Day 5 of My Kruger National Park Adventure 2013

DAY 5:

I woke up to some very mixed emotions. I couldn’t believe that I’d be leaving the Kruger today. For me, it’s honestly one of the worst feelings – knowing that in a couple of hours’ time I’d be outside of my favourite place in the world. I’d be leaving the place that feels like home to me. If you’ve never been to the Kruger Park before, you’ve probably got no idea what I’m on about. But for those of you who’ve stayed inside the borders of the magical wildlife kingdom that is the Kruger National Park, I know that you’re sympathising with me, because you’ve felt the same way in the past. There’s nothing quite like the Kruger.

I’d set my alarm for 7am. I thought a good sleep was in order before taking the long drive back to Gauteng. I was obviously also in no rush to leave, and it doesn’t take me long to pack up my campsite. I got up to make coffee and breakfast, and noticed that some of my neighbouring campers were also slowly starting the process of packing up camp. After breakfast, I packed up camp. It seemed to be over too quickly. The spot that had been home to me for the last couple of days was now nothing more than a parking space for my car. The campsites at Lower Sabie are quite dusty, and so once I’d packed up camp, I went and had a quick shower. My drive of denial was about to begin. I call it this, because I really do drive in a state of denial, refusing to acknowledge that I’m on my way out of the Kruger.

I stopped at the petrol station at Lower Sabie and asked the attendant to fill my car. I checked the oil and coolant levels, while the attendant washed the front and rear windscreen, and checked my tyres for me. It took the attendant forever to get all of this done. It was probably the slowest service I’ve ever had at a petrol station, and I was eternally grateful. Anything that would delay my departure was ok with me. I tipped the guy R5. I probably would have given him 10 bucks if he’d deflated a tyre or 2, and forced me to leave even later. Hanging out at a petrol station in the heart of the Kruger Park beats anything outside of the Park!

After this, I stopped by the shop at Lower Sabie. I’d read about “Kruger Park Passports” on the SANParks forums. For most of the week I’d been trying to decide if I should buy one or not. They’re essentially a handy way of keeping track of every camp, gate and picnic site that you’ve visited in the Park. It sounds a bit childish, but none of the people discussing them on the forums were children. I think it just appeals to the inner child that all of us adults harbour inside ourselves. I also think it’s healthy to entertain that inner child from time to time, and I eventually decided to go for it. I can now say that it was R55 well spent. If nothing else, it genuinely is quite “cool” to get it stamped wherever you go, and it immediately puts you on a mission to cover the entire Park! On my way out I got it stamped at Lower Sabie, Nkhulu Picnic Site, Skukuza, and Paul Kruger Gate. If I’d decided to do this from Day 1, I could have added Malelane Gate, Berg en Dal, Afsaal, and Tshokwane to my collection of stamps, but now I guess I’ll just have to re-visit all of those spots to get stamps from them in future! This certainly doesn’t bother me at all. Fortunately I’ll probably be able to do that in September this year.

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Eventually, I drove out of Lower Sabie and turned right onto the H4-1 towards Skukuza. This drive is supposed to be 43km long, but I think I managed to cover more than 60km along the way, taking every detour I could! The H4-1 is also known as the Sabie River Road, as it follows the Sabie River all the way from Lower Sabie to Skukuza. Many people have had many great wildlife sightings along this road, but I haven’t been too fortunate on it in the past few years. There are many spots where you can turn off the tar road onto little sand loops that take you right up close to the Sabie River. I turned onto every single one of them. I even intentionally missed the turn-off for the H11 which is the last little stretch of road that takes you to Skukuza, and then on to Paul Kruger Gate. I just wanted to cross the Sabie River one last time at the H1-2 which has a concrete low-level bridge, and a magnificent view of the old Selati Railway Bridge that crosses the Sabie River and goes into Skukuza.

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On the concrete bridge, I had a great view of the old railway bridge to the left:

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And a lazy Croc to the right:

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The drive down the H4-1 to Skukuza was a brilliant one. I saw a fair bit of game. There were quite a few Elephants and Buffalo about, along with the usual crowd of Impala and the like. I also saw a stunning Fish Eagle on a branch over the river with a small fish in its grip, but it was not the sightings that made the drive so good. As always, I’d been thinking about what it was that made the Kruger Park so special to me, and to so many others. I’d never needed to put it into words before. I knew exactly what it was, but had no idea how to say it. Knowing that I’d be blogging about it this time around, though, I felt like I had to work it out. And on this drive, I finally got it. I stopped at Nkhulu Picnic Site to get my Kruger Park Passport stamped, and then got back into my car. Nkhulu Picnic Site and its view:

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8km later, I turned right onto the H12. Immediately after turning right, you cross the Sabie River via a very large bridge. My plan was to drive onto the bridge and admire the view, then drive over to the other side and make a U-turn, and come back to the H4-1 again to continue down to Skukuza. There are joints in the road as you cross the bridge which obviously allow for expansion and contraction and the odd bit of movement in the bridge so that the tar doesn’t crack when this happens. This is not uncommon – bridges all over the world are built like this. With my windows down, I began to cross the bridge. Looking out at the magnificent view before me, and listening to the sound that my car’s tyres made as they rolled slowly over the joints in the bridge, it struck me. I suddenly knew how to write down exactly what was so special about the Kruger Park. Man, I was excited! I wanted to stop right there on the bridge, get my laptop out, and start writing. But I knew two things: 1. – I was only looking for a way to waste time and delay my inevitable departure from the Park; and 2. – There was no way I was going to forget the words that were now etched into my mind. I finally had it, and I knew that when I eventually sat down behind my computer more than 3 weeks later (who knew it would take so long?) to write about Day 5 of my Kruger Adventure 2013, I’d be able to recall the experience and the words that came with it as though it had just happened. And I’m going to save those words until the end. They’re probably the only suitable way to finish this. Somehow, “The End” just isn’t quite going to cut it.

After my profound experience, I did cross the bridge and make a U-turn as planned. Coming back over the bridge, I listened to the sound of the tyres bumping over the expansion joints once again. I looked out at the mighty Sabie River that brings life to the Kruger Park like a giant artery, and I knew I was right.

I turned back onto the H4-1 and carried on towards Skukuza where I was going to stop for lunch. I tried to look at everything that I drove past. Knowing my trip was almost over, I just wanted to absorb as much as I could. I wanted to fill my heart and my mind with the Kruger Park, hoping it would be just enough to last until next time. I stopped for almost every bit of wildlife I saw. I took detours to delay me as much as possible. I saw tree-stumps and rocks and stopped anyway, just to make sure they weren’t some kind of creature. Despite my best efforts, I soon drove into Skukuza. The drive had taken a couple of hours, but it was all over too quickly.

Arriving at Skukuza, I decided I’d first take a drive to the campsites, as I’d stayed here on my first solo trip to the Kruger Park in 2011, and had really enjoyed it. I saw the spot I’d camped at and briefly considered checking the SANParks website to see if there wasn’t just one night available. Surely I could stay just one more night? But rationality got the better of me, and I knew I couldn’t. I have a life outside of the Park that I had to get back to.

