I’ve just come back from a week with Ray and his family in the Kruger National Park. I’m not sure where to begin writing about it. This was an extraordinary trip.
I’ve visited lots of games reserves in South Africa over the years — mostly private reserves with luxurious accommodation and a “guests must not lift a finger except to press the camera shutter” kind of approach. (There are tons of private reserves around the borders of the Kruger, while the park itself is public.) I know the drill at places like this: Wake up early, guided game drive or walk, return to luxurious accommodation, eat gourmet food cooked by others, sleep, eat more food, another game drive, drink sundowners, eat more food, go to bed, repeat.
Such trips usually last three days at most, because: 1) Few people can afford to stay longer; and 2) Eating and drinking 10,000 calories a day is surprisingly exhausting.
Luxury safaris are wonderful. I’m ridiculously fortunate to have stumbled into a profession allowing me to take trips like that from time to time. (Read about a few of them here and here and here.) But my do-it-yourself week in the Kruger — traveling with tough, seasoned South African nature-lovers who know every inch of this massive national park and would never think of seeing wildlife in any other place, in any other way — was eye-opening.
The Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s oldest and most iconic game parks. Self-driving the park for seven days was a totally different experience than anything I’ve had in a private reserve. I came away with a new perspective on this particular type of South African holiday, and on the natural world more generally.
After seven years of living in this country, the Kruger made me love South Africa in a way I never have before. The Kruger made me more South African.
My Favorite Moments in the Kruger
We did a top-to-bottom tour of the Kruger, starting at the far northern tip of the park and exiting the southernmost gate. I’m going to do a longer post after this one, with more impressions about where we stayed and what we did and what I do and don’t recommend.
But to start, I’ll share a three-part photo series documenting my favorite game sightings of the week.
1) Mud-covered Tuskers
On our second afternoon in the park, just north of the Shingwedzi Rest Camp, we ran into a group of giant-tusked elephants coated in mud.
2) Side-striped Jackals on the Hunt
We spent two nights at Shingwedzi Rest Camp. On our second evening there, Ray impulsively turned down a short dirt road on our way back to the camp. Di and Jack had gone ahead in a separate car.
The sign said we’d find a watering hole in two kilometers, but when we reached the end of the road we found only a dead end. We shrugged and laughed.
As Ray turned the car around, he saw a jackal. Then we saw two.
We only realized the next day, after another jackal sighting, that these were not the black-backed jackals more commonly sighted in Kruger. Rather this was a pair of side-striped jackals, which are exceedingly rare and difficult to spot because they’re nocturnal. Di estimates she’s been to the Kruger more than 30 times and has never seen one.
Jackals often disappear quickly but these two hung around, trotting a few steps down the road and stopping to turn and see if we were following.
One of the jackals veered off into the brush, and moments later a small hare darted out in front of us and streaked across the road. The jackals were hunting!
Eventually they gave up on their prey and ran off.
3) Hyena Motherly Love
Our longest drive of the week was between the Shingwedzi and Satara Rest Camps, through the middle section of the Kruger. We left particularly early — just after 6:00 a.m. when the gate opened — and were rewarded with a spectacular early-morning hyena sighting.
I was already madly clicking away when Ray tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the left. The hyena had a cub.
I’ve always loved hyenas. (I once wrote a blog post called Hyenas Make Me Laugh.) This was my first time seeing a hyena cub and it could not have been better.
More Kruger posts to come.