Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WILD

After 30 years of living here - I realised a dream last month - I visited the Kruger Park. Because of Tony's work commitments and the car industry shutdown, midyear holidays were few and far between and December is really not the time to go so far north when the temperatures soar.  So even though we had been to most of the Eastern Cape reserves, the Kruger - like a leopard - eluded us. It has been my goal for a long time to see a leopard in the wild - I have only ever seen one and it doesn't really count as it was in a fenced area on a reserve and it looked so depressed that I didn't even take a photograph of it!

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V and I combined the trip with his birthday and a couple of days at Hippo Hollow in Hazyview and yes, the Hippos really did join us for dinner in the evening bobbing up and down in the Sabi River while we ate. As we were going into the Kruger we used the time at Hazyview to visit Gods Window and Pilgrims Rest. Gods Window was the most magnificent view point and although the drive to Pilgrims Rest was pretty the place itself was pretty awful and such a loss to tourism revenue. Such a historical mining site dating from 1837 when a gold strike drew many hundreds of hopefuls, could have been made far more interesting to visit. Instead its a street full of stalls - all selling sunglasses, caps and fake designer stuff and a couple of performing street kids and car guards - Why??

Back at Hazy View we enjoyed a lovely evening of African dancing, dining and drumming celebrating the birthday boy. The next morning after breakfast we headed off to the Kruger National Park to be told that we weren't booked in and there was no room at Skukuza for us! Long story...... I had booked the accommodation and paid for it months in advance and subsequently had to change the date - apparently this change wasn't actioned and our booking was cancelled!  We instead stayed at Kruger Gate Protea Hotel which is absolutely wonderful and I would go back any day! We dumped our stuff, grabbed our cameras and headed off into the park!

WOW - within thirty minutes we had come across lions feasting on a very recent kill - a buffalo and in fact we saw the carcass in various stages of being eaten over the next couple of days. Also on that drive we drove to Panic Lake and saw a pod of hippos lazing in and out of the water with crocodiles on the river bank, while a golden eagle soared above them - magic!
We were up early the following morning and in the park to see the sunrise - on this trip we saw wall to wall buck and zebra, giraffe, rhino, buffalo, elephant and some beautiful birds. Its good to go to the park in winter - although the temperature was in the mid 20s - because the vegetation is sparser which gives better game viewing. I noticed that the animals were alert and lively - V pointed out its because of the lions. If there are no predators in the game park then the animals get lazy as there is no threat. We drove past the lions again guarding their food and made for camp to eat ours!
We booked an evening drive that night with a group - you are not allowed in the Kruger on your own after curfew as that is when the animals hunt and there are strict times for you to be back in your camp so a supervised game drive is the only way to access the animals at night. We were with a group most of Swedish tourist who went ballistic before we got into the park because they saw an elephant at the gate. Hmmm! I thought what will they be like when they see the lions eating the buffalo?? 
When we got to the buffalo kill, the whole pride was there - perhaps 15 of them - and they were feasting
like I have never seen before. Noisily tearing the flesh off the bones and chomping with low growls of satisfaction - they ate with such energy and intent it was spellbinding. We drove on to see a pack of hyenas with their babies mewing like puppies, a cerval slinking in the long grass, more elephant and buffalo. It was almost like the park sprang into action at night.

We drove through again the next day on our way to Crocodile Bridge where we had booked for our last night in the National Park. Taking our time we drove off the tarred road at every opportunity and saw more lion on the banks of the river and many crocodiles - some huge! We saw a brightly coloured saddle billed stork - looking like an exotic prehistoric survivor and ground hornbills hopped everywhere. The buffalo carcass was now covered with vultures picking clean the bones - nothing wasted!
Our accommodation at Crocodile Bridge was a far cry from the luxurious Kruger Gate but it was clean and comfortable - a thatched rondaaval with an outside kitchen so I cooked bacon, eggs and beans by torchlight and we sat on the veranda to enjoy it - we were not alone. The torch light lit up two red eyes just metres away on the other side of the fence - a hyena - thank goodness for that fence!!


 The stars were magnificent - we turned off all the lights and in pitch dark whorls of them came into view - a falling star - another - it was as if the universe was putting on some illuminated show for us. We brought out a blanket to lie on and pillows for comfort and that was how we spent an hour just watching and enjoying the canopy of stars above us making us feel small and very insignificant in the grand scheme of things,

We packed  a flask and breakfast the next morning for our last drive though the park and ate it at a view point over the river watching the Kudu and waterbuck come down to drink while the crocs eyed them lazily. This part of the Kruger is well known for the lilac crested rollers and we spent the morning trying to get a good photo of one as they flitted through the bush.

Reluctantly we made out way to the gate to exit the Kruger and on cue a lone elephant came to see us off - his wise eyes listened knowingly as I silently swore that we would be back soon for our next visit.......and we will!
After all I am still hunting for that elusive leopard in the wild!

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