Thursday morning: We headed back to Kruger today. We decided not to force ourselves to get up before the sun and started our day at a more leisurely pace. We made pancakes for breakfast, had coffee, and the kids played outside for a bit before we packed up the car and headed out around 9:30. We started our day a little farther north at the Paul Kruger Gate. Before even going through the gate we saw a huge herd of buffalo. This was the first time we had ever seen them in the wild, so our day was off to a great start. We saw a few lone elephants, impala and baboons. Then we hit a dry spell. We were hoping to make it to the Orpen Dam for lunch, but the kids were getting more and more hungry and thirsty, so we made plans to stop sooner. Unfortunately, many of the places we wanted to stop at had Do Not Enter signs posted, so we had to keep on driving. We finally stopped around 12:30 at Tshokwane, which was only half closed. We tried to eat a fast lunch, but the kids were overly interested in throwing crumbs to the flock of Starlings that were hopping around their feet. We finally got on the road again and decided to go past the dam and stop there on our drive back. We had big plans to visit a tree and wanted to keep moving.
Thursday afternoon: After filling our stomachs, we were all a bit less on edge. It had been quite a while since we saw any game, including impalas, so we were eager to see what lay ahead. We were not disappointed! Just like our first visit to Kruger on Tuesday, it seemed like our best game viewing happened after lunch. We saw a large herd of buffalo grazing near a riverbed. Then Jori saw a large group of giraffe. We stopped and watched them eating on both sides of the road.
We drove just a bit farther and saw a lot of cars stopped on the side of the road near a watering hole. Even if the cars wouldn’t have been there, we would have stopped for ourselves. The place was just teeming with game. There were huge herds of zebra, waterbuck, a large buffalo lying under a tree, a rhino, giraffe, and warthogs chasing each other. Those were just some of the animals outside of the water. In the water we saw hippos poking their noses and ears out of the water and then Israel spotted something floating in the water. It looked like a stick, but we soon realized it was a crocodile. We all were following it as it moved closer to shore and then it climbed out of the water to sun itself! Amazing. This was the most game we had ever seen in one place. We finally drove off, but made plans to stop at Mazithi again.
We drove on and saw a huge herd of elephants off to the right. Then we glanced off to the left and saw a little family of three chomping on some grass. We sat for a bit and then they crossed the road in front of us. It is always fun seeing baby animals. We drove on a bit more and came to another watering hole. We saw more hippo, zebra and baboons. We had to keep moving though as we were eager to see a tree.
Finally, we made it. After hours of driving we were at the southernmost Baobab tree. The Baobab is a very African tree. The legend has it that the Baobab was the vainest tree and thought it was better than all the other trees. So the gods decided it needed to be taught a lesson. They uprooted the Baobab, turned it upside down, and stuck it back in the ground. Now the tree is the ugliest and appears to have roots growing where branches and leaves should be. The tree really was amazing to see. Its trunk is just huge and the root-like branches just give it such a unique look. We are happy that we can now say we’ve seen a real African Baobab.
Now it was time to make our way back out of the park. It was after 3 and we had to be out of the gate by 5:30. We drove back past the two watering holes. The hippos and crocodile were still there. A lot of the other game had already gone away. We swung into the Orpen Dam and got out of the car to stretch our legs and go to the viewing area. We could hear the hippos before we saw them. They were so loud. The kids were more interested in trying to catch a lizard. Time was ticking away, so we drank some juice, grabbed some snacks from the back of the car and headed off again. We made a wrong turn, which was taking us deeper into Kruger instead of closer to a gate, so we turned around and started off again.
We saw some more zebra, a few giraffes and some more baboons, including some moms with babies on their backs. We saw more cars stopped on the side of the road, so we slowly pulled up to where they were to see what they were looking at. At first we had no idea, but then Darin saw a HUGE snake on the road. One of the other drivers told us that it was a black mamba and it had just been dropped from the sky by a bird that was sitting in a tree. Another driver told us the bird was a Bataleur and showed us right where it was sitting. We would have loved to sit around to see the bird fly back down to reclaim its dinner, but time was ticking away, so we kept moving.
We hadn’t gone far when we saw another herd of elephants. This one was coming down to a river for a drink. There were a lot of babies and smaller elephants laying down and reaching their trunks into the water because the edge was so steep. We stuck around long enough to see the babies get up and walk away with their mothers.
We had promised the kids they could have a treat, so we made a quick pit stop at Skukuza Camp. We all hustled and were back in the car within 15 minutes. (Thanks Miss Susie for making our pit stop possible!) It was now 4:45 and we had less than an hour to get out of the park. Darin really wanted to make it to the Phabeni Gate so we’d be a bit closer to our cottage. We hadn’t gone far when we saw more cars stopped along the road. We pulled over and asked one of the game rangers what they were seeing. He said a leopard had just recently crossed the road and had gone into the brush on the other side. If only we had been faster getting our ice cream, we might have seen it!
It was getting a lot darker and there were more animals crossing the road. We had to really watch out for impala and zebra as they were right on the side of the road. We saw a few more smaller groups of elephants, including a few that were banging their tusks together. We kept on driving and made it out of the gate with 2 minutes to spare. The kids were all pretty tired out by this time. We had a half hour drive to get back to our cottage and by the time we made it back it was totally dark. We gave the kids a quick shower, made them quesadillas, and then it was time for bed.
We are so glad for the wonderful day we had at Kruger. Tomorrow we’ll be packing up and heading back to Hammanskraal. As great as this time away has been, we are ready to be back home!