From here, I drove on to the restaurant/shop area. I arrived at the same time as a large group of young school children on a bus. It brought back fond memories of when I’d visited the park as an 11 year old boy on a school tour. We’d stayed at Maroela Camp in a couple of big army tents. That was 14 years ago. Was that where my passion for the Park came from? No way. It was something that my parents had been nurturing and cultivating without knowing it since I was a baby. I loved watching the kids posing for photos at the statue of two Kudus attached by the horns, locked into their disagreement. The children were so happy. Did they have any idea of the extent of the greatness, vastness, heritage and legacy that they were surrounded by? Probably not at all. But that didn’t matter. They were being educated. Their teachers were creating an awareness about the Kruger Park. And who knows what that might turn into for the children one day?

I had to pass the big group of school children on my way to the cafeteria for lunch, and on my way, I was greeted by plenty of high-5’s, waving hands and shouts of “hello”! I first sat on a bench by the Sabie River for a while, and then went and ordered a toasted sandwich for lunch. I wanted this to carry on forever. But time was ticking by, and there was no sense in driving back to Gauteng in the dark. Once I’d finished lunch, I went and got my Kruger Park Passport stamped at the shop, and then said goodbye to Skukuza – the headquarters of the Kruger National Park.

Skukuza is only 12kms away from Paul Kruger Gate. No matter how slowly I drove, this was all going to be over too soon. Fortunately I still had two stops left on my agenda. First was the Lake Panic bird hide, and second was a spot very near to Paul Kruger Gate. On my Kruger Adventure in 2012, I’d spotted a beautiful female Leopard on the S3, about 1km off of the H11, lying in a dry river bed. I was also on my way out last year, having driven up to Paul Kruger Gate from Pretoriuskop, when I spotted her. I was the only person there, she wasn’t more than 20m away from me, and I sat and watched her for about half an hour, uninterrupted. I knew that there was practically no chance of that happening again, but I was going to have a shot at it anyway. I had nothing to lose, other than a few minutes, and time spent in the Kruger Park is certainly not lost anyway.

On my way down the H11, I noticed how some of the flood damage from earlier this year is still very obvious in the Park.

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Before long, I reached Lake Panic bird hide. You can get out of your car here, and I absolutely love the little walkway down to the hide. The fact that you can never really see too far ahead of you because of how the walkway winds down to the hide, coupled with the name “Lake Panic” is always a bit of a thrill!

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After spending a little bit of time looking at Crocs and Hippos, I walked back to my car. The drive back along the sand road to the H11 was interrupted by some Elephants in the road, but it was a traffic jam that I was happy to sit in! Another lady watching the Elephants had stood up through the sunroof of her car, which is not allowed, because you could find yourself in an extremely dangerous and compromising position – especially with Elephants around. But after a short while, a guide in a game-viewing vehicle drove up and told her to get back in her car.

Back on the H11, I knew my trip was close to being concluded. I just had one more spot to visit. I drove down the H11, and as Paul Kruger Gate came into view, I turned left onto the S3 and soon reached the spot where I’d seen the Leopard the year before. Obviously, she wasn’t there. I looked up and down the dry river bed and in all of the surrounding trees. No sign of her. It didn’t matter. I could picture her lying there in the sand as if it had happened a couple of hours before. Everything was the same. I was driving the same car, looking through the same binoculars. The surrounding bushveld seemed unchanged and I had the same Leatherman strapped to my belt. All that had changed was my heart. Last year, I thought there was no way that I could possibly fall more in love with the Kruger Park. My heart had loved the Kruger Park to its fullest capacity. But this year, my heart no longer just loved the Park to that extent. This year, my heart belonged in the Park.

I made a U-turn, and crawled back to Paul Kruger Gate. I would have been out-run by a tortoise. But all too soon, I was through the Gate and outside of the Park. I took one look back at the Gate.

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I then looked off to the left at the statue of Paul Kruger – once President of this stunning land. 

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Why had Paul Kruger, from 1889, fought tooth and nail for years to have this land set aside as a sanctuary for wild animals? What had he stumbled upon that was so special? Back then, most of South Africa was undeveloped, and all of it was very beautiful. It still is. Why was Paul Kruger so interested in this bit of the Lowveld? Had he experienced, more than 100 years before me, what I was experiencing in June 2013? I think so. So what is it?

I come back to that question again. All creation is beautiful. Some of it is utterly spectacular. I’ve been in the unbelievable Okavango Delta. I’ve stood on top of Table Mountain. I’ve gazed upon the wonder that is the Knysna Heads and hiked through the Knysna Forest. I’ve flown at low altitude in a small aeroplane over the Waterberg Mountains – another popular game reserve area in South Africa. I’ve climbed to the top of Mont-Aux-Sources, and seen the bottom of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. All of these are breathtaking. All of them stunning. They’re unique and special in their own ways. But what they all have in common is that none of them are the Kruger National Park.

Writing the name “Kruger National Park” made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It gave me a bit of a lump in my throat. Why on earth is the Kruger National Park so special? The simple answer: It just is.

Driving over the H12 Bridge that crosses the Sabie River, listening to my car’s tyres bumping over the expansion joints, I realised that in the Kruger Park, it just sounds different. It’s not like doing it anywhere else. The air in the Kruger Park smells different. The bush looks different. That potato smell that sometimes wafts through the air in the Kruger Park? It just smells better in the Kruger Park. The 147 mammal, 507 bird, 114 reptile, 34 amphibian, 49 fish and 336 tree species that call the Kruger Park home do occur elsewhere in the world. But it’s together that they make the Kruger Park so special. It’s the old saying of the “Whole being greater than the sum of its parts”.

No one will ever be able to say exactly what makes the Kruger Park so special, because it’s not one thing. It’s millions of little things working together in perfect harmony to create the incomparable Kruger. The unique combination of wildlife, nature, sights, sounds and smells that you find in the Kruger Park is just right. If you’ve  been there before, something inside of you has just resonated with what I’ve written. If not, I dare you to go there, and come back unchanged. It just won’t happen.

I love the ocean. Not much beats sitting on a white beach staring out at the sea. But whenever I’m at the ocean, I get the sense that if I lived there, it would lose its appeal to a degree. It would become normal. This doesn’t happen to me in the Kruger Park. The more time I spend in the Kruger, the greater my desire is to stay there – to spend more time there.

When you leave Skukuza you come to a cross road. There are no-entry signs to the left and right, accompanied by signs that say “Finance”, “Human Resources”, “Marketing”, etc. Every time I pass these signs, I think about sending my CV to SANParks. These are all things I’m qualified to do. Will I send them my CV? I don’t know. I’m not really sure how my passion for the Kruger Park is going to manifest itself. But what I do know is that my desire to be there is growing all of the time. This is probably most evident in the fact that I’ve just written more than 3000 words about one day in the Park, especially considering that I don’t particularly enjoy writing nor have much spare time on my hands.

All I know is that, as my dad says, the Kruger Park is the greatest game reserve in the world. It just is. I love the bush, and have spent a lot of time in many different game reserves, and nothing has even come close to comparing to the Kruger National Park. For now, I’m going to carry on doing what I do. I’ll keep up this blog, and will continue to raise awareness for the Kruger Park through @ExploreKNP on twitter. Although I’m a completely rational person, given the opportunity, I’ll follow my heart when it comes to the Kruger Park – not my mind.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Kruger Adventure 2013 as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It’s been so good to recall all of my experiences and share them with a few people. Keep an eye on this blog, follow me on twitter, or drop me an email on exploreknp@gmail.com. Please also feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about why you love the Kruger so much.

