Safari. It is a Swahili word for journey. Journey, indeed. While technically our safari kicked off October 2012, the inception of this recent adventure is only weeks young.
Traversing three continents in three days with a 14-hour layover in Zurich? Yup. That’s how we roll, especially when we’re rollin’ with free flights (if one can call flying on miles free).
It’s been a while since I’ve written, and if I can get my act together, I’ll write a post on the three months we spent in Cape Canaveral, Florida. I can, at least, share some photos. Hopefully sooner than later, but let’s not hold me to that. I’ve proven myself unreliable when it comes to going backwards in time.
We spent the first two weeks of February visiting family between North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. I had a few book readings and earned some mad money from book sales – hooray! We experienced several snow storms and after shoveling lord knows how many feet of snow and freezing our tails, we are validated ten times over in our choice of living in warmer climates. I applaud the local snowblower and tractor calvary (aka Tom and Don) who graciously give their time and equipment to helping the ladies on the street. I envision people lining the street, waving their flags and cheering when they arrive after a big storm.
***If you want to skip all the written gobbledygook, head to the animal photos just about midway.***
On February 16 we flew from Newark, Joisey to Zurich. Zurich airport is very easy to navigate and has a luggage room for folks who want to stow their stuff and hit the town. They charge 6 Swiss Francs per bag. That was the cheapest thing in the whole of Zurich. Trains, costing about $15.00 US/per person roundtrip, depart from the airport every 20 or so minutes to downtown. We spent a lovely and brisk day tooling around that beautiful city. Two things we didn’t enjoy much in Zurich were food and beverages. The outrageous prices ($12 for a sandwich?) sent us to the market for bread and water.
Our second flight departed after 10:00 PM on February 17, and thanks to the Lunestra someone helped us score, we were knocked out for about 6 hours of the 9-hour flight. A movie, a snooze, and two vegan meals. It’s all good on Swiss Air, except the hard seats and the small kicking child behind me. Really, now, I was heading to Africa. I was waaaay too happy to let those minor annoyances get my hair in a twist. Bring it, you yellow cropped toddler with sticky fingers and strong legs!
All of our bags arrived at the Jo-burg Airport. That makes for a good start to a new journey. Scott’s brother, Laine, who is currently living in Cape Town and who also provided our airport transportation, our temporary South African home, and our first guided safari, greeted us at the airport.
The four-hour drive to Marloth Park took five hours. Road construction rendered us motionless but enjoying the moment nonetheless. Folks walked up and down the road selling their cold’ish beverages and food.
We departed on Monday and arrived to Laine’s house in Marloth Park (along the southern border of Kruger Nat’l Park) Wednesday evening, stopping only for some safari groceries which consisted of peanut butter, bread, nuts, fruit and food bars (brought from the US). More on Marloth in an upcoming post. Let’s get to the good stuff – our first safari.
Kruger National Park
Thursday early afternoon we took off for the bushveld. It was a bit of a whirlwind, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. On the 15-minute drive into Kruger while still in Marloth Park we saw Impalas and Zebras. I took about 100 photos even before we made it to the gate. We entered Crocodile Bridge gate to Kruger National Park.
*TIP* Purchase your Kruger Visitors Guide at the gate. They have a small shop there, and for only about 37 rand (about $3.50 US) you can purchase a fabulous booklet chock full of information about the wildlife, terrain, habitat, and maps.
Before I load you up with written information on our three days in Kruger, allow me to wet your whistle with some zebra photos. Zebras may very well be the most photogenic creatures on earth, besides Stella, of course.
Also called Burchell’s Zebra, they can be found in the open savannah or grassland commingling with impalas and wildebeests.
The stripes on a zebra are evolution’s way of protecting them, because when they band together they look like one ginormous unit. This confuses and turns away predators. Zebras have no particular breeding season, foals can be born in any month. Learn more here at Siyabona Africa.
Map of Kruger National Park
Note: This following section will be most useful for those planning to visit the park.
