Our Run In With The "Big 5"... & Much, Much More
It pains me a bit to begin this one... our last South Africa post. What a memorable time it was. This last post is all to do with our safari experience in Kruger National Park which is situated in the north eastern corner of the country right along the Mozambique border. But first here is a map chronicling our time spent in SA... a lot of miles were covered. God I miss travelling by car! (I'll update you later on our recent 4 day bus ride saga across the middle of South America)
After travelling nearly the whole way across the country in one day, we picked up our visas in Jo'burg and did a little souvenir shopping. The following day we headed off north-east again but this time to the little town of Hazyview (which is located just outside one of the parks main entrances) where we spent the night so we could enter the park the second it opened.
I better fill you in a little on how the park operates... a safari in Kruger Park is significantly different from our previous experience in the Serengeti for one main reason alone: YOU DRIVE YOURSELF IN YOUR OWN CAR AND YOUR THE GUIDE. How cool is that? So ya, we took our little rental car into the park for two days of wildlife watching. First off the roads are light years ahead of what they were in Tanzania and taking a compact car in is perfectly fine. Most of the main roads are paved and even the gravel ones are in fairly good shape. The park is really quite large (nothing compared to the Serengeti of course) and it seems even larger because all roads are enforced with a 40-50km/hr speed limit. To give you a basic idea of the park here's a map showing the main roads and camps...
One unfortunate thing about the park is that it is extremely popular (easy now to see why) and only so many people per day are allowed to enter. Due to our visa situation among other things we were unable to book accommodations far in advance and were left with only a few options. We really wanted to camp, but were only able to book one night in a bungalow. But get this... that only cost us $100 and our park fees for 2 days were only $30 each! Talk about a steal of a deal to see the most amazing animals on the planet. So looking at the map, Day 1 we entered from the Phabeni Gate, drove all the way down to Lower Sabie and then up to Satara where we had booked our bungalow. Day 2 we drove back down to Sukuza (Paul Kruger Gate) and then towards Numbi Gate before making our way out the way we came in. That's the play by play... on to the pictures.
Impalas first thing in the morning... (I've eaten them and they're delicious! Lions got a good thing going on lol)
Our first encounter with a member of the Big 5... and the biggest we had seen at this point ever!
One thing you have to remember is that we're in this little car at like 6:30 in the morning and not another living soul is around... just Stacey, me and these massive African Elephants!
Don't get me wrong I loved cruising around in a Landcruiser hanging out the top snapping pictures, but at Kruger you get SO CLOSE to the wildlife. That and you get that extra little danger factor that the only thing protecting you is your car... and a dinky little Korean car at that lol.
Our second member of the Big 5 only a short distance after...
The Water Buffalo. I love how their whole skull is a massive clump of horn...
Like I've explained before I'm terrible at the bird species... but we enjoy photographing them... I believe we took over a 1000 pictures in the 2 days we were inside the park... and trust me we could have took more lol. We probably spent over a hour just trying to select which ones we thought would be good for the blog... so many gems.
Here's one of an elephants butt... lol... damn thats a chappy ass...
We stopped for a quick break at Sukuza Camp mid-morning (the main camps have gas stations, stores, restaurants, ATMS etc) and saw a family of warthogs just roaming around the parking lot.
Man are they ever ugly bastards! And those tusks... I can see how they kill people. Here's a quick few shots of impalas again... damn they are sexy looking deer lol.
By this point it was almost noon... not bad... 2 out of 5 already... and then...
We pull up to a spot on the road where 2 other cars are parked and there right on the road is this young female lioness. Very curious about the cars too. Never in my life did I ever dream to get that close in the wild to a lion!
Amazing!! That's Kruger in a nutshell. One minute your just driving around wishing to see a lion and then BHAM there's a lion walking on the road beside you. Never a dull moment. Of course there were also baboons...
After about half a day of scanning the bush for action you start to develop pretty good ranger-like abilities and a keen eye lol. Believe what you want to but I spied this little guy as we were driving... a Banded Mongoose.
If your feeling adventures punch in "Mongoose Vs King Cobra" on YouTube and see what comes up. I still can't believe that those little weasels can kill huge snakes. Incredible.
This next guy is NOT a member of the Big 5... not sure why exactly or who came up with the Big 5... if a Water Buffalo can make the list then surely a Hippo should be on it lol...
