Kruger NP and Elephant Sanctuary, Hazyview

Hazyview Travel Blog

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Day 7 - Kruger NP and Elephant Sanctuary Visit

At this time of the year Kruger NP opens at 5:30 AM.  We decided our route to go in one gate and, after driving through, exit a different gate.  We also opted to try to stay on secondary roads as much as possible.  The thinking here was they would be less traveled by vehicles.

We got up early, again, or should I say early as usual.  This time the three younger ones of the group decided sleep was more important.  Maybe they were right though.  Anyway the drive to Paul Kruger Gate took about 30 minutes because we were rubbernecking most of the way.  It truly seemed like everywhere you looked there was something to see and record with the cameras.

Upon arrival at the gate we saw rows and rows of vehicles, mostly commercial game drive vehicles and very few personal ones.  Thinking we had a major wait we opted to shut the van off and sit quietly.  A gentleman came up, got some info, filled out a form and told us to go to the office and pay.  Again, looking for the major lines Alan and I walked over and stood in a line of two people.  The staff had us registered and give tickets, information pack and, very important, a trash bag.  We were in and out in about 5 minutes.

We had camera and binoculars hanging out of almost every open window in the van.  Additionally, the sliding door was set to slide back as needed for visibility.  Shinja look like she was loaded for big game.
Initially the brush was burned and sparse as well as dry.  Knowing there was an issue with arson a few months ago we hoped this was not representative of what we would see.  Within 5 minutes of driving we saw new growth was visible and some very large growth also.  Here were two large elephants (are there any other kind?) standing about 10 feet from the road having breakfast.  This was a Nikon moment (sorry Kodak, all Nikons on this trip) and we took advantage of it.  They didn't seem to mind or, for that matter, care we were there.  The vehicles started jockeying around so we pulled away leaving room for others.

Shortly there was more movement about 30 yards out.  With the trees it was difficult to see so out came the binoculars.   A head, a large head, a giraffe's head, two giraffe heads.  They weren't far just well camouflaged.  It was amazing how slowly and gracefully they moved and how their coloration blended into the trees and brush.
On we go and someone let a dog loose and it was lying alongside the road.  No not a dog, a spotted hyena.  Actually there were 5 of them.  One was right alongside the road and was not giving up that spot for anything.  We actually had to look almost straight down to shoot the picture.

Shortly we were stopped by a very large male baboon.  He literally sat in the road and we were expecting him to put his hand up.  Without exaggerating, over 100 baboons of all sizes and ages came walking, running and playing across the road.  It was almost impossible to take a photo of a single one as they were that close and that many.  There definitely was a hierarchy though as some "scolded" others when they were running ahead or being too aggressive.  Amazing.

We headed to Skukuza for breakfast and, of course the obligatory souvenir shopping.  While it was still very early, there were a lot of people there.  A good portion of them appeared to be using the camping facilities though.  Not many cars in the parking lots.  We walked to the restaurant and got a great omelet and took it out to the wooden deck.  What a great morning.  Sun was coming up, breakfast, coffee, good company and the beauty of Africa.  Directly below us was a small dik-dik having breakfast but ours looked much more appetizing.  In the mud and sand bar along the river we could see fresh prints heading into the tall grass.  In the background was the original railroad bridge from the old Selati railway line.  This was built around 1912 as I remember.
There was some activity along the walk so off we went again.  Here were spider monkeys playing in the trees and eating scraps of orange peel thrown by supposedly educated humans.  Even though people are warned not to feed the monkeys they still do.

Walking back to the car we did notice something rather strange.  In a large thatched hut we saw people sitting around the outside edge but no tables or chairs under it.  We all walked over to take a closer look and the ceiling of the hut was loaded with bats.  Hmm, bats on ceiling, Newton's Law, guano...  Gee, that's why nobody was under it.  Made for a nice photo but my wife, Yo, who absolutely loves bats (NOT) decided it was time to leave.
Back in the car heading south now we saw a marker on the GPS for a rather high point, Matekenyne, at 483 meters.  We drove up a well maintained dirt road and were rewarded with a 360 degree vista.  Below us, visible through binoculars and the 600mm telephoto were some white rhinos feeding also.  We did take some shots of all and each of us as a reminder this wasn't a dream but a wonderful reality.  As we were leaving we saw a sign defining Matekenyne as Sand Flea.  Makes sense to us.  It also indicated silence is the rule.  Now that DID make sense to us.

We headed back down and saw numerous animals including zebras and buffalo.  The good thing about this time of the year is we could see far into the bush and, with the height of the van, it was perfect.
We exited at the Numbai Gate and, after a short but successful  souvenir hunt, we headed back to Hazyview
We dropped Alan and Shinja and took the girls out.  As it was Amy's birthday on Monday we decided to go for lunch and head to the Elephant Sanctuary that had been recommended to us by numerous people.
We stopped and ate and while we were eating, the parking attendants washed the van.  At this point we had a very good camouflage as a dust and mud covered animal.  We watched thinking this was going to cost us a lot of money.  When we got done we went down and they didn't ask for anything.  They said it was dirty and needed cleaning.  We did give each a healthy tip though.

Next on the agenda was the sanctuary, .  It was well marked and only a few kilometers from Hazyview.  We drove into the lot not really sure what we were going to see.  Off the parking lot is a well manicured path and pond leading to the actual entrance.  Here we were greeted and everything, including costs, was explained.  There was tea, buns and juices, at no cost, available.  We even had company.  While I was snapping photos with a spectacular background some small trees snakes wanted into the photo.  I did mention that this was a birthday gift for Amy and the gentleman smiled and said no problem.
They run the operation very orderly and on a schedule.  There is a limit on the number of people per session.  We signed the guest book and were taken to an area where they thoroughly explained physiology, differences between African and Asian elephants dos and don'ts as well as what we would be doing.  I must say they were very knowledgeable and thorough and took the time to answer all questions.

We were then led to a shaded area with bench seats.  Down the hill came two handlers with two elephants.  The smaller one had a small box in his trunk.  The handler called Amy over and the elephant presented it to her.  It was a very nice key chain from the sanctuary.
From here they proceeded to call us up one at a time to have the elephant anatomy explained in a "hands-on" session.  Believe me, they feel way different than one would expect.  From the bottom of their feet to the top of their head, from the tail to the end of the trunk with a short stop at the mouth and tongue.  The actually liked having their tongue rubbed.  Lastly we were all treated to a kiss and a hickey from one of them.  The girls seemed to like it.

From here we went to another area and those of us who choose to ride were given instructions on how to mount and what to expect.  First we walked the elephant by holding their trunk and leading them.  I assume this was to get them to be comfortable with us and us with them.  From here we went for about a 15 minute ride through the brush.  It was way different from riding Asian elephants, as I had done in the past, though in their width and their stride. 

This is a must do also.  The staff, as I said, is very knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and willing to take the time to explain the plight of these elephants and the others in danger.  Kruger NP is a good example.  While the original plan was for approximately 7000 elephants they are now populated with approximately 13,000.  Their requirements for food are upsetting the ecological balance.  They eat massive amounts of grasses and trees.  To get to the trees they push them over thereby depriving birds of nesting sites.  It goes on and on.  I am not thrilled with culling the herds as they are living but they are sentient beings.  Sure, killing is quick and easy but there must be other areas in Africa in need of elephants, far enough away so they won't find their way home again.  Sorry about being on a soapbox but...

The end of the day draws close and the end of our stay in this area does also.  Time to head back and pack for the long drive to Jo'burg tomorrow morning.
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photo by: aggiephikt