Africa, South Africa

South Africa – Kruger National Park Self Drive

At 5:30 am before the sun even raise, I filled out the park form for the entrance ticket and then we drove out to line up to enter Kruger National Park!!! The park opens at 6 am and sunrise at around 6:30 am so we were hoping to find an open field to wait for the sunrise. The Paul Kruger gate is just outside of our hotel so it was super convenient and we were the first 3 cars on the bridge waiting for the gate to open. When around 5:50 am, we saw people started to run (yes, literally run) toward the gate. We had no clue what’s going on as it was our first day entering from the gate at opening time. Those people went into the office…hum…..When the gate opened, we drove toward it and the staff who’s checking our car said we need to go to the office to pay the entrance fee ahhhh, that is the reason those people were running! I went into the office with our pre-filled form. There were two lines one for paying with cash and one for paying with credit card. The lady on the credit card line was super slow entering info OMG OMG! The clock was ticking as we will be missing the sunrise 🙁 I finally got our ticket, showed it to the staff, and we were free to go in.

The line at the entrance gate and the office next to it:

As we were driving in, we had this image in our head picturing the sunrise and the silhouette of a giraffe….well that didn’t happen LOL! Instead, it was nothing! Yes, nothing…..no spectacular sunrise as it was cloudy and no animals! We were wondering where they are, aren’t they the most active during sunrise and sunset since during noontime, they usually napping? We kept driving and soon enough, we saw this little elephant!!!

And then wow, the whole family of elephants was crossing the street!!! I was screaming OMG, I couldn’t believe it how close we were, imagine if we were in that car in front of us, I would’ve been worried that the elephants will crush us! I guess it wasn’t their first time in the park so they knew it is perfectly safe!

Once the elephants crossed, we drove up, pulled over, and just enjoying watching the elephants. When I was little and whenever my grandpa watched about the animals in National Geographic, I always fall asleep; I thought it was so boring! When seeing those elephants in real life, it was so much interesting, more interesting than people watching!

We rolled down our windows, stick our lens out, and started our shutter clicking! Look at this cute thing!

They probably could hear our shutters’ sounds that this fella looked like was looking at us haha! The adult elephants tend to be out close at the road while the little ones hiding behind the bushes, I guess it’s their way of protecting their babies from predators.

Besides the Impala, the next most abundant animal in the park that I guess is those wild chicken (Guinea Fowl, thanks to Gavin S at TripAdvisor for the name). The colors of their heads stand out so can’t be missed and their looks were super funny!

Watch out for them roaming on the roads in the early morning!

Speaking of Impala, there they are! Remember the first time we saw them yesterday, we pulled over to take photos and excited to see them? Now, we know why people don’t even bother to stop for them because they are everywhere….not special anymore 😛

Continued driving and another creature crossing the road……my favorite giraffe!

It was interesting to see a bird tagging along with him/her LOL!

Then, not far down, we saw another group of elephants…it must be our elephant day! We pulled over again and observed their breakfast time. Hum…how come this one not eating the bushes and instead the bush on back of it? It started to rock back and forth, guess what, it uses the bush to scratch its butt LOLLLL!

After the butt scratching, it doesn’t want to waste the bush so it started to eat it haha.

I never been up so close to an elephant before; not even at a zoo! Watching how it rip the bush apart was quite interesting, I didn’t realize its trunk can be that bendable just like a vacuum’s sucking tube LOL!

Two elephants on the way back were fighting?

Woah they fight with their trunks!

They finally broke away after a few minutes. Another one’s trunk facing at us.

In no time, that bush is gone!

This was this whole family’s breakfast time.

Alright time to move on…we turned and start heading back to our hotel for our breakfast too!

Next, on the road, we saw a monkey, only it, hum….got lost?

As we were getting near the entrance gate, we saw a car pulled over and slowly driving as it was following something. We went up and asked…the people in the car said they are waiting for a leopard hidden in the bushes to come out. Where where where????

Sokunna has very sharp eyes, she saw it when they pointed at it! She said there, zoom in…ahhh can you see it?

How about now?

That car left and it was only us waited there and it came out of the bush, wow!

