When you’re looking right ahead at a pride of 12 lions resting after a kill, it’s easy to forget there’s no television screen separating you.. This weeks blog comes from Gwen Jones a lucky STA employee who got to head to South Africa on a once in a lifetime Safari.
Kruger National Park
It was Day 2 in Kruger National Park and we’d spotted three of the Big 5 already. We’d been scanning trees and undergrowth all morning, shouting at Jeff – our driver – to stop every time a leaf moved. We saw zebras, wildebeests, buffalos, hyenas, kudus, baboons, giraffes and elephants (the list goes on) but no lions. Then all of a sudden, just as the sun was lulling a few of us into snooze mode, there were three of them, surrounded by the entire clan.
The wild was much quieter than I’d imagined. There was no David Attenborough voiceover, which was disconcerting. But luckily Jaco, our G Adventures tour guide, was there to fill the void. Lions, he told us, could sleep for up to 20 hours a day. Except for a yawn, we hadn’t seen any movement in about ten minutes so that was no surprise. They also had a pretty impressive mating ritual where they’d be at it every 15 minutes for five days without sleep. That was a little more surprising. And suddenly the 20-hour nap allotment made sense.
That’s one thing that made this tour stand out – guides who didn’t just help you get from A to B, but who were so passionate about the places and things they were showing us that you couldn’t help but be swept up along with them. We learned so much about the animals, the national parks’ conservation efforts and the problems that came with keeping the animals in a fenced area, even when that area is bigger than some countries. It turns out that elephants like to kick down trees a lot. Which isn’t great for the trees, but who am I to judge an elephant? They’re excellent. And they’re ruled by a matriarch. Girl Power. You kick down that tree if you want to. What was I talking about?
I could’ve stayed until the lions were on the move again, but Kruger is a big place and there was more to see. As it happens, lions are just like buses (who knew). We saw another three that day, as well as two rhinos and a leopard-tortoise, a member of the lesser-known but equally beautiful though ever-so-slightly slower Little 5.
The next morning, we rested the G Adventures Lando (their spanking new overlanding bus) and took on Kruger on our own feet. Split in three groups, we took off in different directions with our rangers and hoped for the best. I can’t say I was feeling completely at ease at the edge of a dam full of hippos defending their newborns, or crouching down by a tree metres away from an entire herd of elephants (also defending their young), but it wasn’t an experience I’d trade in for anything else. And even thought I couldn’t get my camera shutter on mute for the life of me, we did a good job of hiding ourselves.
On top of everything else, we also got to visit the Hope of Africa school, a community-led project supported by G Adventures. The school itself teaches and looks after young children, allowing their older siblings to stay in school themselves, and the donations gathered from the visiting groups have ensured that the buildings are safe and fit for purpose. After a very intense performance of what they’d learned in class (enthusiasm levels were running high) it was playtime, fun for little kids and big kids alike.
With a long trip back to Johannesburg scheduled for the next day, as well a flight down to Cape Town (hello, Boulders Beach penguins) we spent our last Kruger afternoon cooling down at the Mac Mac pools in Thaba Chweu. With such a brilliant group of people, I wouldn’t have needed anything else that day. The sun, the waterfall and the staged GoPro group jumps were a perfect end to an epic adventure. All topped off with our fantastic (and rather emotional) rendition of ‘I Can’t Live’ – Mariah Carey version, obviously.