A travel moment in the Kruger National Park

We are at the end of a dirt track, stationary in our safari truck, staring at the front end of a huge white rhinoceros. It is a stand-off; no-one is moving. The rhino is scraping its front hoof across the dusty ground and issuing a fearful snorting noise – is it going to charge? Denzil, our driver, whispers for everyone to keep quiet and remain still. This goes on for about 5 minutes.

Denzil (real name Washington) quietly selects reverse gear and very slowly edges backwards. The rhino decides that he has won as he lumbers away into the bushes. Denzil is relieved and we all relax having got some wonderful photos in the can. That was the scariest experience of my life; being up so close to such a fascinating yet powerful beast in his own back yard. We didn’t belong there; he did, so we left him to it.

It is 6.30 in the morning, the sun is low in the sky but the temperature is climbing towards a midday 40°C. As we emerge from the dirt track back onto the road, we turn a corner and there in front of us is another wondrous sight. A family of lions is wandering along the road. A male, two females and three gorgeous little cubs, all minding their own business, pad along the road, completely oblivious to the bunch of spectators clicking away with cameras and mobile phones. Denzil draws up alongside and we follow them for about 15 minutes before they decide that the show is over and they branch off into the undergrowth. In the distance, we can see a herd of water buffalo approaching a water hole – much more interesting for the lions. Maybe tonight’s meal!

What a morning! We are in the southern part of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The park stretches across the Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga and along the border with Mozambique. It covers an area similar in size to the country of Israel.

And we haven’t finished yet………….Later in the morning, having become blasé about the number of impala we are seeing, we see a family of giraffe, plucking the foliage off tall, spiky acacia trees. But there in a neighbouring tree is a sleeping leopard. Denzil tells us we are very lucky to see a leopard as they are normally more active at night.

This completes the Big 5, having seen elephants at the waterhole yesterday. Denzil’s pleased with his days work too. He admits he wasn’t expecting to see the lions. That was a bonus!

This was the icing on the cake of a wonderful journey which had started 10 days previously in a wet and windy Cape Town. As we had travelled along the Garden Route and north towards Durban, the scenery changed from green, verdant pastures to dry, sandy scrub and the temperature gradually rose to an average 35°C. South Africa is an infectious country, now top of my list of countries to re-visit.

P Clarke

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