As you (hopefully) noticed, last week was a quiet one on the African Safari Social Media front. Thankfully there was no illness present nor was there a catastrophic crash of computers. The reason for our brief absence was altogether a far more pleasant one – I was fortunate enough to spend Sunday to Friday at one of my favourite places in the whole world, the Kruger National Park. This is part one of two recounting what was an incredible week.

Having grown up in Botswana, the African bush has always been very firmly entrenched in my heart. Since before I could walk, much less spot lions, I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited wildlife parks throughout Southern Africa with my parents,  themselves avid wildlife lovers.  My folks, through regular visits to wildlife parks and home education, instilled in me a love and reverence for the wild and it’s inhabitants that transcends just about all others – it truly is my happy place! So when my family called me a couple of months ago to check if I was keen to spend a week in the Kruger with them, I jumped at the opportunity…

I arrived at Cape Town International Airport at about 11am last week Sunday, with bags packed and safari vision engaged. It had been about two years since my last visit to the bush, and I was awash with nervous excitement – boarding time could not come soon enough! After successfully checking in aboard my SAA Airlink flight, we landed safely and smoothly at the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) a mere two and a half hours later. The flight is really manageable and takes in some beautiful scenery as you approach the airport, which is located a convenient 60kms outside of Nelspruit – the capital of South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province. It was my first time flying to KMIA and I must say I was very impressed with the service and efficiency of the staff, as well as by the look and feel of the airport – which was designed very much with the African bush in mind.

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport

After meeting up with my parents, who had flown in from Johannesburg, we collected our hired car and set off for the Kruger National Park’s Malelane Gate, which is just about the Southernmost point of entry to the famous park. Malelane is situated right on the banks of the  mighty Crocodile River so one must first cross the Crocodile River bridge to reach the entrance – and that is where the adventure begins. Cars full of excited tourists (local and foreign alike) stop to park on the bridge, as the abundance of game becomes immediately evident. The river itself plays host to Nile crocodiles and hippos who reside in its waters, but of course attracts all manner of animals to feed and drink at its edge.

We watched the hippos and crocodiles going about their day-to-day activities for about half an hour, and were just about to proceed to the gate when we were greeted with possibly my favourite of all African sounds – the call of the Fish Eagle. After listening out for the majestic eagle to cry again, we caught sight of him (or her) just before that most beautiful of sounds filled the air. Then, not moments later, the eagle descended downwards towards the river at a rapid pace – eyes fixed on its lunch swimming dangerously close to the surface. In the blink of any eye, the eagle swooped down, grabbed the fish, and flew off again all before the poor thing knew what was happening. With such great sightings before we’d even entered the park, it was clearly going to be a good trip!

A Fish Eagle mid hunt

The Kruger National Park is a beautiful place at the best of times, but none more so than in the winter months. The weather is pleasantly mild, as opposed to the overwhelming heat of summer, and the bush is not as dense as during the rainy season. Both of these factors are conducive to better game spotting, as animals are more likely to be out and about in cooler conditions and are more easily visible when the vegetation is sparse.

We’d not travelled for more than five minutes when we saw our first sighting of African elephant – a favourite of my father. With the park having been in existence since 1898, the animals have come to accept human visitors as non threatening and as such are very relaxed when you stop to view them. The elephants carried on as if we weren’t even there (which is just a little rude) and proceeded to feast and play with reckless abandon. Watching these gentle giants is always a pleasure, and were fortunate enough to catch sight of a young calf in amongst her overprotective mother’s legs. Beautiful!

Winter in the Kruger National Park
Winter in the Kruger National Park

We settled in at camp and armed ourselves with snacks and beverages for the afternoon, before setting off in our trusty hired vehicle to soak up the last couple hours of sunlight before the camp gates closed at 17.30. Acting upon the advice of a helpful ranger at our camp, we stuck to the tarred roads hoping to see the animals soak up the radiating warmth of the asphalt. With only moderate success after an hour or so, we decided instead to take a gravel side road and hope for better luck. And man did we hit a spot of luck!

After 30 or so years of visiting national parks around Southern Africa, my parents have just about seen it all. Except a leopard. In all their years of safaris, the spotted feline has managed to successfully elude them each and every single time. But not this trip! Barely five minutes after turning on to the gravel road, we were blessed with that holy grails of wildlife spotting – a wild leopard up close. Walking along the road, as cool as you like, was a full-grown male leopard not even 10 feet from us. We were fortunate enough to be the only car on the road and tailed him (literally, as he fluffed his up in the air as he walked) for about 15 minutes. An incredible experience!

Our view for 15 minutes
Our view for 15 minutes

Content with the days viewings, we returned to camp for some much-needed nourishment and tale swapping as we reminisced over the  sightings of the afternoon.

Check back next week for part 2 of ‘ASC’s Week in the Kruger National Park’.

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