Wildlife Safari in The Kruger National Park South Africa
Looking down from the window seat of my plane, I see a small patch of clearing below me surrounded by a dense forest. As the plane flies low, the pilot announces that we are landing in Skukuza, one of the camps of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The grasslands look greener as we land, the only plane in this tiny airstrip near the Kruger National Park. I rub my hands in glee as am all set for the Wildlife Safari in Kruger National Park South Africa.
Everything about Skukuza looks quaint starting from the airport which looks like a little resort. Larger than life rhinos and elephants carved in stone greet us. In the local lingo, Skukuza means to sweep and it was actually the nickname of the wildlife warden, James Stevenson Hamilton, who “swept” the Kruger National Park clean of poachers.
We are all set to spot the Big Five in South Africa. Although there are several national parks like Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, the oldest in the country, nothing comes close to a wildlife safari in Kruger National Park and the private game reserves near Kruger like Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.
Our very journey from the airport feels like a Kruger National Park safari. We are following the course of River Sabi that flows through the Kruger National Park.There are baboons and antelopes everywhere.
At first we see a herd of impala and then we spot the horn striped antelope on the Kruger Park safari.. A pair of wildebeest escape into the bushes. And then we suddenly slow down . A leopard tortoise gives us company on the road. Our first halt before heading for a safari in Kruger National Park is at Sabi River Sands.
There is a sprawling golf course here flanked by the mountains but my interest lies in the birds that flock at Sabi River Sands, particularly the hadeda that resembles an ibis. We interrupt the geese and cross a wooden bridge across the river on foot to see a crocodile resting in the marshes.
Another one enjoys a swim in the river. We go to another dam where a thunder of hippopotamus are floating and fighting in the waters.
We spend another night in the heart of the jungle .Our journey seems to follow the wild river as we enter Hazyview where the untamed forests present themselves through ravines. Standing in the cozy balcony of my room in a retreat called Summerfields, I am listening to the murmurs of the river as it gushes along the woods. Suddenly I hear a thud and a voice tells “ Stay in your rooms, hippos in the river, “ The serpentine branches of the trees create a hazy foreground and I can barely see anything.
Finally we are all set for the safari in Kruger National Park. Our tryst with the river continues as I head to Earth Lodge, one of the most luxurious lodges in Sabi Sabi Game Reserve, a private game reserve that lies adjacent to the Kruger National Park and has one of the highest densities of wildlife in the area.
There are several private game reserves near Kruger in Sabi Sands Game Reserve and Sabi Sabi Game Reserve is just one of them. Spread over 65000 hectares, the game reserve shares a border without any fences with Kruger National Park.
The haunt of the Big Five, wildlife lovers flock this private game reserve near Kruger and its many lodges named after the two rivers Sabi and Sands.Hence it is referred to as Sabi Sands Game Reserve and wildlife enthusiasts stay in these luxurious game reserves near Kruger to get an experience of the Kruger Park safari.
We are at lunch in an open restaurant at the Earth Lodge in Sabi Sabi Game Reserve when we are interrupted by a visitor who is very thirsty. Standing barely a few feet from our table is an African elephant who looks around, flapping his large ears and lording over the landscape. In front of him is a small little pond but the elephant gazes around very cautiously before drinking from the pool.
And then it looks at us and bellows a trumpet. Immediately a herd enters through the dense canopy of trees and take over the pond. A calf is given priority as the matriarch shields it from the rest of the herd.
We leave them and head out on a wildlife safari in Kruger National Park. As we drive through the dry landscape, the naturalist tells us that they are still waiting for the rains. Amidst the stunted bushes is a saddle-billed stork, that looks like our own black-necked stork.
The giraffes come calling and they are busy with their lunch too. The zebras are everywhere. We see more antelopes – the smaller ones are called kudu . The national animal of South Africa – the springbok darts into the woods. The hills are filled with rhinos that look like dots that are moving. The private game reserves have as much game as the national park for they are virtually seamless. Even as we are driving around Sabi Sabi Game Reserve it feels like you are on a Kruger National Park safari.
The sun is slowly setting and we suddenly stop . Lying behind a bush, next to our vehicle is a contended leopard sprawled on the ground after a heavy meal.
The skies are painted in shades of gold. The night sky slowly invades the landscape and we are still on the safari hoping to sight more wildlife that lurk in the dark. The moon shines through the woods lending a romantic touch. I have never been in the jungle this late at night. Silence echoes and even the river is quiet. Suddenly a hyena laughs its way home as it rushes past us. And then all of a sudden, we realize that the denizens of the jungle are wide awake looking at us with invisible eyes. The night is still young for them but for us, it is time to call it a day as we return to the Earth Lodge after an amazing safari in Kruger National Park and Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.
Wildlife is not the only reason to beckon you to South Africa. If you are planning a trip, then check out this post on 50 Unique Things to do in South Africa by Journalist on the Run.
I was hosted by South Africa tourism board when we attended INDABA.