I was wriggling on my bed all night, anxious for the sun to rise. The rush of the Sabie river alongside our bungalow at Kruger Park Lodge kept me awake on the couch. This was my first safari experience this far east in the country. I was excited to explore a different kind of wilderness, and the wildlife that dwelled therein.
I had tagged along on my parent’s holiday in the Kruger National Park, so I was happily stationed in the living room for the duration of the stay. When it was finally time to rise, I jumped up eagerly. After a quick morning coffee-and-rusk, we set off to the large gates for my first safari adventure in the Kruger.
We entered through Phambeni gate, which was close to Hazy View. I saw a white sunrise above the grey lowveld. I shivered, more out of habit than actual cold. It was much warmer here than in Pretoria, where we stayed the night before. The air was surprisingly pleasant on this side.
As we entered the park, the sun shone straight into our eyes. We soon took a turn to explore the bush. It was beautiful. Our first sighting was a group of Impala. I got very excited about this herd of deer; my family were less impressed.
“That’s fish and chips for the lions – they are the easiest to catch. If you don’t see anything in the game reserve, you will atleast see the Rooibok (impala),” my uncle prompted.
I was eagerly combing the landscape with my eyes. It was fast becoming second nature. I surveyed the lowveld carefully. At times the bush was so dense that you could only see ten metres to either side. On other occasions, the landscape around you opened up to reveal an open, almost savannah-like, view.
We were having a pretty lucky day. We saw a range of wildlife, starting with the first herd of Impala spotted on the golf course. My aunt and uncle are enthusiastic birders, so we stopped every time they spotted a feathered friend. We saw around thirty different species just today!
I turned my focus to the larger mammals. I was fascinated by the Impala. They are petite and elegant. We even got to see nature at play. Two male rams were locking heads close to a herd of females and young. The crash of horn on horn echoed through the valley. It was incredible to watch. Their fawn coats rippled in the morning light as their muscles tensed for the fight.
Suddenly, a third male came to join in. This ram was probably tired of being left out. He rushed in, darting between the trees, making a call that sounded like the snort of a rhino. But the other two males would have none of it. They quickly put him in his place and chased him away.
We ventured onwards into the African landscape. I was in awe of the environment. I have never been this far east in my country before. Apparently, the trick is to stick to the watering holes; especially when it grows later in the morning. It was around that time the animals would wander down for a drink, and we again reached for our binoculars.
At our first stop near Shithlave Dam, we spotted a massive bull elephant helping himself to water a stone’s throw away from a ‘Wolnek Ooievaar’. I marvelled at the elephant’s mammoth appearance while the rest appreciated the birds. We even spotted a massive crocodile soaking up some sunlight! I grabbed some shots of the fluffy Waterbuck near the water’s edge. They were my favourite. They have soft, grey coats and the males sported great horns.
Our next watering hole was just as fruitful. We spotted five hippos lumbering out of the water to settle in the sunlight. Somewhere in the trees, an African Fish Eagle sat perched, surveying his kingdom. Some Wildebeest stirred off to the left, and on the right-hand side, there were more Waterbuck. Surprise!
The last dam proved to be fruitful too. There was an impressive group of turtles huddled on what appeared to be a little island. Quietly, two nostrils raised out of the water. The turtles were, in fact, squatting on the back of a hippo. How bizarre! There was even a giraffe nearby, grazing from the tree tops near the dam.
We ended up spending around seven hours in the reserve, and we only covered 100km of Kruger Park. There was still so much more to see! Tomorrow we look forward to exploring Onder Sabie, a corner of the Kruger supposedly rich in rhino and lion sightings. I can’t wait.