Kruger National Park is huge. At about 5 million acres or 2 million hectares, it spans 7523 square miles. Basically, it’s huge, so huge that in 3 days we only covered the portion of the park that is highlight with faded red squares (below). And that is with hightailing it in certain parts so that we could get to our rest camps in a timely manner. Here is some cool information on Kruger from the folks at SANParks (South African National Parks).
*TIP* Purchase your Wild Card well in advance (2 months seems to be ample time for the US) to save a ton of money on park entrance fees. For example, the “couple” card Scott and I purchased was 2610 Rands or approximately $250.00 US, and it allows us to enter any SANPark park (about 80 in South Africa and Swaziland). This card is good for a full year, and because we’re here for 3 months, it was a great deal. The park charges a conservation fee for each day you are present. For example, the fee for international visitors from November 2013 – October 2014 is 248 Rand/day. That is about $25.00 US per adult (children are 124 Rand or about $10.00 US). We only have to be in the park for five days to absorb the cost of the Wild Card. We plan to visit the park for at least another 12 days after this first safari. That cost would have otherwise been exorbitant ringing in at about $750 US. Here is some information on Day Visitors and here is information on the pricing.
*TIP* Reserve your rest camp well in advance as some of the best spots (along the perimeter where there is often a river) may fill up quickly. There are 12 main rest camps with four satellite camps as well as overnight hides (for the brave and adventurous) and bushveld camps. Click here for reservations.
Our Three Day Safari in Kruger
Given the size of the park, the wonderful slow speed limits, frequent stops, and the length of time it takes to drive on the rough roads, one must allow ample time to get to the rest camps. The gates close at dusk!
*TIP* Plan your trip well, because if you are not at the gate of your planned rest camp (reservations made in advance are highly recommended) by the stated time you will pay a stiff penalty. Here is information on the various gate and camp opening and closing times throughout the year.
Day #1 from Crocodile Bridge Gate to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp
Our first day we drove about 90 kilometers. The map below shows highlights of our route ending with Pretoriuskop Rest camp circled in reddish-orange. This part of the region is called the Sourveld. To learn more about the variety of grasses and the difference between Sweet and Sour Veld, check out The Safari Guide.
Our Route (this info is only useful for folks who want to follow our journey): Beginning at Crocodile Bridge we took the S25 (road) and made a pit stop at the Hippo Pool. From there, we took S27 to S26 to S23. These are all slow, dirt roads. We hopped on the H3 (paved road) to H2-2 landing in Pretoriuskop.
We stayed in a very modest bungalow (#1) at Pretoriuskop Rest Camp.
Cost: R822/$79.00 US
My Pretoriuskop lodging rating on a scale of 1-6 (I’ll try to do this for every place we stay):
There were a bunch of dead bugs (the normal stuff moths, flies n’ such) on the comforter and in the shower, but this may be expected given the wild nature of things. It’s likely hard to upkeep, but one would still expect it given one is paying a considerable amount of moolah.
General Accommodations: 3
It comes with a WC, private ablutions is an automatic point. The bungalows were older and very modest. There is a comfy little sitting area outside.
General Environs: 3
This camp is fair to middling. It has a store and a gas pump which is very convenient. Otherwise, our bungalow was situated around a grassy yard, which didn’t give it that wild feel one may expect in a place such as Kruger. To be fair, we didn’t stay long. We arrived just as the sun was setting and moved out early the next morning.
Day #2 from Pretoriuskop Rest Camp to Tamboti Rest Camp
Our Route to Tamboti Rest Camp: We took the H1-1 out of Pretorisukop and headed to the S10. We tried our best to stay off the main roads (the H-roads) to make the trip more interesting. We drove 179 kilometers in about 9.5 hours stopping not once to pee. Three cheers for either a strong bladder or utter dehydration. We arrived at Tamboti, a satellite camp to Orpen, just in the nick of time. This part of the region is called Marula/Knob-thorn Open Tree Savanna. Additional information on the eco-zones can be found here.
