Kruger National Park, Home of the Big 5

Trip Start Aug 25, 2009
Trip End Sep 07, 2009

Flag of South Africa  ,
Saturday, August 29, 2009

We've seen it on National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and many other documentary, the place where animals roam freely in the park, disregard of the human staring at them... this is Kruger National Park. Kruger is about 500km from Johannesburg (Joburg) so we started our journey at about 6am. With the help of my GPS, we quickly find our way onto the highway. The road was unbelievably straight, you can see at least 10km of straight road in front of you. Everyone were driving at least 140km/h and along the way you'll see a lot of people trying to hitchhike. There were a lot of tolls along the way, expect to pay about R100 one way on toll. We stopped by a petrol station for lunch.

After lunch we quickly rush towards Kruger. Along the way, my GPS led me into a small village whereby there were hardly any car driving by and everyone staring at us as if we're aliens from mars. We were so afraid that they might stop us and rob us... curse the GPS and never over rely on it. After a few quick turn, we finally left the village and reached the Numbi gate at 2pm. We paid our daily R140 conservation fee (R70 per pax, you need to pay park fees, called conservation fees here, for each day that you stay in the park) to get into the park. I've been to Pilanesburg so I'm setting my expectation right. sarah was so excited... being able to see roaming wild animals... priceless. When you go to any of the national park, check out my Park Rules 101 and my Park Survival 101.

Park Rules 101:
1.    NEVER EVER get out of the car unless the signboard says so as hungry animals like easy prey like you. Your flesh is not good for animal health.
2.    Park speed limit is 50kmph on tar road and 40kmph on gravel road. Speeding will result in hefty fine, hole in your pocket and tears from your eyes.
3.    If you’re not staying overnight in the park, observe park closing time and get out of the park before that, else even heavier fine awaits you.
4.    Don’t ever feed the animal. Your food is not good for their health. Animals will get lazy and rely on human to feed them.
5.    Don’t litter. There’s no one to go around the park to pick up your rubbish. No one wants your junk to end up in some animal’s stomach.
6.     Hyena roam the camp perimeter at night, attempt to feed them will mostly end up with them chewing on your arm as well. Fyi, hyena rank 2nd in bite force after crocs so don't mess with them.
7.    Give way to animal when they are crossing the road, be a gentleman, they are the 1st class citizen in KNP.

KNP Survival 101:
1.    Self-drive safari is the most affordable way of going about safari. Map (available at the entrance) and useful safari guide (teach you how to differentiate water buck, red buck and the rest of the buck family) is essential. Biggest advantage of self-drive safari is the flexibility, you decide when and where you wanna go, and it costs less than a guided safari.
2.    You're allowed to drive a rental car into the park. Most rental companies allow you to do that, but to be sure, reconfirm with the car rental company. Rent a car with aircon, even in winter! Else you'll be driving an oven around the park.
3.    Bring your own cooking utensils and dish washing liquid. There are restaurants at the camp but it won't be cheap. Most economical way is to cook your own food. All camps have electric stove and hot water.
4.    Bring your own sunblock else you'll get toasted by the sun, even in winter and spring. It may be dead cold in Cape Town while KNP will be blazing hot.
5.    Plan your trip, KNP is freaking big. Do not attempt to cover too great a distance cause KNP is a massive tract of land and you might end up spending too much time traveling. What I did was to calculate the distance from the map and calculate the time required to go there and back.
6.    KNP is a malaria zone. You should take malaria tablet before you go and get yourself inject with vaccines. However, we did neither of these and we survived !!
7.    Morning safari walk is more worthwhile than safari drive cause you get to see more things and access the area not accessible by driving. Rangers will also teach you a variety of things like tribal medicine and how to differentiate lion and hyena poo. Wear long trousers no matter how hot it will be else you'll get scratched.
8.    All cafes in each camp sell the same food. They serves tasty pasta, much to our delight.
9.    Most of the information can be found at Book your accommodation via the website as early as possible. Those famous campsites are always fully booked.

