely had time to alert the others before my leopard was out of sight once again. It was exhilarating! I caught my first leopard! I imagine that when you are the first to spot and discover an animal on a safari, that one is yours. At least for that day. As the monkeys quieted down, we knew that the leopard had taken off. We continued on in search of more adventure.

Michael wasIMG_7996 very excited about the tower of giraffes that he manifested. He is in love with the gentle creatures and couldn’t seem to get enough of them. We got to experience a troop of baboons all but enveloped our vehicle, having family arguments and “sexy time” right in front of us. The best was the little baby riding on the mothers back like a cowboy.


Next we were treated to a dazzle of dozen brazen zebras crossing the road and galloping into the thick brush.IMG_8263

My other highlight was when we had front row seats to an elephant crossing, complete with newborn babies and shy teenagers. They were just coming up from a river session and a memory of about 30 pachyderms decided to walk about 15 feet in front of us. Marc pulled the track sideways to block the road when he saw them coming, to protect them from inexperienced overeager tourists who would inevitably inch too close to the majestic creatures.


It is a well known fact that when there are babies around, elephants are hypersensitive and will do anything to protect them. Marc recounted a sad story of one of his favorite elephants being shot to death a few years ago when an ignorant tourist continued to provoke him even after many warnings.  As they ambled by, the smallest baby let out an excited squeal and the parents were quick respond, blocking him inside a sIMG_8117afety envelope between them. I was transfixed by the personalities evident and how the maturity causes them to walk and move differently. The slightly clumsy teenagers seemed curious but timid and shy only taking short sideways glimpses of us through their long lashes. The littlest ones were like little tornados bouncing by unbridled and carefree. When the baby stopped, everyone stopped. He seemed to be waiting for his big brother before he started walking again. The largest and most mature of the pack were very deliberate with every move and positioned themselves to protect the others. The biggest male kept his eyes locked on us as until every last one was safely off the road before he seemingly did a little dance and moved on himself.


We had two rest stops at Skukuza camp where we stocked up on Kudu wors and coffee. In the giftshop, we also found an elephant shirt for me and a Save the Rhino glass water bottle for Michael. When our day was done, we thanked Marc and sat at our lodge glowing in what was a fabulous day. We had a nap before dinner then went to bed reasonably early since tomorrow we head north to another lodge.

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