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Day 4 of My Kruger National Park Adventure 2013

DAY 4:

I was up just before sunrise on the morning of Day 4. It was still bitterly cold, but day 4 ended up being the warmest day of my entire trip. The first order of business was to go and fetch some boiling water from one of the communal kitchen facilities to put into my Aeropress. All good days start with an espresso-based beverage of sorts. In the Kruger Park, the most practical way for me to do this is with an Americano – brewed either in my Aeropress or Moka Pot. My Aeropress-Americano and baked oats went down well, and as soon as I was done with breakfast, I put my camping chair & table into my tent. By now the sun was up and was already hinting at the kind of warm temperatures it would be producing, so for the first time since I’d arrived, I put on shorts and a T-shirt.

Today’s mission: To drive slightly North of Tshokwane Picnic Spot via the H10, stopping at Nkumbe lookout point on the way. Not only is Nkumbe an incredibly beautiful spot, but it also holds a special place in my heart for other reasons. I’ve got fond family memories from Nkumbe, and every year I make sure that wherever I stay in the Park, I’m able to reach Nkumbe at least once. One of my friendly campsite neighbours told me that I shouldn’t drive up the H10 because most of the veld (grass) was burnt along the way, but this wasn’t going to deter me. I was also looking forward to stopping at the stunning Orpen Dam, and then I decided that on my way back I’d come down the S29 because I was keen to check out Mlondozi Picnic Site, and I’d enjoyed this road the evening before when I was out on the night drive.

I packed a bottle of water, a can of Coke, the last of my biltong and a bit of dried fruit. I wasn’t really sure how long the drive would take me. I didn’t even bother to try and work out the mileage that I’d be travelling. I knew that any supplies I might need could be purchased at Tshokwane. I actually thought I might have lunch at Tshokwane, but in the end, even though I drive slowly in the Park and I spent quite a bit of time at Nkumbe, I reached Tshokwane long before lunch time.

I set out from Lower Sabie, and drove as slowly as possible along the short stretch of the H4-1 that takes you to the turn-off that crosses the Sabie River onto the H10. This short stretch of road was where we had spotted a rogue lioness twice the night before. I scanned the bush with my eyes, my ears focused on all of the sounds around me. The grass was dense in this area, and I saw very little. Relying on my ears, I stopped a few times after hearing the grass moving. More often than not, my ears were right, but all I spotted was Warthogs and Impala. I whispered to these creatures that I was about to spot a lioness, and that they should watch out, but unfortunately my positivity didn’t do the trick and I reached the H10 turnoff without finding what I’d been looking for.

I read somewhere that if you were to drive on every single road in the Kruger National Park, looking as far as your eyes could see in every direction from your car, you would’ve only seen about 20% of the Park at the end of your journey. I can’t even begin to imagine what else must be out there. Having used all of my senses along the short stretch of the H4-1, driving at a snail’s pace with the windows down, scanning the bush as closely as I could, I still only managed to spot some creatures because I vaguely heard them brushing through the grass. Stopping the car with the engine at idle, peering deep into the bush using binoculars, I was able to spot some wildlife. All I could think of was how much we probably miss out on driving through the park at the speed limit with the windows up and the aircon on. I was imagining how the elusive Leopard probably lies in its tree a few hundred meters from the road laughing at all of us as we go by, completely oblivious to it. Right at the top of my Bucket List is to travel along every single meter of the more than 1800km of public roads in the Kruger Park, staying at every rest camp along the way, experiencing as much of the Park as possible. I’m hoping to work out a way of getting onto some of the private roads too! Back to Day 4, though.

As my neighbour had said to me earlier, much of the land between Lower Sabie and Tshokwane is burnt to a crisp, and because of the lack of grass for grazing, there’s not too much wildlife around. I did eventually come across a large herd of Zebra at a water hole and I spent a good while watching them.

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 The more time I spend in the Park, the more I realise that all creation is magnificent in its own way. We take the Impala for granted – there are more than 125 000 of them in the Park, after all. But have you ever taken 5 minutes to just sit and watch an Impala? They are the most stunning creatures!

Although there was not too much game about, the drive was still beautiful. For the most part, the road is quite flat, until a few kilometers before Nkumbe, where you start to climb. I always look forward to this part of the drive because I know what’s coming! Before long, I’d made my way up to Nkumbe. The view from up there is breathtaking, to say the least:

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 You’re allowed to get out of your vehicle and walk down a short path to the actual lookout point where there is a little thatch roof and a couple of steps to sit on, set right on the edge of a mountain, high above the Knob Thorn/Maroela Veld and Delagoa Thorn Thicket that you gaze out upon. It was built in memory of Molly Thornley, and although I don’t know who she was, I can understand why her family decided upon this spot. It’s absolutely magnificent, and the little thatch hide blends perfectly into the rocks and bush that it’s set amongst.

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There was no one else at the Nkumbe lookout point when I got there, so I just sat back under the little thatch roof and took everything in. The Kruger Park extends as far as the eye can see. This is a great spot to help you appreciate the vastness of the Kruger. From up here you can literally see the curvature of the earth – much like if you’re looking out at the ocean from a vantage point high up. And everything you can see – to the west in front of you or to the South or North on your left and right-hand side, is Kruger National Park.

If you bear in mind that you’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the Kruger Park, you’ll begin to understand that you are just a small speck in the midst of something phenomenal. This is not just a game reserve. This is, as my dad says, the greatest National Park on the planet. Anyone who’s been to the Kruger Park will know that although it is big, but not the biggest; that although most of the creatures that inhabit it are not unique to it; and that even though there are many other National Parks in the world, the Kruger National Park trumps all of the others. There is nothing that compares to it.

After sitting at Nkumbe for a while, some other tourists started to arrive. I’d been thinking back to previous experiences here. Reminiscing. But this time was over for now. The whole idea behind a National Park is not only to conserve and protect everything within its borders, but also to allow the public to enjoy the park. I would much rather have the public feel what I’d been feeling, I’d much rather let them be amazed as I had been amazed, than have it all to myself. That’s the beauty of the Kruger National Park.

Once I’d left Nkumbe, I pulled over a short while later at another lookout point, but one where you can’t get out of your car. This one looks out to the East – towards the border of Mozambique, which is only a stone’s-throw away. On this side of the road, however, most of the grass was burnt.

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From here I wound my way down to Tshokwane Picnic Site. Tshokwane has been hit hard by flooding in the past, but it has been restored well and is now a lovely little oasis. I love getting out of the car at Tshokwane. There’s always quite a lot of noise, but in a good way – a bit of an atmosphere in a sense. You can hear people talking excitedly about what they’d seen so far in the day. You can hear birds chirping, and food being cooked on Skottels and braais. You can hear the sound of cars’ tyres rolling along the gravel and dirt, and on this visit, I was greeted by the sound of a lady screaming as a Vervet Monkey stole an apple right off of the table in front of her. This has become a bit of a problem, as the monkeys now know that humans are soft targets for a quick bite to eat. But if you keep your wits about you and don’t leave anything lying around, you’ll be fine. Apart from having a rusk stolen out of my hand by a monkey at Berg en Dal when I was a young boy, I’ve never had any trouble with monkeys.

