What a day! 4.30am rise this morning in order that we could be in the Kruger National Park by 6am. We had a different driver / safari company today, but had the same wonderful experience.
Armed with cameras and a breakfast box from the hotel, we jump up into the jeep and head into the park, stopping for a few moments to witness a beautiful African sunrise from the Kruger.
Sunrise and sunset seem to be the most frenetic times in the Kruger. A lot of predominantly nocturnal animals are still active, before going off to sleep somewhere through the day. As such the safari guides are keen that the jeeps cover lots of ground, in order to enhance the chances of good sightings for tourists. It's all 'Go, Go, Go!' and we set forward with determination and focus to see as much wildlife as possible. I have to hang on to my hat tight though because the jeep's scooting along fast!
We start the day with a sighting of a little Swainson's Spurfowl. It was still poor light when this photo was taken, the sun not quite properly in the sky yet. It's easy to overlook the huge diversity of birdlife when you're on safari, instead looking for the 'Big Boys' such as lions and elephants. So it was nice just to take a little minute to admire this guy too.
Next stop - Zebra crossing! Zebra can be quite difficult to get a good shot of. They either stand with their backsides to you, or make a hasty departure when they see you. This chap was making a hasty departure, but luckily for me, his route took him right past the side of the jeep, allowing me the chance to catch just one reasonable shot before he was gone.
Since being a little girl, elephants have been one of my favourite animals, and it has been such a privilege to see as many as we did today, out in the wild. I have posted a number of photographs of elephant on the website so far, which can be found in the South Africa album. Not all images will be posted to the Blog, but I do like this one because of the detail it shows in the skin. Wrinkly big things, aren't they?!
And talk about an amazing opportunity to see at close quarters one of these guys! Lions eat once every four days and this one had clearly had a little Impala the night before. His tummy was bulging and the guide told us he was verging on being fat! I'm not surprised really; around every corner of the Kruger there is food for him - Impalas everywhere, baby giraffes etc. It's one of the things that most surprised me about the whole safari experience - most of these animals are practically living on top of one another, despite many being arch enemies. Plenty ripe pickings for the King of the Kruger here, and he was clearly taking advantage. Having just fed though, he was a little docile and sleepy, and lying right at the side of the road, afforded us a wonderful opportunity to get close to him for photos. He did unnerve me just a little with this direct stare - I don't think he much cared for the big lens on my camera being pointed into his face!
And just to make sure we all remember who's boss, Mr King gives us a view of the nashers......
Another thing that amazed me in the Kruger was how tolerant the animals seemed to be of human presence. These are wild and mostly dangerous animals, but they appear to be quite used to tourists stopping to take photos of them from the safety of vehicles. Mr King here was really neither here nor there about us being so close to him. In fact, after sitting up only for a minute to give us a pose, he just lay back down in front of us to get on with his slumber!
Similarly this lioness just walked around the parked jeep enroute back to her cubs, apparently totally unstressed by our presence.
This is the beautiful Impala, at the bottom of the pecking order in the Kruger and a prime target for Lions.
Unfortunately for Mr Impala, he has been nicknamed the 'McDonald's' of the Kruger - firstly because of the distinctive 'M' marking on this backside, and of course secondly, he is a target for most predators. Poor Mr Impala.......it can be difficult being a McDonald, I know........
These little guys made me laugh! I'm not quite so sure these Warthogs knew what to do when they saw us! They stood stock still, one behind the other, and just looked at us for a good ten seconds before turning and going on their way!
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, it is Spring in the Kruger and the trees are just coming into bloom. To be honest it is surprising there are any surviving trees at all as, around every corner, something is stripping them bare!
Even little trees don't escape; they're just fine fodder for hungry little giraffes!
Not giving us quite the same clear views as Mr King did, the safari guide spotted this Hyena sleeping the day away in his den. He lifted his head only momentarily on hearing the jeep stop, then went right back to sleep!
A beautiful male Kudu crosses the road in front of us. Look at those horns! What lady Kudu could resist?!
And last image for the blog - a gentle reminder that, regardless of the tolerance of humans the animals appear to show, at the end of the day the Kruger is their territory. So if baboons fancy a fight in the middle of the road, the traffic will have to blooming well stop until they are finished!
The only 'Big Five' animal that we haven't seen is the elusive leopard. There were three jeeps that went out today, and two saw Mr Leopard. I was in the third one! I would be lying if I said it wasn't a little disappointing not to be able to tick off all the Big Five from the list, but the experience has been so enriching that I can't dwell on it. At the end of the day we have seen so many amazing animals, most not classified as 'Big Five', and all an absolute pleasure to observe in the wild.
It's our last night in the Kruger Gate lodge tonight before we head off to Swaziland in the morning. Our Group meets for an evening dinner, all of us looking a little tired after such a long and active day, but full of enthusiastic chatter about the safari experience. I am told by one of my fellow travellers that the Masai Mara and Serengeti are amazing places for wildlife - better than the Kruger apparently (if that's possible). And whilst I always thought I would do a safari only once in my life, it's been such a fabulous experience, that I know I'll need to add another to the bucket list. I head off to bed wondering what Kenya would be like in September...........
Thank you for reading.