“there is nothing better than the African bush, it clears the clutter in your mind,leaves one content with life”
Recently I had the amazing opportunity to head off to one of my absolute favourite places in South Africa – The Kruger National Park (KNP). Now for all adventures in life one either needs a little information or you should wing it. When heading off to the KNP for the first time, I find a little context does help, as it provides a kind of guide for everything we as humans get to experience in the bush. So if you would entertain me for a short moment, herewith a short history lesson with regards to the KNP for the first timers among us before I share my adventure with you.
The park is located towards the East of South Africa and borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique .The parks first game ranger was appointed in 1902 and the Kruger National Park was officially proclaimed in May 1926 under the National Parks Act. it includes about 20 types of flora classifications and is completely at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to sustaining the vast amount of animals in the park, with more rainfall towards the south than the north. Several rivers and dams provide much needed water for the animals, vegetation and for human consumption.
To get a true sense of the size of the KNP, the park averages a width of 60km and is about 380km in length, therefor covering about 20 000km². We decided to visit the park over a long weekend, giving us 3 days in the park. We had booked our accommodation through the Kruger National Parks website: http://www.parks-sa.co.za. There is a selection of 12 main rest camps and 12 secondary rest camps in the KNP, ranging from bungalows and permanent luxury tents to camping and caravan sites.
With the car packed,we headed out towards the NKP at 1:30 am, leaving behind a chilly Johannesburg in my rearview mirror, so very excited at the prospect of being in the bush by 6am as the gates open. We decided to take the N4 route, as this road is well-maintained, with great stops along the way where one can buy coffee, grab a bite to eat and stretch your legs. We soon passed though Nelspruit on route to Witrivier and then we arrived at the Numbi gate. There is a choice of 11 gates all along the boundary of the park allowing passage into and out of the park. We chose this gate as it is a little quieter than the other gates, and we were in luck, being the 3rd car to enter the park. After a quick check-in we were on our way. The first thing I do when I enter the park is switch my cellphone to silent and switch off my radio. I regard this ritual as showing respect at entering someone else’s home in a way, in this case a home to various types and species: 507 birds, 336 trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians.
Within 30 minutes we spotted a herd of Buffalo and this would set the tone for a great day of game viewing.I always look at this time in the bush as something magical, there is something so great about not knowing what lies around the next corner. The highlights of the day was a special sighting of 4 Southern Ground Hornbills close to the Skukuza camp, a rare sighting indeed and 3 lioness with cubs closer to the Tshokwane picnic site later in the day. We were fortunate to see Giraffe, Kudu, Zebra’s and Impala (interesting to note that the Park does not have any Springbok) Elephants, Monkeys, Warthog and so much more…
Our campsite of choice was Olifants, a campsite situated high up against the mountain, with spectacular views of the Olifants River. In true South African style we decided to have a braai that evening, and packed our picnic and breakfast food for the next day before turning off the lights. Sleeping in the bush, hearing Lions roar in the distance is something everyone must do once in their lives.
The next morning we left the Camp at 6am, and within 20 minutes had the most awesome encounter with 2 adult Hyeana and their 5 cubs. We had come around the corner and spotted them in the road. To have a speed limit of 40 kmph on the secondary roads within the KNP is really the best rule in the park. This allows one plenty of time to spot animals in their natural surroundings. I must add due to the size of the park, one would not see the same animals at the same spot the next day, unless it is their marked territory, as all the animals move around in the park. For viewing game I would further recommend a great pair of binoculars, as most sightings are about 15 metres plus from the side of the road. Another courteous thing to do when stopping at a signing is to allow enough space for other vehicles to pass by.
We had stopped at the Letaba Camp Day visitors spot for breakfast at around 10:30am. A very novel concept in KNP is that one can rent a Gas braai (a ‘Skottel’ as the locals refer to it) for a cost of R 25.00 at most picnic sites to prepare your breakfast or lunch, After a quick bacon roll we were on our way again. Doing a loop up north and then returning to the Olifants campsite by 6pm after travelling along the main route between Letaba and Olifants. That evening we had another braai, watching the monkeys in the Camp try their luck at getting food from the bungalows close by.
We left the campsite at 6am on our last day in the KNP. and we had such a beautiful start to the day, seeing 2 Black Backed Jackals fighting over a hare they had caught. This was followed by sightings of Impala, Buffalo, Wildebeest, Giraffe,Elephants (including 3 small Elephants) and Warthog. The KNP offer birding enthusiasts so much, we saw a giant Kingfisher on the banks of the Olifants river and so many Fish Eagles with their distinctive calls,Starlings and various birds of pray.
After a quick bite to eat on a very windy Sunday at the Timbavati Day Visitors site we headed to the Orpen gate. There are a few things so special in life as having the opportunity to spend 3 days in the bush.There are 2 distinct things that I will remember about this trip – firstly how severe and terrible the drought has affected all the animals in the KNP and their natural food source, and secondly if you go to the KNP with a list of all the animals you want to see, you are better off at one of the smaller lodges adjacent to the park. You are never sure what you will see in the KNP – we did not see Leopard, Cheetah, Male Lions and Rhino-but this did not matter as we saw so many other animals, and my philosophy is this.. there is always next time!
In closing, we took the JG Strijdom Tunnel route back to Jozi, and for this route you need more grit on your teeth than facing a lion in the park. Would not recommend this route for any foreign travellers wanting to visit the KNP.