Something the majority of South Africans won’t get to do their whole lives. And how do you hold that thought while you decide to spend the money it will take to choose to go and spend a week there? To find out the answer to that one, you will need to sit with me and a cup of coffee or a meal because it’s not a few lines conversation. But it is definitely something i have a lot of thought to, before, during, and after.
But we will save that for another time. For this post, i wanted to document some of the Kruger trip highlights for those of you who might have missed them as they appeared on social media, and also for myself to remember and go back to and celebrate again. Because it was a Highlights tour.
i would be lion if i said it wasn’t great
This picture pretty much sums up the ridiculousness of Kruger Day 1. Val and i invited her dad, Shane Duffield, to join us on her trip as a bit of a follow-up to the Philippines trip we did a year ago, arriving home just before Pandemic shut the whole world down. Shane kept a record of the animals we saw each day and day , as i said, was a little nuts.
And yes, every time you see Rhino, that was a new sighting of a different rhino grouping… also Big Cat was an unidentified cat we saw at the start of the day which i thought was a lion but Val and her dad thought was a leopard – by the end of the day we had seen 10 lions and 2 leopard and so it didn’t feel like it really mattered as much any more.
Also, going into the park, rhino was probably my favourite animal, but after three or four days of sighting hyena family with cubs those little guys took hold of my heart and i definitely wanted to take one home with me. i probably didnt…
Wild dogs – there are 120 or so in the park and we saw a huge pack which was the last thing we saw as we headed to camp. By then the day had been so ridiculously overboard that i literally stated: “Wait, wait, before we get home we should see a pack of wild dog coming down the road towards us!” and next thing we see a few km down the road was this massive pack turning the corner and heading our way.
On to Kruger day 2…
We had decided to stay at a few different camps in the Kruger so as to experience more of the park and so the first three nights were at Pretoriuskop at the bottom of the Kruger park, then 2 days up at Letaba nearer the middle top and then back down to Lower Sabie for the last two nights.
Days 2-6 each felt a little thin as we went through large stretches of not seeing animals or just seeing what we named The Triad [impala, zebra and wildebeest who tend to often hang together in groups] but by the end of each day we were grateful and were able to stamp ‘Good Day’s sightings’ on it. Having Shane’s list to go back to and be reminded of just how much we had seen [and also realising when you see impala, zebra, giraffe, elephant on there it means multiple sightings throughout the day]. The grass around Pretoriuskop tends to be quite high and so it was a little harder to spot animals close to the camp.
Water Buffalo 2
Hyenas with pups
Catfish devouring carcass
To be absolutely honest, if hyena with pups was the only sighting we had that would have been a tick-worthy day. The one group of hyena lived in what appeared to be a water drain right next to the road near the camp and so we saw them twice every day as well as other groups [many hyena near Pretoriuskop!] and so my heart was constantly full.
Hard to read through this list and think at some point in the day we were wondering if this was going to be a dud. This day [as all the oothers] started with a 5am wake-up to be out when the gates opened at 5.30. But today was a long drive up north and for a lot of the middle of the day the sightings were few and far between. But we did get our final glimpse of hyena and cubs…
Herd of elephants
Families of hyena
Vervet monkey + baby
Zebra by the score
Ostrich + babies
Several warthog with babies
Troop of Baboons
Bat in a bathroom
10+ Hippo in front of our cabin
We tried to focus our attention on the small creatures and birds as well as all the regular favourites so that no-one felt left out. 252 000 impalas in the park compared to 120 wild dogs for example… we acknowledged every group of impala with a “Hello!” or a wave and at one point Val for some inexplicable reason started speaking to them in Afrikaans. Which was hilarious!
But the Maribou Stork was another creature. Haven’t seen a bird that big that isn’t an ostrich. And when we drove by and there were three in the far distance i honestly thought they were penguins, and then standing-upright-logs. They were just chilling in a field and fortunately, it had a road around the other side and so we were able to drive around and get a better pic. Stunning birds! Quite regal! We really did take some time on the bigger birds, especially the birds of prey of which there were many.
We thought the terrapin was a massive spot but then ended up seeing maybe about twenty of them on the trip, including two on the shores of Letaba where we were to stay the next two nights. And however bad the day had been [not that bad!] our campsite was enough just in itself to flip the narrative. An abundance of hippos and a few crocs [and terrapin] chilling out on the other side of the fence as we made a fire and cooked supper and sipped a thing and enjoyed the paradise.
