Kruger National Park South Africa
7,523 Square Miles
220 Miles from North to South
My brother and I were hiking in the mountains of Lesotho. We slept in our car and when we woke up at sunrise, started our 8-hour drive North to the South entrance of Kruger National Park. We made it to the gates about an hour and a half before sunset, which gave us just enough time to experience the magic and wonder of Kruger before it disappeared with the Sun.
As we drove through the gate, a park ranger gave us a very brief, visual inspection of our car, checking to see if we were poachers and smuggling-in illegal firearms. This shakedown lasted about two seconds as the smiling, friendly ranger determined we were not a threat. (I don't know if it was our 'Nike' basketball shorts or our car stereo playing Toto's 'Africa' that gave him this impression...)
Immediately as we went down the dirt road and into the park we felt a sense of wonder and excitement never experienced anywhere else on Earth. It felt like we were entering Jurassic Park.
"Drive slower!" Michael shouted as I raced our rental car towards the center of the park.
"I wanna get further from the gate, there's probably more animals further in." I said.
At over seven thousand square miles, 220 miles long and 40 miles wide, Kruger National Park is massive. No fences anywhere. The animals roam free.
"Can you see anything?" I ask, as I try to scan the savanna and keep my eyes on the road at the same time.
"No..." Michael touts as he viciously whips his gaze from side to side.
I turn left down a gravel road and over a small, dried-up creek.
"Look!!' He shouts, as he points out the window and I slam on the brakes.
"Wowww, coooool..." We both say as we see a herd of gazelle hanging out under the shade of a tree. As we hangout in that river bed watching the gazelle, three giant 'Kudu' walk six feet from our car. (Kudu = giant elk-like deer things with really cool, large, twisty horns).
"soo coool." we agree again, as we eventually drive off.
Over the next five minutes we see several more groups of deer/gazelle-like animals and pull into a dead-end, dirt-path facing a little pond.
"Monkeys,.." I point, as I hear the sound of baboons playing in the pond. I pull the car over and we jump out and go take a look. We very cautiously creep towards the baboons and with every step a little more fear enters our minds. Anything could be hiding in the tall grasses surrounding us. By entering Kruger, we have gone from the top.. to the bottom of the food-chain. (Definitely don't get out of your car while in Kruger National Park, I don't condone it and you will probably die). But, us being idiots and skimming-over the rules, of course we did...
"Get back in, get back in.." I say as we hustle back to the car, jump in, and shut the doors.
Safe again in our steel cage, we continue our drive in the direction of the center of the park.
Another 15 minutes go by with Michael jumping from window to window in our tiny, cramped, midsize suv.
We both start to worry that we won't see anything as the Sun creeps lower and lower to the horizon.
Just when we get complacent, driving down the dirt road...
"There!!!" Michael quietly shouts in his most excited voice as he jabs his finger past my face and towards the grassy, African wilderness.
I quickly pull the car over and look out my window.
Never before have we seen such a creature on Earth outside of a zoo. This alien-like animal looks as if it belongs on another planet in another solar system.
The giraffe's long neck, towering above the trees as it lurches around, eating leaves off the vegetation.
We sit there and stare in awe for the next 20 minutes.
After we try to wrap our heads around the idea of this strange, long-necked, spotted, horse-thing actually existing, I started-up the car again and we continued our drive.
"We better go to the campsite before they lock us out." Michael said as we both remember that they close the camp gates at sunset.
I take the car down the path and into another dry river-bed. I slow to a stop again as Michael points to another pair of kudu outside his left window. While looking at their cool twisty horns I glance something moving to my right.
"Holy Shyt!!!!" I shout as we both snap our heads to the right.
A massive, fully-tusked elephant standing motionless is four feet from my driver's-side, open window, staring at us and our car.
The animal's giant gray ears fan-out as "I bless the rains down in Africa" hums through our car speakers. No doubt one of his favorite tunes.
We stare this giant magnificent animal in the eyes for the next 5 minutes. Mind melding with nature, eventually he wanders off down the river and goes back to doing elephant things.
I put the car in gear again and start driving to our campsite for the night. We arrive a little late but they still had the gates open for us. Giant wooden gates that close over the road with tall, powerful electrified fences that keep the little campsite secure of carnivorous animals. Literally just like Jurassic Park.
Over the two and a half days we spent self-driving all of Kruger National Park, we saw pretty much every animal in the book. Giraffes, gazelle, kudu, cheetah, elephants, rhino, hippo, monkeys, baboons, leopards, hyena, zebra, and Lions. They were not even rare or hard to find like we were expecting. We probably saw roughly 200-300 elephants, 30 giraffes, tons of gazelle, kudu, etc...
Going to this park with my brother was a life-changing and other-worldly adventure you just can't find anywhere else on Earth and I'm so glad we did it.
Check out my Instagram to see these cool pics and a bunch of our other wacky adventures.
Cheers, and see you out there!