Wow!! What a day!!! This is easily one of the best days we have ever had travelling. Hands down, you have to visit Kruger National Park. Like, seriously, go book a plane ticket now! (check JT’s Flight Deals to see if there is a great deal available now)
We started this morning with a 6:00 am wake up alarm. We packed up, took our malaria medicines, loaded up the car and headed to the entrance gate.
After registering at “reception”, we headed through Phalaborwa Gate a little after 7:00 am and started driving down the road at 40km/hr (vs. 50 km/hr speed limit) looking for animals. JT was the first to see an animal: a antelope! We were so excited to see an animal. Then, we saw another antelope! Little did we know what was to come…
Then, we saw an elephant!! Just off the road, there was an elephant feeding on grasses. Wow! One of the big 5! Just 30 minutes into our safari! We sat watching him eat for a while in awe. Then, Katie noticed on the left side of the car: another elephant was coming towards the road!! He ended up crossing the road immediately in front of us, but stopped halfway across to give us a good look. He was so close to our car, JT started pleading “please don’t destroy my car” under his breath. After checking us out for a bit, he decided we weren’t a threat and continued eating – starting with the long grasses right beside the road.
The day continued like this, with us seeing almost 100 elephants, a rhino, about a dozen water buffalo, a few giraffe, a couple dozen zebras, a crocodile, a jackal, warthogs, an couple African fish eagle, dozens of other types of birds, a few hippos, a pack of hyaenas, various types of lizards, and tons of antelope (impala, kudu, waterbuck, blue wildebeest, nyala). We saw more animals in our first day in Kruger than Katie expected to see the entire trip! (JT wasn’t quite sure what to expect).
Routing: During the day, we drove from the Phalaborwa gate to Letaba camp on the H9, then from Letaba camp to Olifants camp on S94, S46, S93, and S44 and finally from Olifants camp to Satara camp on H1-4. We cooked some soup for lunch in the day-visitor communal kitchen, which had hot plates and a water heater (but no dishes, pots, or pans).
The animals really came out near dusk, which is around when we had to hurry to reach the Satara gate before it closed for the night. Thankfully we weren’t too late and were still able to stop and enjoy the many animals we saw, but not for as long as we wanted to. Scroll to the bottom of this post for a sampling of all of the incredible animals we saw from dusk to sunset!
We made it to Satara camp just 10 minutes before the camp gates closed for the evening. All of the night camps are fenced off from the rest of the park at night to ensure the humans and animals are safe. If you do not make it to you camp (or the park exit gates) by the closing time you receive a large fine and you might be kicked out of the park. This is to help safeguard against poaching. If all of the humans are supposed to be in camps from 6 pm to 6 am (hours change by the month), then the rangers can assume anyone outside the gates are there for nefarious purposes.
Once at Satara, we checked in. We had already paid for our room for the night, but we needed to pay the conservation fee (equivalent to a daily entrance fee) for at least one day. We elected to pay through the end of our stay. Although it is listed as a “daily” fee, it is effectively charged as a nightly fee if you are staying in the park. We were in the park 4 days and 3 nights and only charged 3 days: R264/day x 3 days x 2 people = R1,584.
After checking in, we headed over to our bungalow and had dinner at the take-away pizza restaurant. We opted to split a stacked chicken and veggies pizza with extra cheese (R109.8) and split a Coke Zero (R12.9 – Visa accepted). The large ended up being too much for us, and we were only able to eat 3/4 of it. It was very good though.
We headed to registration to meet for our night guided safari at 7:45pm as instructed. However, when we boarded the vehicle, there were only two aisle seats left since it seemed a German couple had decided to both take window seats instead of sitting together. The woman was particularly terrible as she insisted on sitting at an angle with her body in half of Katie’s seat (pushing Katie to only be able to sit on half the seat). As can be imagined, this was particularly bad on bumpy dirt roads.
The night safari ended up being really disappointing. We only saw a few animals (civet, genet, balckbacked jackal, elephant, steenbok), likely for a few reasons – bad luck, our only guide / trained spotter was also the driver, and the people manning the search lights were just people in some of the window seats (who mostly did a terrible job of actually using the lights to search). Based on our experience, we would not recommend a night safari; your chances of seeing anything good are relatively slim. The main benefit of doing the night safari is that you get access to the park at night, when you are otherwise confined to your camp. The night safari was so boring that both of us actually fell asleep (on bumpy roads, mind you)! JT, exhausted from the long exciting day, probably slept over an hour of the two hour trip – waking up only when there was excitement expressed by the others in the group.
Our bungalow was nice, although we barely got to spend any time in it. We got back from the night safari after 10:30 pm and then we wanted to get out the front gate soon after it opened at 6 am. So, we pretty much just showered, brushed our teeth and showered there. Note: There was literally only one plug in the entire bungalow, and this is where the A/C was plugged in. We were glad to have some external batteries to charge our phones.