Unwilling to leave the animals so soon, we decided to drive south through Kruger National Park, rather than taking the quicker but infinitely less interesting highway. It was quick and easy to get into the park and we were surprised by how few instructions we were given before being waved through the gates. Going on safari in a VW Polo is something of an experience. Our first sighting was of a small group of elephants, and they appeared considerably larger when viewed from the alarmingly vulnerable position of 30cms off the floor, as opposed to ensconced safely in the back seats of a safari vehicle.
Naturally, things are much harder to spot when you are lower down and one of you has to concentrate on the driving, so we didn’t have high expectations of animal sightings. However, we saw a good deal more than we had anticipated in our 4.5 hours in the park. We saw several bull elephants and four sizeable breeding herds. One of these included the tiniest elephant baby we have ever seen. It was hiding under mum so we struggled to get pictures but we can assure you it was adorable.
It was mid-week, nonetheless we were surprised by how quiet it was and often there wasn’t another vehicle to be seen.
Kruger is beautiful.
The main roads are tarmac with gravel and dirt tracks making up the more minor access routes. You aren’t allowed to drive off-road in Kruger, which of course is great for the animals but does make wildlife spotting a challenge, you would have to be incredibly lucky to see cats. James did manage to pick a rhino out from quite a considerable distance and we found a spot where we could watch him between the bushes.
There were impala absolutely everywhere, so we rarely had stretches where there were no animals at all. For other animals, we had gaps of maybe 20 minutes but we were rewarded with lovely kudu and giraffe sightings and an enormous number of elephants.
We exited the park via the Malelane gate, which is on the bank of the Crocodile river. Several cars had stopped on the bridge just beyond the gates and we pulled over to see what the fuss was about. The rocks below were covered in sunbathing crocodiles, others were lying in wait just below the surface of the water, waiting to catch passing fish. The water was so clear we could make out the details of their faces as they lay in wait.
A little further along the bridge, a hippo was completely submerged in a deep pool, and we only saw him when he was pointed out to us.
A duiker was picking its way across the far bank. We took a moment to take in the beautiful view before climbing back in to Jilly and leaving the park behind us.
We are very glad that we had a day in Kruger, because now we have seen it and it is beautiful, but we aren’t sure that we would hurry back on a safari. Being limited to the roads means that your game spotting opportunities are significantly lessened. Equally, whilst it was a fun experience to self-drive, we probably wouldn’t opt to do it often, you see a lot more with an experienced guide…. And you get gin.
We had chosen to spend the night in Barberton as it was only 45 minutes from the Kruger gates and broke up the journey to the battlefields nicely. Our evening in Barberton was quite funny… in retrospect. You are advised not to drive anywhere in SA at night, and for the second time we found ourselves navigating unfamiliar streets in the dark. It may be that Barberton is completely safe, but should someone be looking to rob someone, the obvious target would be the people who are clearly tourists, in a rental car, staring avidly at their Sat Nav and we felt pretty vulnerable. This creepy feeling was not aided by the swarms of flying bugs that had appeared after the rain and battered the windscreen of the car. So, we felt a bit anxious as we tried to track down some food and an ATM. Barberton is not the most happening place in the world so our choices were KFC or whatever we could scrounge from a petrol station, we ended up with toast for dinner. Of course, nothing whatsoever happened to us whilst in town but we were already feeling a bit on edge as we made our way to our home for the night. We aren’t going to say the name here because it may discourage people to go and we don’t mean to leave a bad review, like we said, it’s funny in retrospect.
The place was a little way out of town and we quickly felt that we were in the sticks. As we turned up the drive, a medium sized snake slid slowly across the track in front of us. You may have gathered from our previous blog, we aren’t enormous fans of snakes, and they look extra slithery lit up in headlights. The house itself was almost entirely in darkness as we approached and we were nervous that we had arrived too late. Fortunately, a lady emerged from the gloom with two dogs at her heels. We breathed out and climbed out of the car to introduce ourselves. Catherine, our hostess, was English (of course) and mad (of course). Caro immediately crouched down to cuddle the dogs. We quickly learned that Catherine’s husband’s family hark from just down the road from where James’s family live (of course). Catherine gave us a quick tour of the house, which we had to ourselves, and then left us to it. Everything is eerier at night and we still had the heebie-jeebies as we wandered around the empty, unfamiliar house. Then the spider appeared. Caro had spotted it first and decided not to tell James, but then it moved in to our bedroom and matters became serious. Now, during the daytime it would have probably not been such a big deal, but it was about 10 centimetres long and scuttled more like a scorpion than a spider and it’s rust colouring with a bright yellow stripe made it look sinister and unfriendly. Cue James running around the bedroom with an ashtray and a piece of paper trying to catch it. Sadly, there are no photos of this activity because our hands were occupied but it was a fairly impressive athletic display on the part of the spider and it took several minutes before James had it secured and transferred safely to the garden, smashing the ashtray on the terrace in the process. Then our estate agent called to tell us that there was almost definitely a dead mouse in our sofa back home, excellent. We ate our toast, shuddering every so often, and looking forward to daylight and leaving.
Of course, in the bright light of day everything improved considerably, helped by the fact that we’d slept beyond 4:30am in a big comfortable bed without any insect invasions. The house was actually beautifully positioned with a lovely view (if you ignored the barbed wire) and we had a leisurely breakfast overlooking the town below.
We took our time getting packed up and the dogs came back up to say goodbye to Caro before we made our way to Dundee and the Battlefields.