I made my way across to a table right on the edge of the picnic site, next to the river. I immediately noticed that there was water in the river. It wasn’t really running – there were just a couple of pools. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen water at Tshokwane in winter, which is a very good sign. About 25 meters from me, a Bush Buck was grazing in the bushes. She was very tentative at first, but as I sat there in silence, she made her way closer and closer to me. Eventually she was not more than 5 meters away. She stayed here for a while, but was startled by 2 rangers who’d stopped at Tshokwane, and had come to where I was sitting so that they could cross the river. One of them was carrying a rifle, but there is a staff village across the river and so none of us thought anything of it. Until we heard a gunshot going off a few minutes later, that is. Now there was almost a sense of urgency around the picnic spot, everybody speculating about what could have happened on the other side of the river.

A few days earlier, 3 poachers had been arrested in the Tshokwane area. There is a large military/police/ranger presence in the park now because of poaching, and a lot of South Africans are very sensitive about the issue. As a result, I think most of the tourists at the picnic site immediately suspected poaching. I wasn’t so sure. I waited around for a while, but eventually I decided that the rangers weren’t coming back. As I got up, however, they resurfaced on the other side of the river. I waited where I was so I could find out what had happened. But when I asked them, they seemed almost surprised that so many of us were so interested! They said that the rifle they were carrying hadn’t been fired for a while, so they just had to go and test it. Drama averted! The picnic site relaxed again, and I got back into my car and headed along the H1-3 towards Satara.

It had now become quite hot, and my concentration was low after having already been on the road for a while. I decided that my mission in the direction of Satara was becoming fruitless, and so I turned around, back past Tshokwane again. I turned left onto the H10, back in the direction of Lower Sabie. I then took a left-turn a few minutes later and headed along the S35 to Orpen Dam. This is a beautiful place to stop. You can get out of your car and sit in a hide that looks over the dam. Once again, this is the most water I’ve ever seen in the Orpen Dam in winter, but it is good news.

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I didn’t stay for too long, and got back in my car. Along the way I made another quick stop at the Nkumbe lookout point, knowing it would be quite a while before I’d be back here again. The drive back towards Lower Sabie was beautiful. Note how all of the grass is burnt on the left.

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On the way down, I spotted the same herd of Zebra from earlier, but they’d been joined at their watering hole by some Blue Wildebeest, which is another one of my favourite species. I then turned off the H10, onto the S122. I knew I’d be driving through the burnt veld, but it was a great drive none-the-less, and without seeing another car along the way, I stopped at the Mlondozi Picnic Site. I’d never been here before, but when I got there, I had to queue for a parking space – and I understand why! Looking down onto the Mlondozi Dam, this has got to be the most beautiful picnic spot I’ve ever been to. Although it was busy, it has a feel of exclusivity about it. It really is in the middle of nowhere. But judging by its popularity, people have obviously heard about its beauty. I certainly recommend it!

I was banking on being able to buy a Kudu Boerewors roll or something like that, as these sort of things are available at the other picnic sites and rest camps in the braai (BBQ) areas. But Mlondozi didn’t offer anything like this. So I grabbed my coke out of the car and drank it while enjoying the view. There was a small herd of Elephants playing in the water, and a big Kudu bull on the other side of the dam, with a very impressive set of horns. I then decided to move on, and make my way back to Lower Sabie, driving along the S29.

After having been in the car most of the day, I relaxed in camp for a couple of hours. I took a walk to the restaurant area at Lower Sabie, which has a beautiful wooden deck. There’s also a set of steps that I think most people don’t know about, which lead you up to a bit of a lookout point above the restaurant deck. It would be easy to spend hours gazing out at the large expanse of Sabie River in front of you. From here I took a walk past the “Luxury Safari Tents” to see what they’re like. I haven’t checked their pricing, but I think they’d prove to be a fantastic alternative to the traditional huts. They’re all set on wooden platforms along the fence, and I’m sure the view is beautiful. Also, there’s no concrete, bricks or thatch to block out any of the sounds of the bush at night! I must say at this point, though, that because as a youngster, most of our trips to the Park were in a large family group, we generally stayed in one of the guest houses available in the rest camps just to cater for our numbers. But one year there was very little accommodation available, and all we managed to get was a couple of the original “rondavels” (which are small, round, thatch-roofed huts) at Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, and we all agreed that it was the best, most authentic Kruger Park experience we’d ever had.

Back to this year’s Kruger Adventure, though. After walking around camp for a while, I stopped at the shop and bought an ice cream. By the time I got back to my tent, I felt rested and ready to get back into my car. Being pretty close to the middle of winter, the camp gates are open for the least amount of time at this time of year – opening at 6:00am and closing at 17:30pm. I decided to stay in the general Lower Sabie area as I only had about an hour and a half before the camp gates would close. I turned out of Lower Sabie and headed for sunset dam. I watched the resident Crocs, Hippos and Buffalo for a while, and just as I decided to leave, a troop of Baboons decided to provide us with some entertainment:

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From here, I drove back towards Lower Sabie, and then further along the H4-2. I crossed the Sabie River on the H10, but turned around again at the S128, which is only a few hundred meters up the H10. Back at the H4-2, I turned left, driving further away from Lower Sabie. A few kilometres along the H4-2, the road bends to the right, away from the Sabie River. At this point I decided to turn around again. The sun was going down, and I had to bear in mind that camp gates were closing soon, and if I were to come across a good sighting, I’d need to be sure that I could get back to the camp in time. I was really hoping to see the lioness that I’d seen the previous night. I was sure she’d pop out of the bush, onto the road at any moment. As I turned around, though, I looked straight into the most stunning sunset. It literally was breathtaking. It reminded me that Lions might be a highlight to see, but we must never overlook anything else.

I’d been trying to ignore the thought that I’d be leaving this phenomenal place in the morning. I didn’t want it to be true. Every time I’m in the Kruger, when the time to leave draws near, I get this feeling inside of me. It’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like a desperate longing to stay. But I’m a rational person, and the real world outside of the borders of the Park is actually the very same thing that allows me to travel to the Park. It’s the benchmark of reality, and it’s the obvious thing to compare the Kruger to. Out on the H4-2, with the sun setting in front of me, I decided that although reality was beckoning, I was going to make the most of the little time I had left in the Park. I would be driving back through the camp gates no earlier than 17:29. I was at home out in the bush, and there was no need to cut my time out there any shorter than was necessary.

I drove back over the Sabie River, as water is the very thing that sustains all life, and the wildlife is more aware of that any of us are. Crossing the bridge, though, I’m not sure I would have even noticed a lion. This is the view that greeted me:

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It was absolutely stunning. The more time I was out there, the more in awe of creation I became. I could feel my appreciation for the world around me growing and being renewed and refreshed. I decided to make my way back across to Sunset Dam near to Lower Sabie. It’s close to the entrance gates and of course, in the interests of sustaining life, plenty of game is drawn to it. Unfortunately, so are plenty of tourists. Arriving at Sunset Dam was a bit like trying to find a parking space at a busy shopping mall on a Saturday morning on pay day! But once I’d found my spot, I switched off the engine, picked up my binoculars, and just appreciated what lay in front of me. I thought a photo of Sunset Dam at sunset would be fitting, I tweeted this picture, which is a collage of some of the views I’d come across just that evening:

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Views like this are not in short supply in this piece of Heaven that we call the Kruger National Park. You can literally be anywhere inside the park, looking in any direction you like, and you’ll see something beautiful. The time was 17:25, and myself, along with the other few cars that had stayed out this late, went back to camp in a bit of a convoy. I arrived back at Lower Sabie a couple of seconds before the gates closed with a full heart. I’d managed to ignore the thought of leaving the next day, and I felt on top of the world.

