I flew in to Johannesburg where my transfer awaited me, knowing the taxis were not a safe option and unsure how widely used Uber is in this particular city. I spent the afternoon in my room at the Holiday Inn, not tempted by the outside and more keen to organise my stuff and relax a bit before the tour started. We had a welcome meeting that night where I met everyone I’d be traveling with before going to bed to prepare for our early, 4:45am start the next morning.
Getting on board the truck at 5am we were ready for our 10 hour journey to Kruger National Park. We got to know each other and we napped, stopping at a couple of places to stretch our legs and one place named God’s Window to enjoy some stunning lookouts.
As soon as we got through the gates it was clear we had arrived at Kruger, spotting a lone elephant way in the distance. Our journey continued that way en route to the campsite, seeing loads of impala, an animal we would quickly view with nonchalance, as well as spotting a single buffalo before getting excited to see a whole herd of elephants – babies and all – hanging about next to the water with giraffes walking around behind them. We were well and truly on safari, already having seen two of the big five – elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino.
Setting up camp was easier than I expected which gave me some hope for the week ahead. Trying to keep all my belongings in an orderly fashion will be the big challenge and it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes to find a system that works and then how long it takes to completely disregard said system.
After the most gourmet camp dinner I’ve had (beef stroganoff and salad) we went to the park reception to get picked up for a night game drive. Skepticism at play I was unsure how much we’d see although was surprised by the effectiveness of the spotlights we had on the sides of the bus, allowing us to see a kudu up close, a crocodile within the water, a chubby hippo grazing in the grass, the behind of an elephant and amazingly, a hyena that simply walked down the road right next to our truck. Only day 1 and I felt I’d seen a lot.
On Monday we were lucky enough to have two more game drives within our trusty Intrepid truck, going for hours around the park (so long that a few of us nodded off every now and then). If we thought we were lucky the day before we were stoked after these drives, starting with a couple of warthogs walking down the road, a few vultures and monkeys in the trees, a waterbuck and a bushbuck, a lone zebra right next to the vehicle followed by two female lions taking a stroll down the road, walking right next to our vehicle and creating a suitably sized traffic jam. They were stunning and it was interesting to see how little care they had for all the cars because of how focused they were on finding their next meal. We watched a group of elephants walk across the road after their afternoon swim before we pulled up at the waterhole and discovered crocodiles on the bank and many hippos within the water with a few giraffes in the background, scoping out their possible drinking spot. I hadn’t known what I would be in for with the safaris but the experience was incredible and unlike anything I had done before. Thankfully I’ve been opposed to zoos for the past few years from an ethical standpoint, but if I wasn’t it would be safe to say that my experiences here destroyed any entertainment the zoo would normally give me.
The next morning we packed up the campsite, destined for Swaziland but not without driving the 65km through Kruger to the gate; one last game drive by default. How lucky we were to get in that extra drive, seeing a group of beautiful wild dogs and even completing our checklist of the big 5 by seeing a couple of rhino and even a leopard, made even more exciting by the herd of impala it had its eyes on and making a run for it with one success. Game trucks were parked everywhere watching this rare sighting, something some guides can’t even claim they’ve seen before. We were so lucky and it didn’t feel real, more like we were in a David Attenborough documentary where I kept waiting for his narration.
Saying goodbye to the park we pressed on with a few hours to go until we reached our next national park situated in the Kingdom of Swaziland.