When Josh and I arrived at the Nelspruit Airport, Adam and Lora met us. Adam and Lora are friends of ours that we met in college, and they are currently volunteering with the Peace Corp. They work with some village schools at various projects to help the teachers and the students.
We drove to a grocery store and picked up some food, then we headed out to Kruger National Park. Adam and Lora told us some stories about the park that they had seen for themselves or heard from people in their village. We heard some stories about elephants crushing cars, and about hyenas jumping through a window, killing, and dragging away a man.
Kruger Park is an incredible, amazing place to visit. I would recommend the experience to anyone who has ever enjoyed visiting the zoo. It is like going to Jurassic Park, except the animals are normal sized, which when viewed up close is plenty large enough.
First off, South Africa is beautiful. I was nervous about going to South Africa. It was the first time I had ever visited anywhere in Africa, and even though Josh assured me that Africa is a great place I couldn’t help thinking about the only things I ever saw about Africa were either wars and killing, or starving people. Although South Africa has had its time of killing, and has a less than magnificent history, with Apartheid ending only some 20 odd years ago, it seemed peaceful and pleasant now.
The climate while we were there was gorgeous. It was cool in the evenings and warm during the day. We didn’t need coats, just our sweaters at night. The time of year we visited the park was also ideal, since a lot of the animals were mating or looking for mates. It was also the time of year when the elephants start migrating north, and we saw a lot of elephants.
The park has various rest camps. We stayed at two of them. The camps are inclosed in an electrified fence so that dangerous animals are kept outside. Some of the impala (the most common antelope) were smart enough to come inside of the fence at night as well. We stayed at Pretorias Kop and Lataba. Adam and Lora camped most nights, and Josh and I stayed in a hut. The hut was basically a one room bungalow, with beds, closet, table and chairs. One of ours had an attached bathroom. The camp had community kitchens and laundry facilities, as well as a store. Some camps had other amenities as well… museums, pools, restaurants, etc.
Once we were in the park, the general idea is to drive around and look for animals. You are not allowed to get out of your vehicle inside the park, except in designated areas. If you get out of your car you are in very great danger, especially if you get out nearby an animal, to take a photo of something.
Driving through the park could at times be dull, if you didn’t see any animals. We drove pretty far north one day, and there were not very many animals on our drive then. In general though, we saw so many animals. Some of the animals that we saw were: Baboons, Guinea Fowl, Giraffes, Marmots, Impala, Waterbuck, Bats, Zebra, Kudu, Turtles, Elephants, Water Monitors, Rhinoceros, Warthogs, Crocodiles, Hippopotamus, Monkeys, Springbok, Bushbuck, Steenbok, Nyala, Black Backed Jackel, Hyenas, Lions, and Wildebeasts.
Besides animals, we were very interested bird watchers. I don’t know the names of a lot of the birds that we spotted, but some of them were Hornbill (think Zazu in The Lion King), Lilac Breasted Roller, Hawk Eagle, Owl, Kori Bustard, Ostrich, Glossy Starling, Vultures, Stork, and Guinea Fowl.
Adam told us about some of the interesting plants in the park as well. Adam and Lora are Honorary Rangers and have helped to eliminate the alien species in the park. One cool plant was a Boabab Tree. This tree stores a lot of water inside of it. Basically the inside of the tree is like a huge sponge. One plant that I likes was a large tree/bush with delicate pink and white flowers on it called an Impala Lily. There was also a poisonous plant (I can’t remember the name) that was in various areas. It was very poisonous through, causing burns on your body if it gets on you, and killing you if you eat any. The bushmen used to tip their arrows with it, to kill their prey.
That’s a basic overview of our stay in Kruger, but I won’t leave you without any of the exciting stories. We saw a lot of very exciting things on this trip. Adam and Lora had been in the park a number of times before, but said that normally the animals are only standing around, eating their grass. We were very fortunate in the time of year, with it being mating season for a lot of animals. Our first bit of excitement was watching two Impala bucks fighting each other. With the car off and the windows down, we could hear the impact of their antlers on each other. Although we saw Impala everywhere, they were beautiful antelope, although we didn’t appreciate them as much later in the trip as we did at first. We also witnessed one Impala male herding his large group of female Impala. He chased them and they would start galloping out of the way. We learned that a male Impala takes care of a large group of female Impala. There are also herds of bachelor Impala, who are not strong enough to fight for the domination of a herd of females. They stay together for the protection a herd offers them, until they are ready to find a female herd to battle a male for dominion over.
