Camping in Kruger National Park, South Africa

September 3-9, 2013

Here kitty kitty...


From Cape Town, we head east for a week of self-drive safari, picking up another silver Toyota corolla 'Silversbok II' in Hoedspruit, near the east gate of Kruger National Park. Our rig is pathetic (with our tiny tent, miniature backpacking stove, and single folding chair) next to all the South African pensioners who are out in force with their giant caravans, sun awnings, wind screens, electric lights, dining tents, tables and comfy arm- chairs. But we are delighted to be camping in the African bush by night and driving the (mostly tarred) roads by day, gawking at all the wildlife.





The electric fence is a crucial element at the campgrounds(!), protecting us from the lions, leopards, cheetah, hyena, and elephants roaming nearby. We sleep at the perimeter, our tent facing out into the bush, and listen to all of these nocturnal animals out there in the darkness.

At this time of year in the southern hemisphere, the densest part of the Milky Way is directly overhead in the early night sky. (This is a 25 sec exposure w/24mm lens and a new moon.)





Its hot and bright, a large herd of elephants is bathing in the Shingwedzi River. The young ones dunk underwater, piling on top of each other, spraying and swimming, flapping their ears. Everyone is playing. When the adults say, "Time to go!" everyone heads out of the water, up the steep sand bank. First order of business for any clean, wet elephant: Coat yourself with dust!





We spend a dreamy night, just the two of us camped in the Shipanani Hide along the Tsendze River, listening to happypotamuses bobbing in the water, making raucous sounds all night long.



One afternoon we come across several cars and a cargo truck stopped at odd angles, blocking the road. Everyone is looking in the same direction into the mopane forest. One South African guy pulls up says excitedly that they just saw a young leopard cross the highway and disappear into the forest, "he may still be in the area". But soon everyone gives up their search and drives away.

Somewhat disappointed that we missed the action again I back up Silversbok just to have a look, and there just a few meters from the black-top is this leopard, sitting quietly staring out at us. Very casually he resumes his stealthy saunter, looking as though he's about to pounce on something we can't quite make out in the brush. We are lucky this time, and watch this guy for a half hour until he eventually disappears for the last time into a ravine. What a lucky break to see this beautiful and elusive creature!

The next day, we meet a guide who works for one of the high-end private lodges in the area who clues us in to the sound that leopards make when asserting their territory "like sawing wood". That night, and several nights thereafter, we hear the sawing off in the distance, and can easily imagine that not far away, leopards are prowling.






Last day, final hours in Kruger, we are reluctantly driving to the airport. We don't want to leave this special place. Wait! I see cars parked askew along the road, the telltale sign that wildlife is near.

We ease up to the car mob and focus our binoculars on the pale white termite mound 20 meters away -- a cheetah is lounging on the mound. No, not one cheetah, there are two! Unbelievable! Only two hundred cheetahs live in Kruger and during our short stay we have seen four: two on our drive into the park in the first moments of the first day and another pair on our last day, on the drive out. We watch for 45 minutes, worried about missing our flight (which, as it turns out, was delayed 2 hours...) The cheetahs are so confident, so self-satisfied, like any kitty-cat. They stretch and yawn. Oh my, what HUGE teeth they have! One rolls on his back and almost slides off the mound. They are relaxed but alert, sleek and elegant. What a wonderful farewell!