Here's a picture of an eagle... not a bald eagle but very similar...
Number 4 of the Big 5... the leopard!
That was the best shot we could get of him/her due to the tree cover. They aren't usually very active during the heat of the day so we figured we shouldn't waste too much time trying to get a photo of something that won't happen. Besides we were already extremely blessed to spot one in Tanzania and got some great photos. To be honest with you the only animals that were must sees on our list were the ones we hadn't already seen... let's call it Blair & Stacey's Big 3 - Rhino, Cheetah, and Hyena. All unfortunately extremely rare and difficult to spot... but we held out hope and continued on to a popuar watering hole.
That was all in one small area! We just parked the car and enjoyed. Some people sat and had lunch. Nature puts on a pretty amazing show at times. Just to give you a better idea of what I'm talking about look at this next picture and see how many different species you can count.
Did you notice the Croc swimming in the water? There were several on the banks too and the other animals really didn't shy away from them too much. Who would have thought?
You can visit Kruger Park year round but like anywhere in the world it has its seasons. We showed up during the dry season which is an excellent time to spot game because water is relatively scarce and the vegetation not as thick. Therefore if you travel towards areas with a constant source of water you have an exceptional chance of spotting almost anything.
Shortly after leaving the watering hole we spied some Hornbills (can't remember their name off hand). But they're massive and they can't fly so they just walk along the roadside minding their own business. We both kind of found it creepy how human their eyes look, eyelashes and all. Almost as if it's a person trapped inside a birds body lol.
After making our way down to Lower Sabie we turned around and went north towards our camp. Not long afterwards we spotted this beast up ahead on the road.
By far the biggest we have ever seen and still holds the record to date! Look at all that ivory!
Here is one of our top pics of the trip...
He was raising his ears at us because we were too close lol. Not gonna lie... got a bit scared at that point... dinky Korean car and all lol.
Brief stop at a look-out point to stretch the legs.
Here's one you don't see everyday... a Kudu... which also taste delicious lol.
Look at that rack! Every Canadian hunters wet dream lol.
Just another everyday sight at Kruger...
That picture really does a good job of summing up the beauty of the place. I mean you don't even have to be paying attention our looking around. The wildlife is just so abundant that they literally come right to you. Truly an amazing spectacle to behold.
Here's a view of our neighbourhood of bungalows. It's literally like the lake in Canada... people book cabins for weeks at a time, set up there little area and go game watching everyday. Talk about a great vacation.
That night we had ourselves a braai like the rest of our neighbours... but we saved our scraps. Okay, now this next bit is slightly controversial because I know we broke the rules and were being completely selfish and unfair... but they were on our list and after a few beers we both just couldn't resist. BACKGROUND: so the previous night in Hazyview we met a couple that worked as rangers at an adjoining game reserve next to Kruger. We told them about what we had seen and hadn't seen before and they gave us tips on where to go and what to expect. As you know Hyenas are on our Big 3 list and we explained this to the couple. What they in turn explained to us was that it is nearly impossible to spot a Hyena in Kruger Park. This is simply because Hyenas are nocturnal and by 6pm you have to be back in your camp which is surrounded by a massive fence and only unlocked at 6am the following morning (huge fines if your caught outside of these times). BUT what they also explained to us was that if we kept our dinner scraps, threw them over the fence and waited... we could expect some impressive results. This is not our proudest moment and again I know this is terribly wrong... sorry.
So we waited... and sure enough within 5 minutes we heard noise in the grass as something was approaching us.
I still can't believe their noses! He could smell out exactly where everything was. Remarkable. He didn't make much noise... just intensive sniffing around. This next pic will give you an idea of just how close we were.
His eyes completely glowed in the dark... how terrifying would that be being trapped outside the fence and seeing those eyes!
Remarkable creatures! Such a unique body design. The way their back slants almost looks similar to a giraffe. Honestly it was an experience both of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
The next morning...crack of dawn... 10 feet outside the park gate... a massive herd of Water Buffalos! You see this is why this place is so amazing! The car wasn't even warm yet lol.
Most of the big guys had a few little guys tagging along on there backs. If you ever get poop in your hair just get a little bird to take care of it. Teamwork.