Tamboti lodging rating for the Safari Tent (1-6 scale): Cost R1021/app. $95.00 US
Then again it was somewhat dark inside, so I simply may have overlooked uncleanliness.
General Accommodations: 5
We rented a safari tent (#34), which is a fancy way to say a hotel room with wood board floors and canvas walls. It was awesome. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do some fancy camping without the headache of setting up a tent? It had a WC and a small inside sitting area. The kitchen was outside on a short deck. Comfy chairs, a sink, fridge, and two electric burners. Cool.
General Environs: 6
I love this place. We were situated overlooking the Timbavati River. Leopard and elephant tracks decorated the sandy shore. Divine. With lush growth and big trees we were enveloped by nature. And the front porches are situated in a way one couldn’t see one’s neighbor. Additionally, I had some time in the morning to explore a bit and take butterfly photos. We will come back here.
*Tip* Check in at Orpen which is only 2 kilometers away, but be sure to give yourself enough time to check in at Orpen and get to Tamboti before the gates close.
*Tip* Safari Tent #34 was in a perfect location, and I would also suggest trying to get #40 which is at the very end with no neighbors to the right.
Day #3 from Tamboti Rest Camp back to Crocodile Bridge
And on the third day we drove 203 kilometers leaving on H7 to S106 back to H7 and eventually ending at H4-2 at Crocodile Bridge. We stopped at two different picnic areas.
*TIP* Roads are very well marked, and if you look on the map, you’ll see several places where you can park and get out of your car. Otherwise, as directed by the park officials, stay in your car. One never knows what’s lurking behind the tall grasses.
***The Amazing Wildlife at Kruger***
Here is the estimated count of species at Kruger:
The Big Five
One comes to Kruger with the great anticipation of seeing the Big Five: African Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Leopard and Lion. We saw all but the leopard and so much more! We have faith we’ll see a leopard on one our visits, but in the meantime there is eye candy (or eye taco if you live in Mexico) everywhere we looked.
Are you ready to see the photos?
I did us all a favor and reduced the original 2000 photos to 593 and am still deleting and editing. Not to worry, I’m only sharing about 130 of my faves with you. Okay, you may want to worry a little bit if you’re super anal and need to look at each one closely. Otherwise, like the Black Rhino, just browse. The following photos were taken over the span of three days:
There are about 36,500 African Buffalo in Kruger as of 2009. We saw a number of Donga Boys, which, according to our safari guide, Laine Pepper, are old African Buffalo.
As of 2009, there were 300 Black Rhino and 9000 White Rhino in Kruger. Both the Black and White Rhino are the grave and futile victims of poaching, and poaching is the pathetic result of a greedy society including the need to decorate with animal parts (horns) and the use of body parts in Chinese Medicine. If Asian men (I say Asian, because the Vietnamese are just as culpable as the Chinese, but I am certain many other cultures engage in this same ‘medicine’) don’t soon figure out that Viagra is more potent than Rhino horn, we will, in the too near future, see the end of these incredible creatures.
According to Wikipedia, poaching in South Africa escalated from 12 rhinos in 2004 to 946 in 2013. More from the BBC on Rhino Poaching here. And then there is the Dallas Safari Club that auctioned off a permit to kill a Black Rhino (mind you, these animals are endangered) in the name of conservation. Instead of just donating the $350,000 for conservation, the high bidder will take the time and expense to kill this unique animal.
Please sign any petition you see to stop animal poaching. Here is one from Change.org to stop Rhino poaching. Here is a Facebook page to stop Rhino poaching. It takes a village against the perils of greed to make these changes. Please join me in speaking for these animals who otherwise have no chance against armed so-called men.
We had the most fortunate and rare opportunity to see a Black Rhino. Given there are merely three-hundred of these incredible creatures remaining in the Kruger Park, I felt incredibly privileged. This fella had a gash in his side. From a lion? A human? I don’t know. We saw a number of battered animals. It’s rough out there in the wild, but unlike us humans, we heard not one complaint.
The Browser (Black) Rhino
A browser is someone who eats bushes with his head up like the Browse or Black Rhino.