We decided to take it a bit easy today. One of the things we have never done before is a night drive and so we just did a half-day drive in the morning and then took time out to swim and read and eat and then paid for a night drive to get a different perspective and experience of camp. We didn’t get to see any cats on it, but we had some decent sightings including a whole bunch of bunnies [well, spring hare] and jackal [which we hadn’t seen yet, but see tomorrow!] and a giant croc swimming just below the bridge we were on.
Our first sighting of a new buck that wasn’t impala or kudu [or the very few smaller buck we had seen] in the Tsessebe which was a really cool find! And meeting the Kori Bustard – which we had multiple sightings of on days after this – was a vibe!
Hippo out of water grazing
If you look carefully down this next list you will see that Val got her wish for a dung beetle pushing dung [and in the nature of the over-the-top-ridiculousness of this particular trip we then saw a baby dung beetle pushing dung that was about a quarter of the size of the adult]
But also Giant Snail and by Giant Snail i DO NOT MEAN it was a big snail! i mean it was a snail bigger than my hand! i think it was the next day that we saw a baby tortoise and again i don’t mean like a small tortoise cos i have seen a lot of those – this was literally about the size of a matchbox. Try getting your head around the fact that we saw in the same week a snail that was bigger than a tortoise.
Another of Val’s wishes was elephant in water and you can see that happened quite soon on this day! Also by ‘Mongoose Clan’ we mean watching about 20 or so of them run from one bush to another like a gang of rampant mongoose….es. And see all those jackal – because hilarious after a while cos they just kept coming. Beautiful animals too! The monitor lizard also felt like a special sighting cos it was literally there and then gone – so many of our best sightings would not have happened had we arrived seconds earlier or later.
Elephant herd at waterhole
Small buck (Oribi?)
Black backed jackal 3 + 2 + 1 + 1
Herd of Buffalo 60
Rhino 1 + 2
Herd of elephants 40+
Lappet Face Vulture
After 5 days without any big cat sightings, i think we were getting a little despondent. Cheetah was the only big animal we were yet to see, but we were hoping to see the others as well. This was our last day in the Kruger and how was it going to show itself?
Also, i entered the park with two bucket list items – one was to be the first to spot a rhino [i was third in our group of three] and the other was to be the one to spot a leopard in a tree. All of our cat sightings in three visits to the park where other peoples sightings that we joined when we saw a car or number of cars pulled up or someone told us something was ahead on the road. Was really hoping just once to be first spotter and spent a LOT of the trip looking in a LOT of trees to try and do so…
The day started with a dude in a car down a side road waving to us and behold – two sleeping lions… this was going to be a good day…
This trip messed a lot with our theology. Val, Shane and myself had a lot of in-depth conversations about how we see God working or not working and how people tend to twist things to suit themselves. We didn’t necessarily reach agreement on all the things we discussed but we managed to cover a lot of ground. And then our experiences [especially on day 6] just threw it all up in the air.
[Side note: i have a preach i used to do looking at how God reveals Godself to people in the Bible – burning bush, pillar of cloud or fire, angel, baby – and how God speaks to people – through prophets or angels or a donkey or a miracle – and finally how Jesus healed blind people – spoke to one, touched one, put mud in another’s eyes. With the conclusion that even God doesn’t have a theology of God beyond being Love and Just and even those two can be confusing enough to get your head around]
i had asked my friend Wayne if he could pray for some stuff for me and then threw in a p.s. Can you pray we see cats today? So he said he would. And then we saw lion. So i upgraded my request to him to pray for cheetah. And then we saw cheetah. And so i asked for leopard… and then it happened.
Remember, this is in the context of my theology being totally messed about by this,not by saying “This is God at work!” We were on a main road looking for a certain road – let’s call it S28 – which was meant to go off the main road both ways and we found the one way and kept driving and couldn’t see the other one which was meant to be right there. So we thought maybe the map was wrong and picked another dirt road to take us towards the animal lookout we wanted to get to for brunch. This turned out to be a very untravelled road with high grass in the middle of the tracks so constantly letting you know it is there. And as i gazed up at the gazillionth tree in the distance to the other side of me, i saw something. Something that looked out of place and too big for the branch and tree. LEOPARD!!!