Back at camp, it was time to start the braai (BBQ). Most of the campers around me were outside doing the same thing. My friendly neighbour from over the road asked me about my day, and then told me about hers. There’s such a sense of community within the campsites. We’re all very different people from different cultures and walks of life, but we all have one thing in common: We’re all in love with the Kruger Park, and this is enough to connect us. Instant friends. Common questions from other campers include “What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “How long are you in the Park for?”, and “Which camps are you staying in?”. Once those formalities are out of the way, you’re friends.

I had bought some Sekelhout (which is a very solid kind of wood, good for making a braai with) back in Gauteng, but had forgotten to bring an axe with to hack it into smaller pieces so that it would burn more easily. This hadn’t been a problem as yet, and I’d used it with great success so far. This evening was no different as far as I was concerned. My fire was burning nicely. The wood was red-hot and burning down slowly. It would take a while, but I was used to that, and I was in no rush in any case. I sat by the fire with a Castle Light, and just enjoyed being out there. It was completely dark, but my shorts and T-shirt were still more than enough clothing on this warm winter’s evening.

Every now and then I bent forwards and blew on the burning logs a bit, just to give them a bit of encouragement and to make sure the flames stayed alive. Before long, my nearest neighbour walked over with one of those handheld devices that are used for blowing on a fire and said I was welcome to use it. Although it was completely unnecessary, I decided to humour his kind gesture, and made use of his “fire-blower”. I’ve got no idea what the device’s actual name is. In any case, my neighbour hung around for a while and we had a great chat. He’d been in the park for 19 days, but this evening was also his last. As he left, he told me to keep his fire-stoking-device, and just bring it back when I was done with my braai.

I sat back down in my camping chair, and not one minute later, my other neighbour arrived. He was the husband of the lady that I refer to as my “friendly neighbour from across the road”. He’d been very quiet so far, but I could tell he was an introverted man. He brought with him two handfuls of wood chips, which he placed strategically amongst my logs. From across the road, his wife said “Don’t worry, He’s got a Masters Degree in braai-making”. I wasn’t worried. The wood chips burst to life. Quite unnecessary, once again, but I appreciated the gesture. This neighbour chatted a bit, but he had a heavy Afrikaans accent, and although I’m fluent in Afrikaans, he would have none of it. He spoke to me in English. It was somewhat of a broken conversation, as he kept stopping to think of what word to use next, but I enjoyed this man’s company.

Without saying anything, he disappeared over the road, and then came back with his axe. He chopped up all of my remaining wood, and then proceeded to place most of it on my fire. He said “Now you’ll have a bonfire!”, and then went back over to his caravan. Indeed, I had a bonfire!

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Not necessarily what I’d wanted, but it was just really nice to connect with some fellow campers anyway. As a result of this massive fire, I only cooked quite late, and instead of going to the hassle of trying to prepare a nicely balanced meal, I decided I’d be having rump steak, with a side of, well, more rump steak. It was delicious though, and I sat and enjoyed it while my last bit of wood burned away.

After supper, I sat and enjoyed being in the Kruger Park. I appreciated being in my favourite place in the world. As is always the case, my mind began to calculate how much it would cost to just live in the Kruger – to have a permanent campsite here. We can always dream! I was surrounded by darkness. The smouldering ashes of my fire were no longer casting any light on my campsite. I heard a rustling noise at the base of a tree and shone my torch on it. It was what I’ve identified as an Angoni Vlei Rat. One of the 147 mammals of the Kruger Park.

My fire was now pretty much dead and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was getting tired. I headed off to the ablutions to shower, and then came back to camp. No need for a hot water bottle this evening. It was late and as much as I wanted to prolong the Kruger experience, as I said earlier, I’m a rational person and knew I needed a proper sleep before the long drive home the next day. I’d had one neighbour who’d been very quiet while I’d been in Lower Sabie, but that all changed this evening. As soon as I got into bed, he started to snore. So loudly, in fact, that it almost made my eyes rattle in their sockets. And he was a good 20m away from me. There would be no enjoying the sounds of the bush this evening. I tried to convince myself that it was not my neighbour snoring, but rather the rogue lioness roaring just outside the fence. I couldn’t convince myself. This didn’t really matter, though. I fell asleep so quickly. There was no denying that I’d had a long day, and that brought with it the end of Day 4.

Day 3 of My Kruger National Park Adventure 2013

DAY 3

I woke up with the sparrows, as they say, on Wednesday – my third day in the Kruger Park, eagerly anticipating what lay ahead. My first mission for the day was to pack up camp as quickly as possible, as I would be heading up to Lower Sabie. I’d packed up my gazebo, table and chair the evening before to help speed up the process and, thanks to plenty of practice, managed to get the rest of my campsite into the back of my car fairly quickly. After a quick stop at the ablutions to rid myself of the dust and ash that had covered my campsite, and now me, on the first evening due to firebreaks being burned around Berg en Dal, I was on the road. I’d filled up with petrol the previous evening, I had breakfast on-the-go ready to eat in the car, and I was keen for the drive up to Lower Sabie.

I had to choose between a few routes that would lead me to Lower Sabie. My first option was the S114/S25/S108/H5/H4-2 that followed the Crocodile River most of the way up. Option number 2 was to leave the Park via Malelane Gate, shoot up the N4 and re-enter the Kruger at Crocodile Bridge, following the H4-2 to Lower Sabie, and option 3 was to head all the way up the H3, and then cut across to Lower Sabie via the S112/S21/H4-1.

My heart was telling me to go with option A, but my mind was saying that the N4 outside of the park might be the quickest route to Lower Sabie because I’d be able to cruise at 120km/h along the highway, and this might be the best way to reserve a good campsite. After quite a bit of deliberation, and turning to the SANParks Forums for some advice, I decided that the S25 would be the best way to go. It’s a quiet, beautiful road that follows the river, and seeing as there are no campsites along the fence at Lower Sabie, and all of the sites are nicely demarcated, there was no rush. Here’s an idea of what driving along the S25 is like:

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Not 1km from Berg en Dal, I had 2 beautiful White Rhinos cross the road right in front of me. What a fantastic sighting!

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A short while up the road I decided to stop at the Berg en Dal day visitors/picnic area. This is certainly worth a visit if you’re staying at Berg en Dal, or even just passing through the area. It’s set amongst the rolling hills and after you get out of your car, each picnic spot is a short walk away, surrounded by nature, and offering a bit of privacy. You can even hire a Skottel Braai (gas BBQ), and cook some bacon & eggs for breakfast if you want. I think it’s certainly on my to-do list for my next trip through the Malelane Gate area.

