South Africa hasn't always been on my bucket list to travel. Mind you being based in Taiwan, it's easy to bump into the South African Expat community. Their Barbecue rituals and endless conversations about their wonderful country gradually stirred curiosity in me led me to explore their native land.
We arrived in Johannesburg early in the morning, ready to explore the world-famous Kruger Park and see all the animals from the Lion King. I had imagined seeing a pack of lions majestically walking past the street and leopards snoozing on the tree.
As we were ready to embark on our anticipated journey to the Kruger Park, we quickly realized we had two problems. First, we couldn’t rent a car because we didn’t have our international license. Second, we had no pre-booked Safari tour.
Clearly, I was still in South East Asia travel mode, where I had spent the month before in Vietnam where getting from A to B was a breeze. This surely isn’t Asia, it’s South Africa where driving a car is a must hence the obvious lack of local transportation. The chances of us booking a tour on a whim over the weekend was highly unlikely.
We managed to find a private bus to Nelspruit which took us on a ride like no other. Through the bus window seeing palettes of yellows and greens, and watching the views change dramatically along the highway N4, was enough to renew excitement for our first African Safari.
Flash glimpses of sheep and horses had my camera ready to capture what I imagined were wild animals, only had local passengers giggling.
Our open conversation to fellow locals about trying our luck to the Kruger without a booked tour only welcomed friendly advice.
Finally, we were in luck. The lady in red who was a few seats down couldn’t help but overhear our dilemma, offering us a tour the following Monday.
Waking up at 5 am has never been easier, especially when we’ve been promised a 12-hour game drive while watching the sunrise and sunset. Jack, our guide was the son of the lady on the bus. We were grateful and lucky enough to meet someone as laid back as him. Not only was Jack our tour guide, we appreciated his genuine effort to get to know us on a personal level like we were friends. On top of that we also appreciated his eye for photography which gave us amazing shots of animals that looked straight out of a travel magazine. Our game drive was filled with Lion King jokes, exchanges of travel experiences and insights into South African local life.
We pulled into Kruger park and instantly had our binoculars ready for everything and anything that was moving about. After 10 minutes of grazing we spotted our first giraffe. “GIRAFFFFFFFFE!” I yelled turning my head and our cameras went snap snap snap.
Driving through the park seemed so surreal, the landscape was literally right out of the Lion King. Turning around, we caught a glimpse of the sun, beginning to peek out over the horizon. Our attention quickly shifted to a plethora of pointed ears. Camouflaged bodies in the long grass, and legs just sneaking into the frame made it impossible to count the number of Impalas.
The trees silhouetted against the light orange sky creating a backdrop against the vast open Savannah that we could only imagine watching from the Nat Geo Channel. We sat in silence for a moment, engrossed, it was one of those pinch-yourself moments.
There is something very special about a sunrise, even more so than the sunset. Perhaps it’s the promise of a new day. New hope. New adventures. New beginnings.
African sunrises and sunsets are regarded as the best in the world. Perhaps because Africa is so diverse, the landscape brims with endless deserts, thick jungles, vast open savannah and plains full of grazing animals make it every bit special.
Zebras were camera shy while I was on the lookout for dangerous predators.
Visiting the Kruger National Park is a dream for most travellers. For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Africa’s bush landscape and see the big five in their most natural habitat. Established in 1898, the Kruger wildlife reserve is a size of a country covering 2 million hectares of diverse terrain, which is home to a variety of animals. There are also interesting archaeological sites such as Masorini and Thulamela – places that prove that humans have a long history at the Kruger National Park.
Did you know? The term “big five game” was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The big five game animals are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros (both black and white species), elephant, and Cape buffalo.
My tour guide Jack and me.
We spotted a Hyena napping near our picnic area.
It was such a profound joy to see one of my favourite animals swimming in the water. I love Hippos!
You can’t go to the Kruger without high focus binoculars unless you have super vision!
The Kruger is home to a diverse birdlife. It’s no wonder enthusiasts spend days here chasing for the perfect snap.
Watch My Kruger Park Experience
We didn’t get to see the Big Five, but were already grateful for scoring a tour at the very last minute! Of course, it takes a little luck and some good timing to see the animals in one day. I will admit stories we heard of other Safari goers witnessing leopards jump on top of their jeep or lions relaxing on a road path will raise anyone’s expectations. Kruger Park is a massive expanse of land, it would take another 2-3 to see all the animals.
We realized after visiting both the Kruger and a Private game reserve, the Kruger isn’t about photography and capturing dreamy shots, it’s about the experience. Being in the bush with no expectations where you can drive around for hours in the Park and not see anything, that’s what the bush is all about.
The experience between Private Reserves and the Kruger National Park cannot be compared as they are just far too different. Instead of comparing the two, I will share more about it in another post.
Krugar Tours to Book
The Kruger Without A Car
I guess with more preparation and travel research, we would have been able to maximize more of our time at the Kruger. If you happen to forget your International license at home, don’t see this as a delay, see this as an opportunity to adapt, learn and mingle with locals on public transport. It will be the highlight of your South Africa adventures. I hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to sharing more about my travel experience in South Africa.