And yes, popular belief may be that my post-leopard-spotting-dance-moves may have caused it to fairly quickly stand up and climb down the tree and disappear in the long grass never to be seen by us again. But it also might have at that moment just been ready to go for a walk as well. Who cares? i spotted the leopard. Bucket list item. Messed up theology. Although we do believe in a God who gives good gifts to God’s children so maybe just maybe God cares about bucket list Kruger items too. Later on we drove past S28 and there they both were, side by side, impossible to have missed. Um… STOPPIT THEOLOGY STOPPIT!
All that to say it was another incredible day that rivalled day 1 and if you’re going to have two amazing days on your Kruger trip, i highly recommend the first and the last…
Elephant several herds
Giraffe large herd
Large herd of Zebra
Bush pigs + babies
7 crocodile together
Tree of Vultures
Baby dung beetle
Leopard in tree
Crocodiles and Hippo many
Val and Shane thought they had maybe spotted rhino in the far distance as we went to have our final meal in the restaurant overlooking the beautiful nature, which would conclude their big 5 on the day, but it seemed to be by a process of elimination rather than a definite sighting so i took it off my list, but they have it on theirs – and besides, we will finish the 24 hour Big 5 tomorrow as we leave… for sures!
Leaving Day: We’re not done!
Early morning exit from Crocodile Bridge and not anticipating much… but the park had other ideas. We had been living this trip closely connected to my good friend Debbie Austwick who comes here a lot and had just had an amazing trip a few weeks previously [seeing all the things!] and she had given us advice and encouragement along the way. This morning she sent a message wishing us a special gift on the way out…
But this was the day so many of the animals would come out to give us a final goodbye and we would see the littlest of littlies which absolutely made my day. Imagine the smallest elephant you have ever seen [which is a small small elephant] and we drive along and see one a quarter of the size of that alongside an elephant that was quite possibly before that moment the smallest elephant i had seen. Then the tiniest zebra i had ever seen [if you look at the picture you see a pic of a zebra, but that’s the mom – look a little closer and you see the baby suckling on its mom] and the smallest wildebeest [no picture] and of course a final moment rhino and buffalo just to keep it real. Plus why not two more wild dogs walking right past the car.
Troop of elephants
So ridiculous was the end of our trip that even driving a few hundred kilometers away from Kruger we stopped at a petrol station that had an assortment of rhino, emu, ostrich, oryx [new buck we hadn’t yet seen], zebra and a bunch more. The p.s. to an incredible trip.
Back to the Wrestle
Such an overwhelming mind-blowing incredible trip full of amazing sightings, theology-bending moments, good conversations, some challenges of being tired and cooped up in small spaces with the same people, fire-cooked meals and a variety of highlights.
Yet the lingering questions remains: How is it fair that you get to do this and others don’t? And the answer to that is quite straightforward, i think, although the deeper conversation and exploration much less so – it isn’t fair!
One of the factors that helped me enjoy this trip a lot more despite the wrestle was the number of people who followed with us – at a distance – appreciating and commenting on and sharing our pictures and stories and delights – friends and family on whatsapp living the adventure with us. We so appreciated being able to share the journey with people like the Austwicks who had just had their own and others who have never got to go!
Another aspect that helps make the decision a little bit easier is the work we return to and how refreshed and impassioned and strengthened [in spirit and soul and maybe even bodies that got the gift of no-screens for a week except for the occasional phone post] we feel to be able to do it better. A community garden and groups of Common Change; an exciting journey with Partners for Possibility that has just begun as well as one with the Siya Kolisi Foundation that started recently and Heartlines story-telling moments to return to; a podcast or codcast being dreamed up and some Race with me videos to get back to; friendships and community and church and conversations and lifestyle decisions.
So while it may not be fair, hopefully in part it allows us to do the work we do that tackles the unfairness of the very thing in a variety of ways. If we stopped doing everything that wasn’t fair, our lives would be very empty indeed. And we HAVE to keep questioning that and choosing hard decisions alongside the easy ones to make sure that we are constantly working towards a better life and country and world for all.
Thank you for joining me and us, either then or now. The Wild Card we got to enter the park inspires within a year and so technically [when we use our sneaky maths] if we plan our next trip before Feb next year we save all that entrance money. Who is going to join us?
Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.