Postings from Pretoria #33
06 June 2010
Hello there... Rodger French here.
Photo Update Alert: http://picasaweb.google.com/rodger.french
When we came to South Africa in September 2008, one of the first things we did was make “The List”; that being the places we wanted to visit during our all too brief tour in country. The first two were obvious: Cape Town and Kruger National Park. We’ve been to Cape Town several times, but simply hadn’t worked in Kruger until now. A.J. had, however, scheduled one last official visit to Swaziland (Postings From Pretoria #9), so we decided to extend that trip and drive to Kruger for a three-night stay.
We opted for a package deal, which included lodging, meals, and game drives, at Jock Safari Lodge, a small, very comfortable place located in the Park some 40km from the Malelane Gate, one of nine entrances. Kruger National Park (open to the public in 1927) is a very big place, encompassing some 18,989 sq km (7,332 sq mi), about the size of Israel. We wanted to see as much of it as possible in the course of five game drives.
[Sidebar: Jock Safari Lodge is named for a dog - that would be “Jock” – the subject of “Jock of the Bushveld”, written by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, an Englishman who spent considerable time in the South African bush. I actually read the book while in Kruger, and recommend it to anyone interested in what life was like – albeit from a White man’s perspective - in the Transvaal of the 1880s.]
Climatologically, we couldn’t have picked a better time to visit. It was a bit chilly for the morning (05h30) game drives, but we layered up. And since it’s the “off season”, the roads were not jammed with hoards of tourists (like us) equipped with cameras and binoculars, stopping whenever they spotted some animals doing what they do mostly: eat, sleep, and shit. And lots of it.
Our guide was James, a very capable young man who not only excelled at spotting game, but also at disseminating really interesting scientific factoids. I won’t try you with a blow-by-blow account of our explorations, but I have posted some photoz taken with my modest snapshot camera (someday… a proper zoom lens) and offer the following highlights.
Big Game – Saw The Big 5: Lion (a couple of young males considering taking on a buffalo), buffalo (giving the lions considerable pause), leopard (very shy and hard to find), rhino (white and the much rarer black), and elephant (several breeding herds); also giraffe, zebra, wild dog, hyena, kudu, wildebeest, bushbok, and the ubiquitous impala (or as the guides refer to them, “fast food.”)
“Ferrari Safari” – Some guides tend to zoom around the park looking for the big cats. James was, thankfully, not so inclined, except on one occasion, when we received reports of a young male leopard nearby. One very wild ride later, Anne and I spotted our first, and possibly last, leopard in the wild. We followed him as he descended from his perch in a marula tree to stalk a small herd of impala, until we lost him in the bush. Magnificent.
Deep Bushveld at Night – One of our evening drives found us deep in the bush after sunset. It was cold, dark, and damp… perfect. The bushveld can be a spooky place and one tends to hallucinate all sorts of possibilities in the headlights and searchlight waving back and forth. We spotted owls, nightjars, rabbits, and a porcupine, which was tremendously exciting. Seriously.
Colourful Birding – Grey-headed Parrots, Lilac-breasted Rollers, Brown-hooded Kingfishers, and Yellow-beaked Hornbills (my favourite bird in all the world). Stunning.
Jock-like Creatures – Specifically hyenas and wild dogs. These dogs are endangered; so finding a small pack was a bit special. They were very curious and mostly ran around doing dog-like things. The hyenas were equally curious, but kept trying to find something on the bushmobile to sink their teeth into; not a frivolous concern, since a hyena can bite through even very substantial tyres.
I would be remiss not to mention that we appreciated the efforts of the lodge staff (and tipped heavily) and thoroughly enjoyed the fine company of our fellow tourists, both on game drives and at mealtimes. All in all, I’d say that we took our best shot at Kruger and everything went swimmingly. Now we’re back in Pretoria and waiting for the 2010 World Cup to begin. Hang on.