It’s not often that we find ourselves behind the wheel of a car, but to see Kruger properly it was necessary to rent a car. So in our tiny little rental we took to the roads of Kruger, the paved, the dirt and the gravel. Our days were the same, get up early (sun rises at 4:30 a.m in the summer) pack up our tent, hit the road for some game viewing, arrive at our next camp around noon, rest until 3pm and head out for another game drive. The game drives are always exciting, sort of like a scavenger hunt through the bush- herds of elephants in the distance, giraffes eating from the tops of trees, but it wasn’t until our third afternoon when things got umm… up close and personal?
On our afternoon drive we had been severely disappointed. Game viewing is all about luck, being in the right place at the right time and so far we hadn’t seen anything that afternoon besides a few impala. Disappointed we came around a curve face to face for a giraffe. Moving out of the road for us, he trotted into the bush and continued eating the leaves. Carrying on our way, we hoped to see a lion or cheetah, but as we continued down the road nothing happened. Over taking another car we came around a bend and there in front of us was a huge maseth bull elephant standing in the road. Thankfully it was not turned towards us, but he took his dear sweet time getting out of our way.
For nearly twenty minutes we followed this bull down the road, each time Danny inched the car forward I nearly had a heart attack. There is no way I wanted to be that close to a male elephant, umm.. in “the mood.” Somewhere I remembered hearing to stay 20-30 meters back from an elephant, and as many things in life, husband and wife had a difference of opinion as to the exact distance of 20-30 meters. So there we were inching along behind the elephant that wouldn’t clear the path. Looking at the clock I realized that time was winding down fast, and we would have to either turn around or make a run for it if we wanted to get to the camp gate before it closed. Unwilling to turn around, we decided to wait the elephant out. Finally the bull stepped off the road and into the bush far enough that we could no longer see him. Making a run for it, Danny gunned the engine and we took our chances passing the elephant. Startled by the sound of our engine, the elephant, who wasn’t exactly as far as we thought from the road, turned towards us as we passed and made an angry grunting noise and motion, which prompted me to hit my darling husband in the arm and scream “move, move, move.” We were soon out of harms way although it took a good 20 minutes for our hearts to stop pumping.
Putting the petal to the metal, we sped along towards the main road and our camp gate. Each time we saw fresh elephant dung in the road my heart skipped a beat, and it wasn’t long before we saw a breeding herd along the side of the road. This time they were further away from us and thankfully paid no attention to us. Speeding along, we turned onto the paved road hoping and praying that we could convince the guard at the gate with our video footage that indeed the elephant had made us late. Cruising along we saw the familiar stopped vehicle ahead. Slowing down for a quick view, we thought the car was only looking at wildebeest in the distance, until a hand came out the window and pointed to the lioness not more than 5 feet from the road.
Of course we stopped. Screw that 1000R (about 135 USD) fine- the lioness was hunting. Within a minute we saw the wildebeest start to scatter and from a distance we could see the herd split in two. My family uses the phrase “national geographic moment”, which I think is rather self explanatory. This was indeed one of those moments. As we watched the scene unfold, several other lionesses came into view and a large male. We could see the lions rounding up one half of the herd and sorting through the chaos to find their target. Unfortunately the chase continued over the hill and we turned towards the people in the first car in shock and awe. The car behind us sped off towards the gate as we had about 10 minutes and 15 km to go. Gathering ourselves, we quickly did the same. Half way back to the gate we came over a hill and saw a man standing in the road with a gun. Great I thought, speeding ticket. Fortunately the car that left the hunt before us was already pulled over and we were waved on.
Sneaking into the camp gate behind another car, we couldn’t believe our luck. We had almost been trampled by an elephant, witnessed a lion hunt, avoided a speeding ticket and snuck in through the gate without a fine.
What a ride.