Kruger: Where the Wild come home to roost

Posted by iWanderWhy | September 13, 2014 | Africa

“Unhhh”, “UUUUUUNNHHHHH”. The lions were serenading us. It was my birthday and our host Kjell had laid out a lovely dinner for us in the verandah of our room. It was pitch dark, and the pride of lions were just about 30 feet away. I knew there was no way they could make it over the low electric fence, but that’s probably the fastest birthday dinner I’ve eaten in my life. “Everything’s great, thank you” I kept saying hurriedly eating, hoping the meal would get over and I get to the safety of my room.

A private game reserve in Kruger is an experience of a lifetime. You’re in the middle of nowhere, and yet you’re right in the middle of all the wildlife action. Picking a game reserve is really tricky. We stayed in two areas of Kruger to try different reserves and one left us wanting to stay more, while the other was lacking by a huge margin.

We loved Naledi Bushcamp in the Balule area. Naledi is owned by Kjell – a South African who decided to leave the city life and come closer to where he felt he belonged. He has done a fine job of building a reserve that feels like home – there’s a large living space with a lookout to spot animals, a small pool, and a very well stocked bar area. We spent a lot of time with Kjell and his tracker, Prem (who had no idea that his name had a strong Indian connection).

Each day, we would be off and about for our game drive at 5 AM and again at 4 PM. Prem would take lead sitting in the front of the open jeep while Kjell coordinated on radio with others in Balule. We would stop to observe animal movement through paw marks and changes in bush structure, learning and listening to the laws of the jungle as Kjell kept telling us about things that no textbook can give you.

It’s called a “Game Drive” because of a reason. This is not an overcrowded jeep that whips around the jungle looking for photo ops. It’s about the “Game”- without the game meat of course. The game drives are different experiences in the day and night with different sets of animals. Observing, tracking and getting closer to closer to animals until the point you meet them literally face to face. And then what? Then you switch off your engine, and sit in silence. And feel one with them, and realize how tiny you are in the scheme of things.

There are a few images that I have in my head that I can never forget – of the leopard, who had just killed an impala, and ate her meal watching us all the time with an intense gaze – she was barely 10 feet away. Then realizing that she needs to watch over her cubs, she sprints up a tree creating a silhouette against the setting African sun. And then another of a giraffe chewing on a bone to get his calcium dose for the day (Giraffes are vegetarian). And the owl, eyes shining, spinning his head round and round sitting perched atop a leafless tree at night.

Photo Set:

 

No matter which reserve you go to, you’re likely to stop for sundowners – Kjell would make sure he stops at a clearing and bring out drinks and snacks. It would be dusk and we’d hear animal noises, and birds going home.

And just when you start thinking about how lucky you are, Kjell starts talking about the one time when he was out with guests at sundowners and the jeep wouldn’t start. So they walked back all night, with nothing but an air rifle, in the dead of the night in single file, crossing lions and snakes…..

 

#IWanderWhy Recommends

  • Best time to travel: The African bush is always inviting. You will find the vegetation more lush during the summer/rainy season but it’s really a personal preference. In general, game viewing is better in sparse times which is typically winter (Apr-Oct).
  • Travel Route: Kruger National Park and the connected game reserves are accessible from Johannesburg. You have an option to drive from Jo’burg into Kruger (7 hrs), or take a flight to either Hoedspruit or Nelspruit airports (40 mins flying time), depending on where you plan to stay. We landed in Hoedspruit, and had a car waiting for us to take us to our game reserve.
  • Places to stay: 
    • This review primarily covered Naledi Bushcamp, and I would recommend this home-run establishment strongly for personalised attention and care.
  • Ideal Duration:
    • 3-5 days. Each day in Kruger can be expensive, so your budget should ideally determine the number of days that you can stay
  • Must Do’s: 
    • Never miss the morning and evening drives. They are not the same experience. Nocturnal animals in the evening are completely different from the ones that you see in the morning.
    • Reserves usually organize bushwalks during the daytime. Not for the faint hearted, but i recommend it!
  • Ideal Budget: A good reserve will include game drives, all meals, snacks and sometimes even a round of drinks. Everything inclusive, you should consider a budget of INR 30,000 per night, per room. But this really depends on the time of year, and the reserve that you choose.

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