Wednesday, 13 November 2013

"Kruger-o-mania"... My adventures in the wild... Part 1

I recently visited the Kruger National Park here in South Africa... Oh my god, it was an awesome, awesome adventure. Not being a wildlife fan myself, even I found myself engrossed in seeking game (as they call the animals in Kruger).

The basic story behind writing this article is if anyone wants to travel to Kruger, then they can refer to this blog post for some basic information. However all the important information one needs is available in the SANParks site :

This is the site one can use for all information.

The first thing one needs to know before visiting Kruger is planning the trip. It is very important to plan one's trip beforehand. If one has planned one's trip, everything will go perfectly.

The first thing one needs to book is the accommodation. There are 2.2 million visitors to Kruger National Park each year, so it's sufficient to say, that accommodations are hard to come by. Kruger National Park has eight rest camps : Berg-en-dal, Crocodile Bridge, Pretoriuskop, Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Orpen, Satara, Olifants, Letaba, Mopani, Shingwedzi and Punda Maria. Punda Maria is the northernmost camp of KNP and falls in Zimbabwe. One needs a visa to visit this camp. These camps are like small towns. The camps that we stayed in had restaurants, take away stores, medicinal facilities and Skukuza also has a Post Office!!

In addition to these main rest camps, one can also stay in one of the satellite camps known as bushveld camps. Bushveld camps are a recommended option if one wants more of a wilderness experience than are possible at the rest camps, and these are equipped for self catering too.

At the Rest Camps, one has a choice of various types of accommodations. One can choose to stay in a safari tent (we stayed in one), a bungalow, a guest cottage (these two options are luxurious accommodations and can fit upto 10 people). One also has the option of camping and there are designated space for camps. Skukuza is the headquarters of the Kruger National Park and as such is the busiest and the largest camp of all.

The cost of all types of accommodations can be known from the San parks site that is given above. All the accommodations need to be booked in advance as one has to show the reservation confirmation at the respective gates.

We entered the Paul Kruger Gate as our first camp was Skukuza. Here, we stayed in a safari camp that was equipped with electricity, had a fan, fridge, Braai facilities, beds and linen were provided which I have to say were new and met our expectations. There are glasses and a jug also present in the tent, but the tent does not have any power point, so if one is hoping to charge one's cellphone or camera batteries, one will be disappointed. The kitchen and the ablution facilities were common but were very clean, hygienic and were well provided for.

The safari tent can house two, four or six people. The minimum number of people, one safari tent can accommodate is known as the base rate. For example, if your group has five people, then you can book a tent for four and take one bed extra. So the base rate you'll be paying is for four people, and you will need to pay for the extra bed that has been provided for. The tent for four people costs around R 700.00

Needless to say, staying in the safari camp is an adventure in itself. It's best if one is lucky enough to grab a tent near the perimeter as all wild animals like hyenas and jackals come upto the perimeter at night.

There are different ways to see the game in KNP. The most recommended are the guided drives and walks that are available in all the camps. The drives are done in open jeeps and are driven by experienced rangers who communicate with each other via radio. So the best chance of seeing game are these drives. There are three types of guided drives available: Sunrise Drive, Sunset Drive and Night Drives. All the big cats including the lions, leopards, cheetahs etc are nocturnal creatures and are most active during night and during dusk and dawn. The drivers, as mentioned above are experienced rangers and therefore provide an endless and precious information about wildlife, trees and bird species of the Kruger National Park. It is indeed extremely informative and enjoyable to listen to their running commentary while seeking hidden animals.

At the Skukuza camp, we took a Sunset Drive which costs around R 230 per person. The Sunset Drives are for three hours duration and starts at 4:30 pm and lasts till about 8 pm. One has to report at least half an hour earlier from the departure time. We were fortunate enough to see many species of birds, trees, and insects. We also saw elephants, giraffes, rhinos, probably a thousand impalas and one rare specie of baboon... it was breathtaking... as the sun sunk down the horizon, while returning, we suddenly heard a terrible noise and I flashed the flash light provided in the jeep towards the noise only to find out two adult elephants fighting each other. It was incredible. As soon as the lights shone in their eyes, they moved away from the light and receded deeper into the jungle. As the flash light was not falling directly onto their eyes, we could see them fighting each other. It looked quite ferocious but our guide explained that these two elephants were just playing with each other. I wonder what would it have been like when they seriously fought each other. Supposedly it is an extremely rare sighting.

There was one time during the drive, when the jeep stopped completely, the driver cut the engine and told us to switch off all the flash lights. The Guide asked us just to be patient and listen to the sounds of the forests. It was one of those moments, when one realizes how insignificant one is as there are so many other sounds hidden and they come alive only when we try to listen carefully. It was one of the awe-inspiring moment in my life.

Fortunately the night we had taken the drive in Skukuza was a moonlit night and the forest looked beautiful bathed in the silvery light of the moon. It was one of those moments when you really don't want the drive to end but unfortunately it does.

We came back to the Camp after an incredible three hour drive with hunger in our bellies and awe in our minds. I remember, the only discussion at the dinner table that night was about wildlife and the forest. We went to sleep with the sounds of the forest filling up our hearts and making us realize that beyond our ordinary existence lay an extraordinary world.

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