Hoedspruit and an Adrenaline-Filled Safari in Kruger Park

You might have seen the video circulating online that shows a cheetah hopping in the back of a man’s vehicle and proceeding to gnaw on the passenger seat and perch on the hood of the car. Well, luckily our last safari wasn’t that exciting, but it did have some heart-stopping moments. But more about that in a bit…

Two weeks ago, we traveled to South Africa to meet up with several of our close friends from our last post in Brasília. Our journey began in Hoedspruit, where we spent a weekend exploring the northern region of Blyde River Canyon before heading into Kruger Park.

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On the Blyde River

Unlike the southern region of Blyde River Canyon that is dotted with numerous public tourist attractions along the Panorama Route, the northern region is surrounded by (very expensive!) private game reserves and conservation sites. We had wanted to visit the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, but got our times mixed up and arrived when it was closed.

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Crocodile on the riverbank
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Can you spot the hippos?

Time for Plan B. By chance, we happened upon a Blyde Dam Boat Trip that was just aboutto depart and that had enough space for our group. We hopped on board and cruised down the Blyde River, where we saw hippos in the water, crocodiles on the shore and the iconic Three Rondavels from a different angle. It was a fun, low-key activity that everyone enjoyed.

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One of the Three Rondavels from the “back”

On the way back to our rental home, we stopped to marvel at this magnificent baobab tree. My friends are at the bottom right for scale!

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Sunday morning we headed into Kruger Park, entering in through the Orpen Gate and driving south toward Skukuza, where we would spend the night. Not even fifteen minutes into the drive, we had our first sighting: two lions at a distance, half-hidden by the thick bush! We also spotted several elephants, giraffes, wildebeests and a hippo–in other words, a typical drive through Kruger.

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But the real excitement didn’t happen until Monday. From Skukuza, we set out for Berg-en-Dal rest camp. During the morning, we had little luck spotting anything. While we were on a particularly long, dry stretch of dirt road, we turned a corner… and were suddenly facing a single bull elephant, head-on. I slammed on the brakes and pulled out my camera. But then we realized the elephant was still charging straight toward us, undeterred.

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When the elephant was still at a safe distance…

There was a panicked debate about whether to keep the car at a standstill (so as not to frighten the bull) or to retreat … my instinct told me to slowly back up, but I was so flustered that I backed us straight into a large bush! With no choice but to wait it out, we watched as the elephant continued to approach. My heart was pounding and I was sweating bullets. When it was within ten feet of our car, it nonchalantly turned away from us and veered right. I let out a huge sigh of relief and tried to calm my racing pulse.

After a lunch break at Afsaal Picnic Site, we hit the road again. It wasn’t until twenty minutes passed, though, that we finally realized we were heading the wrong direction–we were already halfway back to Skukuza! Feeling rather frustrated, we pulled a quick U-turn and tried to make up for lost time.

However, the slight detour proved to be a stroke of luck. Right along the side of the road headed south, we found two adolescent lions lounging in the shade. We pulled over to watch them for a while, then one rose to his feet… and began walking straight toward us. This was the closest we have ever come to a lion and the first time we actually saw one on its feet. It was a beautiful site to behold, but also slightly terrifying because I was quite confident the lion could be at our car in split seconds. After our encounter with the elephant that morning, I wasn’t eager to risk anything. We slowly rolled up our windows and drove off… but managed to capture this beautiful shot of him curiously eyeing up our car before we left.

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Just down the road from the lions, we came across two rhinos, and on the scenic drive toward Berg-en-Dal we saw several more. Berg-en-Dal is a charming rest camp that is nestled in the mountains overlooking a man-made watering hole, home to an enormous hippo, as seen below.

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Open wide!!!

Kudu, rhino, zebra and elephants were all casual visitors to the watering hole during our overnight stay. The camp also boasts a decent restaurant, gift store, and a rustic open air ‘movie theater’ that shows nightly documentary films. I think this is my favorite camp yet!

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Baby zebra and parent

On our final morning in the park, the rest of the group headed out for a sunrise safari tour while I stayed behind with our two-year-old son. They got lucky again and saw the most elusive of the Big Five: a leopard.

Having been to Kruger several times now, I can say that while a little bit of my initial giddiness has worn off when seeing a zebra or giraffe in the wild, each trip thus far has presented a new, awe-inspiring and unforgettable experience. This particular journey was even more memorable because we got to share it with our dear friends! Until next time, Kruger!

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