SAFARI!!! Right, now that's out there, we'll start from the start.
An early breakfast so we could head off at 6:30am to head east to Kruger National Park. On the way we stopped at hands down the best service centre I have ever been to. In the ladies room there were floor to ceiling windows overlooking a single, large paddock stocked with Gemsbok, Springbok, Waterbuck, Buffalo, Zebra, White Rhino, Ostrich and randomly one Emu. After everyone had used the loo we headed outside to the fence to do a spot of birding, picking up Cape Sparrow and Capped Wheatear. Whilst the tour guide and us five birders were busy scanning the paddock, Travel Buddy informed us that a serious looking man with a very big automatic rifle was approaching. A nervous and tense couple of moments followed before the guide explained what we were doing and the guard asked us to move on. No one is supposed to be near the fence because eight rhinos were poached off this farm on the side of the motorway last year. Brazen to say the least.
We continued on, driving from the highveld down to the lowveld, through citrus and banana plantations. We also drove through a couple of the urban areas where the houses are very hotchpotch and cows freely roam the streets.
We stopped for a picnic lunch, picking up a couple of new birds, the endemic White-browed Robin-Chat and Kurrichane Thrush, and a new reptile, Tree Agama.
Hit the road again for our final leg to Kruger! I managed to score the front seat, anyone who has toured knows that's the best place to be. We drove along the western edge of the park, passing the private game reserves, managing to spot a few baboons and a Nile Crocodile.
We arrived at Orpen Gate around 2:30pm, giving us three hours before we had to be in camp. Our first ever animal sighting for Kruger was Brown Snake Eagle, quickly followed a herd of Impala camped up getting out of the hot sun. A couple of kilometres down the road, we came to another gate, and through here was where the real show began. Within 200 metres we were stopped watching a herd of zebra, including foals. On the other side of the road were some blue wildebeest, our first ever, having never seen them in zoos either. This was one of the highlights for me, I know that's weird but I've been dying to see one since I was a kid. Then another 100 metres down the road we had giraffe with calves and warthog with piglets. The giraffe were browsing right by the roadside, a group of six, all this within five minutes, so cool!
The animals come thick and fast at Kruger, and it's almost overwhelming at times, trying to figure out just which way you should be looking.
Our next sighting was the first of the Big 5 for us. This came in the form of two male lions sleeping by a buffalo they had killed earlier in the day. Some Hooded Vulture were gathering nearby and this prompted one of the lions to sit up and take notice, showing off his impressive mane. Not too far away sat a couple of wildebeest, quite content to be in this close proximity of lions with full bellies. An inconspicuous Black-backed Jackal also skulked nearby.
As we drove on we birded too, stopping to check out a few species such as White-backed Vulture, Golden-breasted Bunting, Green Wood Hoopoe and Purple Roller.
Our next Big 5 encounter was with a herd of about 50 buffalo. They were right by the roadside, massive bulls as well as cows with calves. It was pretty awesome to be so close to such big, powerful wild animals.
Further on down the road we spotted a Long-tailed Paradise Whydah. As the name suggests he had an extremely long streamer-like tail. He perched up near some females and began to display, tipping his head back and calling, and generally strutting his stuff. A great sighting.
Our third and final Big 5 sighting for the day was elephant. We watched a herd of about 30 emerge from the scrub, females with calves. The adults were huge, lots of them had big tusks. A few stopped off so their calves could suckle, and the rest slowly wandered on by us. It was a magic scene with the golden afternoon light softly falling over the bushveld and turning the sky mauve. On the other side of the road were a few zebra and a huge herd of buffalo, and as far as moments go, they don't get much better than this one.
As the sun was setting we ventured on to Satara rest camp in the heart of Kruger, finding plenty of impala and wildebeest right by the fence. The wildebeest were quite active, chasing one another, battling it out for dominance.
Once we arrived at camp, our guide went to check in and I headed straight for the fence to get another look at the impala and wildebeest. As I was walking by a tree, Vervet Monkeys started dropping out of it, and ran across the grass. I made it to the fence and not only could I watch the impala and wildebeest, but I could hear their calls as they battled it out.
Our accommodation is a little round safari hut with a thatched roof, pretty cute.
Before dinner we had a sighting of an African Wild Cat wandering through camp, and then an elephant just outside the fence as we walked to the restaurant.
After dinner as we were walking back to our hut by torchlight a strange baying sounded out in the darkness. Our guide stopped and said one word 'hyena'.
Today we literally saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of birds and mammals. Is safari as good as I thought it would be? No, I think it's better. No documentary can prepare you for the scale of the place or sheer abundance of animals here, and we've only just arrived. Incredible.