We were following it, Jason tried to stop at openings so we waited there until it cross that opening to take the photos!

It must spot us too, look at those fierce eyes!

Urg heading toward us?

It didn’t, I guess it doesn’t have any interest in us…phew! We continued to follow it and it just totally ignored our existence.

I am already at my 200mm so couldn’t zoom any further. Sokunna has a 400mm so she was able to capture some very nice close-ups. The tricky thing about a long lens is that it takes much faster speed to avoid motion blur and shake from the hands and placing it on the window is subject to the car engine vibration as well!

The leopord crossed to the other side of the road by an under the road tunnel! We saw it on the other side of the road!

Then, it went off into the bushes that it could no longer be visible. It was so close to the entrance gate and people were out of their car near the little parking spot yikes! Always be cautious of your surrounding inside the park even if it has a designated restroom or parking facility unless you are inside a camp (fenced), remember you are out in the wild! We went back to the hotel to have our breakfast.

We loved the design of the hotel as I said the night before, now can show you how it looks like with daylight:

The breakfast selection was awesome, plenty of cold and hot food!

It was a lot better than most of the hotels we stayed in the US and Europe!

They even have fish for breakfast too.

They even have guava juice!

My breakfast…..and I went back for 2nd plate too. It’ll sure last me till lunch!

The tables outside but it was a bit chilly during breakfast.

After breakfast, we went around the hotel for photos as we wouldn’t be back till sunset 😛

They have a huge deck area with those individual “tree houses”, they looked so cool!

The view from the deck, see those fences? Those separated the hotel from the park, it was that close!

Us in one of the tree houses 😀

The lobby area:

The walkway to the rooms:

After some quick photos around the hotel, we stepped right back out to the park. The animals now wide awake, immediately after the gate, we had this family of giraffe walking with us. You heard it right….they were walking with us OMG!

“Hey, wait for me!”

We stopped our car and let it catch up and then more photos, it was such an awesome experience!

We drove to Skukuza Camp to fill the gas and use the ATM to withdraw cash for tipping. There was a protest going on lol and when we zoomed into the photos, it said “we dont’ want peanuts” urg what???? Another said “away with 6%” ahhh I guess they want more salary increase?

After the shortstop at Skukuza, we drove our way down to Lower Sabie which is known for lions and hippos. We unexpectedly found the buffalos, another of the Big 5 checked off (leopard, elephant, and buffalo so 3/5 yay)!

Look at that bird (Oxpecker, thanks to Gavin S on TripAdvisor and according to him, the oxpecker keeps the animal free of ticks!) on top of the buffalo’s (one of the most bad-tempered and dangerous animal) head. Those two seemed to get along right?

The oxpecker was standing on its horn too LOL!

They finally moved out the bushes and we had a view of the entire body.

It didn’t seem too angry.

This one looked old.

We came across a tree filled with monkeys! We turned into that loop and checked them out; we kept our windows a little bit higher than usual afraid that the small monkeys will jump in to steal our stuff LOL.

This white and gray baby monkey looked so adorable with a lighter shaded stripe on its nose.

Continued on, we spotted two huge Bateleurs (thanks to xelas on TripAdvisor for the name) on top of a tree.

The Guinea Fowl again.

More birds chilling out on the tree.

We were on this unpaved road and all suddenly the road was traffic jammed by cars pulling over on one side of the road while others tried to get through. It must be some rare animal! We asked and found out that they were all seeing the lion across the little hill. At 200mm, do you see the lion?

We didn’t have a spot to pull over so we drove down the road and made a u-turn to get back. As we turned back, a lioness came out OMGGGGG! She was walking toward us, we were like less than 10 feet apart; she was that close. We were super excited and yet debating if we should roll down our windows or not. After few seconds, we decided to take the risk LOL!

Urg am I her next dinner?

She made a turn and walked along the side phew!!!

OMG another lioness joined her!

Then, the lion came out wow how lucky are we! He totally ignored us and do his own thing…cross the street with the lioness and into the bushes! We couldn’t believe that we saw 4 out of the Big 5 already by self-drive!