To cut a long story short, the drive along the S25 is definitely the way to go. It’s a beautiful road, and although it runs along the Crocodile River for a large portion of the trip, I was absolutely oblivious to the fact that I was driving along the Kruger Park’s southern border. I found myself surrounded by beautiful scenery almost all of the time, and as promised by the SANParks “Forumites”, there was very little traffic along this road. In fact, I only got stuck in traffic once. Not the kind of traffic I’m used to in Gauteng, though, and I was more than happy to sit and wait for 10 minutes until this herd of Ellies moved out of the road.

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Once I got to the H4-2, it was smooth sailing all of the way to Lower Sabie. Arriving at Lower Sabie, I was greeted by the most polite staff at reception, and a couple of minutes later, I was driving around the campsites, looking for the perfect spot. There were only 4 campsites available, and although they were all pretty similar, two of them were right on the edge of the camping grounds, exposed to some of the other accommodation types. Another campsite was missing a braai, and so campsite number 23 was the obvious choice. For the most part, the ground at Lower Sabie was softer than at Berg en Dal, and camp was set up in no time at all!

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Spurred on by some low blood sugar, and the magnificent view from the deck at Lower Sabie’s restaurant, I decided to sit and watch the mighty Sabie River and order a toasted sandwich for lunch. Although it was a bit pricey for a sandwich, it was pretty good, and while I ate I watched a couple of Buffalo grazing near to me, and on the far bank, some hippo lazing in the sun, and a couple more Elephant too.

I haven’t been on a night drive in many years, and having only seen 3 of the Big 5 so far, I decided that I’d ‘up’ my chances of seeing a Lion, and maybe even the ever-elusive Leopard by booking myself onto Lower Sabie’s late night drive. I was told to meet in the parking lot with my indemnity form at 18:15 for the drive which leaves camp at 18:30 and returns about 3 hours later at around 21:30. The price was R262.60, and while I considered this to be fairly expensive, I was certainly very keen.

I spent the next hour or so relaxing at my tent, but after a short while, I could no longer ignore the call of the bush, and I was back in my car. I drove around the general Lower Sabie area, and came back into camp shortly before the gates closed at 17:30. I had a quick shower, dressed warmly, and grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to the parking lot to meet our guide for the night drive.

Our guide’s name was Dingaan. He was friendly and knew the bush well. Leaving Lower Sabie, we took an immediate right-turn and stopped at Sunset dam. Although it was already completely dark, we were armed with 3 spotlights. We sat at the dam for a few minutes watching the Hippos, Crocs and a fairly large Herd of Buffalo on the opposite bank. There was a European tourist on our drive, and it was so refreshing to see how she was fascinated by everything we spotted!

While sitting at sunset dam, we heard the unmistakable roar of a Lion coming from the opposite direction along the H4-2, and Dingaan had us heading in her direction straight away. Passing the gates of Lower Sabie, we saw a Spotted Hyena running along the fence hoping for some scraps from a braai. Guests are by no means allowed to feed the animals, but unfortunately this happens anyway, and it is common to see Hyenas scavenging along camp fences. I love seeing Hyena  – I think they’re fascinating creatures, and so this sighting was a highlight for me. It turned out to be just one of many highlights though! Not 5 minutes later, the diesel engine of the Toyota Hilux game-viewing vehicle we were on growled as Dingaan put his foot down. I looked ahead of us, and there, lying in the middle of the road was a gorgeous, big lioness. As we approached she stood up, checked us out, and walked off into the dense bush. We were only able to watch her for about 2 minutes before she was out of sight.

Moving along, we took a left-turn onto the H10 and crossed the Sabie River. Climbing up the slope, we came across a female Elephant and her calf crossing the road. The spotlights upset the Elephant quite a bit, and she wasn’t afraid of letting us know about it! One of the passengers was quite frightened by her, but Dingaan assured her that the Elephant’s behaviour was nothing more than a friendly warning.

We turned left onto the S128 and drove for about 10 minutes, not seeing much. We then turned around and on our way back to the tar road, we spotted 4 Porcupines. When we reached the tar road, we spotted a Side-Striped Jackal which is quite a rare sighting, and we all enjoyed sitting and watching it in the silence. Moving further up the H10, we spotted the first of four African Civets. This one was sitting in the short grass eating its dinner. We couldn’t see what dinner was, but we could all hear small bones being crunched! At this point, Dingaan told us to switch off our spotlights and just sit in darkness. There was only a tiny sliver of the moon shining in the darkness, surrounded by the most beautiful stars and the Milky Way. Sitting there in the darkness and silence was one of the nicest experiences – I feel like I could have sat there all evening!

We then moved along the H10, until we reached the S29 which loops all the way back down to where we spotted the Side-Striped Jackal near to the Sabie River. Although we didn’t see much along this road, we did have a couple of interesting sightings. First, a giant Martial Eagle, perched up high in the branches of a dead tree. Then we spotted a Hippo miles away from any water, and our guide, Dingaan, told us that male Hippos have to patrol their territories at night, and will cover up to 30km on foot, while the females stay closer to water. During one night, a hippo can consume up to 100kg of grass. Hippos also mainly laze-about in the water during the day, and graze at night because they have very soft, sensitive skin which needs to be kept out of the harsh African sun. Dingaan was full of interesting facts! A little while later, running down the middle of the road, we came across a Honey Badger. The Honey Badger, or Ratel, is known as one of the most formidable and fearless fighters. Its skin is tough enough to withstand bee-stings, its front feet are armed with powerful, knife-like claws and its jaws and teeth are extremely robust. I was certainly very happy with this sighting!

It was now getting late, and the closer we got to the Sabie River, the colder it got. I was grateful for the blankets provided! The other guests on the drive had stopped chatting, and even Dingaan had grown quiet. Apart from a couple of Buffalo and a brief Hyena sighting, we weren’t seeing too much anymore. We were nearly back at camp, when the gentle purr of the diesel Hilux was interrupted by an older guest yelling “LION!”. We backed-up a bit and lying just next to the road in the grass was the beautiful Lioness we’d seen earlier. Lions are absolute killing machines, covered in muscle, and deserving of the title “King of the jungle”. But it was wonderful to see this lady at peace – relaxed and alone on the side of the road. Dingaan told us that Lions sometimes have family feuds, not unlike humans. When this happens, the offended, or even offending Lion will leave the pride and take a couple of days off on its own, to calm down. Once it’s gotten over its grievance, it will meet up with the pride again. Being alone makes it harder for the Lion to catch its prey, as they usually hunt in groups. The advantage, however, is that whatever the solitary Lioness catches, she can keep all to herself, whereas under normal circumstances, she’d have to share her kill with the Pride which, in the Kruger Park, averages between 11 and 12 members.

Eventually the Lioness grew tired of us and wandered off into the bush. Dingaan said it was unusual for a Lioness to be so shy, but it confirmed that she was most likely spending some time away from the pride. We drove back to camp, which was only 5 minutes away. We’d had an extremely successful drive, having spotted amongst other things, Buffalo, Crocodiles, Hippos, the same Lioness twice, Hyena, Porcupines, a Side-Striped Jackal, Elephant, African Civets, a Honey Badger, a Martial Eagle, Giraffe and a Spotted Eagle-Owl.

