The big one, the highly sought after king of all South African national parks; Kruger baby.
I was so excited that I was getting the opportunity to not only visit the famous national park, but to also stay there for a couple of nights – and for free no less! When I ended my time volunteering at Glen Afric, the owner of Volunteer Southern Africa happened to be the one dropping me and a fellow volunteer back to Johannesburg airport. He casually asked if we would want to try out a couple of new volunteer programs for free and be filmed to create the promo videos for each program – to which I obviously jumped at the chance and said hells yeah!
I was headed to Cape Town first for a bit of great white shark cage diving, so I then booked a flight back to Joburg where I was picked up with a few other volunteers taken from Glen Afric and then we made our way happily along to Kruger for a few nights.
The drive up was quite a lengthy one, but we did have a pit stop at Nando’s along the way. This Nando’s had to be seen to be believed. There were actual, genuine wild Zebra, Impala, Wildebeest and even RHINO (yes the beautiful, on-the-brink-of-extinction rhino) gathered by a little water hole right next to the Nando’s. We had a lengthy discussion about how on Earth those Rhinos were protected from poachers – being so out in the open and so vulnerable to anything and anyone. We came to the conclusion there must be people somewhere keeping watch over them and ensuring their safety.
Eventually we reached our destination and pulled into a beautiful lodge right on the edge of Kruger National Park. They had built guest accommodation especially for volunteers or paying guests and it was all very lovely. They had a little swimming pool also, and the lodge looked out directly over a river and when we first arrived the staff there told us to come quickly and look; there were two wild elephants right in front of the lodge being fed sugar cane by the staff! It was incredible.
During our time at Kruger we went on a couple of safari style game drives just us and a private guide which was wonderful.
We began by having breakfast at a private (and very swanky!) lodge in the middle of Kruger. This lodge had a beautiful pool overlooking the national park, and said pool had a little visitor wandering around…
On our many safari game drives we managed to see herds of elephants, a mother rhino with her baby, lots of impala, buffalo and monkeys, a warthog (Pumba with no Timone) and lots of giraffe.
You have to have a very keen eye and a lot of luck to spot some of the other animals such as leopard, hyena and cheetah which are quite hard to spot. We didn’t manage to see any leopard or hyena which was gutting! But we were lucky enough to see a wild cheetah! At first sight we thought it was a female cheetah with a giant pregnant belly, have a look:
But upon getting a closer look, we realised that said “female” cheetah had some *cough* testicles. The “pregnant belly” was actually just a food baby – the cheetah was clearly a male who had just eaten a giant dinner. Man after my own heart!
One evening we went on a night drive also to try and spot all of the nocturnal animals as well as see what the other animals all get up to of an evening! On the night drive we spotted some more elephants and even came across a pride of lions – which had more than one male in it which is very unusal for lions. Our guide said that they must be brothers and have stuck together and formed a pride, which was awesome to see.
A first for us all was when we were taken on a WALK through Kruger, accompanied by a ranger who had a huge gun! Obviously the gun was just for our protection in case we should run into a lion, hyena or leopard and things turned scary. I was of course not too keen on this scenario happening, so I was relieved when all we ran into was a large herd of buffalo.
Buffalo are very similar to cows in the sense that they are curious beasts, when they caught sight of us across the bush they were very intruged indeed, they didn’t take their eyes off of us! Of course we didn’t get too close to them as they are very large and very strong and could be dangerous if they felt threatened. I cannot help but think of Swedish ladies with their twirled plaited hair or English barristers when I see them, it’s just their horns!
To give you an idea of just how huge they are, we came across a buffalo skull on one of our game drives, so they pulled over to let us pick it up. It was enormous! Obviously the buffalo had died a while ago of natural causes, and we put the skull straight back where we found it. You cannot take anything from a national park, not even something as small as a rock or twig, because even that is considered poaching.
Walking through the pure, untainted African savannah knowing you could run into something dangerous but awesome at any second was absolutely epic. Our guide also showed us a giant termite mound that we came across. He told us to hold our hands over the entrance to it and feel how hot it was; this is the way that the termites naturally keep the nest from becoming too hot, they build the mounds in a way that self-ventilates and pushes the hot air out into the atmosphere. Quite the little architects!
Of an evening we would all have dinner in the main house or have a BBQ outside and then gather around the outside fire pit which we had to start ourselves. Watching the awe inspiring sunset over the savannah and then the twinkling stars above was magical. Couple that with the fact that the two wild elephants kept on coming back to see us – mainly because we kept feeding them sugar cane which just happens to be their favourite snack!
Kruger was insane. Such an epic experience to see animals in the wild where they are most perfectly suited and should always be left, I felt very lucky to be able to experience all of this, especially when it wasn’t even in my original South African plans! But plans change, and I am so glad that they do.
Go guys, you will not regret it!