Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kruger National Park, Nelspruit, South Africa

We left Durban and parted ways with Suzanne - Nathan continued with Ellie and I for the rest of the trip. Our next stop was Nelspruit, the capital of the Mpumalangma province, which is mostly known to tourists as the jumping off point for Kruger National Park.

Ellie, Nathan and I had one not particularly notable rest day in Nelspruit before heading out on our final grand adventure. Kruger National Park is South Africa's largest, and probably the world's most famous game reserve. Our safari experience there was ultimately very rewarding although quite different from our previous safari in Botswana.

We left our hotel before sunrise and made it to Kruger just before 6:00AM when the park gates open. Within half an hour we had seen a few antelopes and birds but were shocked to see a leopard so soon. The cat walked along the road, within feet of our car before disappearing into some nearby brush. The experience highlighted three main difference between the two safari experiences: we had been driving on a paved road, we could not follow the leopard after it walked away from the road, and there were other cars stopped nearby to watch the cat.

We saw a few other familiar animals that day like Gnu or Wildebeeste.

Crocodiles and Hippos (not pictured but just outside this photo)


and Zebras.

Additionally, we saw a few new animals like hyenas, white rhinos, and water buffalo. The latter two were unfortunately too far away for a good picture.

On the way to lunch, we saw a second leopard hunting two zebras. Eventually the zebras saw the leopard before it could attack and chased it away. Unfortunately this was also too far away for a good picture.

We stopped in one of the many camps inside Kruger for lunch and visited a museum along the way. The most fascinating thing we learned at the museum was the story of Harry Wolhuter, a former park ranger who fought off two lions by hand and won.

There was a beautiful sunset that evening as we headed out for a night drive. We saw a few elephants and innumerable impalas in the first two hours and had pretty much given up hope of seeing anything else, when on the ride back we spotted a third leopard.

We stopped halfway through the night drive to stretch our legs. The rangers mandated armed escorts for those answering nature's call.

We slept at one of the camps inside Kruger that evening and were up before sunrise again the next morning. Nathan, Ellie and I could not believe our luck when within the first hour we spotted three lions and, unbelievably, a fourth leopard.

The three lions, two females and one male, were hunting together. The female, pictured above, walked within feet of our car while the other two stayed further away.

On the way out we saw a number of baboons and monkeys.

On the way back to Nelspruit, we stopped off at a few other points of interest in the area, first a waterfall.

Next we stopped at Bourke's Potholes, a canyon in the Blyde river where swirling dirt and pebbles have bored cylindrical holes deep into the surrounding canyon walls.

Next, we stopped further up the river to see the Blyde River Canyon, apparently the largest growing canyon in the world and by some measures the third largest canyon overall.

Along the way back we stopped by God's Window which has a great view on clear days but is distinctly unimpressive on cloudy days like when we visited.

We spent that evening in Nelspruit and headed out to Johannesburg the next morning.

Nathan's photos from our travels in South Africa are available at: TheNateUpdate listed under April 2008 - Thanks Nate!

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