Arriving back at Lower Sabie at about 21:40, I made my way back to my tent. It was cold and I was feeling exhausted after my long day. But I was by no means ready to go to sleep. I didn’t want to let go of the moment. I tweeted “#LowerSabie night drive was amazing. Tired & freezing, but most of all feeling very content. #KNP is the most wonderful place on earth!”. I had finally put my finger on exactly what it is that’s so special about the Kruger National Park. I just didn’t have the words to describe it. Even now, I’m not 100% sure about how I’m going to write it down in my account of Day 5.

But sitting outside my tent under the stars, I was happy. I can’t say exactly why, but I actually felt a bit emotional – and I’m not an emotional guy. I was overwhelmed by this magnificent creation. I allowed the thought of having to go back to Gauteng in two days’ time to creep into the back of my mind. It genuinely dampened my mood. Why? Because driving back to Gauteng, I wouldn’t be going home. Sitting out here under the Kruger Park night sky, listening to the roaring Sabie River in the distance, I was at home.

Eventually the many hours spent on the road during the day, the hammering-in of 18 pegs earlier in the afternoon that hold my campsite together, and the ice cold air got the better of me, and I dragged myself off to bed. Something about Day 3 had brought me to love the Kruger Park even more than before. My alarm was set for early the next morning. There was no way that I’d be sleeping for any more time than was necessary. I wasn’t going miss out on a single minute more than I had to. I was home, and I was going to make the most of it!

And that was Day 3.

Day 2 of My Kruger National Park Adventure 2013

DAY 2

On Tuesday morning, I woke up early from what felt like the best sleep I have ever had! I checked my cellphone, and it showed that its battery had reached 0 degrees Celsius during the night. But I hadn’t been cold at all. After breakfast I got into my car and took a drive along the H3 to Afsaal Picnic Site. Along the way I spotted a herd of Elephants (I’m fairly sure it was the same herd that I’d seen at Matjulu the day before), and amongst a lot of other wildlife, 2 more beautiful White Rhinos! I was quite impressed with Afsaal picnic site. It was quite busy, but I found a table alongside the stream that runs past Afsaal, and enjoyed something to drink in the shade. I have to say that one of my biggest hobbies is coffee – I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur. I don’t usually buy coffee in the Kruger – I prefer to use my trusty Aeropress or Moka pot, but the barista at Afsaal was genuinely quite impressive! So if you’re travelling that route, and find yourself in need of a ‘cuppa’, the barista at Afsaal is your man!

I got to Afsaal much quicker than I was expecting. I somehow remembered it being further up the H3. So I decided to take a big detour home. Heading back down the H3, I took an almost immediate left onto the H2-2, then right onto the S114, right again onto the S118, left onto the H3, and right onto the S120 which meets up with the gravel portion of the S110, and takes you back to Berg en Dal. All I can say is “Wow!” – what a beautiful road. Although I didn’t see too much on the H2-2, the S114 provided me with 2 interesting sightings: a herd of Elephant spraying each other with mud and water, and a 2m long Boomslang (Tree Snake) – something that I really enjoying seeing from the comfort of inside my car! 😉

On the S118 I had my best Rhino sighting yet – a huge male all on his own. I switched off my car and just sat and watched him. Eventually he became so relaxed that he lay down in the sun. The S120 was probably the most exciting part of the drive, although my little Ford was somewhat out of its depth! But we made it all the way up to the top without any hassles, and man, was the view worth the drive! I’m actually not sure why I didn’t take any photos, but I guess I must have just been too busy enjoying it all. From there I made my way back to camp in time for lunch.

I had an interesting thing happen to me that afternoon. The campsite was very quiet mid-afternoon. I guess most people were out in the Park, and I think all of the others were asleep. I was sitting in front of my tent under my gazebo, reading my big “Kruger Portrait of a National Park” book. I heard footsteps approaching from behind me to the right, but I assumed someone was coming to clear the ashes out of my braai (BBQ). I put down my book with the intention of politely greeting whoever was about to come around the side of my tent, but to my surprise, it was a big, male Baboon! All guests are given a warning about the presence of Baboons and Monkeys inside the camp, as these creatures are opportunists, and will grab any food that might be lying around. What I do know about Baboons is that if they feel threatened, they can be incredibly dangerous. But right here, I was the one who had been cornered, and didn’t have an obvious way out. So I decided to stay dead still until I could work out what would be the best move to make. But sitting in my spot in the shade, the cheeky Baboon didn’t even notice me. Instead he walked up to a black crate that I keep my wood and campfire kettle in. He picked up the kettle with his left hand, and started looking through the wood to see if there was anything there for him. With his hands full, I decided that my opportunity had come. I jumped up, clapped my hands and shouted “Hey, Hey! Get out of here!”. Did the Baboon get a fright? No. Was he at least a little bit surprised to see me? Certainly not. Instead, he just stared at me for a moment. I looked straight back at him. I was trying to decide if I should bail into my tent, or try to make it to my locked car. But looking at him, I could see that his brain was working. I think he was weighing up similar decisions to the ones going through my mind. Fortunately, he decided that whatever I had to offer was not worth his time, and he shot off in the opposite direction. Was he put off his scavenging spree by me? Nope, not at all. He ran straight into a neighbouring caravan’s tent that had been left open, and after finding nothing to eat, he took a short jog down the road, up a tree, and over the fence! I couldn’t help but smile at him as he went. I guess for some creatures, things aren’t too different inside the Park as they would be outside. Begging, scavenging and stealing is sometimes just easier than doing it the natural way.

My plan all along had been to get back into my car at about 15:30 and take a drive through the surrounding areas and maybe spend some time sitting at the Matjulu dam just before sunset. But I was feeling so relaxed, and honestly couldn’t face the thought of putting my body back into the car that I’d driven many hundreds of kilometres in over the last couple of days. So I just spent the afternoon walking around the camp, and enjoying camp life.

I walked down to the reception area and visited the amphitheatre where I shattered my nose as a young teenager a little more than a decade ago. I’ll write about that some other time – I think it’s certainly entertaining enough to warrant its own post! I then walked along the camp fence that runs adjacent to the Matjulu spruit and saw a Water Buck as well as a couple of Crocodiles.

There’s something incredibly special about the Kruger Park. Although it is huge and has a rich heritage, it’s not the biggest or the oldest national park in the world. So it’s not that, then. From the moment I drove through Malelane Gate, until long after I left through Paul Kruger Gate, I pondered this. What is it that makes the Kruger Park so special? As my dad says, “It IS the best game reserve in the world”. But why? I’ll get onto that when I write about Day 4 or 5. I eventually managed to put my finger on it!

When I was done walking around camp, I went back to my campsite and got my fire started. Sirloin steak tonight. Sitting by the fire at night is one of my favourite things to do. I guess that’s natural for many South Africans. Once I’d finished cooking, I put a couple more Sekelhout logs on the fire, and just enjoyed being out there. Only a small sliver of the moon was showing, but the stars were out in full force. There is a rule that there may be absolutely no noise in camp after 21:30, and this time was fast approaching. Berg en Dal was going silent. Even my busy neighbours seemed to be lost in the bouncing shadows of their campfire. My last log was burning down, and with its ash would come the end of day 2 for me. As was the case every evening, I found myself doing everything I could to keep the smouldering coals alive just a little bit longer.

