Cape Town to Kruger With Kids
Freedom is spelled "Kruger National Park", and after 2020 a bit of freedom was dearly needed. Homeschooling this year meant that we were able to book a week in the park midterm. By the time we touched down at OR Tambo International, even us grownups were bouncing with excitement. An added bonus was that we got to test drive the new Ford Everest Adventure, the perfect vehicle for a week of game viewing, for the whole trip.
All our luggage fit easily into the back, and snapping the car seats into place took almost no time. Before we knew it we were off to Nelspruit from Pretoria, and not a moment too soon, since we had to stop for groceries, and still drive all the way from Crocodile Bridge to Pretoriuskop, where we were to stay the first night.
Every camp has its own personality. It is a real treat to travel from one to the other and get a taste for what each has to offer. From Pretoriuskop with its almost primitive two-bed, no fridges huts to Skukuza's bustling restaurants, luxury spa, and golf course. You travel through dense forest where elephants can hide their babies mere meters from the road to the open grasslands where vast herds of buffalo litter the landscape as far as you can see.
Lucky Late Afternoons
Every family has their own bushveld lore. From the best time of day to see leopards, to exactly how close to any herd of buffalo you need to drive before you see a lion. We decided that there is no bad time to head out, some of our best sightings happened to be mid day, but then again, whenever we were a little pressed for time (to get to camp before the gates close) magic seemed to happen.
As Murphy's Law would have it, we found ourselves with mere minutes to stop when we spotted a pack of wild dogs playing just off the road (our first time ever seeing them in the park), we also came across this hyena suckling her young.
Even when time is an issue, we have to stop for elephant. They might not be as shy as the rhinos, but they have so much character, and the interaction between family members has an almost human characteristic to them. The elephants in Kruger do tend to be a little more on edge than the ones you find in a park like Addo, so it is best not to push your luck when they want to cross the road, no matter how pressed for time you are.
The Early Bird Gets Shot
People often queue at the camp gate to be first into the wild, hoping to be the ones to come upon a pride of lions in the road, or to see that fish eagle grabbing breakfast. I would easily be one of those people, but over the years I have learned to calm down, take it a little easy, and maybe cook some breakfast before mounting up the troops for the early morning drive. This keeps everyone nice and calm, the ideal state if you want to enjoy the drive.
Sometimes we did get out fairly early, and on such an occasion we captured this majestic bateleur eagle just outside of Skukuza. In the cool early mornings and birds do seem more active, but then as if to prove a point a bird or animal that remained hidden during all your early morning hours pops up at lunch time.
Lilac-Breasted Roller's (or Troupant) are usually seen all over the park, but this time around we only spotted one on the afternoon of our third day in the park.
Whenever I hear of a special sighting, be it in the pool or park shop, my immediate reaction is to want to jump in the Ford Everest and beeline to the spot described by my ever helpful informants. I generally resit this urge, since time and again we have sat watching an animal wonder over the road and disappear into the bushes.
This little guy was spotted not 3 meters from the road, yet it was almost impossible to see from any other angle than this one. You would drive right by without knowing that a rhino was watching you.
When the Heat is On
The hottest day in the part was a scorching 44 degrees centigrade. The Ford Everest's air-conditioning system did a great job of keeping both front and back seats cool, so much so that we only realised exactly how hot is was when we stopped at a leopard sighting.
This guy was camping out in the shade, trying to stay cool. As noon approached the sun crept closer to his outstretched paw. It barely touched the toes when to animal got up and trudged deeper into the shade.
There is an Afrikaans saying: "Dit is so warm die kraaie gaap". In this case, the bird doing the yawning was a ground hornbill. Philip was quick to point out that this one was a female, because of the blue spot under her beak. One of the few birds where the female is more colourful than the male.
We were feeling brave when we booked a night in Olifants Rest Camp between our dates in Skukuza. This meant that we needed to be on the road for a guaranteed 6 hours to reach our destination. While the lower portion of the park were still very dry, from Satara a couple of rain showers already turned the grasslands a bright green.
In the lush green grass, these cheetahs seemed to have lost their usual ability to blend in with the surroundings.
Not far from the cheetahs a troop of baboons was occupying a tree, and we snapped a fresh baby baboon, clinging to his mother for dear life. It still amazes me that these little ones do not fall from their mothers more often amid all the scuffles.
Nothing is like the Kruger National Park with its big five, herds of gnu and zebra which always seem to be found close to each other. That being said, large game is not the only creatures of interest in the park, there is also a whole insect kingdom to encounter.
This dragon fly looked like it had four tiny square wings, only once we looked at the photo did we see it was simply the way the colouring on the wings fooled your eyes that made it look like a pair of tiny sails flapping in the wind.
Dung beetles were not as prevalent as in previous years, this was one of only three that we saw during our visit. Still, this little worker happily rolled his ball up the hill seemingly without a care in the world.
Life is a Journey Not a Destination
Driving around on the roads of the Kruger National Park, I was reminded that life is about the journey and not the destination. Every day we had a clear destination, but the landscapes and rich wildlife is the reason we keep coming back to the park. Often you just need to stop what you are doing, get out of the car and enjoy the view.
This was one of those times. In some elevated spots, you are allowed to get out of your vehicle and drink in the beauty that surrounds you on every side.
Once you do reach your destination and the gates close as sun starts to set, fires are lit, and quiet conversations float softly into the night sky. Truly a place for your soul to rest and your spirit to be renewed before you set out on your next adventure.
One might be tempted to stay in a single camp for as long as possible. This time we could not find long stretches of time in a single camp. As a result, we were fortunate enough to visit many camps where we have never stayed before. We enjoyed these camps so much that we decided we would stay in a variety of camps even if we had the choice of staying in one camp for the whole holiday.
As an adult, you will easily be able to just enjoy the drive and the sightings as they happen. Children, on the other hand, need a little help. We found that our little ones really enjoyed checking off animals as they see them, we also made sure to pack other forms of entertainment like books to read, games they could play in the car, and toys that could keep them entertained.
Take the best camera you have access to. On this trip, we had a 400mm lens, and the difference in photo quality was astounding. Looking back on the time in the Kruger National Park is enriched greatly if you have high-quality snaps of the experience.
How to Get There:
When we started planning for the trip we seriously considered making the trip to the park a multi-stop road trip. The plan was to head up to Bloemfontein and stay over with friends for a couple of days. From there we would continue on the N1 to Pretoria where we were to stop for the night. The last leg from Pretoria to the Crocodile Bridge Gate remains the same whether you decide to drive the whole way or instead fly in. Ultimately we calculated the time and cost involved and decided to fly to OR Tambo International Airport.
Flying into OR Tambo International obviously cuts the travel time significantly, which is important if you plan on driving a lot in the park as you look for the animals. What was surprising was that if we were to fly up and rent an SUV, we would not be paying more than if we were to drive up and stying over along the way.
When We Dream
One final option remains for us to try, and that would be to fly to Skukuza airport directly and renting a vehicle from there. This is significantly more expensive, but it does ensure that you have all your driving happening in the park, no national roads for you.
Bookings can be made online via the San Parks website, or by contacting central reservations. You will be able to book from 11 months before the arrival date, but bookings fill up quickly, so don't delay.
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