Tuesday, 30 July 2013

30.07.2013 First Kruger safari part 1: Phabeni gate and Skukuza

(click on photos to enlarge and view gallery)

After a day of driving round the mountains near Sabie, we were already hungering for our first safari experience and as the Phabeni gate to Kruger was just 40 minutes' drive away we decided to get up at the ungodly hour of 5am to head for a morning drive.

They say that the very first and very last hours of daylight are the best time to be out looking for animals, as most of them - especially predators, are most active around this time. From our own personal experience I can confirm it's all true. After already spotting a few giraffes and some elephants in the bushes, at around 7am we stopped as a herd of elephants slowly crossed the road right in front of our car. This made a good opportunity to sit and munch on our packed breakfast as we marveled at our first sighting of real big totally wild animals walking out right in front of us.

Wait for me!

From there on in the rest of the morning continued to be exhilarating as we passed more elephants, giraffes and zebras grazing by the side of the road or crossing out in front of our car. There were also tons of impalas and steenboks around, which we thought were amazing the first time we saw them, but with at least 150,000 of them in the Kruger, you quickly get blasé about yet another gang of deer type creatures.

We stopped off for morning coffee at Skukuza which is by far the biggest rest camp in the Kruger. It is so big in fact that it has its own airport. Of all the rest camps we saw I would say this is probably the least exciting to stay in -it has a slightly package holiday feel to it and is lacking in the 'wild' elements, but does still have a nice river view and ample facilities. Skukuza's location is also ideal as you can easily travel up to the quieter middle part of the park or down into the busier lower sections where the largest proportion of animals are (although we saw about the same amount of animals in the lower and upper park).  

All caffeined up we then set off again as the sun began to burn down on us, meaning that we did indeed see fewer big animals. However, our spotters eyes were more than ready for other interesting things and we weren't disappointed. Following the river we spotted lots of hippos, crocodiles, vervet monkeys (cute!) and loads of baboons, as well as many beautiful birds. Then whilst taking a rest near a large waterhole we candidly watched as a huge crocodile slowly swam through the water before lumbering out onto a big nearby rock to show off his crocodile smile. Experiences like that definitely put you off stepping out of your car in the park!

One of the things to be careful of when entering the Kruger is that you do not have any booze in your vehicle. We had accidentally left a bottle of whisky in the boot which one of the guards kindly watched for us while we were out driving. Of course rather inconveniently it meant that we had to drive back to the gate at the end of the day rather than exiting elsewhere.

The drive back to the gate in the afternoon was quiet, even though we were always on the lookout for the ideal 'leopard tree' (- "if I were a leopard I would love to sit up that tree") and I enjoyed the landscape and great feeling of wilderness. The Kruger is a vast expanse of space about the size of a small European country, in fact it is the largest park of its kind in the world. It is heavily populated with a huge variety of incredible wild animals and the bushy landscape dotted with trees and long meandering rivers takes you back to how it must have been like in Africa long before the farms and the factories, mines and cities began to take over the land. Magical.

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