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Riding the buses » Memorable moments, South Africa, Wildlife » Safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Craig Reinhardus recalls the safari he went on in Mala Mala—a private game reserve in Kruger National Park, South Africa. He drove there from Pretoria in a rental car with others in his family.

Mala Mala, Kruger National Park

Mala Mala, Kruger National Park

Q: What makes a safari special?

A: What is so special is the wildlife setting. It is nothing like a zoo although animals are accustomed to people. You see it as it is: animals hunting and killing and eating. For instance, we saw a giraffe and when we returned a while later lions were eating the giraffe and the smell was foul. When we returned to the spot a third time, hyenas were eating the leftovers and we could hear the crunching of bones.

Rhino blocking our path

Rhino blocking our path

We got charged by a rhino because we got too close and invaded its territory. We saw elephants walking around with their babies and a leopard in a tree eating a gazelle. There were crocodiles and hippos bathing. I was surprised to learn that hippos are the most deadly animal in all of Africa. They might look warm and cuddly but they aren’t.

Q: What was most memorable?

Watching the lions watching us

Watching the lions watching us

A: I’ll never forget when our jeep stopped in front of some lions. We were all watching them when one of the lions started coming towards us. My aunt grabbed my shoulder and said ‘Oh my god”. I was in the front seat beside the driver and the driver leaned over and said, “Don’t move”. And I was thinking, there is a rifle in front of me but my right arm is leaning on the side of the door and I can’t move. It seemed as if the lion was a lot closer than it actually was. It was probably six or eight feet away. But I was a little nervous sitting there in that open jeep. I felt the lion could have leaped into the vehicle and eaten us all. It was exciting though and my blood was just pumping.

The most laughable moment was when the tracker freaked out because of spiders. We were driving down this narrow road and when the jeep turned the corner we ran into masses and masses of spider webs. The tracker was sitting in the highest seat and he was smacked in the face. The spiders were massive, as big as your hand if you spread your fingers out. Their bodies weren’t huge but they had these long arms. And they were these bright colours. I had a good laugh because the tracker was always scaring us.

The night drives were creepy because you can’t see anything except animals’ eyes. The tracker would move a spotlight back and forth, lighting up sections of  the total darkness. When the ranger announced a ‘pee break” I decided there was no way I was going out in the dark because I had seen pictures of the black mamba and I am terrified of snakes. So I stood on the back of the jeep to pee. My dad went stomping off into the bushes and I just thought “you’re insane”.

A very different safari
Stuck in the mud on a Tanzanian safari

Q: What would a typical day be like?

Wildlife at Mala Mala in Kruger National Park

Wildlife at Mala Mala in Kruger National Park

A: We were there for two full days. Each morning we would get a wake-up call at 5:30 am. We’d have a light breakfast before getting in the safari jeep, which is an open 4-wheel drive vehicle with seats like a theatre—the ones behind are higher than the ones in front. We’d return around 9:30 am for a real breakfast.

In the middle of the day we would take jungle walks when the ranger shows you all kinds of interesting things that you don’t notice when you’re in the jeep. In the afternoon we just sat and relaxed, had a beer and played scrabble. It was a wonderful setting.

In the late afternoon we would go out again. The sun sets around 6:00 pm so we would be looking for game in the dark.  We would return around 9:00 pm and have dinner together in a traditional boma made of reeds. We were warned not to go out in the night without being accompanied by a ranger and his rifle. A month earlier, in another private reserve, a woman left the camp by herself and was attacked and killed by a lion.

Q: Was the safari a success?

Cape buffalo

Cape buffalo

A: Everyone wants to see the big five: lion, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard and elephant. So the second day we went out to find the animals that we hadn’t seen the first day. Luckily we got to see all five and I got a certificate confirming that.

You don’t really know these animals until you’ve seen them in the wild. The experience was just phenomenal.

© Riding the buses 2011

Photo credits Barbara and Craig Reinhardus

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