Mom and baby hyena - mom looking away

Three Incredible Moments in the Kruger

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.

Kruger sunriseSunrise in the Kruger.

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.

Ray's family and me in the KrugerLeft to right: Ray’s brother John (aka Jack), Ray’s mom Diana, Ray, and me, at a lookout point near the Skukuza Rest Camp.

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.

Mud-covered elephant and carLook at those tusks! That car is a bit too close for comfort, in my opinion.

Elephant shaking his headShaking his head, providing a better perspective on the length of the tusks. Unfortunately we didn’t witness this elephant actually wallowing in the mud — I’m sure that was quite a sight.

Smaller elephant with mudA smaller elephant with smaller tusks. Still freaking huge.

Elephant head and tree trunkThis elephant was having a nice rub against the tree. I’m fascinated by the eye, which is either closed or covered in mud.

Elephant tree-rubbing
More tree-rubbing.

Big elephants crossing the roadThis guy also has a massive tusk, but just one. I wonder how he lost the other?

Tsessebe crossing the roadAmidst all the tuskers, we also watched a group of tsessebe cross the road. Tsessebes are fairly uncommon in South Africa, and also just super interesting-looking.

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.

First shot of a side-striped jackalJackal!

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.

Side-striped jackal in the grassAfter seeing this photo, a friend commented that side-striped jackals look more wolf-like than black-backed jackals. 

Black-backed jackalHere’s a black-backed jackal we saw the next day, for comparison.

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.

Side-striped jackal waitingWaiting for us to catch up.

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!

Two side-striped jackalsOn the hunt.

Eventually they gave up on their prey and ran off.

Side-striped jackal running awayNot the sharpest photo but I love the fact that all four feet are airborne.

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.

Mother hyena in the roadA female hyena chilling in the road, bathed in early morning sunlight.

I was already madly clicking away when Ray tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the left. The hyena had a cub.

Hyena cub crossing the roadI die.

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.

Hyena and cubSeriously now, I’m dying.

Mom and cub - cub looking at cameraDead. I’m totally dead.

Mom and cub hyena, both lookingAre you getting tired of these yet? I’m not.

Mom and hyena cub playingThey’re playing!

Hyenas playingOkay I’m done now.

More Kruger posts to come.

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  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson August 4, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Such a special place, love the Hyena pics you could have gone on posting more.

    • Reply 2summers August 4, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      I’m glad you agree 🙂

  • Reply eremophila August 4, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Awesome pics. That cub is great great great!

    • Reply 2summers August 4, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      I know 😻😻😻

  • Reply GoingSomewhereSlowly (@AnjeRautenbach) August 4, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    Heater! I love this post so much, especially the part of how Kruger made you more South African! <3

    • Reply 2summers August 4, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks. It’s totally true.

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun August 4, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Ohhh, I didn’t know you had never done a self drive Kruger trip before, you are now spoiled for life! Beautiful photos and some really lucky sightings. When are you going back 🙂 ?

    • Reply 2summers August 4, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      Oh god, soon I hope.

      • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun August 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm

        Hahah, I knew you were hooked!

        • Reply 2summers August 4, 2017 at 6:02 pm

          Yeah, I really didn’t want to leave.

          • UnderAnAfricanSun August 4, 2017 at 6:04 pm

            I never do either, even after 2 or 3 weeks!

          • 2summers August 4, 2017 at 6:07 pm

            I love the idea of going for that long, although there would be enough hard drive space in all of South Africa for my pictures 😂

          • UnderAnAfricanSun August 4, 2017 at 6:09 pm

            haha, I don’t have enough space right now to download the photos from my last couple trips, need to work on that!

  • Reply autumnashbough August 4, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    The jackal looks a lot like our coyotes. OMG, love the hyena sequence. Adorable.

    • Reply 2summers August 4, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      Yes, they are very similar to coyotes I think. And yes, those hyenas are way too much.

  • Reply Eva Melusine Thieme August 6, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Wow! Especially the hyenas. I think I may have one grainy picture of one adult hyena. These are precious! Thanks of sharing. I’m very jealous:)

    • Reply 2summers August 6, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks. I’d also only seen a couple of hyenas here and there before. On this trip we saw tons!

  • Reply violetonlineisonline August 6, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Those elephants are huge, I know that sounds silly but – you don’t often see such huge tuskers in Kruger.
    Your trip looks amazing, I want to read more.

    • Reply 2summers August 6, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      I know, it’s true. I remember seeing elephants that big in Tanzania once but never in SA.

  • Reply Jeroen August 7, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Besides the amazing park and sightings, the Kruger experience was always made whole by encounters with friendly visitors, the barbecue-and-sundowner culture, strolling around the campsites to look at weird safari caravans, preparing for a trip by participating in the lively SanParks website forum, and all the other SanParks delights and oddities. Just a pity that Kruger seems to be mainly enjoyed by a minority of pale and elderly South Africans – hope the new generation will enjoy the park just as much.

    • Reply 2summers August 8, 2017 at 12:37 pm

      Yes, I especially noticed in the northern part of the park that the average age of visitor seems to be about 60 (and 100% white). But visitors in the south, the closer we got to Nelspruit, seemed a lot more diverse in both age and ethnicity. Hopefully things will continue to change.

  • Reply Tricia Sibbons August 7, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    totally cool – can’t wait for the next installment!

    • Reply 2summers August 8, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks 🙂

  • Reply thirdeyemom August 9, 2017 at 3:39 am

    Incredible photos! I love the mom and baby hyena! Can’t believe it’s been seven years since you’ve lived there! I remember I began following your blog right after I started mine about 6 1/2 years ago!’ Fun to follow you along exploring SA!

    • Reply 2summers August 9, 2017 at 8:34 am

      I know, time flies right? Hard to believe.

  • Reply Rebecca September 16, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Wow, wow, wow!!! It looks like those hyenas were totally posing and playing it up for you!

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