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South Africa is indeed a world in one country, boasting some of the top game viewing safaris in the world.
From the Kruger National Park in the northeast to the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park in the north that extends into Botswana, coastal reserves and many other reserves and animal sanctuaries will spoil you for choice.
And look no further than the expansive Kruger National Park Steeped in legend and history, the iconic Kruger National Park in South Africa is waiting for you to explore its vast landscapes and spectacular African wildlife.
Imagine yourself waking up to this view every morning. Just one of the many places to stay in the Kruger National Park (Image Courtesy Kruger official site)
I’m sure many of you have watched the 1986 movie “Jock of the Bushveld” or read the book, but for those who haven’t, it’s about a man who rescues the runt of a litter of Staffordshire puppies and names him Jock.
Transport riding in those days was fraught with dangers, and Jock turned his destiny of doom into a truly remarkable tale of courage and loyalty that lives on to this day.
Jock’s life story left a footprint in the African soil that represents so many of our lives today, which, as you know, are filled with both adversities and reassuring victories. This reality is commonplace in the African bush, which has a mesmerizing and life-altering effect on all who dare to embrace nature in its rawest form.
Modern-day South African safaris still bring to life the buried bones of our past that will fill your calabash with a potent brew of humility and appreciation for those who came before.
Many of these people had in common besides painting such a colorful history because they wore solid and comfortable shoes called veldskoen (bush shoes) to beat down the many miles of daily travel. They say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Every South African safari offers unique experiences regardless of which park you visit.
Whether you go on a ranger-led bushwalk, a 4x4 or everyday vehicle self-drive safari, an exhilarating mountain bike adventure, river boating in crocodile and hippo waters, or simply taking advantage of early morning and late afternoon game drives offered by the lodge of your choosing; you will be one with wild Africa.
Immersing yourself in the African bush will expose you to hypnotic tranquility and bursts of tension periodically sparking in the brush, and you will feel alive.
We chose to look at the big five animal species, namely, lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo, as they are the main attraction that adds spice to any safari.
Although game sightings improve during autumn and winter when the vegetation thins out, animal numbers remain relatively constant.
There are sightings throughout the year that showcase animal behavior in their natural habitat regardless of mother nature’s mood.
Let’s visit Jock’s old stomping ground, the Kruger.
The Kruger National Park is the biggest game park in South Africa, measuring 19 485 square kilometers (7 523 square miles), and is home to over 147 animal species and 508 bird species.
The beauty about the Kruger is that you can tailor-make the safari that allows you to camp hop through the park; however, it is advisable to book in advance.
Accommodation in the safari park is wide-ranging from designated self-camping areas or tented camps to luxury lodges and everything in-between.
Staying in a tented camp gives one the sense of genuinely roughing in the bush with the nocturnal sounds of animals big and small that will keep you up for a little while but will then lull you off into a deep, peaceful sleep.
The fresh air and scent of the bush are so relaxing, but the sounds do prickle your heart rate a tad.
The best way to experience the Kruger Park is to rent a vehicle or use your own for a self-drive safari.
A 4wd vehicle is nice but not necessary. Excellent because of the height advantage, but the roads are mostly asphalt and are very well maintained, so you may never have to engage 4wd. Having your own vehicle will allow you to decide at short notice what direction to take.
You will find that current or fresh sighting information is freely shared along the many roads and is also the main talking point around the infamous sundowner campfires, a nightly ritual in many camps.
Spotting the big five is relatively straightforward with willing spotters along the many routes, especially in some park regions.
The Big Five phrase was coined many years ago and refers to the five dangerous African mammals that were sought out by hunters.
These species are lions, Leopards, Rhinos, Elephantsand Buffalo who have been known for their strength and aggressiveness; it was considered an accomplishment if one could bring them home as proof of victory over these highly skilled predators with only a gun or spear.
Now days it is a huge accomplishment to spot all 5 in a single day.
Leopards are notoriously difficult to spot, but they are very territorial, making them somewhat predictable.
The Kruger Park has the densest population of leopards in Africa. If you want to tick off seeing this sleek cat in the wild, then include the area surrounding the Sand River in your safari itinerary.
Lions can be spotted wherever there is prey, but out of over 100 different choices, they have a preference for buffalo, giraffes, zebra, and wildebeest. During the day, you will spot lion prides lazing around, but by late afternoon they will become more active as they prepare to hunt.
People in cars don’t seem to bother lions, and they will often select a shady part of a road to relax.
All animals have the right of way in the park, but lions often exercise their right to stay. You will have to watch and wait until the pride moves off. Some lions will approach cars to investigate even if it looks like they are not interested.
A lion’s roar can be heard 5 miles or 8 km away, and this may lead you to believe that lions are close by when you’re in your tent and need to step out to go to the bathroom.
Buffalo herds enjoy the woodland savanna regions of the park. There are an estimated 2500 buffalo in the park, and the herds can be a few hundred strong.
Herds will travel as fast as the slowest herd member as buffalo tend to take care of each other. For lions to take down a buffalo, they must isolate it from the herd, and if not, they will go hungry.
Don’t be fooled by a buffalo’s docile look; they can be extremely dangerous.
You may find a lone elephant moving with a buffalo herd. It makes for great photography, and you may be treated to a mock charge from the elephant who assumes sentry duty.
The white rhino is the larger species and much easier to find than the more elusive black rhino, which keeps to itself hidden between the thickets and shrubs.
The majority of the 7000 substantial white rhino population have made the southern part of the park their home. Black rhinos number about 400, and the park’s anti-poaching units are kept busy but are making an impact as the rhino population is growing, but very slowly.
The majestic elephant roaming free in the wild will leave you in awe. Herds of elephants can be seen throughout the park, but they tend to frequent more prominent waterholes.
For their size, they are remarkably silent as they move through the bush.
Coming across a herd of elephants on a walking safari can be scary, and even with trained and armed rangers, you still can’t help feeling vulnerable.
There is nothing that beats the experience of a life-changing encounter with these towering giants.
The above options mostly require a lot of walking, so be prepared and invest in the proper footgear.
Also, remember that some park regions are malaria hotspots, and the necessary precautions should be taken to prevent infection. Killing mosquitoes are allowed in the park.
A Safari in the Kruger National Park or one of many South African wildlife reserves can be whatever you want it to be.
Although luxury lodges are highlighted in brochures and ad campaigns, budget safaris can often connect you closer to nature. Yes, an “Out of Africa” experience is possible, and your days will start with a brew of coffee and the smell of an open wood fire… don’t say shoo to the buffalo.
Game rangers have a wealth of knowledge about the birds and animals with incredible close encounter stories aimed at entertaining you and, more importantly, educating you.
If you do one game walk and come across any of the big five, you’ll be hooked.
When planning your safari in Kruger Park, you should plan for an absolute minimum of five days. You can see pretty much the whole park at this time, but backtracking to favorite areas or waterholes may be off the cards. To allow yourself to enjoy the experience, look at booking for seven days.
Areas around the parks are just as exciting, and small towns like Graskop and Pilgrims Rest are a living history of the past. God’s Window is a must-visit site on your way in or out of the mighty Kruger Park.
Map courtesy of Safari.com
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