“There’s nowhere like Kruger!” affirmed the owners of our hostel, just outside the gates, and to be honest it’s hard to argue. We say this not just because of our African game reserve novice status, but because the scope of the park and the fact that you can explore it on your own are truly remarkable. Whether it’s the immaculate roads, of which they have a purported 6000kms, or the fact you can get a reasonable priced cafe breakfast whilst overlooking Sabie river. While you’re sipping your flat white, elephants sip water at the banks, all at the same price as you’d pay anywhere else in South Africa, they even offer craft beer in the park!
Our journey to the park started with a minor hiccup, ending up driving after dark, trying to trail blaze with our rented Datsun Go (not a car we would ever recommend to anyone). Attempting to avoid the final toll, google maps grossly over estimated the road quality leading to our campsite. As rain started to fall and light started to fade, we managed to get half way up a mud road, before being forced to think better of it, and driving another 30 mins back the way we came, plus copping the toll anyway. An early and critical learning, and one which we would heed, always have a full tank, and always plan to arrive with a couple of hours of daylight up your sleeve.
On the advice of our truly fantastic hosts at the Kruger Inn Backpackers we managed to make the most of our time in the park, stay in the best camps, use the most scenic routes, and we 100% recommend them if you’re thinking of coming to Kruger. With our supermarket tent and bargain sleeping bags, we were ready for a couple of days of spotting wildlife.
We had initially planned on just spending a couple of days here, but in the end, we stayed 6, the place is immense, in size, animal diversity, and your own freedom to explore, guaranteed to satiate your safari appetite. The entire big 5 is here, the scenery is spectacular, the camps grounds make others around the world look laughably inadequate, not to mention you could be braaiing up a storm, only for a resident hyena to come right up the fence, sit down and wonder where its share is.
As safari isn’t complete without an elephant experience, and we weren’t to be disappointed. Not far from the gates of our camp, 3 families descended on a watering hole, at a guess, 70-80 elephants crowded in, fighting on the road, trumpeting, and waving their trunks at cars. From the cutest little babies, still without a clue about how to handle their trunks, waving around like an alien appendage and chasing birds, to huge bulls, with massive tusks, fighting off would-be challengers to the throne. Throngs of elephants crowded on the roads, forcing us to stop for nearly an hour, hoping none took a liking to our car as a scratching post.
Pulling out of our camp the next morning, we noticed a auspicious queue of cars. As one does, we unquestioningly tagged onto the end to see what was going on; a pack of endangered African Wild Dogs. We’d seen the same pack inconsiderately sleeping on the road the day before. Right as we turned out, they spread, while a few of the big dogs charged a wildebeest the rest of the herd emerged, engaging in a stand off, with the eventual winners being the wildebeest. The dogs made for the undergrowth and the crowd dispersed. An hour or two later, not far down a side road, all by ourselves, the dogs emerged onto the road right in front of us. Soon enough, we formed part of the pack, receiving the occasional side glance to make sure we were keeping up pace. As the 18 dogs trotted down the road with us, they seemed to have embraced us as white car-dog – pack member number 19. If not for the fact that there would be nothing left of you if you attempted it, you felt you could lean out and pat them like a house pet.
There were families of hyena, fighting nyala, huge birds of prey, zebra, and more impala (with we ended up referring to as just: food) than you could shake a stick at. But the other 2 spots everyone wants are: big cats, and rhinos. We were lucky with lions, seeing them 4 out of the 6 days to varying degrees, once bossing the road and walking with a “Don’t get in my way” look on their faces, another time, just sleeping on the road, causing havoc with traffic. We also managed a great leopard spot, just walking down the road, we didn’t get the best look due to a combination of leopard greed from the cars in front, and an indignant driver from behind not getting their turn, so driving up the wrong side of the road and scaring the leopard back into the bush.
The rhinos are amazing to see up close for a number of reasons, not least because they are magnificent creatures, but more sadly due to the fact that, there is a very real chance we may never get to see one in the wild again after this trip. As we all know, due to demand for their horns from pimple dick assholes, they are being hunted to extinction, as poachers from Mozambique come for their turn to make their fortune. Horns now go for upwards of US $100’000 per KG. There is a war going on in Kruger to save them, with an estimated 700 poachers killed a year, but they are like the heads of Hydra, kill one and 3 more step up to take their place. In the meantime, looking at them peacefully munching on grass, you can’t help looking at the horn and wondering with incredulity: “Seriously, that’s what the fuss is all about, you’d kill this just for a load of what is ostensibly fingernails. Humans suck!”. But, humans are also cool, and people are putting their lives on the line to save them, we collectively have our fingers crossed the good humans succeed.
The moral of the story is that Kruger is for everyone, solo travellers, couples and families. The same can be said for South Africa (or Africa for that matter) more generally. But seriously, as a potential destination for a getaway, Kruger has to be right up there on your list.
Remember to @catchustravelling on Instagram