Kruger National Park
South Africa Travel Blog› entry 4 of 8 › view all entries
I finally made it! After almost 2 years in SA I arrived at one of the most commonly visited destinations in the country. Since I'd already heard about everyone else's trips (usually with family or friends visiting from the US) I was pretty prepared when I got there myself a few weeks back.
I decided to fly from Durban to Nelspruit, which is the closest major town to the southern entrances of Kruger Park. But that ended up being an adventure in itself. What I was not prepared for was the pandemonium that accompanied traveling anywhere over this year's Easter Weekend. I called for a taxi to the airport extra early but it didn't come for over 40 minutes. While I was waiting I called other taxis and they said it was at least a 20 minute wait because of all the traffic in the city at that time. So I ended up missing my original flight and the next one I could book left at 6am the next morning!
In between the missing and re-booking of flights I also tried unsuccessfully to rent a car at the airport, thinking I would just drive to Nelspruit instead. Every single rental car company was completely out of cars. Has anyone ever heard of that happening? There are no less than 8 rental car companies with offices at Durban International Airport - including some of the big guys like Alamo, Avis and National. All out of cars.
So there I was stuck at the stupid airport. By this time it was 4pm and I had been there for over 3 hours and didn't feel like sticking around until 6 the next morning! A British girl on her way to a backpackers in Durban gave me a lift home in one of the last available rental cars in the city. The guy working at the Budget desk had taken pity on her - she had just come from Moz and supposedly was recovering from malaria - and called one of his "friends" at this back-alley rental car company. I got to go to the offices with her on the way home. It was literally in a back alley.
Bright and early the next morning I was on my plane to Nelspruit. It was only about 4 hours or so of actual travel time, but by the time I got there it felt like it had been DAYS. I quickly proceeded to Funky Monkey's backpackers, which is the PC SA gathering point in Nelspruit, and met up with a whole bunch of people.
After a day hanging out in Nelspruit we - Leanne, Jessica, Deborah, Nitto and I - all proceeded to Kruger. The Park is actually huge - it runs the length of two SA provinces on one side and then has Mozambique on the other. Along the SA side there are numerous entry and exits points or gates. We went in at one of the southern-most gates...I think it was Mtumbi Gate, around 2 or so in the afternoon. We drove around that general area of the Park and saw among other things; giraffe, impala, wildebeast, elephants, zebra, guinea fowl, a mongoose and a baby puff adder!
Leanne, Jess, Debs and I were all crammed into a little two-door Fiat, which made photographing the animals interesting. Luckily you can still see lots of stuff if you're only mainly able to stick to Kruger's paved roads - of which there are plenty. The animals don't seem to be very afraid of cars and can get pretty close. In Kruger Park, as in most game parks and reserves you're not allowed to get out of your car for any reason - unless you're inside one of the rest camps. The rule exists basically to stop people from getting eaten by lions and trampled by elephants.
We stayed overnight in a rondavel at one of the Park rest camps called Pretoriuskop. You've got to get to the rest camps by 6pm or you're in deep trouble with the park authorities. No one is allowed to be out in the park at night without special permission and a guide. The camp facilities include self-catering accommodation, single room rondavels like the one we had, space for tents, and indoor shower/toilet facilities. There was also a restaurant, general store and a gift shop.
The next morning we left the rest camp at 6am with the hopes of spotting some "cats" which we heard are most active in the mornings. Nitto works as guide on the safari tours organized by Funky Monkey Backpackers, and let us tag along behind their safari vehicles as they headed towards prime cat-viewing spots.
Organized safari guides work really hard to make sure people get their money's worth and see the big animals, often scouting-out areas of frequent or recent sightings and radioing others when they do find something. So when we got to a spot where there were lions (2 of them) and cheetahs (2 of them) there where also about 15 other cars and safari vehicles jockeying for the position with the clearest view.
The lions where maybe about 100 yards away from the cheetahs with a small herd of impala in between. Everyone was waiting semi-patiently to see if something was going to try to kill something else. Finally the cheetahs went after the impala and chased the whole herd into the road where the impala ran off without any casualties. Then the cheetahs just sat there and didn't try to go after them or anything, which seemed weird until we were told what was really going on...
Apparently lions are notorious for stealing meat from other animals after they've just gone to the trouble of chasing it down and killing it. The cheetahs we saw knew the nearby lions probably had a similar plan for any impala they managed to get, so they chased the herd off to another place where they planned to follow later and take care of business - I guess after somehow ditching the lions.
Next we drove through a huge troop of about 30 or more baboons. Having heard many a tale of baboons' abilities to open car doors and stitch their hands in through partially open windows, the Fiat was put on immediate lockdown. Then we were off to one of the innumerable watering holes scattered throughout Kruger which give one a decent chance of spotting animals. We were in luck because there was a pride of 9 lions lounging on the other side of the watering hole when we got there.
After that the trip was ruled a success and we headed back to Nelspruit.