A few seconds is all that it takes to see spectacular wildlife encounters in the Kruger National Park. I witnessed this first hand on the 4 Day Budget Kruger Safari when a lioness jumped an impala s soon as we entered the park. Unfortunately, most of my group missed this spectacular sighting while being distracted by a group of lion cubs on the other side of the vehicle. The endless bush of the park makes this wildlife encounters extra rare, and it makes it an unforgettable sighting. Further, in this blog, I will tell more about my sightings and experiences with multiple game drives through Kruger.
As we arrived in Johannesburg, we were picked up from the airport to drive to Kruger National Park. The ride was 4-5 hours, but it did not feel that long since we were talking for most of the drive. The second we arrived in the private game reserve, where our budget chalet was located, giraffes walked along the road. After we entered the chalet, two Impalas (antelopes) and a warthog walked in our backyard.
The animals in this reserve are all harmless, so they consist of antelopes, giraffes, warthogs, turtles, and birds. However, they walk freely around the accommodation. When you are relaxing at your chalet, the animals walk through your backyard unbothered. If you’re looking for luxury accommodation and a scenic drive along the Panorama Route, check our 4 Day Kruger Classic and Panorama Route.
The private reserve is located next to the gate of Kruger National Park, and you can see animals walking past the natural border of the Crocodile River. Due to our long trip to Kruger, we rested for a bit before our first game drive at night!
The night drives are operated by the park rangers only, so there are no other vehicles on the roads. The night drive started at 8pm, and it began to become cold, especially while riding in an open vehicle. The 4×4 car has added spotlights so you can see the reflection of the eyes of the nocturnal animals. Our guide provided us large flashlights, which we could use to hunt for animal sightings as well. Having your own light made the drive a lot of fun because you have to point and find the animals in the bush. It was almost like a carnival game. However, this was more thrilling and exciting.
Relatively quick, we found lions lying on the side of the road, but since they had eaten during the day, they were half asleep, and it would be likely they wouldn’t move until the next morning. The remains of the warthog they had killed, was laying a short drive away, and they were being eaten by a hyena. You could hear the hyena feast on the carcass by the snapping sound of breaking bones in the silence of the night.
I am still amazed by the unbelievable eyesight of the park rangers; they recognize the animals in seconds, even in the dark. During the night safari, our guide spotted a chameleon in a tree as we drove past it. After he reversed and shined a light on the tree, we tried to look for it. Nobody was able to spot the small creature, but after the guide grabbed the animal, we saw how camouflaged the chameleon was.
The night drives are a completely different experience due to more active participation in the search for the nocturnal animals in the bush. Since you can’t enjoy the environment because it is dark and you are solely focused on the animals. A day game drive is a different experience as you can see the animals in an endless view of the wilderness.
The next morning, we got up at 4am for a full day game drive. Seeing the park at daylight changes your perspective of the vast and boundless landscapes of the park. Our guide told us that the roads are only 4% of the 20 000 square Kilometers of Kruger, so the park is a little bit smaller than Belgium. It is the oldest park in Africa, and it exists for almost a hundred years.
Since the park is open for tour operators and self-drivers, there were more cars on the road. However, for most of our day, we rarely saw a car, and seeing an elephant was more common. The easiest way to spot rare animals is by spotting a traffic jam. The lions from yesterday’s night drive had moved behind a bush, which made them barely visible. Because of this, there were lines of cars waiting to spot the wild cats.
But as I said, when we entered deeper in the park, traffic was uncommon. Even though animals block the road often because most of them are not bothered by an approaching vehicle. Due to the park being so massive, I expected not a lot of close animal encounters. But that was not the case, a lot of elephants, giraffes, and even more antelopes such as Impala and Kudu were walking on the roads.
The cats of the Kruger do keep their distance, but with binoculars, you can see them easily. Early in the morning, another vehicle spotted a cheetah in the distance. At first, most of us in the car struggled to locate the animal. Mainly due to camouflage of the cheetah. It optimized its disguise by walking a short distance of around 20m than stood still and continued walking. While the cheetah was using this trick, you could quickly lose sight of the animal as it disappeared in its surroundings.
After a two-hour drive, we had a brief stop at a rest camp for breakfast. At the camp, you can buy snacks, drinks, and souvenirs before you head back into the wilderness. As the sun started to shine and the weather became pleasant, vultures began to circle above the vast landscape. Their bodies are too heavy to flap their wings to fly. So, they are dependent on the air currents, which are created by the heat.
The game drives start at 5am and end around 3/4pm. Luckily wildlife doesn’t work on-time schedules, and you never know what you might encounter behind the next bush. This makes the game drives a thrilling and exciting experience. You will appreciate the encounters so much more since you have to be lucky to find the animals.
As you bump into wildlife, your driver and guide explain the behavior and some facts of the animal. By the end of the day, you will know a lot more about these animals. Even though giraffes and elephants were animals, we saw a lot during the day, the guide made it a fun game to recognize the difference between males and females.
During the 4-day Budget Kruger Safari, we did 2 full day game drives. The days were completely different from each other. On the first day, we saw a lot of elephants, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, and antelopes. But on the second day, there were a lot of unusual sightings.
On the second day, after breakfast, we spotted a traffic jam. As we drove near, we spotted a pack of around fourteen lions, of which eight of them were cubs. Unfortunately, or luckily, I was in the back of the truck, and I had poor visibility of the cubs. Until, a lion and lioness, who were a bit behind, started to hunt for an Impala (antelope). Before I could notice the rest of the group, the kill already happened, and the impala was dragged behind a bush.
Not much later, another traffic jam formed around a massive 4-5-meter python, which just crossed the road. To spot a python seems to be rare since our guide, who has been doing this for 25 years, has seen six so far.
I would recommend going for a four-day trip since the encounters vary significantly between the full day game drives. However, if you are short on time and still want this fantastic experience, we offer both the Budget Kruger Safari and the Classic and Panorama Route Safari with a three-day option.