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8. A Day in the Kruger
    September 25, 2018

On Saturday, September 15th, we finally had a day dedicated to wildlife viewing in Kruger National Park. The day started off a bit slowly, with a delay in the arrival of our friends and fellow travelers. On the five minute drive from campus to the roadside gate for the Wildlife College where we live, we passed a male kudu with magnificent spiral antlers. It posed for us in the mist, an amazing photo-op, but I was too slow with my camera. I wondered if I had just missed the best photo-op of the day...

When we got to the gate, there was some kind of problem with the control mechanism that raises and lowers the gate, and a line of cars was starting to build up. Fortunately, our friend Alan had his trusty took kit and went to work on the cables so the gate could be raised manually, the old-fashioned way. Little did we know that gates would become a recurring theme at the end of the day.

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When gate controls fail, it helps to have your toolbox.

Wildlife viewing for the day was nothing short of spectacular. I tried to do it justice with this video montage of still photos and video clips, all shot from my small point and shoot camera. I wish Luke Tracy had been there with his camera, lenses, and photo skills!

A collection of videos and stills from our day in the park.

After our safari, we had a picnic and braai (barbecue) with Jan, Nyeleti, Rhandzu, and our other fellow travelers for the day. The good news (well great news, really): the food was delicious!

This photo doesn’t do it justice, but trust me,
the food was amazing!

Then there was the bad news: our friend Biton, who drove the minibus that took us through the Orpen Gate into the heart of the park, couldn’t find the keys. This was no trivial matter given the time of day (afternoon), the distance from the Orpen Gate on low-speed-limit game roads, and, the fact that a backup set of keys had to be located and driven to us from Acornhoek, a village well outside the Orpen Gate.

Fortunately, Biton’s wife Thema was able to get the backup keys, and, she set out to deliver them. However, there was a rather significant catch: Kruger Park closes to all traffic at the end of the day, and, nobody is allowed to leave the Satara station (where we were hanging out) after 5:30 pm.

So, it was time to wait, watch wildlife and the afternoon light, and, watch the clock.

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Some of our late afternoon viewing at Satara. Believe it or not,
the photo on the right includes a black-backed jackal.

At 5:10 we learned that Thema had been detained at one of the entry gates for forty minutes by a guard waiting to get approval for Thema’s entry from his boss’s boss. Problem - Thema was at least another 45 minutes away.

At 5:50, the manager of Satara came to inform us that we would either need to spend the night at Satara (none of us were prepared for that, and, the tent accommodations are rather expensive!), or, if we couldn’t leave by 6:00, we would need to hire an armed escort in order to be allowed out. Things were not looking good.

At 6:10, Thema arrived with the keys, and, to make a very long story somewhat shorter, she had a permit, and, we took off without telling the manager. Problem solved, so we thought.

It turns out, it’s not easy to leave Kruger National Park after dark. (It gets dark at 6:00 this time of year.)

Why, you might ask, is it so difficult to leave?

Obstacles. Of many varieties. All mammalian. Some human, some quite a bit larger than humans.

First we had to leave the Satara gate, a process that included conversations with the guard, apologies for violating park policy, and, paperwork.

One of the many gates we had to get through to leave Kruger.

Then there were the fun kind of obstacles... the kind that require careful, slow driving...

...obstacles like antelope in the road, moving too fast for a picture, or, zebras in the road, moving too fast for a picture.

Driving slowly at night to avoid hitting charismatic megafauna.

Another obstacle - a spotted hyena in the road running just in front of our vehicle. There was plenty of time for a picture, but given the light, the movement of the vehicle, and, the movement of the hyena, quite a blurry picture.

Yes, I'm sure this was a spotted hyena.

Then, perhaps the highlight of the entire day. Something we had not yet seen in the wild. A mother rhino, with, a small baby rhino passing right in front of our car. Amazing! I was rolling video, but given the conditions, the video is nearly impossible to parse. This still from the video is barely better than the moving footage, but with my added labels, you might agree that the rhinos are visible.

Yes, I'm sure about my id,
especially the rearview mirror.

Maybe this super-slowmotion video is more convincing.

Even though the footage doesn’t do it justice, we had quite a good look. And in this audio from the video, you can detect our awe and delight: "big five, big five . . . . wow . . ."

The moment we saw the rhinos.

Then, another gate, and, more paperwork. Fortunately, we were associated with an organization called Franklin Pierce (listen closely to the audio in the next video clip), an organization that seemed to carry some cachet with our next guard. Who knew our reputation extended to rural Africa?

A little after 30 seconds you'll hear the magic words: "Franklin Pierce".

And then there are the kind of obstacles you most definitely have to stop for.


These guys had no intention of moving.


Fine by us, a nice chance for some photos!


I wish I could claim this footage ends in a roar, but, it was a yawn. After all, we just woke them up.

Finally, by edging closer, we convinced them to move.

And, of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without having to pass through another gate, including a conversation with the guard, apologies for violating park policy, and yes, paperwork.

Final gate, free at last!

All I can say is, I’m glad Biton lost the keys!