Last June I was on one of my Solo Kruger Park adventures. I’d spent 2 nights camping at Skukuza and 2 at Pretoriuskop. I’d had a fantastic trip so far. One of my fondest Kruger memories was of a family holiday at Pretoriuskop where we’d all stayed in this camp’s original little two-sleeper rondavels. I’d never camped at Pretoriuskop before, though, and this camp did not disappoint me at all in the camping department. If you read my review on “Camping at Pretoriuskop”, you’ll see I gave the camp a 9 out of 10.
From Skukuza, I’d driven all the way up to Tshokwane, across to Lower Sabie and back down along the Sabie River. I’d been to Orpen Dam, Nkumbe Lookout Point, Nkhulu Picnic Site, Lake Panic and Renoster Hill.
I had driven literally every road around Pretoriuskop. Most of the way up the S3/S7/S1, and a long way down the H2-2 Voortrekker Road.
The weather had been perfect. Not too hot in the day, not too cold at night.
Every night I lay in my tent listening the the chorus of animal sounds echoing through the bush. Both nights at Pretoriuskop I’d heard Lions roaring in the distance.
Not much could have topped this trip. Not much, that is, other than a couple of big cats. In my 5 days in the Park, I’d seen so much wildlife. It had been a great game-viewing trip, except that I’d not seen a single Lion, Leopard or Cheetah.
Friday came and it was time to pack up and go home. The Kruger had done its job, as it always does – my heart was full and I felt refreshed and renewed. I packed up camp early, and decided to drive all the way up to Paul Kruger Gate to exit the Park. All the way along the sand section of the S1, the grass was burnt and I spotted very little. By the time I reached the Doispane Road near to Phabeni Gate, I had slowed my car to a snail’s pace.
The closer I got to Paul Kruger Gate, the more in denial I became about leaving. I tried to make my experience last as long as possible. I was on the sand road that follows the Sabie River all the way up to Paul Kruger. The bushveld was not burnt here, and the game viewing started to pick up a bit. A Buffalo, some Elephant and some Wildebeest.
But I was drawing very close to the gate, and to the end of my holiday, and as I approached civilization, I knew that my chances of seeing one of the elusive cats was growing slimmer and slimmer. I was so close to the gate now that I’d already sent messages to a couple of family members to let them know I was on my way home.
Not 2km from Paul Kruger Gate, I crossed over a dry riverbed. Less than 20 meters away from me, was the prize I received for my perseverance. A beautiful Leopard lay in the shade grooming herself. I could not believe what I was seeing. I switched my car off and just watched her for 30 minutes. She didn’t move at all in that time, and not a single car came by. It was just me and her. It was one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had.
Eventually, when I knew I’d probably be arriving home in the dark, I decided to set off. At Paul Kruger Gate, I told a couple of visitors about the Leopard, and I hope they got to enjoy her as I had.
I spent the next 4 or so hours driving in desbelief. I’m not sure if I’ll ever have a sighting quite like that again.
I’d packed up everything, and unfortunately put my camera in the boot. But it doesn’t really matter – those images of the majestic, elusive Leopard lying in the shade in a dry riverbed less than 2km away from Paul Kruger Gate will be etched in my mind forever.
I’ve been back to that exact spot a few times since then, with no luck at all. But every time I’ve been there, I’ve been able to picture that day perfectly in my head, as if it was yesterday.