(This article has also been featured in More Than Food)
For anyone living in the urban madness of Joburg, a getaway to the Kruger National Park (KNP) is not only rejuvenating but also exhilarating. Whether you go for a long weekend or an entire week, the experience of the bush (as South Africans fondly call the wildlife areas), is second to none.
Given that the KNP is just a few hours’ drive from Joburg – between 3 to 5 hours, depending on which part of the park you visit, it makes for an ideal three-day weekend getaway. So one such Friday, we decided to head off to Hazyview, about 400kms away. Having failed to secure any accommodation in camps inside KNP, we settled on the Kwambali Riverside Lodge instead.
Overlooking the Sabie River, Kwambali’s self-catering cottages are comfortable, well-equipped and located just 25 minutes from Kruger’s Phabeni gate, providing the perfect base for our self-drive adventure.
After arriving at the lodge late afternoon on Friday, the rest of the day was spent exploring the small town of Hazyview. The next day, we left for KNP at 5:30am, to be able to enter the park when the gates opened at 6:00am. Game viewing is best done in the early hours of the day, when it is still not hot enough for the animals to seek shade and disappear in the bushes.
A long line of cars awaited us as we approached Phabeni and for a split second we were worried. But come 6:00 am, the guards swiftly waved the cars through after inspecting them for banned substances and within no time we were inside. Despite having been to the park before, the excitement was palpable.
We sighted our first animals in less than 15 minutes of entering the park. The tall, elegant giraffes were a treat for sore eyes. Driving towards Skukuza, we spotted a Rhino, albeit very briefly. Kudus and springboks are aplenty in the park and every now and then we saw different herds grazing calmly.
The zebras provided us with a real photo op when a few of them decided to cross the road right in front of our car – was a true ‘zebra crossing’ moment! Of all the animals, elephants are my favourites. And KNP did not disappoint. Not only did we see several different herds, but we also saw two bull elephants up and close. These majestic animals are a force to reckon with.
We were very lucky to have spotted a leopard as these cats are known to be very shy and elusive. Since it was behind the bushes, although we could see it, our lenses could not capture it.
Driving ahead we stopped at the Skukuza rest camp for some much needed coffee and breakfast. It was only 10:00am, but the sun was already hot and scorching when we left the camp. This meant that most of the animals would most likely be sleeping under trees or bushes, making sightings difficult. But lady luck seemed to be on our side. We managed to see a massive herd of about 200 buffaloes, a hyena hiding on the side of the road, two wild dogs and a pride of lions, passed out in the shade. The lions, unfortunately, were on the other side of the river and hence only visible through binoculars.
Tired and happy, we drove back to the gate at around 4:00pm, ready for the next leg of our adventure – a sunset drive in the park! These drives need to be booked in advance with the KNP office as only they are allowed to drive in the park after dark. Sadly we seemed to have lucked out. After the splendid series of sightings in the day, we saw absolutely nothing in the evening except for a few giraffes. A little disappointed, we headed back with the firm view of coming back soon again!