“What is that!?”, Becki asked the guide as we passed a tree with what looked like a carcass hanging high from a tree. On further inspection it was the hind legs of an impala suspended from a branch. He answered with just one word: “Leopard”.
This is what we had hoped to see in the Kruger after not being lucky enough in Chobe (Botswana) or Etosha (Namibia) to see any of the big cats
He went on to explain that leopards store their kill out of reach of other scavenger animals. So we knew he would be nearby and carried on down the road. Soon we saw paw prints and then a glimpse of the beast as he headed into the undergrowth.
We stalked him for a while walking down the road (he wasn’t interested in us in the even when lit by a spotlight) and watched as he drunk from a stream before following him back to the tree. As he started climbing a hyena appeared and stared up at the fresh meat. Hyenas know they would lose in a fight with a leopard but he was hoping for scraps (or the meat to fall down).
We watched for a while as the leopard and hyena stared each other out before the hyena gave up, and we left the leopard in peace to finish his dinner. It was thrilling to see him in his natural habitat, and in particular climbing the trees.
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We decided to move camps each day and explore a big chunk of the 20,000 sq km park (equivalent to the size of Wales) in our rental car.
All the camps were scenically located either upon rocky crags or beside rivers and in each one we had our own rondavel (traditional round house) with a terrace and, this being South Africa, a braai (BBQ). In one camp as we tried to sleep we were awoken by the cries of hippos in the river below (luckily there was an electric fence in between).
So, what of the other animal encounters? On a night game drive, we finally saw a pride of four lions, two sets of brothers. It was incredible. We watched in awe as they rolled around and roared at each other before disappearing into the bush. They were even bigger and more majestic than we imagined.
Just driving on the main roads we came across so many giraffes, zebras, rhinos, impala, kudu and more. After a while you got so used to them that you didn’t always bother to stop…
On the water we saw countless hippos and crocodiles alongside bird life.
Another extraordinary encounter was coming across a mother elephant and her two children by a waterhole right in front of us. We watched as they washed and drunk from the river. The baby elephants playfully messing around and the mum keeping a careful eye on us.
During one day of exploration we came across two giraffes doing a kind of dance, rotating around clockwise and swinging their long necks to the ground in unison.
Whilst we also loved the huge herds of animals in Kruger we also loved these intimate encounters where it was just us (protected only by the thin shell of our car) and these magnificent animals.
But our most thrilling/scary encounter was when we came across what looked like a small herd of elephants. We reversed back in our little car to what we thought was a safe spot only for more to start heading our way. They seemed to be passing us by unperturbed so we stayed put only for an even bigger herd to come on the other side of us. We were essentially surrounded by about 30 of the biggest elephants (with heights of up to 3m) we have ever seen and with babies too (which makes them aggressive). It was actually terrifying as they passed us by so closely with one male staring at us the whole time, even looking back once he’d passed. It didn’t take much for us to imagine one flipping over our car or crushing us. They were so huge. While I was filming Becki screamed at me to ‘take this seriously’! Which she doesn’t want me to put on here.
I just can’t believe they let you drive around the park in your own vehicle.
Our four days here were incredible.
On the drive back to Jo’burg we took the scenic route via the Blyde River Canyon. It’s the world’s third largest after the Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon (both of which we have also visited on this trip) but in our view, the most impressive.
Unlike the others which are rocky, this one is lush and green with sparkling blue water at the bottom.
A few other scenic stops (via a stop to change a flat tyre) and that was the end of our amazing 5,000 km road trip.
Next stop: returning to Cape Town to meet friends