While sitting outside in the silence, I once again heard footsteps approaching. More cautiously than the baboon, but with more purpose. And this time they were coming from within the veld that bordered my campsite. I’ve heard stories of Leopard in Berg en Dal, and the other day on Twitter, @LatestKruger posted pictures of a couple of Hyena in Letaba camp. A simple Google search will reveal stories of these encounters – I’ve even read about a Lion who made his way into Berg en Dal through a small gap in the fence. There’s no sense in being scared, but you have to be aware at all times, and respectful of anything that comes your way. In the Kruger, you’re on their turf.

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The picture above was taken while sitting under my gazebo. This is the section of veld within the camp that bordered my campsite. I had my eyes focused on the grass, and my ears focused on the approaching footsteps. I spotted movement and shone my torch in the general direction of what I saw. And out of the darkness came a Serval. This wild cat was crouched down low, perhaps stalking a mouse or some other form of dinner. And it left as quickly as it had come. I didn’t even have time to call my neighbour, Chris, to have a look. But man, I was happy with this sighting! I don’t even remember the last time I saw a Serval, but if I’m not mistaken, it was the same holiday that I broke my nose – around 12 years ago, I think! Here is an example of what I saw. This picture is not my own, but is almost identical to what I experienced. Credit to afrizim.com, whose photo it is.

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By now there was no denying that my fire was dead. I headed off to the ablutions for a shower. When I was done, I filled my hot water bottle with boiling water which is instantly available at the communal kitchens, and got into bed. I fell asleep feeling excited for my early start the next morning. I’d be packing up camp with the sunrise, and taking the fairly long drive up to Lower Sabie. That was the end of Day 2.

Day 1 of My Kruger National Park Adventure 2013

For those of you who’ve missed it, I take an annual solo trip to the Kruger Park. To find out more about me, and why I do what I do, check out this post: https://exploreknp.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/welcome-to-exploreknp/

So here’s how it all happened this year.

Every year I try to stay somewhere different to the previous year. This time around, I was very keen to try out the campsites at Berg en Dal, as I’ve heard that they offer some of the best camping in the Kruger. I’ve also been longing for a stay at Lower Sabie because I haven’t stayed there since I was a boy – long before the camp looked anything like it does today. Getting a reservation at Berg en Dal was no problem, but Lower Sabie was fully booked! According to some of my neighboring campers, in order to get space at Lower Sabie, one has to book many months in advance. But I kept my eyes on the SANparks website (http://www.sanparks.co.za/), and 3 weeks before my Kruger Adventure was due to begin, there was a last-minute cancellation at Lower Sabie, and I snapped it up! So I had 2 nights in Berg en Dal, and 2 at Lower Sabie. I’d be in the Park from the 10th to the 14th of June. 4 nights. Not nearly enough time to spend in the Kruger, but I’m grateful for every opportunity I get.

I left home on the 9th of June and spent the evening with some family who live about 45 minutes from Malelane Gate. I had a great drive down, and apart from 3 Stop/Go’s on the Schoemanskloof Pass, the journey went by quickly. My aim was to get into the Kruger as early as possible, and to leave as late as I could in order to maximise my time there. I woke up early on the morning of the 10th, with much excitement! Today was the day I had been looking forward to for months. Today my Kruger Adventure would begin. I got back onto the N4, and headed for Malelane Gate, accompanied by views like this one:

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After a short drive along a beautiful highway, I crossed the Crocodile River and arrived at Malelane Gate. I knew what was waiting for me on the other side, and I couldn’t wait to get at it!

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DAY 1:

Berg en Dal lies just along the S110 – also known as the Matjulu loop. Just after entering through Malelane gate, you can either turn left onto the tarred section of the S110, or as I opted to do, carry on about 2km further up the H3, and turn left onto the gravel section of the Matjulu loop. This decision paid off for me, and about 10 minutues up the gravel road, I spotted my first White Rhino! What a blessing to see this creature in nature, especially with the recent explosion of Rhino Poaching in the Kruger Park.

I was in a bit of a rush to get into Berg en Dal and set up camp, hoping for a spot along the fence, so I didn’t see too much else on my way in. I must say at this point that I will write a post later on that goes into great detail with regards to camping at Berg en Dal, so as far as the actual camping experience goes, I will just outline it here.

Arriving at Berg en Dal, I headed straight for reception to check in. I had a bit of a delay there which you’ll read about in my post on “Camping at Berg en Dal”, but as soon as that had been sorted out, I headed straight for the campsites, keen to see exactly why people had told me that this was the best spot to camp at in the Kruger Park. The campsite is divided into 3 circles, and I went straight to circle number 3, which offers the most spots along the fence. Unfortunately, there was not a single space open along the fence, so I had to back-track. I found a really nice spot at circle number one, and as most campers seem to do, I parked my car to reserve this “preliminary” spot, and then set out on foot to see if I could do any better. After deciding that I had found the best spot available to me, I began setting up camp. My basic setup is a 3m X 3m Tent, a 3m X 3m Gazebo, a camping table and chair, a little camping fridge, a blow-up mattress, and a couple of sleeping bags for the cold winter evenings. The evening before I arrived in the Kruger Park, a cold front had swept through the Lowveld, and I was eternally grateful for having brought 2 sleeping bags and a hot water bottle with me! 

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After setting up camp, I relaxed for a while and just took in everything I could – the beautiful scenery and surrounding hills, the abundance of wildlife, and the pleasant atmosphere of the campsite. I headed down to the Parks Shop and got some fresh bread rolls for lunch, and after this I decided to take a short drive. I drove down to the Matjulu dam which is 4km from Berg en Dal, and arrived just in time to see a herd of Elephants arriving for their afternoon drink. Elephants usually drink 3 times a day, as they lose a huge amount of fluid in their dung and urine. I watched them for a while, and then drove down the gravel portion of the S110, back to the H3, and onto the S114. After a short drive along the Crocodile River, I turned around and headed back to camp via the tar section of the S110. On my way back, I went into Malelane Camp to see if it would be a good spot for my Kruger Adventures in future. I must say that I liked how small the camp was, but I don’t think I’d like to camp there in future, because the camp looks directly onto the town of Malelane outside of the Kruger Park, and I don’t think that that’s ideal. But if you’ve camped at Malelane before, please let me know about it – I’d love to hear a first-hand account.

Driving up the S110 to Berg en Dal, I spotted a huge cloud of smoke, and arriving at the camp, I found that fire breaks were being burned around the perimeter. Suddenly I was extremely grateful for not having a campsite next to the fence, and although the whole camp seemed to be full of smoke, it must have been pretty bad right next to the fence. When I got back to my tent, I found that I had new neighbours who had set up camp very close to my tent – almost too close! But they were very pleasant people, and apart from their cellphone ringing at 3:30am the next morning and waking me up, it was genuinely nice to have them around. I chatted to one of them – His name was Chris, and although he lived in Mpumalanga and was 44 years old, he’d never been into the Kruger before. When I left Berg en Dal, I asked how he’d enjoyed it so far, and he said he couldn’t wait to be back in the Park soon! But the Kruger does seem to have that effect on people. That evening, I braai’d venison burgers. After I had finished cooking, I put a couple more logs on the fire, and just sat and enjoyed being out in nature. This became my evening routine. Once my logs had burned down, I went for a shower, and got into bed – trying as hard as I could to lie awake for a while and just listen to the sounds of the bush. But in such a peaceful place, it didn’t take long for sleep to get the better of me. And with it came the end of day one.