11.11.2014 - 12.11.2014 26 °C
Tuesday brought with it our earliest start yet. I'd been sleeping well until my alarm went off at 4.40am. I was sat outside the bus by 5, first in the queue for a good seat for our morning drive. By 5.30 we were out of the gates of the camp, sleepy eyes peeled for animals. First spot was three female giraffes nibbling less than 10 meters from the road. Dana explained to us how to identify the females from the males (little tufts of black hair atop their small curved horns vs the bald tips of the males').
Next up was a giant solo elephant, slightly back from the road with giant tusks. Dana told us that as they get older, male elephants split from their herd and spend their final years in solitary. We saw a few impala with huge curly horns grazing at the side of the road before heading down towards the river in search of hippo and buffalo. Sadly none were to be found and it was approaching 7am so we turned back for the camp. I began to struggle to keep my eyes open so hoped that someone else was keeping watch on my side of the bus as my lids began to drop.
In my sleepy, already-been-awake-for-3-hours-and-it's-only-7.30 haze, I heard Dana yell the world leopard from the bus. Eyes sprang open and all of us leapt to the right hand side of the bus. The leopard casually strolled in front of the bus. As he emerged on the other side, I caught a good look at it as it wandered slowly into the bush, pausing to take a look over his shoulder and allowing us all to get a good look at him (and I managed to get a picture of his bum before he disappeared). There were squeals of excitement and applause in the bus as we made our way back to the camp for breakfast. Krista, who'd been waiting to see a leopard for a while having already been on several 'safaris' in Africa, declared that this was the 'best day ever'! She had a point and by the end of the day I was in total agreement.
We ate well and packed up, rushing to make our 9am proposed departure. When Kim and I arrived at the bus, the jack was out. We had a puncture; there was a large rip in one of the rear tyres and, under Dad's, perhaps unnecessary, instruction Eddie was changing the tyre. It was all Kim's fault; just the last evening she'd been saying that she was surprised we hadn't got a flat tyre across all the bumps. But Eddie seemed to know what he was doing and by 9.45 we were on the road again, surely by now having exhausted the full repertoire of bus journey related disasters.
It was a much cooler day, overcast with a light breeze. Gone were the high temperatures of the previous day and the strong winds. It was a perfect day for animal spotting and we were in high spirits having seen so many animals including two of the Big Five just on our morning drive.
And what a fantastic day it was. First up, as our drive wound along one of the park's many rivers, we came across a herd of around 10 hippos. It was still cool and they hadn't yet submerged themselves under water for the day. Next to them, watching them with its mouth open was a crocodile; Dana explained to us how hippos and crocodiles frequently lived harmoniously as there was no power struggle for food. Indeed, all hippos that we came across were accompanied by a lone croc.
We saw a lot of elephants! Both in herds and solo bulls. Impala were everywhere and no longer exciting however even Dana got excited by a Honey Badger sighting. Having worked as a game driver himself in Kruger at one time, he said he'd only spotted a handful of them in his career. As we drove, the landscape became greener, hugely different from inland Mozambique. This meant that animals wee likely to be more plentiful but also that the bush made them harder to see. But our sightings continued wit ostrich, wilder-beast and eventually, we came across a bit of a traffic jam. Lying up on a small hill of a dry riverbank, used as animal highways if the amount of dung on them was anything to go by, were three lions. This caused a lot of excitement and Eddie moved the bus back and forth helping us all to get good pictures. They were sat quietly, perhaps having just eaten, but in a prime location to keep an eye out for their next meal. Krista had shown me some incredible pictures from her previous trip, including one of a lion eating a zebra; I wasn't sure if I wanted to be around when the time came for their next kill.
We stopped for lunch, exhilarated by what we'd seen that day. I couldn't believe that, for a nominal park entry fee, it was possible to enter Kruger, in your own vehicle and, sticking to the main roads, see such incredible things. It was getting late since, we'd been lucky enough to get a lot of sightings, we'd spent much time stopped, oohing and aaahing.
And we had just one of the Big 5 to go. Personally, I'd be most excited about seeing zebras, giraffes and elephants. But Dana explained to us that the Big 5 (elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards and rhino) were the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. And we'd seen all but a rhino. The mood was jubilant and Dolly Parton was blasting from Andrew's iPod that had provided most of the theme tunes to the trip so far. He even had both the Lion King albums so we had a choice of film or musical.
So we got back in the bus thinking 'rhino, rhino, rhino' as we headed towards one of the park gates near to our accommodation. And then we saw it. I have no idea who spotted it first but, next to another mini traffic jam was a solitary rhino, plodding slowly around less than 5 meters from the road. Krista was right, it really was the best day ever, not just because of all the incredible things we'd seen and what an amazing experience it'd been, but because that day was amazing for everyone and we all experienced it as a group. Nobody had a bad word to say as we left the gate and made the short journey to our final lodge.
The landscape had become progressively greener throughout the day and, as we left Kruger, Dana told us that the land we were now driving through was amongst the most fertile in South Africa. I could see why, the crops were dense and almost anything seemed to grown here. - again, a stark contrast from what we'd driven through further north in Mozambique.
When we arrived at Umbhba lodge in Hazyview, it was possibly the best accommodation yet. The singles were towards one end of the resort so Andrew, Kim, Eddie, Dana and I were all in a row. The rooms were huge with terraces overlooking a lush garden. But the best was the bathroom - one corner of the bathroom was taken up with a huge walk in shower, another with a large corner bathtub which would definitely be getting some use.
Kim and I sat on her terrace with a Hunters Dry, our new beverage of choice and watched Dana appear outside his bungalow and start to dance. There'd been an awful lot of dancing and singing on this trip that'd got us through some of the stickier moments. We were becoming aware that we were getting close to the end and, wanting to maximise time together, several of us sat on the bar terrace until last orders.