Self Drive Kruger Safari - Travel Opinion
Clockwise: Hamerkop, vervet monkey, impala, giraffe, chacma baboon with baby
A safari has always been my dream holiday - I adore animals in any form and there is no doubt in my mind that the flora and fauna of South Africa is as gloriously varied and beautiful as would be found anywhere in the world.
When for my first safari, we visited the Kruger National Park in South Africa, it exceeded my expectations by miles. It was a holiday we had booked ourselves, picking and choosing the separate components, spoilt for choice like a child in a sweetshop.
Sadly we had only booked about 4 days within the park which on reflection was not nearly enough but the experiences we had within those four days were truly astounding.
As I expect will be the case for many of those new to a safari holiday, our sights were firmly set on the big game: I wanted to see lions; I wanted to see elephants; I wanted to have seen the Big Five!
As it happens, we did see all of the Big Five during our holiday: a lioness with tiny 2-week old cub soon joined by the rest of the 12-strong pack; a leopard which stalked directly past our car, disturbed from its sunbathing across the road; many, many elephants, including a pathetically cute baby which could barely stand; adrenaline-inducing buffalo which regard your car with suspicion and superiority and finally a tiny family, 3 strong, of white rhino, placid and beautiful.
So what an incredible holiday it seems. But the message I was left with from my holiday was not the "thank-goodness-we-saw-all-those-animals-let's-check-them-off-the-list" impression.
The beauty of a self-drive is that you are not fettered by the wishes of others or the pressure from your guide to find the next big thing. Yes,they are beautiful and awe-inspiringly powerful but the things that made our safari what it was were those small and unobtrusive miracles: a bushbaby shrieking from the trees; a giant millipede curled quietly at the side of the road; the rapidly vanishing tail of the shy genet; the melancholy call of the distant fish-eagle and brightly coloured roller-birds which glint enticingly from the boughs of a dry tree. Nothing to boast to your friends about on your return but memorable experiences all the same.
Also to enjoy are the insect filled evenings in the Kruger Park camps: self-made barbecues with plastic cutlery and toasting pineapple; the simple and functional accommodation of the tiny rondavel huts; the sheer pleasure of an efficient booking system and quick check-ins that let the stress of what could be a complicated process simply disappear.
So wow ... a safari is so much more than the Big Five photos sandwiched between the glossy pages of a travel brochure. It was heady, intoxicating and desperately addictive. It was the most amazing holiday of my life a fantastic experience for those who have been before and those who are yet to go.
South Africa ... what a place!
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