From stress to bliss – My first Kruger trip

Every story has a beginning and an end…The best ones are over before you blink and you wish they would never have ended.
In a sense this was your typical fairy-tale. It began with the doom and gloom and ended with us all travelling happily ever after. Gareth’s story, being the Kruger animal fundi, will be one of detailed descriptions and facts about our trip which I totally forgot because of all the wonder I tried to take in. My story is the story of my experience and the stand out moments.

The drama.

There had been a tad bit of drama leading up to the trip which already put me on edge.Then Our tent supplier told us last minute; I mean an hour before, that our tent had been stolen. Now we are going camping and have no tent. Then Emily realized she just wouldn’t finish all her cake orders in time to be able to come with. So the trip I was supposed to share with my big sis (who has always been my best friend) turned into this big tumultuous thing. I was about 80% ready to call it quits. But something inside pushed me to hold tight and just go through with it, let go and try enjoy myself.

Packing is always the pits.

The packing was a mess of course; since I only actually decided last minute I’d bite the bullet and go. So instead of relaxing and sleeping before leaving, I was stressing so much about getting everything ready. At least I didn’t have to worry about sleeping gear, because no tent equalled sleeping in the car, which was another new novel experience I must tell you.
Finally Pre-trip sleep, or not…

Everything was packed and it was about 2h before we rendezvoused at Patrick’s house. That meant at least an hour sleep… Yes!
Nooo! My brain had other plans. Excitement, adrenaline and stress would not let my tired mind rest. Which meant I arrived at Patrick’s house without sleeping and I had had 3 hours sleep the night before. I figured I’d get to kip in the car on the ride down, like that ever happens.

The drive down.

The drive passed in a hazy blur, which included music I didn’t much like and sleep I didn’t get. But at least it was relatively quick and 3am petrol stations are always amazingly quiet and peaceful and the coffee always welcome. The patches of thick heavy fog, which came out of nowhere, will always stick in my mind.

Que To Enter The Kruger National ParkFinally we arrived at the Malelane Gate…

After 5 hours drive time we had reached our destination…The Kruger National Park!

The first thing I realised, as we hopped out the car to wait for the gates to open, was the air was completely different than in JHB and it was a lot hotter even at 6am. The line to get in to the Kruger was relatively short, I was told. This was news to me because I thought it was huge. I didn’t really mind waiting because my soul felt happy. I could just feel the peace this beautiful place radiated. It seemed as if there was this collective exhale and relief from everyone that had arrived.

*Tip: when you go to the Kruger make sure you stay in the same cars as when you leave, it does get sticky if you swap cars like we did.*


Waiting To Enter The Kruger

You can see by this pic that a lot of caffeine was consumed and not much sleep had.

The road to Panic…Lake Panic that is…

We drove from the Malelane Gate to Lake Panic Bird Hide which was our very first stop. As a Kruger newbie and over excited photographer I started taking pictures of everything from the get go and not very good pictures at that. But I was here on Stories Of The Kruger business so I wanted to capture it all lol. I used a Sony Cyber Shot with a 6x zoom for this trip as well as my Sony Experia XZ.

Hyaena Kruger National Park and cub

A mother hyaena and her baby cub. This is one of the most precious things I’ve ever seen. The cubs are gorgeous.

How I felt? How I felt was…Alive!

I felt like I had come back to where I belonged. Every bit of stress and tiredness had disappeared, gone from existence and replaced with peace and excitement to see every animal in the park. It didn’t take long for the marvels to start showing themselves. On our way to Lake Panic we slowed as we saw another car parked with cameras poised, so we followed suit and within 2 seconds of stopping out of this den popped a tiny black head and a little way from it, mom moved and finally caught my eye. On my first trip I got to see something this rare, I was already in seventh heaven. Could this trip actually get any better? Oh yes it did everyone, you wouldn’t believe me without the photographic proof. 😊

From this point on there was just to much wonderment to remember as a newbie. My senses were overloaded by the countless marvels that I was so fortunate to witness. So I shall make life easy for you and summarize my highlights of this extraordinary trip.

Sable Antelope In The Kruger National Park

Sable Near Tshokwane

Highlight one: Lake Panic

This hide was my first out the car experience of the Kruger national park and the one word that describes it…serene. A giant for want of a better word hut, with sitting benches and a big space where you view the magnificent lake and the beautiful flora and fauna that inhabit it. I was taken aback at how each and every person abides by the silence policy. The only sounds you hear are nature and the snapping and beeping of cameras.