The Grass (White) Rhino
A grazer is someone who eats grass with his head down like the White Rhino. It has a wide mouth and is more social than the Black Rhino. Their mouths are wider because they talk more, much like the social humans I know. jk lol smiley face icon
As of 2009 there were 12,900 elephants in Kruger. These guys are incredible. For as big as they are, they walk so silently. One can hear them chewing.
Like the Rhino, elephants are poached, but for their ivory. The situation is so bad for elephants that they are considered “ecologically extinct”. A very touching, recent article from National Geographic shares some painful examples of elephants’ ability to feel empathy. One example details how a baby elephant stayed with his dead mother for 14 hours, weeping, and he continued to weep after her body was removed. If this doesn’t make you want to help elephants, then read the article and look at the photo of his little body draped over his mother. Judgment alert: One would have to be heartless to not feel his pain. Please sign the Avaaz petition to stop bloody ivory.
The lions we were so fortunate to see must have just consumed a big feast. I find myself conflicted – happy the lions are able to eat and totally bummed about the fact they might have just eaten one of the animals that are now so dear to me – zebras or wildebeests or worse yet, a giraffe. Supposedly they eat every 3-4 days, and according to our safari guide, the female is the one who usually kills the prey but the male is the one who eats first. And if there isn’t enough food for the cubs, they will starve watching their papa eat. That’s inequality at its finest. Lots of interesting lion factoids here.
How in the world giraffes didn’t make it into one of the “Big” something or other is beyond me. Really, there should be a Big Six.
Like humans, giraffes only have seven vertebrae; unlike humans, they can get up to 5.2 meters/17 feet in height. Like almost all the other big animals, giraffes are herbivores eating a plant-based diet. Subliminal message: Go plant-based! Giraffes are browsers feeding on 70% of the trees in Kruger but preferring the Acacia and Combretum species. They have no problem eating and digesting sharp, thick thorns. Read more here.
There are nine Common Antelope listed in the Kruger National Park Visitor’s Guide: Steenboks, Bushbucks, Waterbucks, Impalas, Common Reedbucks, Nyalas, Klipspringers, Kudus, & Common Duikers. I show photos of five of them in the slideshow below.
Monkeys, Warthogs, Tortoises, Hippos, Wildebeest and Hyaenas
I’ll write more about these guys in a future post. Let’s just leave it at this – there is an astronomical amount of wildlife to experience at Kruger. Some don’t like to visit during the summer, because the vegetation is too lush and plentiful thus hiding the animals. Surely, we missed a lot of animals hiding in the tall grasses, BUT I took 2000+ photos in 3 days. Is this not evidence that one will still see a lot of animals? Frankly, I prefer to see the animals when they are well-fed and watered. Sure, one will probably see a lot more animals when the bush is reduced to a woody, leafless skeleton and there is little water available, but the animals, too, will be starving and dehydrated. That would be difficult for me.
My hubby created an awesome video, a montage of animal sightings. Giraffes peeking out from Acacia, baby elephants following their Mamas, galloping baby warthogs. Enough cuteness already! It’s about 10 minutes long, so please sit back and enjoy.
The Small Five
There is, as I recently discovered, a Little Five at Kruger: They are the: Antlion, Eastern Rock Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, and Rhino Beatle (super cool mini-looking rhino). But we took the liberty to create our own Small Five, and despite the fact their names don’t align with the big five, they’re uber awesome little creatures. The Small Five are the: Southern Red Bishop, Dwarf Chameleon, Dwarf Mongoose, Blue Tailed Skink, and Bush Baby. BTW, this list may evolve as we spend more time in the park.
Southern Red Bishop
Not the best photograph, yet this vibrant bird is full of personality. The Southern Red Bishop is in the running with the Malachite Kingfisher and may lose his Small Five status. And if I see a Sunbird (like our hummingbird) and can get a good photo, there is no doubt he’ll be replaced. But for now, he’s in a comfy position.
