• Marion Mueller

Amazing South Africa Part II - Kruger National Park


From Knysna we drove the 55 km into George, where we dropped back our rented car at the airport and took the Kulula flight (www.kulula.com) to Johannesburg. From there we had a driver/guide who took us to the Kruger National Park, however had two nights en route - one at the Hannah Game Lodge and the other at Casterbridge Hollow. From Johannesburg to the Hannah Game Lodge it is around a 4 hours drive - mainly through farm and mining land. There is some nice highway restaurants en route - like below with a toilet view on some wild life. We opted for the alternative with the driver/guide but also here on that leg of the journey a rented car would have been fine.

Hannah Game Lodge

Reaching the Hannah Game Lodge we were already greeted at the gate by some of the stunning wildlife out there.

The Lodge is a private game reserve (www.hannahlodge.co.za) and offers a true bushveld experience. Located at the gently rolling hills of the Northern Drakensberg region it is a peaceful sanctuary of natural beauty. Most of the rooms are located in thatched room chalets with terraces from which you can observe the wildlife around.

In the main building you can find the reception as well as the dining hall for all meals and a bar. Also here you have a beautiful terrace overlooking the outback around. On some days in the week the hotel is arranging African theme nights with BBQ dinner and dancing shows. For us it was only a stop-over hotel, so we did not participate in any game drives there, which was actually a pity - so I would suggest to stay at least two nights over here on a similar tour.

Panoramaroute

The next day we drove the scenic and spectacular Panorama Route along the Blyde River Canyon, which is the second biggest canyon in South Africa. The view over the Canyon is known as one of the most photographed scenery in South Africa.

Unfortunately the weather on top of the canyon can change in seconds and so we were unlucky and had too much fog at the popular God's Window. We therefore continued to another highlight of the route which is the Bourke's Luck Potholes, a very narrow canyon in which the water has digged in deep holes over million of years. You can walk over footbridges on top of the Canyon and have a glimpse down the potholes.

The area is also famous for some very picturesque waterfalls - we paid a visit to the Berlin Falls en route.

The old mining city Pilgrim's Rest is also worth the visit as it will set you back in the times of the gold rush. Since 1986 the entire town was declared a national monument and you can explore its lively past in various museums and historic sites (www.pilgrims-rest.co.za).

However we skipped that visit and headed on direct to Casterbridge Hollow, where we stayed at the Casterbridge Hollow Boutique Hotel (www.seasonsinafrica.com) - there is nothing special in that town as it is rather the gateway to Kruger National Park, so we just had a lazy rest of the afternoon at the pool and later dinner in the excellent hotel restaurant Magnolia. From there it is around a 40 minutes drive to the entrance of the National Park.

Kruger National Park

And then it came - the main highlight of our South Africa Tour - 3 nights at the Kruger National Park. We had such stunning and outstanding wildlife experiences which are hard to describe by words, so I will mainly let the pictures talk here. I must say that we also had an excellent ranger, who spotted for us all the Big 5's and much more. Kruger is a world-renowned National Park and offers some of the best game-viewing experiences on the continent.

Our driver dropped us at the Lodge and we were picked up three days later for our drive back to Johannesburg, which we then did straight in about 5 hours. If you have a rented car you can drive yourself into Kruger on designated routes and even camping inside the park in special zones is possible. Apart from that you have various Lodges to choose from for your accommodation - which depends a bit on your budget. You have some very exclusive ones, where also children are not allowed and where you are surrounded by a 5* deluxe service.

We opted in that trip for the more family friendly Shishangeni Private Lodge - which turned out to be an excellent choice. The same owners are also running the Camp Shawu as well as the Camp Shonga (www.shishangeni.com). At the Private Lodge you will be accommodated in one of the 22 individual chalets all with luxurious interiors, a private game viewing deck, fireplace and outdoor showers. In the main building you find the restaurant and bar, as well as a kids and fitness room, a small Spa and a nice Infinity Outdoor swimming pool.

The food was good, however not outstanding. On some nights the hotel organizes outdoor BBQ nights with a dance show. Otherwise it is all about the unforgettable game drives, so you go to bed early to be ready for the first drives at 5 am. They will serve some quick bites before you leave and coffee and cookies during the drive. Once you are back you can enjoy your full breakfast and relax until the afternoon game drive which takes place at around 16.00 hours during which they will serve you some cold drinks and you will be back at the Lodge then at dinner time.

Pick-up for our first game drive.....

And our first encounters with the residents of the park......

A lion family from their relaxed side - a very rare to see experience.......

And not too far from them "the Fastfood of the Bush"......

The encounter at Kruger with the elephants was totally different from the one we had in Knysna - they are much more impressive and majestic in this wild surrounding.

And the Outback bar from our ranger......

For the next morning we had a beautiful sunrise......

Unfortunately we also saw the main tragic problem of Kruger - the poaching of rhinos and elephants. The government did huge efforts to fight against the poachers who are mainly coming over the fenceless border to Mozambique - however despite all efforts it is impossible to control such a big territory. In the past when poachers were caught, they were put in jail, but through corruption the ring leaders paid them out and a few weeks later they were set free and were able to continue their killings. Nowadays the steps are more drastic and special rangers as well as military soldiers are put on patrols through the park and are enforced by law to shoot down any poacher immediately. Nevertheless poaching has therefore decreased it is still ongoing, as we could see with our own eyes that day.

Guests that are waiting for their turn on the rhino feast......

What Pumbaa is doing here? (Remember the lion king :-) )

Morning Snack....

The hippos look peaceful when they are lazing in the water, but they can get real upset and are among the most dangerous animals of the bush.

In that afternoon we came across our lion family again, which however was less relaxed that time as they just put down a Gnu for lunch......

With a full stomach on the way for a nap......

When we came back that day to the lodge we had some visitors in front of our terrace and we found our shower occupied with a guest.....

One evening a thunderstorm came and a heavy downpour started while we were on our game drive. So as all the animals went for shelter we did not see much, but our guide suddenly spotted a chameleon with his eagle eyes.....

The next morning skies has cleared up and we met our lion family again.......

Today we also met some new fellows, which were pretty curious about our car.

Our ranger also made a joke and imitated a lion roar, which made the hyenas pretty nervous and he was so good that they really thought a lion is around and decided to run away. The following game drive cars that were behind us however did not find that so amusing as they did not come to see the hyenas anymore........ :-)

As with most of the animals he also had an amusing story for us about zebras.....so do you know why zebras are always swinging their tail? Well, because they are polite.....zebras have a digesting system that sets a lot of bad smelling gases free. So as they are running mainly in a herd and in order not to disturb their fellow zebra behind with their bad smell they swipe it off with their tails! Nice, no :-)

Lion food still alive.....

A turtle that crossed our way.....

After this unforgettable wildlife experience we headed on a straight way back to Johannesburg were we just stayed one more night at the airport hotel Garden Court O.R. Tambo International (www.tsogosun.com), which is a bit old but fine for one night en route.

So that was the end of an amazing trip in a stunning country!

Some last impressions......


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