South Africa – Spring 2018

South Africa – Spring 2018

This past March we headed to South Africa to celebrate our 30 year anniversary. We flew in to Johannesberg for the first night before driving to Hazyview and The Kruger National Park. We had decided to make Kruger National Park our first stop in South Africa since it is the largest.  We drove from Joberg on Friday the 16th of March, checked in early to the Sabi River Sun Resort in Hazyview, South Africa.  On Saturday we couldn’t wait to get our feet wet before our tour with Kruger Private Safaris the next morning, so we headed to the Park. Be prepared as its not a $20 fee for a whole car load and a 7 day pass like it is here in the States. It was roughly $35 per person, per day, regardless of the time of entry, so plan wisely. We didnt give it a second thought as we had plenty of daylight and were we ever glad we did. We spent the first few hours driving around, mouths agape, loving every moment and animal we spotted. Oh, and a quick note of warning: DO NOT MISS the park closing times. There is a very high penalty per person if you are not out of the park by closing time. I took at least 2000 photos in the park in two days. I am usually judicious with my shots, but decided to put my Canon Mark iv in Continuous Mode for the whole trip.

In The Kruger we spotted a couple of gorgeous African Hawk Eagles, two Lilac-Breasted Rollers, Zebras, a Black Rhino, Leopards and Lions, one Leopard Tortoise, Helmeted Guineafowl and more on our Photography Tour.  The leopards were a special treat as you are lucky to see one during an entire visit. We saw 3 in one day!  The first sighting was of a mother who had dragged her Kudu kill up in a tree with a hyena nearby looking to steal some scraps.  In a neighboring tree was the leopard cub, separated from his mom and not happy about being trapped in an Umbrella Thorn tree. The second sighting was of a large male who was on the hunt and we watched him tracking Kudu and Impala for nearly 45 minutes.

Addo Elephant

Broken tusk Elephant in Kruger National Park
Broken Tusk in Kruger

I want my breakfast!
Impatient cub

Beautiful Impala
Honeymooners
The Widowmaker in Addo Elephant Park, SA
The Widowmaker in Addo Elephant Park

Jules a spotted cheetah running
Spotted by the spotted young’en

Kruger Giraffe looking at me

As part of our South African vacation we spent an entire week in the Kruger National Park region. We rented a car in Johannesburg affectionally known as Jo’burg, and drove the 5 hours over with the intent of doing self-drive tours in the park in addition to using a professional Photography Tour. Trust me, to see all of Kruger(the size of Maryland) you will need several days. There are obvious reasons why one self drives:  save money, privacy, control of your schedule and where you stop, etc.  Those are all great reasons in stateside National Parks.  However, in Kruger it is a bit different and here are some reasons why using a guide service should be part of your planning for a visit:

1. Obviously they know where to go and where the highest concentration of animals might be found.

2. They are dialed in to spotting animals and can pick up wildlife that would be camouflaged by the bush to the average tourist.

3. They don’t need maps so you are not spending precious time looking at a dirt road and trying to decide if it is the way you should go.

4. In a vehicle set up for touring, you will be much higher off the ground than sitting a rental car,  and your viewing and picture taking will be better.  South Africa rental cars and most cars there are smaller. We save very few off-road vehicles.

5. Your not allowed to get out of your car except in very specific areas.  Having control of your schedule and where you stop is a non-factor.

 So while we self drove on two of our visits into Kruger, we did book an all day private photography safari with a small local tour company.  Two operative words here, private & small. Yes it cost more money but here are some reasons why we chose this route:

We were not crowded into a truck with a dozen or more people all scrambling for space to take a picture or see animals.

The guide was focused on our needs and not worried about trying to cram in as many viewing areas.

With a group you will have to deal with people who may not want to sit still long enough to see what an animal may do next, or care about the animal you are interested in at all and want to quickly move on. (This happened on the a few of our other game drives and safaris.)

We saw with the bigger operations, when one guide spots one of the Big 5 he will get on his radio and alert the other company guides.  In no time, you will have a dozen or more vehicles clogging the area and inevitably the animal will move on due to the crowds and noise.   The leopard or lion will move along.

Our guide was focused on our goals, what we had already seen, what we had not seen.  He asked us what we were looking to get out of the trip. He then made it his goal to accomplish them.  Our day started at 0500, well before sunrise.  We were at the gate when the park opened at 0600 and also at the gate when it closed so we had a full 12 hours with our guide.  Boy did we see the animals and birds!

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