Imagine the drive from Johannesburg International to Olifants Safari Camp, Kruger National Park, all geared up and anticipating your first ever safari trip. No reception, no access to the outside world, out in the wilderness. Nothing could have prepared me for this trip to Kruger Park. It was travelling as I’d never experienced before…
It was a six hour drive to Kruger Park (one of South Africa’s largest game reserves) from Johannesburg, up to the North East of the country, on the border of Mozambique. The drive was phenomenal, winding roads hugging the sides of mountains, overlooking forests and valleys so vast one can’t look away. In between towns we would come across market stalls of the most colourful and traditional clothing, jewelry, art work, pottery, you name it, just locals on the side of the road selling their hand crafted work.
Upon entering the park we were instantly in “off-road” mode, driving along single dirt tracks and already getting excited to see our new home for the next week or so. My family and I was all bundled into one hire car (six of us!) and were following friends who were locals and knew the area well. It was impressive (to say the least) that they were able to navigate themselves so well through the park, which had tracks leading every which way and not a sign post in site!
After a 45 minute bumpy ride into the park, we arrived at our lodge. At this point we’d been driving through bush plains and tropical forests and had already spotted an elephant and buffalo. We were desperate to stop to take photos but told to be patient, we’d seen nothing yet!
First Evening On Safari
They were right. What we’d experienced so far was the bare minimum. Our first evening at the lodge, we were all relaxing on the deck, which had a view of a river running through the park. We were happily chatting and watching a family of impalas hopping across the grass, when all of a sudden my younger brother jumps up and points to an elephant, it bust have been three meters tall, walking right past our deck.
Within the next two minutes there was a herd of around 30 elephants strolling right in front of us, bulls, mothers with their babies, passing straight through as was watched in utter awe of such a magnificent site. I cannot describe the feeling.
The next morning I was the first to rise, I wandered outside to see a group of Vervet monkeys playing in a tree nearby, and after walking back inside to brew a pot of coffee, turned around to find one had followed me into the house!
The Game Drives
Morning drives, in our Jurassic-Park-style Land Cruiser, would begin at around 6am as dawn and dusk were the best time to spot wildlife. We were hoping to see the ‘Big Five’ (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino) by the end of the trip. The drives were fantastic, slowly cruising through the bush or forests for hours on end, stopping whenever we saw anything animal, pulling up at different spots to see what we could find.
On the third morning we turned to drive along the river and saw a pack of baboons scrambling across the bridge, over which we could see two elephants in the water, a mother bathing her baby. What an incredible site it was, so incredible in fact that we barely noticed the giant rhino wallowing in the mud of the river bank just a few meters ahead! This was the fourth of the big five, the only one left to find was a leopard. However Pete (our friend and guide) had told us not to hold our breath, leopards were extremely rare and almost impossible to find.
Searching For The Big Five
This search hadn’t proved too difficult to begin with. The elephants came to our door step, buffaloes were in abundance, a rhino we’d nearly driven into, lions we had seen but our friends the locals were pretty sure we could do one better and find a pack. And so the search began!
We had received a call on their radio saying a pack of lions were on the move. It was typical to receive such calls; other safari-goers helping each other out, sharing tips where to spot the best game. They did however use code words in their messages to one another so as to not alert poachers of the whereabouts of rare animals. Poaching is unfortunately still a massive problem in Kruger Park.
So we headed on a night drive in search of this pack of lions. We pulled into Runner Damn which was a secure lookout point, sort of like a tree-house, over looking a waterhole. After waiting about an hour we spotted headlights of another car on the hill above us, and in front, the pack of lions heading down straight towards our tree-house. And so they arrived, four fully grown male lions walking straight towards us. All four stopped and had a drink from the waterhole directly below. Unbelievable!
Oh and to top it off we caught a glimpse of a leopard perched up a tree on the side of the road on the way home! The Big Five complete!
So that was our experience at Olifants Safari Park, a week of exploring and adventuring through the wilderness, no noise, no outside world. Bliss.
See more safari photography here