It’s been a good evening dining under the stars in South Africa’s Kruger National Park . Our guide Scotch and the rest of the guests and staff at Tanda Tula Safari Camp have been convivial company, and now it’s time for bed. Scotch leads the way along the path to our tent while we strain our eyes to follow him in the dark of an African night.
Suddenly he stops, cocks his rifle and motions us into the shelter of the bushes. We collectively hold our breath and peer out into the darkness. Slowly, Scotch takes out his flashlight and aims it in the direction of our tent.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You want to see wildlife close up in their own environment.
- You want to do it in comfort with good food and knowledgeable guides.
- Good for nature and animal lovers and those with a spirit of adventure.
There, lazily grazing at our front door, is the resident hippo from the waterhole. He’s huge and grey and not for moving until he’s had his fill. So we wait. He’s hungry and not shifting for anyone. To reinforce his determination, he defecates, using his tail to flick his dung in a variety of directions including ours.
“He’s marking his territory,” Scotch whispers. I crouch further into the bushes. I have no intention of intruding on his territory. At last, at long last, the hippo ambles off into the scrub and we scurry to the safety of our tent.
We’re immediately asleep despite the encounter. It’s been a long day and there’s an early start the next morning.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park lies to the north-east of South Africa on the border with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It was declared a national reserve in 1884 by President Paul Kruger in an attempt to save the game from being totally wiped out by hunters. Its status was changed in 1926 to that of a national park and renamed the Kruger in honour of the president.
It stretches for almost 2 million hectares across an unspoilt area where man’s interference is limited and wildlife takes precedence. 147 species of mammals, around 500 species of birds, and many reptiles and amphibians are found here.
We visited the central part of the park, which we reached by flying from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit and landing on a runway which seemed to stretch for miles. And indeed it did. It was built to take the Space Shuttle if ever it had call to make an emergency landing. From there, we drove to Timbavati and our luxurious camp, each tent complete with king size bed, ensuite bathroom, and a shower open to the sky.
Lots and Lots of Animals
The next day begins early with a safari into the bush riding in an open-top truck. Scotch is driving while Patrick rides shotgun. The morning air is chill and we’re glad of the blankets they supply.
The animals in the Kruger have lost their fear of man after a hundred years of protection: they barely seem to notice the trucks in which we are riding. But they are still wild animals. Scotch tells us to remain seated in the truck at all times in order not to alarm them.
We see giraffe, elephant, kudu, zebra, impala, lion, and water buffalo, and then, stretched out at the foot of a tree, a young, lithe female leopard. She ignores us. She yawns and closes her eyes. Patrick points up to the top of the tree. Hanging there are the remains of her breakfast, an impala. She’s a good hunter. When we return in late afternoon, the tree is decorated with two more impala. She is sitting on a branch crunching into the head of one animal.
‘Their favorite bit,” Scotch whispers.
We spend three days at Tanda Tula and each game drive is an experience. Patrick tracks a rhino on foot through the scrub until we eventually come face to face with it; Scotch drives carefully around lions that are stretched out in the sunshine; a herd of elephants makes its way from a waterhole, the only sound the soft shushing of their feet in the sand.
Animals rule in the Kruger; we are only visitors sharing a little of their lives.
- The best time to see the animals is during the dry winter months from June to October. It can be quite chilly then when the sun goes down, so take something warm to wear.
- Summers (November – May) are wet and the vegetation is lush making the game harder to spot but by then, migrant birds have arrived and the bush is filled with them.
- Temperatures in summer rise to around 30 degrees, so when you are traveling in an enclosed vehicle, try to make sure it’s air-conditioned.
- Animals give birth at the end of November and early December so this is a good time for spotting the young.
- This is a malaria area, especially in the hotter months so take anti-malaria pills with you and start them before you arrive.