After we left Namibia, we had a couple days in Johannesburg before our safari to Kruger. This was the final stretch of our long journey and we really just wanted to relax, so we did a whole lot of that! We spent our time getting caught up on sleep, exercising, seeing Wonder Woman, and eating more Nando’s. We were considering the Apartheid Museum, but never made it out. Whoops…
We booked a private safari in Kruger National Park with Wild Planet Safari through SafariBookings.com. After mulling over many different choices of operators, we chose Wild Planet because they came across as the most authentic company. They had great reviews and were a small, private company, so it seemed like we’d get a much more personal experience out of it. We were not disappointed.
Our guide, Ryan, and his assistant, Akim, picked us up bright and early from our hotel in Johannesburg and we drove the 8 hour journey to the northern part of Kruger. Once inside the park and on our way to our rest camp, we saw lots of elephants, birds, and antelope, but had an incredible lion sighting. Three lionesses and four cubs drinking water from the river!
We made it to our first rest camp, Letaba, where we would have two nights. It was time to relax and then have a delicious dinner cooked by our guides. We also tried our first Savanna, a locally made cider – delicious!
The next morning, we were up bright and early for our first game drive. We were on the hunt for leopard and drove all around. We saw many cool birds (including a pair of Eagle Owls) and some game, and just when Ryan said, “well, I guess no leopard today”, a leopard appeared. It was a smaller female and camouflaged in the brush next to our vehicle. We spent some time watching it, but didn’t take photos.
After breakfast at a rest area in the bush, we headed back to camp to hang out for the day. On the way back, we saw an adorable family of warthogs with babies and dozens of other animals (elephant, antelope, zebra, giraffe, etc.).
While resting at Letaba that day, we went to check out the elephant museum, which features the “Tuskers” – the biggest elephants that have lived in Kruger. This museum was actually pretty cool. They had the tusks of many of these elephants and some photos. They also had a lot of informational stuff about elephants and had photos of some of the current “Tuskers”.
We also took some time to sit by the river. Letaba Camp is situated on the Letaba River, where lots of hippos live. Being that this is my favorite animal, I was thrilled to watch them basking in the winter sun. We wandered around camp a bit, and Ryan showed us a newborn bush buck – likely only an hour or two old!
That afternoon we went out again for our sunset drive. We saw lots more animals and visited a blind on another river, where we checked out crocodiles, some elephants, and tons of birds. We stopped on a bridge to watch the sunset and enjoy a Savanna.
We were up bright and early the next morning, though we didn’t have much luck spotting the big cats. After breakfast, we headed out to our next camp, Satara, which was a few hours’ drive. One of our first sightings on the way was one of the Tuskers – a very large and old bull elephant. It was so awesome to see him with a couple of younger males who were learning the ways of the elephant from the elder.
We were minding our own business, not expecting to see much in the middle of the day, when we happened upon a leopard, just chilling under a tree on the side of the road. Long story short, it walked right in front of us across the road, circled around, then crossed back in front of us again! It was so awesome to see it up so close and out in the open!
After we settled into Satara Camp, we were off in search of cats again for our afternoon drive. We happened upon a cheetah sighting by another group, but the cheetahs had laid down in the grass and could no longer be seen, so we made our way to another bird blind.
We didn’t have much luck on our afternoon drive, but we did have some great luck inside the camp. We got to see a pair of honey badgers (don’t care!) running around, and then during our dinner, we were joined by an African Wild Cat. Shawn and I thought it was just a regular cat, but Ryan quickly pointed out some differences. The domestic cat descended from this cat.
The next morning we did another game drive and among the regulars (giraffe, elephant, antelope, zebra, buffalo, etc.) got to see a hyena, another large elephant, some male impalas fighting, and some male kudus fighting. We also went to see a very old baobab tree.
Before we left Satara Camp, we got to see an old owl who lives in a tree inside the camp and is one of the most photographed birds in the world.
Our next camp was Skukuza, the headquarters of Kruger National Park, and the biggest and busiest of the camps. We did another afternoon drive and went up to the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial to check out the views. Stevenson-Hamilton was the first warden of Kruger and is credited with turning Kruger into the protected place it is today.
That evening was our night drive with a group of people from the Skukuza camp, and despite a very late start, holy crap was it awesome! We saw a male lion roaring and walking down the road. We followed him for a mile or so, and it was so amazing to see one so close up and to hear the roar! Check out the video Shawn made! As our guide said, “it’s better than nothing.”
We also saw some other cool things, but we also had our first white rhino sighting!! So exciting! It was a male, female, and a baby hiding in some bushes not far from the road.
The next day, our morning drive produced lionesses chilling by the river (which we somehow did not photograph), hippos, gorgeous views, and some birds. We then headed further south to our last camp of the trip – Berg-En-Dal. On our evening drive, we saw a bunch of rhinos, but sadly had no luck with any big predators.
The next morning, we were up early for our bush walk with some Kruger rangers. We drove out to the starting point, and our armed rangers then walked us out into the bush. We were a small group of seven, and learned a lot about rhinos, since this is one of the best areas in Kruger to see them. We saw a ton of antelope, some elephants (from a distance), and some rhinos. At one point, our rangers had us all gather on top of a termite mound. In the distance was a large male rhino. Rhinos have terrible vision, but an excellent sense of smell, and we were downwind, so the rhino didn’t notice us and walked about 3-4 meters from us before realizing we were there. He was then frightened and ran away, but it was breathtaking to be so close to such a beautiful creature!
We had the afternoon in Berg En Dal, so walked a trail that went along the fence of the camp and had cool skeletons from various animals. That evening, we had our final sunset drive and were fortunate to see tons of rhinos hanging out. Ryan’s wife Thale joined us on this drive and we played a game of sighting animals that made it fun and exciting. We had a lovely final dinner under the lanterns and enjoyed one last Savanna.
The next morning was our final game drive. I think Ryan was determined to show us something good. We had a relatively slow week of predator sightings (though we really didn’t care) and he was on a mission. We went really far north in hopes of finding a cheetah, but had no luck.
We were on our way back to camp when we ran into a pack of African Wild Dog. These animals are incredible and I am so, SO happy we got to see them!!! They had clearly just come back from hunting, as many of them had blood on their faces, and one actually had been injured and was limping. We watched as others reunited with the pack and they joyfully greeted each other. We also got to see the alpha male (identified by the collar around his neck). This happens to be Ryan’s favorite animal and he had a wealth of knowledge on these guys! We got to spend about a half an hour hanging out with the pack and observing them. It was definitely one of the highlights of the week and worth the wait!
After packing up, we sadly departed Kruger towards Johannesburg, but we couldn’t leave South Africa without one last stop at Nando’s for lunch! We got to the airport, said our goodbyes to Ryan and Akim, and were off on our very long journey home.
We were so happy with our safari! Our guide Ryan was like an encyclopedia of information on animals, birds, and plants, and we learned so much and had so much fun! Kruger is definitely one of the best places we visited on this journey and we are so glad we went! After this experience, I see why visiting Africa and going on safari is a must-do and we highly recommend it. And as we now know, it can be done on a budget! If you are curious about visiting Kruger, please reach out to us and we’d be happy to give our recommendations and tips.