Saturday April 25, 2015 (Africa, South Africa, Swaziland)
It would appear we were a bit hasty in our quest to exit Swaziland and reach Kruger. There we were, going 73km/h in a 60km/h zone and… well… you know what happens next. Sneaky Swazi cop in a dark green sweater standing in front of a dark green shed. And pointing a radar gun at our vehicle. And determining our speed to be 73km/h. We were waved over and told that we were speeding. If we were willing to sign an “admission of guilt”, we would be fined the exorbitant fee of 60 SZL. Or 6 CAD. Don’t we all wish speeding fines in Canada were so minimally punitive?! Perhaps not. But it was nice in this case. I made sure to ask for a picture with the police officers. They had to check with the supervisor if it was OK, but I got the go-ahead. And that’s what you see in the first picture. Although the cop looks generally upset, he cracked up after the photo was taken wondering why the heck anybody would want a picture with the guy who just pulled them over. Nice guys, anyway. We continued on our way at 60km/h on the dot. Obviously.
Kruger has many gates that you can enter, and we chose the closest one to us which happened to be Crocodile Bridge. Well, it wasn’t exactly a coincidence because we wanted to catch some CROCS, but that’s where we made our ingress. Not long after paying our conservation fees we were into the park. And not 10 minutes into our drive along the major north-south route of Kruger did we encounter multiple giraffes just hangin’ out by the side of the road and chompin’ on some trees. They kindly posed for us, although we didn’t want to get too close for fear of them sitting on our rental car.
Next up you’ll see the shot of a male impala. They are everywhere. It’s one of those things where at the start of your time there, you’re constantly trying to get good pictures of them and you’re pointing them out for everybody in the car. Within a couple of hours you drive right by them without a word. Boooringgg. But still really nice to look at.
We got to see Zazu: an African hornbill. Technically, Zazu is a red-billed hornbill and the picture shows a southern yellow-billed hornbill. But we saw red ones too and I didn’t get any good pictures. So… let’s pretend together. We also got to see the Lilac Breasted Roller. What a great colour combo on that bird – it’s gorgeous!
Laughter was had at watching the dung beetles push their perfectly spherical treasures across the road. You’re asked not to drive through dung on the road because you’ll either kill a bunch of beetles or drive over some thorns expelled by the elephants. Neither is overly desirable.
There were a few spots along the road where you may “Alight from the vehicle at your own risk”. So we did that at a viewpoint, but all I could picture was a lion jumping on my back as soon as I opened the car door. Luckily that didn’t happen.
We managed to spot “The Big Five” in Kruger. And actually, we spotted them all in one day on day two! We were lucky to see a leopard both days we were in the park. The first day, we caught one watching the road from on top of a rock. Again, sorry about my lack of a strong telephoto lens, but you get the general idea. The second day we pulled off to the side of the road when we saw a bunch of other cars pulled over. This is usually a good tactic. Then you look into their cars to determine where its occupants are staring. Do they have binoculars? Let’s look far away. Finally we were told that there was a leopard hanging in a tree about 500m away. We could see it… but dang. Not sure how that one got picked out!
We had a couple of shady elephant situations. I kept encouraging Dave to get right up close to the elephants so I could grab AWESOME PICTURES! He graciously complied, but perhaps the elephants weren’t as happy about our white Avenza challenging their territory. They didn’t do anything crazy, but they sure did walk towards us slowly. Such that Ivy started dropping some verbal bombs and demanding we “BACK UP! BACK UP!”. Alas it was all under control and a slow reverse eventually threw them off our scent. No damage done to the vehicle!
One highlight for me was seeing a Bushbuck in the fields. It was a marvellous coincidence. I was reading up on the different species we could see in the Kruger guide, and found that Bushbuck was actually something they had! I used to play a videogame called “Bushbucks and Dodo Eggs”, but I never knew what Bushbucks were. Now I did! And whaddya know, not 10 minutes later we drive by a field and spot two of them! Apparently they’re hard to catch since they tend to hide out in deep brush. I felt so lucky!
We got a tipoff that lions were in the house, and got there in time to see them… doing nothing. Four in total just hanging out in the shade of some bushes. In typical cat fashion they did nothing of great import. Just… lay there with their mouths open panting. I was actually surprised at how quickly they appeared to be breathing given the fact that they were just sitting there. Tough life!
We stayed overnight at Satara camp, which is kind of smack dab in the middle of the park. We each had a two person cabin, complete with showers and everything. This place definitely caters to the casual safari-goer. There are tons of camps throughout the park, and many can hold hundreds of people each. They even have restaurants like Mugg & Bean, which became a favourite of ours. On our second day, we stopped at Oliphants camp for lunch at such an M&B and drank beer and ate burgers while watching the giraffes wander along the beach in the distance. Hippos in the water. This is straight up Africa animal party!
Finally it was time to go. We were in a bit of a hurry, because if you don’t make the exit gates by a certain time they close them. And then you appear. And then they fine you. We were trying to avoid that, so we kept movin’ as best we could. But how could you not stop for a giant family of baboons? Babies everywhere! You can’t just drive on. You stop and take baby pictures.
Then you exit the gates and you see a lion eating a tree. He decides the car is more interesting and he chases you slowly. Again. And Ivy yells to “BACK UP!”. Again. But again we’re safe! We get more great elephant pictures and adrenaline rushes! The crowd goes wild!
The trip to Kruger is over, but it’s been a blast. The Big Five in one day is something reserved for first-timers, so we’ve discovered. We’re a lucky bunch. Or maybe we’ve just got keen peepers? I think it’s a bit of both.