Another massive herd of elephants first thing in the morning. You honestly get spoilt after awhile... 'More elephants? Really? I want to see a Cheetah' Lol not really but once you get a taste for the action you want to see everything all the time.
Our next encounter of the morning was with a family of giraffes. Probably the most inquisitive of all the animals in the park as they will just stand there and watch you while they eat. For awhile we were the only car around as we were travelling on a gravel road... they crossed right in front of us.
Our favourite little bird again... there were lots of these little guys along side the roads...
Next we stopped at another waterhole that they have strategically around the park. At most water holes it looked as though the park built large concrete reservoirs so these important water sources don't run dry. This also have great parking and look out points. At the bigger ones you can always spy a few of these.
Someone got a chunk of his tail... By this point we were really quite happy with what we had seen throughout our day and a half inside the park and to be honest we weren't really holding out much hope to see the last 2 of our Big 3. But we decided to head south-west towards where there are supposed to be rhino sightings daily. On the way there we had quite a different but unforgettable experience.
Three lions (2 male & 1 female) had just killed a giraffe, had finished eating and decided to rest their bellies right on the road. One other car had seen them before us so we literally parked right across from them and just watched in amazement. We had both never seen a male lion before. You can tell these guys were quite young though as their manes were not fully grown in yet.
Life is pretty good after you take down a giraffe lol. I can't believe those teeth. The two males were both rolling around in the grass very happily stretching out their bellies. The lone female however was on tourist watch and wasn't quite ready to doze off.
You wanna see fitness and strength... look at these arms!! Now that's jacked!!
We probably sat there watching them for a good 45 minutes. What a blessing it was to see these creatures just completely relaxed in their own environment. That moment is something we will both never forget and just another reason why this park is so magical. It was pretty hard to be sad about not spotting a cheetah after you see something like that... and that close. Honestly we couldn't have been more then 6-7 feet away from them. When we finally drove away I could have literally high-fived the female as we drove off. Unreal. But we did have to leave...
Saw another Kudu shortly after...
And then this other type of antelope....
Our drive continued on for quite some time and we didn't see anything for roughly a hour or so (boo-woo right lol). We saw a few Zebras on the road...
At this point I really had to pee and no one was around so I decided to see just how tame they are because when your in your car they are quite conditioned to it and don't run away. Getting out is a different story and the closest I could come to them was about 50 yards or so.
By this point it was around 2pm or so and we only had about another 4 hours inside the park. No rhinos, no cheetahs... Stacey was driving and suddenly spotted these birds in the trees. I thought see was joking because no lie, sitting right behind them was two huge black rhinos!! I still can't believe our luck!
It's actually quite hard to tell the difference between black and white rhinos as they are both grey in colour. Apparently black rhinos are smaller and have hooked shaped mouths. I know that Kruger park has both species and I'm merely guessing that the two pictured above are black based on their size. I base the assumption on our other sightings. What? Yep... we got even luckier cause we saw this huge guy shortly after (I'm assuming it's a White Rhino).
Look at that horn! Can you believe that horn is worth more per gram than gold. Really China?? Do you think an animals horn is gonna make your dick hard? It's called Viagra and its quite a bit cheaper then gold. I actually read that scientists in South Africa are trying to genetically modify the rhino horn to make it toxic so anyone taking the stuff will die. That great! Hope they're successful. There is no excuse for slaughtering and wiping out an entire species because of crack-pot medicine... and limp little wieners lol.
We continued on enjoying the scenery even though both our sets of eyes were getting quite tired from constantly scanning the bush for activity.
Here we arrived a little too late for some action...
But once again we were blessed and got another remarkable rhino sighting... our third and final one of our safari.
He never came out the road but he did walk along beside it for a good long time. He started to come a bit closer and we were wondering if we should take off. He let us know pretty quick that we were too close and started stamping his feet and did a mock charge! Talk about kick starting your heart! Pretty sure that horn could penetrate our little tin can car lol.
That was a long one guys but it was the only way I felt I could do our 2 day safari justice. I hope you enjoyed all the great pictures, not only these ones but our entire South African adventure. I'll save the love affair rant for another time because by this point your all aware how much we loved/love the country. Do you understand now why? Never a dull moment. GO to South Africa people because you'll be glad you did. We never saw our cheetah and that's a good as excuse as any for our return.