Highlight two: My Freaky Predictions.

The story gets a tad freaky to be honest. Our fellow traveller had said only moments before our Hyaena sighting that all she wanted to see was a hyaena cub.

The next freaky Friday moment was where we were driving through a stretch and to my untrained eye looked exactly like a photo I’d edited a while back of Sable… So I got on the Walkie Talkie and asked Gareth if this was the spot where the picture of the sable was taken. He replied no and that he’d never actually seen Sable in the Kruger. I was a tad disappointed and felt silly for the mistake. I kid you not within 20 minutes of asking we happened upon a heard of, you guessed it SABLE!

So I got on the walkie talkie again and we were all a bit shocked. I then stated to the world. Well if this is the trip we get to see whatever we want, then I want to see a big cat a leopard or a cheetah but the ultimate would be a leopard because I know how rare they are.

Sometime later a family in a car were driving toward us and the dad waved us down. We slowed to see what was happening. He leaned to us and said, “Hey guys if you want to see a leopard and her cubs just go down this road second dirt road on your left.” We just stood there stuck in disbelief. Then everyone just looked at me.

We also saw two cheetahs on the same day.

And on the eve of our second day I stated, we had seen all the big 5 except Lion and how weird it was because they aren’t that uncommon. Once again within 30 minutes of stating this, we got caught in a type of traffic jam because of school busses and on the left climbing up the grass bank were Lions. My mind was blown and everyone didn’t talk about it because it was pretty freaky.

I’ll put it down as beginners’ fortune.

Highlight 3: The best burger I’ve ever had.

I know it is a strange thing in all this wonder that a burger would make this list. But I am a foodie and good food is hard to find and it’s important to me. We were starving and decided to sit and eat at Skukuza. Perhaps it was everything, the environment, the fact I was so relaxed and tired but the burger I ate there was the tastiest most authentic burger I’ve eaten at a restaurant in my life.

Skukuza as a whole was an eye opening experience for me. To see the magnitude of tourists that were there, really brought into perspective all the things Gareth had told me about the Kruger’s popularity. It was a tad too commercial for me if that makes sense, but the burger will forever be remembered lol.

Highlight 4: Unhappy Nelly

We witnessed he most awesome things imaginable to top it all off. A Hyaena had killed something and dragged it into a water hole to keep the vultures at bay. This was a no no for a herd of elephants who made their anger known until the predator dragged the carcass out of the hole. Once it had done so the Elephants trotted off as if nothing had happened at all. This was followed by about 8 vultures almost instantly appearing and haranguing the Hyaena over its kill. This was possibly the best highlight of the trip for me.

Camping At Malelane

This Was Us!

Highlight 5: Camping (Well technically sleeping in the car)

We camped at two spots over the weekend Maroela and Malelane. Both were a completely different experience but if I had to choose one I’d pick Malelane.

Maroela just seemed like a means to and end, a place where you just came to get a good night sleep. I was dead on my feet, so that might have detracted from the experience but it definitely wasn’t memorable.

Malelane on the other hand was a marvelous spot. Although from the campsite you can see the lights of humanity, the campsite itself is situated right next to a river which you can see and hear! If you are as lucky as we were you could get to see a Hippo, Elephant and Hyaena within a 1km radius of each other. Sitting by the border fence braaing and looking left to see two green orbs shinning back at you as a huge Hyaena runs past is the most spine tingling, phenomenal experience one can have. To end the perfect day, in the complete stillness and silence of the night the sounds of angry elephants breaking trees rang out accompanied by woop woop call of Hyaena.

*Note sleeping in the car wasn’t that bad. The first night I was a little claustrophobic but if you are tired enough you’ll fall asleep anywhere. You won’t be as stiff as you expect. Take a couple of pillows and a book to ease your mind into sleep.*

Highlight 6: The Love of Birds.

My final highlight was the discovery that I actually adore spotting birds. I found it so much fun and that birds are so beautiful to see and identify and snap. The multitude of species we spotted had me busy and happy every minute of the trip.

There were so many more highlights that I just can’t remember but these were the 6 that really stood out in my mind when writing this. All I know is I’m counting the days till I get to go back and create another story.

The End!

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