These uber cool cuties are considered threatened according to an article I read on on Siyabona Africa. We saw two during our three days driving. Take heed drivers! Because the Dwarf Chameleons are often crossing a road. They freeze when “danger” is near, so they look like bright, green leaves. As you’re looking out across the bush, be sure to look at all the amazing critters trying to cross the road as well.
Check out the Dwarf Chameleon video. He rocks with each step. Maybe he has to build momentum? Take a close look at his eyes. He is watching us watch him.
Oh but wait! I have a video!
Blue Tailed Skink
The Blue Tailed Skink has the prestigious honor of being part of the Small Five, because he is so stunning and doesn’t even know it. Sadly, these guys are captured and sold as exotic pets. For anyone who knows me, you then know I take issue to purchasing any kind of living being. These guys, like all their compadres, belong in their natural habitat.
Is this for real? Yes! And they are incredible! I’ll talk more about the Bush Baby in an upcoming post, but for now, you can read a tidbit from the African Wildlife Foundation.
Witnessing the incredible bird life in Kruger was an important part of this journey for me. I learned there are over 420 bird species in this region. I’m lovin’ on Laine’s bird book: Roberts Bird Guide: Kruger National Park and Adjacent Lowveld: A Guide to More than 420 Birds in the Region. The first couple of pages show thumbnails of a variety of birds which makes searching for the visual learner a delight. I also found Robert’s Online, which is fabulous for those birder and birder wannabe’s.
In the gallery below you’ll find photos of 35 different bird species we saw in Kruger. A handful of the photos are only mediocre, but I wanted to share them with those who may be curious. In addition to those 35 we saw, there were several we heard but didn’t see. Three of which are the Babbler, Burchell’s Coucal and the African Pied Wagtail.
Beauty abounds in Kruger. From morning to night there are stunning landscapes.
And on the third evening, we made it out of the park just as they were closing the gates behind us. Fare thee well gorgeous zebras, we shall return.
If the meaning of safari is journey, then I suppose each one of us is on a safari, daily. It’s not where you go on safari but how you live it and breathe it all in. You could be in the bush veld, in Philadelphia, surfing the Pacific or climbing Mt. Everest. But this is for certain, if you don’t make the absolute best of it, you are missing a moment that will be gone forever. Relish your safari and let your inner-wild shine. ~KS Pepper
This is Post #1 of our South African Adventure – stay tuned for more by subscribing- enter your email address at the top and click “Click!” or go to the RSS button on the right (it takes a moment to register after you click it).
Check out the other South Africa posts below:
This is South Africa Post #1: Our first Kruger National Park Safari
South Africa Post #2: Babysitting a Banded Mongoose Pup in Marloth Park
South Africa Post #3: When Zebras Visit
South Africa Post #4: Daily Living in Marloth Park, South Africa
South Africa Post #5: Kruger Restcamps: Skukuza, Satara and Olifants
South Africa Post #6: Kruger Safari: Full Moon over Letaba
South Africa Post #7: Kruger Safari: Treasure Hunting in Tamboti and Lower Sabie
South Africa Post #8: There’s a Mongoose in my Ear!
South Africa Post #9: Peering through God’s Window at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #10: The Dam Boat Tour at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #11: Rare Sexual Encounters of South Africa
South Africa Post #12: To the Wildlife of Marloth Park
South Africa Post #13: Nelspruit to Cape Town
South Africa Post #14: Moved to Tears on Freedom Day
South Africa Post #15: Penguins in South Africa?
South Africa Post #16: The Southernmost Tip of Africa
South Africa Post #17: Birds of Eden at Plettenberg Bay
South Africa Post #18: Dear South Africa: I love you, but…
South Africa Post #19: Elephants at Addo National Park
South Africa Post #20: The Garden Route: Nature’s Valley and Wilderness
South Africa Post #21: Endangered Bontebok
South Africa Post #22: Top Five Cape Town Experiences
South Africa Post #23: Chasing Rainbows in South Africa
South Africa Post #24: Vegan Wanderlust in South Africa
South Africa Post #25: Ubuntu
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