Day 1 and 2 Joburg to Kruger

29 Aug

NOTE: All photos and videos were taken by me on an Iphone 4 or an Ipad2 so no zoom used.

Day One : Joburg to Kruger National Park, South Africa ‘Big 5’ Country

I switch channels to avoid nature documentaries, haven’t spent a night under canvas in decades and was the only person in our travel group of 18 internationals who had no idea what the ‘Big 5’ were – the biggest animals in Africa? Of course I knew Africa offered close encounters with wildlife, but I had no real interest in animal encounters. I came to experience something completely different from my previous travels as the curtain raiser to a year of adventure.

So why did I choose a week-long overland camping trip of 2,150k from Johannesburg, South Africa to Livingstone, Zambia? Simple truth – it covered several highlights of the continent, had one of the seven wonders of the world (Victoria Falls) and was great value!

I found Gap Adventures through STA Travel agency at my university and the fact that Gap charged AUD809 for the whole trip, including meals, sealed the deal. If it bombed I hadn’t wasted a lot of time and money. Gap’s web booking and information system was excellent, geared as it is to 18 to 30 year-olds who expect everything online all the time. As it was I spent less than $2000 for the entire two-week Africa experience (plus air fare) and have had priceless experiences that will stay with me the rest of my life.

First overnight stop, Kruger National Park, is a well-managed wildlife conservation area 400k north-east of Jo’burg covering 2 million hectares. Our destination was Tzukuza Camp in the southern section but as we approached the park gate we learnt that we’d been switched to Satara Camp in the north. Camp gates close at 6pm (to keep the animals out) so we had to drive 100k at maximum speed and made it through the gates with three minutes to spare (thanks to the GPS). I had the privilege of riding up front with our South African driver, Barry, a veteran of 14 years overlanding and a great game spotter.

This is what we saw by the road on the way (in this order and up close with the members of the Big 5 marked by asterisk):

Impala, Kudu, *Cape Buffalo, Baboon, *Elephant, Wildebeast, Giraffe, *White Rhino, Klipspringer, Stenbuck, Hippopotamus, Banded Mongoose, Vervet Monkey, Hyena, Crocodile, Lilac-Breasted Roller (bird), *Lion

The only one of the Big 5 most popular hunting game (from back in the day) missing from the list was the Leopard. I was an instant game spotting convert!

Day Two: Full Day Game Drive in Kruger National Park

Jo’burg was frosty but Kruger was bloody cold. Taking down a tent at 6am in zero temp is hard core (for me). We retraced our route most of the way to rendezvous with the two game drive vehicles assigned to us for the day. My guide was the company founder, Kurt, ‘Curt’ as I mentally renamed him, since he amply demonstrated throughout the course of the day that whilst he has a strong affinity for animals he was hopeless with people, including paying guests. To avoid a defamation suit I’ll refrain from putting any more details in print. I was fine as Aussies give as good as they get, but some members of my group of nine came in for uncivil treatment.

On the plus side he was an oustanding guide and we had an awesome day, starting at Nkombe Lookout, where we scanned the vast panorama for game and watched a sedate procession of Burchill Zebra and Wildebeast amble from far right to left as they followed the water course.

The rest of our sightings included Buffalo, Elephant, Ray Loory (bird), Kudu, Giraffe, Bush Buck, Impala, White Rhino, Ostrich, Babboon, Hippo, Crocodile, Yellow Billed Hornbill, Lappet Faced Vulture, Warthog, Brown Snake Eagle, Lion, Hooded Vulture, Nyala, Hammerhead Bird, Green Headed Pigeon, Egyptian Goose, and Fish Eagle.

The other group spotted a Leopard resting under a tree but by the time we reached the location, try as we might – and believe me Kurt wanted to see it more than we did – we could not catch a glimpse of it. The fifth of the Big 5 eluded me once again.

Our camp that night was the Nkwathle (Water Monitor Lizard) Bush Camp, a labour of love by Dagmar and Dion located in Hazyview close to Kruger Park. They rent 42 hectares from a neighbour that includes a stream and lake and have built an amphitheatre, bar and rock pool decorated with art constructed from recycled materials to create a whimsical setting for their sumptuous African dinners and music and dance performances.

The traditional meal they served by the huge fireplace was the best of the trip, especially as a minority vegetarian in a country that worships the Brai (BBQ).

Heaven!

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