We first checked in to our accommodation, Pretoriuskop camp before we head out. The way South African run their park really amazed us, booking is online and very informative, check in and out is easy, safaris are great, room is clean and etc. The first animal we encounter was a group of impala roaming in the camp. Sarah tried to be "friendly", attempting to bribe them with the leftover giraffe food from lion park, they don't seem tempted at all. We thank God that we're still alive at a time when these incredible wildlife still walks the earth. Imagine if we were born 100 years from now, will they still be around ? Wanna see animals, check out Sarah's Guide to Spotting Animal.

Dummy's Guide to Spotting Animals by Sarah
○    Drive slowly, the faster you drive, the more you miss
○    Look around, scan through the bush
○    Dawn and dusk are most productive game viewing periods.
○    If you plan to limit your game drives, make sure it’s the afternoon one you ditch. Although the morning starts are very early, they tend to offer better viewing.
○    Stop at waterholes
○    Stop at places with lots of cars stopped by
○    Scan through the trees for leopard
○    Do not set high expectation, just enjoy whatever you come across. Do not set a goal of seeing just one particular animal cause you may miss a lot of other interesting sightings.

We spent the whole afternoon driving around the park in search of animals. We came across impalas, giraffe, blue wilderbeast, but our main target was to see the big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, blue wilderbeast and leopard), especially the lion. We went to all the nearby waterhole but the animals seems to be avoiding us. Dawn and dusk are the best time to see animals as they usually hide during the day and they only come out when it gets colder. At dusk, we encounter a big group of car stopping by the roadside so we know it must be something exciting happening there (mandarin called hao liao). Yes, we were right, there was a pride of lion having their evening stroll. One of the male lion even walk across the road, passing through cars, showing off his "muchoness" to his "fanz". After that we quickly rush back to our camp, driving way way above the allowed speed limit.

Day 2, we woke up at 4am, still feeling sleepy, we hop on to our jeep and head out at dark for our morning drive. There was only us and another couple in the jeep. When the jeep moves and the cold wind blowing on us, we were so cold that we quickly wrap ourselves with the blanket. As the ranger requires me to hold the spot light and look for animal, I "sacrificed" my hand to hold the spot light for him. Only then I realize why hardly anyone sign up for the morning drive! It's freaking cold! We saw some elephants and a badger who was munching on rhino dunk (hmmm..). Finally the rising sun gave us some warmth and we managed to see a pair of cheetah roaming by the roadside. Being able to see cheetah, at least it's worth the suffering. We went back to cook our breakfast, since we don't have a pan to fry bacon, we use the aluminium foil to create a makeshift pan to fry the bacon, sausages and even cook omelette.

We went to Skukuza camp, KNP HQ, for our "African" lunch. Unfortunately, their Italian food seems to taste much better than African food. We head out again going to Orphen Dam, a site recommended by the French
ranger that I met in Pretoria who works in KNP private game reserves
but end up empty handed again. The nice scenery was a bonus though. Later on we came across kudus, elephants, and the usual bunch except lion. We stayed at Satara rest camp for the 2nd night and upgraded ourselves from hut to bungalow, complete with bathroom, aircon, fridge and your own balcony. A bottle of wine to go along, fantastic!

Day 3, we joined the morning walk led by 2 armed park ranger. His instruction to us was simple, "follow the rules, walk in line, if the animal goes after you, don't panic. If you run, animals get on you, we shoot both you and the animal. We don't prefer to shoot you cause that will bring us a lot of paperwork". Yup... we definitely GOT it. Along the way, he explained to us things like how to differentiate lion and hyena poo (what???), rhino poo and etc. He even attempt to trick us to munch on giraffe poo by telling us that a "nut". We saw a rhino family at close range and no luck with lion again. We did spot a hyena and a few wild boar on our there and out. We spend the afternoon in search of the last of Big 5, leopard but with no luck. With a little bit of regret, we left KNP through Crocodile Bridge gate.

After almost 4 hours of driving, we were back to Joburg and we spent another 1 hour searching for the hostel, again, it was GPS` fault. Due to our early flight to Cape Town the next morning, we checked in to this hostel called Shoesstrings Airport Lodge. The place was a little run down and feels like 18th century Victorian mansion. Our ensuite bathroom is ridiculously big but somehow it has only a bath tub with no shower and we ended up using the shared bathroom for shower. We couldn`t complain much after a long day, just wanted to have some goodnight sleep and gear up for whatever excitement in Cape Town tomorrow !!

~ By Philip
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