Monday, June 21, 2010

"Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all." -Brian Jackman

Post by: Raja
*Note: There's a link at the bottom that will take you to the original quality photos -- much better!

While Zurich was fun and it was great to spend a little time taking in the European summer weather, we couldn't wait to see what South Africa had in store for us. We left Zurich around 11PM local time and before we knew it, it was 9AM and we were at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. We deplaned, went through customs, and made the seamless 1hour connecting flight to the Nelspruit airport. Nelspruit is a small city about 45 minutes outside of Kruger National Park and provides a convenient place to fly into, especially if you plan to start your adventure in the southern part of the park.

Once we landed in Nelspruit, it didn’t take long for Beth and I to get our first taste of excitement. We had our first “sighting” inside the airport and amazingly, it was a Hawk…Tony Hawk!

Mr. Hawk was in South Africa to speak at a conference and he just happened to be on our flight. It was actually kind of funny. Beth and I were standing at the baggage carousel and I heard someone behind me say “Mr. Hawk, I trust your flight was OK.” Just out of habit (I’m nosy), I turned around, had myself a look, and whipped back around to Beth and whispered “I think that’s Tony Hawk!” She asked me if I was sure, I said I wasn’t so we were going to drop it. But then we both looked at the baggage carousel and, sure enough, gliding towards us was an upside down skateboard. I looked at Beth and said “Now I’m sure.” Beth then went to work asking if he was Tony Hawk and if he would mind taking a picture.

He was a super nice guy, really friendly, and even stopped to sign some autographs for some of the other people on our flight as well. Not a bad start.

After rubbing elbows with Tony, we made our way over to Avis, picked up our car and began our drive to our home in the bush for the next couple of days: Jock Safari Lodge.3:30 and not a moment too soon. Our first game drive was going out at 4 and we desperately wanted to shower up and change after traveling for the past 36+ hours. Here is what we saw as we pulled up to the gate:

Beth will make another post at some point down the road and tell you all about this place and its history. It's pretty cool so make sure you check it out.

One of the first things that we saw was a smattering of deer, impala, and waterbok. The rangers call this "general game" and they are everywhere in Kruger. Here are a couple photos that we snapped along the way.

On our first outing, we definitely got an eyeful of some great wildlife. We started off with a couple elephants in the bush, then saw a few hyena, and just missed seeing a leopard. We were kind of bummed about the leopard, but forgot all about it when we spotted this guy a bit later on.

This was by far the coolest thing we saw that day (sorry, Tony). There were actually three male lions together, walking along, marking territory. Our ranger, James, told us that the male lions do this occasionally, especially after it rains, and we were lucky enough to get a chance to catch them up close and personal. After we saw the lions, we pulled up ahead of them and Beth took this photo as one of them walked right by our vehicle. James promptly told us to make sure we kept our hands, arms, and cameras inside the vehicle as the lions were only about 5 ft away. He was nice to give us the warning, but Beth and I were not even close to tempting fate.

You might not be able to tell from the photo, but it was starting to get pretty dark, so after this sighting we headed back to the lodge. It was a great first drive and really got us psyched up for the three that we had left.

The next morning started early, beginning with a
5:30AM wake-up call. The morning Safaris start early as most of the wildlife use the cool mornings to hunt for food, make their way to watering holes, etc, and generally relax during the heat of the day.

We started our drive this morning with a sighting of a black rhino. There are generally two types of rhino, black rhino and white rhino. We saw a few white rhino on our drives and were lucky to catch this black rhino as they are much more rare. He was pretty far away (+/- 100 yds) so the photo isn't the best.

Right after spotting this guy, we got a call on the radio and James whipped the Land Cruiser around and began gunning it to another part of the park. We didn't really know what was going on until about half way there, we spotted a giraffe and James yelled back (without even slowing down) "Do you want to see a giraffe or a leopard?" He knew the answer, especially after the previous afternoon, so onward we went.