After that we also saw some Zebras fighting as well. They don’t have antlers, but they would bite and kick at each other.
As we drove along, we would all watch outside of the windows for any animals that we would want to stop for. One time I was looking out and saw a large bird.
“Oh! Stop! There was a huge bird… maybe ostrich sized! Go back!” I cried out.
We stopped and backed up. The “ostrich sized” bird was only maybe 2 feet tall. We had a good laugh over it. Lora looked up the bird though, and it was a rare Kori Bustard, the heaviest flying bird. The Kori Bustard was so rare, in fact, that we saw 7 of them. We told a ranger, but she wouldn’t believe us. We saw a lot of them. We did see the male once, and he is a lot larger than the female, up to ____ tall. That makes my ostrich comment a bit more believable.
Several times (okay, a large number of times), we stopped to look at something that turned out to be… a rock! Or a tree stump. Or a herd of Impala. Once I backed up about a mile, with other cars wondering what we had seen, only to find a herd of Impala. A couple of times we stopped, and it was just a common antelope herd. “Talk about dull!” was our catch phrase.
Antelope were rather dull. All they do is eat grass or look around for danger. On the other hand, we also saw a large number of one of the most interesting animals: elephants! Adam and Lora said that they had only seen elephants by themselves, not in a family. But this trip was different. We saw almost everything!
One of our exciting elephant encounters occurred when we saw a lone male elephant. He was standing behind a tree, and we stopped to look at him. He was not interested in company. He flapped his ears and walked a few steps towards us, threatening us. We got the car in gear and started to drive, but not fast enough for him. He started to run at us, and chased us a little ways down the road. That taught us to always move quickly when they threaten you, otherwise you might get smashed, or crushed. These are wild elephants.
That was not the only angry elephant we came across. We happened upon two male elephants fighting with each other. There was a whole large herd of elephants, and two younger ones (but almost full-grown) were knocking their tusks together, and wrestling with their trunks. Their tusks knocking against each other was ridiculously loud. A third elephant came over and started to fight against one of them, while the other moved away. Then, out came the largest elephant, and started giving the one elephant a real beating. He chased him across the road and down to a watering hole, but then the fight seemed to be over and they both just started walking together. Could have been some brothers fighting, and then Dad came over to break it up and have a talking to the older one for fighting with his brothers.
Besides that fight, we saw one seriously angry elephant. This one wasn’t just making a show or playing with his brothers. This one was trumpeting, kicking trees and pulling off branches with his trunk. We stayed back, but it was awesome to hear his trumpeting.
It’s funny that we have so many elephant stories, but it must have just been the right season and place. As we were driving one day, there was aÂ large group of cars lined up, looking at a group of elephants that were standing on the road and beside the road, eating. Amid this family were two young elephants. One was really small, and the other was slightly bigger, but still much less than half the size of the adults. The cars were larger than the both of the small elephants. These two were running around, jumping and playing with each other. There was one lane open, and some cars would drive by slowly occasionally, when they were ready to move on from the elephants. The smallest baby would run away, but the bigger one would throw his trunk at the car, and start to charge it. Josh was driving at the time, and we had our windows down, taking photos. He drove up right beside the little elephants, and the bigger one started to charge the car. All I could do was grab Josh, and yell, “Oh Lord! Oh Lord!” The mother elephant turned to see what upset her baby, and I was so scared that she would come and stomp on us.Â Adam, thankfully, had the peace of mind to take photos and a video even, of the whole incident.
To finish off all the elephant behavior we saw, we also saw them bathing and mating. The mating was interesting: the two elephants went into the water hole, I guess because they are so heavy.
Enough about elephants though. There were also large baboon families, I don’t know how many there were, but I would guess at at least 40 baboons. We saw the tiny babies clinging to their mothers, up to the large lead male baboon, who was intimidating.
We also had several run-ins with monkeys. At one lookout point, it is allowed for people to get out of their cars and look out over the river. A family of monkeys lived here, and several of them were very curious about our car. We had seen them on the road just before getting to the lookout, and one money jumped up onto the front windshield, and almost through the front window before they were rolled up all the way. That was exciting.