Continued on our way to Lower Sabie, it started to rain and we stopped by a lake where we spotted hippos! On the lake, there were trees filled with huge nests like this:

See the eyes? We found the hippo!

We rolled down the windows and waited for the hippo to came out of the water a bit…….my camera and pant were wet 🙁

Two of them!

Wait, three!

We finally reached Lower Sabie Rest Camp where we used the restrooms and had lunch at Mugg an Bean. The restaurant was packed as it was raining out so people all seek indoor for lunch. They have a huge drink menu from cold to hot drinks. We ordered the chai tea shake-like drink and it was yummy!

I ordered a grilled burger and it was delicious as well. I couldn’t believe the quality of food inside the national park was this good! I questioned why our US national parks’ restaurants are that bad and expensive! Our meal for four cost 428 rand (around $30) including the drinks and tips!

Jason took a picture outside a store to warn about the dangerous snakes, I didn’t realize South Africa has this much snakes. Thankfully, I didn’t encounter one in our trip, phew!!!!

We drove out of Lower Sabie and heading our way back because we need to get out of the park by closure time at 5:30 pm. The sharp-eyed Sokunna spotted a huge group of elephants lined up to drink at the riverbank. I wish we could get closer but it was very far away and no roads to get there 🙁

Then, we saw sleeping lioness and cubs.

A Kudu with twisted horns.

A yellow beak bird (Hornbill, thanks to Gavin S in TripAdvisor):

We made a little detour on the unpaved road to see if we can find more different animals and saw another giraffe:

We, of course, stopped and took photos of this giraffe!

I think the giraffe heard us haha the “hey” look.

But guess what it’s doing? It’s peeing…..opps excuse me!

It was peeing for over 10 minutes, must have a huge bladder!

On the way back more elepants…seem like they just had a bath?

Then, right on the side of the road, there was a hyena! This one looked lost!

It looked so cute!

Then, we saw more elephants….

A huge group of them…

Never tired of elephants especially when there’s so many!

Looks like someone doesn’t want to move lol “hurry, let’s go”!

This looked like the leader of the group. It stopped on the side of the road and was flipping its ears. It appeared to be listening to the traffic before crossing the road! It was amazing how animals adapted to the environment and cars. There was a bus that drove by very fast and scared it a little bit, grrrrrr!

Then, they decided to cross…wow rampage! That little red car was surrounded by elephants, looked scary!

Look at that elephant, eating while crossing!

When you think they are done crossing…..

This guy decided to turn and headed toward the red car OMG scary!!!

Then, the bigger elephants followed…..OMG elephants versus cars! The cars started to backup to a safe distance!

Eventually, the elephants walked off-course and left the road. It was such a scene!

We stayed for a while since we still have time before the park closure. This one was eating…

And sticked its tongue out, how cute!!!

Our 2nd failure attempt to photograph the zebra 🙁

It was time so we left the park and back to our hotel. We had another wonderful meal, it was indoor that night, but still a buffet with plenty of choices especially desserts.

Ah, Kruger, we didn’t expect to see much by self-drive that was why we booked 2 nights self-drive and 2 nights at a private lodge in case we don’t see much animals. It did not disappoint! We saw 4 of the Big 5 by ourselves; we were super proud of ourselves LOL! It was such a great experience to self-drive as we never know what will be up on the road next!

6 thoughts on “South Africa – Kruger National Park Self Drive

  1. Great new blog! I have enjoyed following along with your trips since I came across you while planning on Tripadvisor.

    Amazing photos! I cannot believe how close that lion and leopard were to you. You have me looking up flights to South Africa right now haha.

    1. It was such an amazing experience, you need to experience it yourself! After this trip, we are hoping to go for another safari trip in Tanzania in the near future!

  2. Some great sightings.the antelope was a Kudu and the animal you described as a wild dog was a hyena.I would hate to see you get beat up on trip advisor ,so thought i would mention it.

  3. I’m a south African but have never been go the Kruger national park – it is only next month that i will be taking a vacation there !!! i truly appreciated your blog, it was awesome reading it. OMG thank you very much.

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed my posts. For sure, you’ll enjoy Kruger and you are so lucky that it’ll be easy for you to go back again 🙂

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