Africa is truly one of the most diverse continents on this planet – for the most part, it is known for its colourful culture and wildlife. For my part, I know it for its danger and excitement, but I will have to explain why I feel that way. Africa never seems to disappoint, and it surely didn’t disappoint me on a warm winter afternoon in late July.
I was holidaying with my family in the northern part of South Africa, traveling up to cross the border into Mozambique. Along the way we decided to stay in accommodation alongside the Crocodile River, which is the river that runs through South Africa’s one and only National Park. Of course, we were going to explore Kruger National Park and find all the animals native to this beautiful, wild country. What we found exploring this part of the world was more than I imagined and certainly more than I expected…
Before I go into more detail on that experience, you must understand what Kruger National Park is all about. When some people think of Africa, they think of native people riding on the backs of elephants. This, however remarkable it would be, is not exactly the case. Hence, Kruger National Park – a home for the wildlife of Africa in the middle of civilization.
Kruger spans almost 20 000 square Kilometres of land and contains the Big 5, South Africa’s largest and most dangerous animals, as well as hundreds of other mammals and birdlife that make their home there. This beautiful gem in the heart of Africa is a vast world of all the wildlife you can imagine. Kruger National Park shows you Africa at its finest.
Let’s go back to my personal experience – it was a beautiful, sunny day in Kruger when we set out exploring a piece of the wild. When we went into the Park that day we saw almost the entire of the big 5 – Elephant, Lion, Buffalo and the Rhinoceros. All in a day’s work! It seems the only animal we failed to see was a leopard. We were definitely not complaining though, the leopard is a very rare spotting and also is an animal that gives ample reason for you to fear it. Most tourists hire a vehicle and drive themselves around the park but there are also tours and game drives available.
After a long day driving around the Park, we went back to our accommodation. Obviously, we chose accommodation just on the border of this wild paradise, Marloth Park. Marloth Park provides an experience on its own – it feels as though you are still in Kruger with the wildlife on your doorstep, except it only contains herbivores, like impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, warthogs and more. It is mostly privately owned but the majority of the homeowners let out their properties for a reasonable fee, meaning you can rent an entire house in this unique park (we used Airbnb to make our booking). These feral animals wander in and out of the properties in the unique estate. Marloth Park and Kruger Park are separated by a fence, on the other side of the fence were all these wild animals we were growing to respect.
At dusk, we decided to enjoy some sundowners overlooking the Crocodile River, which resulted in us taking a walk along the fence in Marloth Park. I was carrying my binoculars and examining the Hippos playing in the Crocodile River below us. As we were walking we came across a giant hole in the fence – yes, the same fence that separates the wild beasts from the civilized humans. It seemed that this hole had been created by a large animal – although no matter what the cause was, it was quite alarming nonetheless.
While staring at this portal into the wild, some jokes were made about the consequences of the giant gateway that stood in front of us, but we continued our walk, no longer in ignorance. The excitement didn’t stop there. Have you ever watched any horror movie with the dumb blonde who walks towards the danger instead of away from it? That was me on this dusky evening. I decide to humour myself and use my binocs to look inside Marloth Park, instead of into the wild side of Kruger Park. What I saw is an image I will never get out of my mind.
The group continued to walk as I stood frozen, eyes glued to my binoculars. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, someone noticed that I had stopped and was staring into a bush only 11 meters away. Of course, I must have seemed crazy. In fact, I thought I was maybe going a little crazy. I told my Father to look at the bush through the binocs and he did. Slowly, this spotted figure that I had been staring at moved its head, and looked straight at us. That is when the realization hit. As this creatures eyes looked into my soul, its whiskers moved and its teeth began to show ever so slightly: I knew I was face to face with a leopard. Slowly and calmly we walked together towards the car, knowing that any panic could result in serious trauma. Thankfully we all made it there, with no sign of attack from this big cat. We jumped in and sped off to safety.
Thinking back to that day I am aware that it could have ended very differently. Like most wild animals, when a leopard feels threatened no doubt it will protect itself and any human would not stand a chance against this mighty, majestic predator. I am grateful that he didn’t view me as a foe, and even more grateful he didn’t view me as food that day! But most of all, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to see him up close, staring at me with his piercing yellow eyes and proving to me that he really lives up to his name: the king of the jungle.
5 Tips For Visiting Kruger National Park
- Pack lunch – although there is a restaurant in the park it is nice to have a picnic in case you get lost in your own exploring and don’t make it there in time for lunch.
- Don’t forget water – we visited this part the World during what should have been their winter. It was extremely hot though, and we regretted our water quantity choice.
- Don’t leave your vehicle. It was absolutely uncanny to me how many clueless tourists would get out their car to take photos. These animals are WILD people; they can eat you!
- Don’t forget the birdlife – it is absolutely breath taking but it can be missed if you are not looking for it.
- Binoculars are essential – you can make some amazing sightings with them, and who knows, they might save you from some dangerous predator.
Africa is unlike any other place. It gives you many reasons to love it: it is a true wild experience; it forces you to embrace nature and live life on the edge. Do you want excitement and to see the animals of Africa? Do yourself a favour and visit South Africa, and tour Kruger National Park. Even with high expectations, I am confident that you won’t be disappointed.
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