At the lookout point, we actually saw two of the monkeys jump into someone else’s car because they were not careful about closing the door quickly after getting out. They spent some time yelling and scaring the monkeys out again.
Giraffes were fairly common in the park as well. In the evening as we drove, we saw two giraffes run, in front of a car, across and up the road. We thought they were going to be hit. The giraffes seemed very spooked by the cars, although most of the time the animals just ignore the cars, since they see them everyday and they don’t bother them.
Another lookout point was called Elephant Bridge. This was the first point we saw where we were allowed to exit our car outside of our campsite. The view from the top was gorgeous, and we saw a lot of animals from there in the evening. We saw elephants drinking, crocodiles sunning themselves, and beautiful birds.
In the evening, we participated in a South African pastime of barbecuing, or as they call it, The Brie. We tried a lot of the different game meat that was available to buy inside the park: wort-hog, kudu, waterbuck, water buffalo, and then the normal chicken. It was fun and delicious.
One night while we barbecued, we were beside the outside fence of the camp and we had several exciting experiences. First, Lora went to her camp site and heard elephants on the other side of the fence. It was very dark outside, and even with a flashlight, she couldn’t see the elephant. She came back to the group and told us about it. We went to hear it, and it was incredible. The sound of an elephant eating is the sound of tree limbs being snapped like twigs. The size of elephants is incredible, and their strength is amazing. We saw the wreckage of where elephants had been eating in the daylight, and the trees and bushed were strewn everywhere, branches completely torn off and strewn everywhere.
Also, as we cooked out by the fence, we saw several unfriendly guests. One hyena paced by the fence, head down, smelling the ground along the fence. It paced away into the distance down the fence. Another hyena appeared behind this one. The hyenas had a patrol set up along the fence edge, whether looking for an opening or because some people feed them, I don’t know. I tried to get photos of them, but it was terrible trying to in the dark. They scared me though.
In our last days, we had seen a lot of animals, but none of the big predators: lions, cheetahs, or panthers. We had seen the hyenas, obviously, and also some jackals. In our last day driving through the park, we really wanted to find a big predator. In every rest area there are boards where people can put magnets of different colors to mark where they had seen some of the most exciting animals (like predators). We had tried to find the predators from the boards before without luck, but this day we saw the people put the magnet up, and talked with him about where exactly to look. There was a lion sighting and a cheetah sighting. They were in opposite directions, but the right direction for us was towards the lions, so we headed that way.
At the crossroads where we were supposed to turn, we saw two cars stopped. We looked out into the field, but didn’t see anything. We asked the driver of one of the cars what he saw, and he told us it was a lion. He pointed it out, through the trees on a grassy stretch in the shade, about half a mile away. We looked through the binoculars, and we could barely make out the lion, but we saw that it had mane.
We all looked, but then we moved on down the road to see if we could see other lions closer to the road. We found the car pile-up, and looked out into a field of long grass. Then we spotted a beautiful lioness sleeping, with her tail flipping. She stretched, and rolled over, and then got up and walked off across the field. Then we saw another in the grass. We saw three lionesses total, fairly close to the road. As the second lioness walked up and off into the wild, we caught sight of a large black giraffe. We couldn’t even see its spots! We decided that was worth seeing, so we followed the giraffe until we got a closer look. It seemed that the giraffe must have been sunburnt or something. Closer up it did have spots, but the usually light color between the spots was almost as dark as his spots. Incredible.
One more experience before I close. We saw a large number of hippopotamus during the day, always hiding in the water or laying on the ground. They looked like big blobs of fat. They reminded us of the people in Wall-E… unable to move they were so fat.
We went on a night drive with the ranger one night. They take groups every night, with large lights, shining in the night to see the nocturnal animals. That night we saw a few different interesting animals, but the most memorable by far were the hippos. At night, the hippos are not lazy at all. The guide told us about them. They travel far away from the rivers at night to eat grass because the grass by the river is usually eaten by other animals. The hippos eat an enormous amount of grass, but the most amazing thing was to see those animals, thousands of pounds looking like blobs of fat, running. Besides just running, our guide told us they run at 36 km/h. Incredible. Absolutely amazing.
We loved our time in South Africa. Thanks Adam and Lora for spending time with us and letting us know about the culture and the land.