When we got to the spot, we were able to see the leopard up in a tree, again a pretty decent distance away. We also just caught another lion stalking around and heard a hyena in the distance. What's up with all these predators in the same place, you ask? Well, we asked also and James told us what was going on. Apparently, the leopard had just made a kill and soon afterward, the lion had sniffed it out and stolen it from him. To get safely away, the leopard made his way up into a tree. As the lion was busy with the leopard, a hyena had stealthily moved in and stole the kill from the lion. The scene we were witnessing was the hyena running away with what he could carry, the lion trying to find him/ keep him away from the rest, and the leopard up in the tree watching it all, waiting for his chance to get down and get some of the food he had worked for in the first place.

We stayed around in this area for about 45 minutes to see if we could catch some of the tail end of the action, but it wasn't to be. The hyena didn't come back, the lion stayed with the kill, and the leopard stayed in the tree. It was time to move on.

Over the course of the rest of the game drives we some amazing sights. To keep this post from becoming a book, I'll post some of the pictures and give just a short commentary on what we saw.

These are two buffalo that were having a sparring match.

These two pictures are of a couple cheetah that we saw on one of our afternoon game drives. It was really amazing. James first spotted the cheetah when they were pretty far away, stalking through the bush and marking territory. The first picture is one I was able to capture as one cheetah was on the move. Somehow James knew exactly what the cheetah were going to do and took us up the road about 300 yds. We waited for about 10 minutes and sure enough the two cheetah cut across the road right in front of our vehicle. It was amazing that James knew exactly where they would go and he was able to get us so close to them. Definitely one of the coolest things of the whole trip.

One of the animals we didn't really get a great view of very readily was an elephant. You would think that with an animal so big that they'd be easy to spot but they are surprisingly good at camouflaging themselves in the bush. On the last day we were lucky to get up close and personal with these two guys. We caught the first photo while one of the elephants was stretching up into a tree to pull down branches to eat. The second photo we got as we saw an elephant coming out of the bush right at our vehicle. It was pretty nerve-racking for a moment as the elephant apparently registered us as a threat and flared its ears at us and began to charge the vehicle. James knew what he was doing though and didn't hesitate in getting us out of harm's way.

A "stretch" of giraffes that we saw one afternoon.
Two male waterbok sparring.

A couple of zebra grazing in the bush.

One of three wild dogs that we were lucky to see on the last game drives. These little guys are some of the best hunters in the bush and work extremely efficiently as a pack. We actually caught these three as they were in hot pursuit of an impala in the bush. We followed along with them for about 30 minutes, but unfortunately we lost them as they ventured deep into the bush after their prey.
This is a picture of our wonderful guide, James. A truly amazing individual who knew an incredible amount about the park and the wildlife that we saw. The experience wouldn't have been the same without him.
The vehicle we cruised around Kruger park in for 3 days.
One of the cool things about the game drives was that in each drive, James would find some cool spot to take us, in the middle of the wilderness and we'd stop the truck, get out, and take in the scenery while we enjoyed a drink and some snacks. In the mornings it was coffee, tea, and hot chocolate accompanied by some biscotti or cookies and in the evenings, we'd have a beer, wine, or a cocktail while snacking on some crackers, chips, etc. It was a great to have a chance to actually get out of the vehicle at these points and soak up the wilderness unimpeded.
A view of the sunset over the African bush at one of the afternoon game drive stops.

I apologize for the length of the post and ALL the pictures, but we just experienced so much that it was hard to pick and choose what to blog about. If you didn't get enough, I've also uploaded an extended view of some of our best safari photos at the link below. There are additional photos of the cheetahs, elephants, hyenas, and more and the pictures are also much higher quality. Here's the link to the web album:

In the next post I'll cover our trip to Cape Town and some of the things that we saw and did while on the other coast of South Africa!


Rhonda Walker said...

Great post Raja. Thanks for sharing the pics. I love the last one, the sunset. I think it should be framed and hung in your house somewhere. Beautiful!

The Freeman Family said...

FINALLY a celebrity! Yet you had to go to another country to see one.

Love the pics and the post.