This is Africa #8: The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Night Safari at Kruger National Park, South Africa

It’s been just about one year since I visited South Africa. I think about the trip all the time. One of the standout memories I have is going on a night safari at Kruger National Park.

There are basically three kinds of accommodations at Kruger:

1) You can stay at a hotel or hostel outside the park and then drive yourself or take a tour with the hotel. This could be your cheapest option depending on your choice of accommodation. Most people we met at hostels had done this. The drawback is you can only be in the park during certain hours and with a speed limit of 30 kms/hour (that’s about 18 mphs for you Americans) you might spend hours just getting to where you want to go before you have to turn back. (Keep in mind, the park is the size of Massachusetts). You’re also ticketed if you’re caught in the park after dusk or for speeding. (Um, we took the latter to heart the hard way. Silly, stereotypical Americans!)

2) You can stay at a private game reserve outside the borders of the park. This is definitely the most “baller” way to see the park as these private reserves such as Sabi Sands are world class resorts with colonial architecture straight from “Out of Africa.” Of course, you also pay for what you get, which in this case is about $400 – $500 a night. The nice thing about this option is since the reserves are within gated private property, they keep a healthy stock of the Big Five — elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and the elusive leopard — so you’re more likely to catch a sighting.

We didn’t stay at a private reserve at Kruger but later did at Addo Elephant National Park further south (recap to come at a future post).

3) Then there’s my personal favorite option, which is to stay at one of the camps within the borders of the park. The cost is somewhere in the middle (if not on the cheaper side) and well worth it. To further break it down, there are two types of accomodations inside the park: remote and rustic Bush Camps (we stayed at Bataleur in the north) and massive and luxurious Rest Camps (we stayed at Olifants in the middle of the park). Some rest camps have restaurants and grocery stores which might be your only source of food and supplies unless you came in with it. Meanwhile, the distance between one rest camp to the next while observing the speed limit is like driving from NYC to Philly, so you have to be careful on how you budget your meals and necessities.

Best of all, staying inside Kruger is the only way you can take part in the amazing guided tours. During our stay, we booked a Sunset Drive on a open aired Land Rover, a 5 A.M. morning walk (yes, WALK!!!) with trackers carrying shotguns as well as this incredible night safari.

Our open-aired safari vehicle contained a couple of spotlights to shine into the blackness. The animals didn’t seem to mind some 500-watts staring them in the face, so long that we didn’t hold it for more than a couple of seconds.

Actually, this leopard probably minded.

Spotting this leopard (our 2nd leopard of the trip!) gave me goosebumps. These animals sleep during the day and come out at night to hunt. There are only about 200 leopards in the entire park (compared to thousands of lions) and it’s rare to see them on the ground — up until this moment, our guide had been searching every treetop for a sighting.

I was pretty sure we weren’t going to see a lion going into our last night in the park. We were always two steps behind. One morning we went to borrow sugar for coffee from a British family in the next hut. “You guys see any big game yet? We just saw some lions stalking a group of impala by the watering hole,” the jovial father offered. “If you hurry, you might still catch them.” We wrapped up breakfast and then drove straight to the watering hole. But we sat and stared for hours and saw nothing. This happened a couple more times before we were convinced it wasn’t going to happen.

So, you can imagine our excitement when we finally got to see a whole pack of them (there were about 8-10) resting after just having feasted on a fresh giraffe kill. We gawked for several minutes until the mother finally took her cubs away from the harsh light. The story was these guys had hunted the giraffe the day before (a tip another guide had passed onto our driver via the radio). Lions hunt about once every 7-10 days, depending on the size of the kill. If they land a big animal like a giraffe, there’s enough meat to feed the entire pack — including the youngin’s — and they remain full for days afterward.

Geek Out Break: I had purchased my first flash — a Canon Speedlite 580 EX II This is Africa #8: The Lion Sleeps Tonight right before this trip. I was worried there wouldn’t be enough light — in some cases the animals were dozens of yards away — and there was nothing to bounce the light of. But as soon as I tried it the first time, it felt like lightning had struck the African savanna. The strobes blew out the plastic spotlights that were in the Jeep. After that, I was careful not to use it too often for the sake of tranquility and nature.

Weird jackrabbit thingie. We kept seeing them all over the place.

Massive, creepy spiderweb just inches from our vehicle.

Our safari concluded with our 20-something South African guide bowing his head to the dominantly rich, white paying customers. “Thank you for allowing me the pleasure of being your guide.”

I made a mental note to remember him saying that because it served as a small example of how absolutely sweet, friendly and humble these people are.

3 Responses to This is Africa #8: The Lion Sleeps Tonight

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